Dating the Synoptic Gospels
In The Date of Mark’s Gospel, I argued for a very early date for Mark’s gospel (late 30s) largely based on issues of law observance. I supplemented this with a few more arguments near the end of an article on the death of John the Baptist in Crossley and Karner (eds.), Writing History, Constructing Religion (2005), based on the historical context of Mark 6:17-29 (the downfall of Antipas and Heriodias and the rise of Agrippa). I always felt I should have a go at the other canonical gospels so here’s what brief attempt might look like…
One of the basic boundaries for chronology is eschatological predictions. Clearly, John 21 and 2 Peter 3 clearly show serious problems with the second coming not happening. John also gets rid of virtually all the kingdom sayings and when he keeps them (John 3) they have nothing to do with predictions of the imminent coming of the kingdom. In Mark this is not the case. There are predictions of an imminent kingdom within the lifetime of some of Jesus’ audience (Mark 9:1) and a prediction that the second coming of Jesus will occur within a generation (Mark 13:30). Taking into account the not particularly long life span and the standard definition of a generation this gives us an outline of about 30-40 years when these things should have taken place and support the fairly obvious, namely that John and 2 Peter were finished sometime after the 70s.
What is interesting about Matthew is that he changes Mark 9:1 but does not downplay the prediction. On the contrary, it now refers to the second coming (Matt. 16:28). Elsewhere Matthew retains the idea of the second coming within a generation (Matt. 24:34). For this reason I am sceptical about the later dates for Matthew and would put it close to 70 CE (before or after) with the addition (well, if you believe in any kind of Q) of Matt. 22:7.
Luke, I think, is tricky. I think Luke was written after the destruction of the Temple, hence obvious additions to the Markan narrative well and truly stressing the destruction of the Temple (Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24). The fact that it is a clear narrative change is important because it could be argued and has been argued that Luke has some old sources from before the destruction (cf. Dodd’s article in Journal of Roman Studies, 1947). But despite changes to Markan predictions (Luke 9:27; 21:32) there is no removal of imminent eschatology. So I could see a date in the 70s, perhaps not too long after the destruction.
But here is a problem that I can’t quite resolve. I once came very close to being persuaded by Robinson on an early date for Acts but the Lukan material prevented me from accepting his case. But there’s another problem: where has the imminent eschatology gone from Acts? Obviously such an issue was present in first century Christianity. What has Luke done with this in his history? I don’t know the answer to this and I suppose it may not have a dramatic impact on the date of Luke as I see it if Acts were written a few years later when things were not coming to pass.