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Thursday, February 08, 2007

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.

17 Comments:

Blogger Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for this interesting post, James. Gosh, you are so conservative. ;) I hope to blog a response later.

February 08, 2007

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Ha ha! I like that. Let's be clear that is conservative in the sense that the date is early rather than than any other sense (e.g. it's all true/accurate/whatever). ;-) Look forward to a possible response.

February 08, 2007

 
Blogger Chris Weimer said...

Yes, your dates are rather conservative. I'll make some points against such an early date for Matthew later. Good to see some of this sort of material around the blogosphere again.

Chris

February 09, 2007

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

There's that 'c' word again! It's going to stick if I don't watch out. I agree Chris, could be a good debate.

February 09, 2007

 
Blogger Michael Barber said...

As regards dating Luke...

One of the most persuasive arguments for an early dating is the absence of any indication of Peter & Paul's death in Acts. Given the parallels between Jesus, Peter and Paul drawn out in Luke-Acts it is just unthinkable that Luke would not have mentioned that both Peter and Paul died in Rome. Luke clearly wants to tie Paul to Peter and thus there are numerous literary and narrative parallels.

If you date the book after A.D. 70 the silence over their death is just inexplicable!

An early dating might have problems, but nothing militates so strongly against the early view as this--unless you consider the "Form-Critical" tradition.

February 11, 2007

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

James wondered where all the "imminent eschatology" had gone missing in Acts. I don´t know if I have misunderstood you,James, but I think it is pretty obvious. Luke is writing both his gospel and Acts after AD 70 (he is probably even the last gospel writer, after John)and he is fully aware that the Kingdom of God and the Parousia has been long in waiting. He is tired of the same old questions from ridiculing jews and worried christians. He deals with the problem in Luke 17:21-18 and in Acts wants the problem out of the way as soon as possible and has an irritaded risen Christ say the words in Acts 1:6. Dont ask more questions - the kingdom comes when it comes, is Luke´s answer.
I also agree with Mark Goodacre that you are much too conservative in your dating quest. I haven´t read your GMark book yet, but from what I have gleaned on the internet about the direction of your arguments and I think you are on a loose limp. But it´s good to see that a "heathen" scholar can prop up "believing scholars" with arguments. You can´t be accused of writing apologetics. You go where the evidence leads you, although another "heathen" like me think you have gone seriously wrong on the dating of Mark. Luckily we have your book here at our university library in Sweden. I´ll get hold of it tomorrow (and see to it that they order your latest book on Christianity).
PS I cannot refrain from a little comment of what Michael Barber wrote. It is a bit tiresome to hear the oftrepeated argument in conservative circles about it being unthinkable for Luke to leave out the deaths of Peter and Paul. There is nothing uthinkable about it at all. When a conservative (but excellent)scholar like Luke Timothy Johnson can come up with good arguments for the unthinkable maybe it really isn´t that unthinkable.

February 13, 2007

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Michael: I was once close to accepting the arguments for the early date for Luke-Acts, partly for the reasons you mentioned. But then Acts does hint at Paul's death and does omit some big events (e.g. Caligula crisis). And Peter does effectively drop out of the story once Paul takes centre stage. Who knows, Luke may have been prepared to write another volume? This is why I prefer to make the Luke 19 and 21 take centre stage.

I've also argued that the form critical view tells us nothing about dating. Traditions can develop, change and be invented in next to no time.

Antonio Jerez:
I don't think Luke is too far after 70, otherwise who do you account for the retaining of the imminent escatology in the gospels where John gets rid of it all and comes up with a defence of the non-return of Jesus? Luke 17 is not strong enough evidence in this light.

As for Acts, I'm inclined to agree with you, Antonio, and that's kind of what I was implying. It is striking that the eschatological aspect of Christian origins is effectively airbrushed out of history.

Of course you'll need to give a better argument than saying that the date of Mark argument is 'conservative' and that you don't agree! ;-) Seriously though I have had people tell me I'm wrong and give no other argument that it 'can't be early' or it is 'conservative' so I'll be interested to see what you make of the arguments in the book and naturally feel free to pass on any comments to me!

February 17, 2007

 
Anonymous Antonio Jerez said...

James wrote:
I don't think Luke is too far after 70, otherwise who do you account for the retaining of the imminent escatology in the gospels where John gets rid of it all and comes up with a defence of the non-return of Jesus? Luke 17 is not strong enough evidence in this light.

