More On The Early Dating Of The Gospels
In last week's gospel we read: "And reports about him went out into
every place in the surrounding region." (Luke 4:37)
How interesting. What we might think of as a throwaway line may be
more than that.
Of what exactly did said reports consist, and how were they made? The
content seems obvious, and they were no doubt transmitted by word of
mouth. But does Luke mean something more here? Is it possible that
people were already writing about the Man who taught with authority,
and who did mighty deeds that left all jaws dropped? Did someone think
to chronicle the Lord's deeds? Or, said another way, did the Spirit
move certain men to chronicle them even at this early stage? If so,
Is Luke here indicating some of his sources?
It is my considered opinion is that the gospels were written
exceedingly early. I have two main reasons. First, historical
criticism serves as a contra-indicator for me. My first move is to
take whatever critical scholarship says (and they do own the field)
and consider the opposite, or at least something very different.
Secondly, why wait?
Apart from New Testament itself the first century is shrouded in
darkness as regards Christian writings. The earliest non-canonical
writings come to us in the very late 1st century: the Didache, and
1 Clement for example in the late 90's. But what of the New Testament?
To hear critical scholars, the gospels were not written until 80 or 90
AD at the earliest, and according to some as late as 130 AD. And so I
ask again: but what of the New Testament? After all, what else was
needed at that early date if the New Testament, gospels and epistles,
were well in circulation? These, along with the Old Testament, now
fulfilled in the New, constituted the Sacred Writings for the Church.
(Indeed, I like to think of the New Testament as the last chapter of
Though it is the rankest of heresies, for which one would be burned at
the stake twice over by critical scholars, I think it possible and
even likely that the gospels were written between Ascension and
Pentecost: keeping in mind that in the 40 days (like Moses on the
mountain) between Easter and Ascension the Lord regularly conversed
with, and celebrated the Eucharist with, (Word and Sacrament) the
disciples. We learn as much in Acts 1:1-4
"In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus
began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he
had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had
chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by
many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about
the kingdom of God. 4 And while staying with them he ordered them not
to depart from Jerusalem ..."
He did not merely "stay with them" (v. 4 ESV). But he ate The Meal with
them (synalydzomai). Celebrated the Eucharist. Now that the Kingdom of
God had come in the cross (Luke 22:18) he again: drank the fruit of
the vine with them. This may well be the time frame within which the
gospels were written. Again, such supposition is heresy, times three,
to the ears of critical scholarship. But it is no less likely than
their proposed (imagined) scenarios.
Lastly, I think that the gospels were immediately employed following
Pentecost and became the heart of the church's worship. I believe that
they were employed as actual liturgy; as lectionary; as catechism
and that they served as the church's chief mission material.
Critical scholarship has taught us to think that the making of many
books was difficult to impossible at that time, and that the populace
was largely illiterate. But that is only their supposition, that lives
in the echo chamber of their association. Much recent scholarship has
vigorously challenged those premises. And, if nothing else, critical
scholarship serves as a contra-indicator on this matter, too.