Antonio answers:
I think Luke doesn´t get rid of the Parousia talk because he still believes very much in the return of Jesus. But he widens the timeframe between the destruction of Jerusalem and the return of the SoM. Look at Luke 21:24, where he adds that before the end time comes the times of the gentiles (the romans) must pass. This could mean a generation..two..or three. Surely lukan apologetics at work.
And I will return to your book on the dating of Mark later. I haven´t got that far yet. But I liked your "bashing" of N T Wright in chapter 2. Right on spot in your argumenation.

February 18, 2007

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Thanks for the comments Antonio. I agree that Luke 21:24 opens things up but it seems to me that 21:32 (and ff.) still suggests that the overall framework (inc. second coming) takes place within a generation.

And you must be a good person if we agree against NTW on the parousia ;-)

February 19, 2007

 
Blogger Ray Timmermans said...

Hello James,

This is an interesting theory. However, I am curious: Assuming for the sake of argument that the accounts of the synoptics are fairly accurate depictions of the events which took place, just from a social standpoint, wouldn't Jesus' followers/disciples have been rather busy in the kerygmatic aspects of the Kingdom, rather than stopping to write about it? True, one doesn't necessarily preclude the other, but doesn't the very importance of making the resurrection known--arguably the single most significant event suggesting to the disciples the Kingdom's imminence/presence, argue against the notion of a written account dated this early?

It has always seemed more credible to me, and you have no doubt addressed this in your book, that composition of the gospels would be more likely dated following the deaths of Peter and Paul; this, as a means of ensuring an account was kept following their respective deaths. Following their deaths there would be an obvious reason for a written account--maintenance of the tradition to succeeding generations. Before their death, this could hardly have been an issue.

Ray Timmermans

February 20, 2007

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Thanks Ray.

On kerygmatic vs writing, I think that is almost impossible to say, or at least I don't know how to go about proving the case one way or another. Moreover, as you say, I'm not sure if 'one doesn't necessarily preclude the other'

On the resurrection and kingdom, I'm not sure how that argues against writing down a gospel early. I don't see how it could have an impact on writing at all.

Again, there is no reason why a gospel could not have been written early when disciples were alive. Paul refers to other accounts. People in very different parts of the Empire could have wanted a written account to tell the story where eyewittnesses or authorities were present. Also I'm not sure that their deaths would mean that a written account would be obvious. Think of rabbinic literature: this was put down in writing a long time after the deaths of many rabbis.

February 25, 2007

 
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May 31, 2007

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the best evidence for an early date for three of the gospels; (Luke, Matthew, and Mark) is to look at 1 Timothy 5:18- Paul clearly says for the scripture say; Than he goes on to quote from Deuteronomy but than he quotes from the gospel of Luke when he says "For the workers deserves his wages: Look up 1 Timothy 5:18 on bible gateway and a footnote will tell you of Paul's quoting from the gospel of Luke. 1 Timothy can be dated from 61 (after Paul's release from Prison) to 66 or 67 (Paul's death) So the gospel of Luke was written before this date and since Matthew and Mark were writen before, this gives a clear early dating of the gospels. The only reason some scholars date the gospels after 70 is because Jesus states that the temple in Jerusalem will fall and they opperate on a antisupernatural bias that distorts the evidence given from acts and 1 Timothy 5:18 that the gospels were indeed written earlier.

June 19, 2007

 
Blogger Zeo12 said...

As a long-time thoughtful believer who has not really investigated dating much, all of this is interesting discussion. Clearly, James C. and most of the commenters are liberal in their views (and beliefs). The anonymous poster is undoubtedly correct when he says that one of the largest factors influencing dating in this discussion is a refusal to accept the possibility that Christ was actually able to foretell the destruction of Jerusalem in 70ad. This is truly an ignorant position given how little we actually know of the universe (see quantum physics). I had also seen the Timothy-Luke connection. Also, in our day, there is a great deal of "era conceit," the idea that we in our era are very superior to the 1st century cultures. We like to think that the 1st century culture was primitive and superstitious and backward and ignorant. However, as Durant says, "Your ancestors were not idiots." My own view, from reading ancient texts and trying to understand their underlying presuppositions, is that the 1st century culture was much more literate than modern scholars would like to admit. Ancient writers seem to assume that most people of that time were literate to some degree. Finally, if a person were to just read the canonical Gospels without any presuppositions, seeing in them the quotations of Jesus and others, and assuming they were accurate recordings of what was said at the time, how would that person assume those quotes were obtained? The logical answer also has the advantage of being the simplest: they were written down at the time they were spoken. Given how the Jews valued the written word and literacy, and given how the words of learned teachers and rabbis were highly valued, can anyone justly think that this is far-fetched? There was undoubtedly a person (or persons) in the larger group of disciples following Jesus who was charged with chronicling the words of Jesus and the events surrounding His work. After all, many assumed that Jesus was the promised conquering Messiah. We have a hint of this in Mark 14:51-52. If this is the young Mark, as many believe, what was he doing in the garden in the middle of the night wearing nothing but a sheet? An easy explanation is that he was expected to chronicle events and was awakened when significant things began to happen in the middle of the night.

Another factor in favor of this view is that in the synoptics, most of the recorded words of Christ were from later in His ministry when it would be expected that He would have been gaining more attention -- just like the words of a presidential candidate garner much more attention when he/she is running neck and neck for the nomination late in the primary season than when he/she is trudging through the snows of New Hampshire in January.

Further, after Acts 2, the need for written account(s) of the life of Christ would have been pressing. They would have been needed immediately. Why would people who were there at the time and had been with Christ since the beginning of His ministry, wait decades to write a cogent, comprehensive account of it? Personally, I believe that Mark was completed by 35, Matthew by 50 or so, Luke by the late 50s. I also believe that the internal evidence points to a date of 85-90 for John.

Finally, I also find it highly amusing to see "scholars" 19-20 centuries after the fact try to tell us that the historic understanding of ancient events and writing is all wrong. They try to tell us that they know more about what happened and how it happened than the people who were actually there at the time. Talk about conceit and arrogance! One thing is for sure -- for their own sake, they had better be right. If I am wrong, I lose nothing. If they are wrong, they lose it all.

May 22, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also like to add this from an yahoo answer I found which seems pretty convincing for an earlier date.

Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, according to 99% of scholars, is authentic and written in either the winter of 55AD or the early spring of 56 AD. In 1 Corinthians, Paul includes 20 quotes from the gospel of Luke. Eighteen are short phrases, that he assumes are familiar to his readers. The last two are longer quotes that he presents as "quotes".

This would indicate that the gospel of Luke not only exist by 55-56 AD, but was commonly know and used so that Paul could reference it without having to explain what he meant or who/what he was quoting.

If you read the gospel of Luke, you will find that it repeats 89% of the gospel of Mark within it. So apparently Mark was already in existence prior to the writing of the gospel of Luke. This pushes the date for Mark to 50 AD at the lastest. Possibly (and probably for it to be well enough known that Luke would copy it) to someting in the last half of the 40s AD.


The earliest known reference or quote from the gospel of Mark outside of other Bible books is found in a letter written by Clements of Rome in 97 AD. He quotes directly from the gospel of Mark, acknowledging the gospel of Mark as the source of the quote. So if you reject the evidence within the Bible itself, the absolute latest Mark could have been written was prior to 97 AD.

Some scholars attempt to get around the issue of Luke (and Matthew - who repeats 92% of Mark) quoting from Mark, and move Mark back to a later creation date, by suggesting that Mark was NOT the source used by Luke and Matthew, but rather there was a now unknown "gospel" that they call the "Q" document ("Q" coming from the Latin word for "source"). That all three authors are quoting from this unknown document.

But whether that shared source is Mark itself, or a fourth document that Mark and both the others shared, it still means that there was a "gospel" of the life of Jesus in existence and used prior to 56 AD. And that it survives in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke (and Paul who may be quoting "Q" rather them Luke).

If you use that rule that the simpliest answer is usually the right one, then it is "simplier" for Mark to be the source, and Matthew and Luke to be quoting them, then that there is a lost gospel that all three quoted as an authority, and recognized as reliable, but no one bothered to preserve.


SO - it appears that Mark was written sometime between 45 and 50 AD, with Luke completed and in circulation prior to 55 AD. Matthew (who also quotes about 15% of Luke) appears to have been completed prior to 70 AD. John comes much later, dating from 90-95 AD, as it makes reference to ideas and false doctrines that did not appear in the church until around that time.


http://ph.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080627035425AAsb60T

August 09, 2009

 
Anonymous Dating said...

Let's be clear that is conservative in the sense that the date is early rather than than any other sense!

April 22, 2010

 
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November 19, 2010

 

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