When Were the Original Gospels Written?
During her childhood in Nazi Germany this writer's father told her that Nazism was in part the result of Germany's already long standing apostasy from Christ. Only after her own much later conversion to Christ did she realize that the root of that apostasy was German Protestant "higher criticism" of the Bible which flourished in the nineteenth century. Through this movement, joined to Darwinist evolutionism after 1859, the error of "modernism," man's arrogant transvaluation of the Bible in the light of his own supposedly infallible "scientific" understanding and scholarship, infiltrated and eventually dominated theological instruction in Western Christendom (the Eastern Orthodox Church remained far less affected). Not unnaturally Protestantism fell victim to this trend first, but the Catholic church was next. Catholic author Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn sadly comments:
Apologetics used to be a defense of Church doctrine against the Protestants who used historical-critical exegesis as a weapon against the Church.... The new apologetics is the defense of Catholic historical-critical exegetes, who learn their methodology from Protestants, against attacks by Catholics.4
Today even many mainline Protestant and Catholic laypeople are also modernist agnostics about the origin and divine, infallible inspiration of the Bible and thus deny its claim to be God's authoritative, faultless revelation of Himself, His will and His acts. Only a remnant of Protestant and Catholic Christians still wholly accept the Bible.
However, there are more and more deep cracks in the historical - critical, modernist facade. Protestant author Robert J. Clinkert has reported that one of its chief supports, the so-called "documentary hypothesis" which purports to show the evolution of religious thought in early Israel and attributes the first five books of the Bible not to Moses but a series of other writers, is now in trouble even among modernist-liberal Bible scholars:
According to Professor Blenkinsopp, of Notre Dame University, scholars now
merely "pay lip service" to the documentary hypothesis, but no longer use it as an analytical tool. Some prominent liberal scholars such as Rolf Rengtorff and Brevard Childs (Yale Divinity School) have openly abandoned it 2
Jesus Christ, of course, attributed the Pentateuch to Moses and told His unbelieving hearers that if they believed Moses they would believe Him (John 5:45-47). Moses also published God the Creator's record of creation which the higher critics had to reject if they were to reconcile themselves to "modern science" in the form of Darwinist evolution.
It is less well known even among Bible-believing Christians today that the modernist scholars not only denied and falsified the Bible's own testimony regarding its Author but also its internal evidence about when it was written. This is true for both the Old and the New Testaments. The tendency is to date the writing of certain foundational books of the Bible later than their own internal evidence makes most probable. We saw this tendency with the Pentateuch. It applies, for example, to Daniel, whose remarkable prophecies could not be admitted as given in advance but were assigned to hypothetical later author' writing after the fact. It also applies to the Gospels of Christ, especially the Gospel of John. Halley's Bible Handbook, beloved and widely used by Bible believing Christians, states the common consensus of Bible scholars today that "The Date of [John's] Gospel is usually assigned to about A.D. 90." Halley does add that
Some think that John originally wrote this Gospel much earlier, while he was still in Jerusalem, soon after the Resurrection, in Hebrew, and in later years issued, in Greek, the Ephesian edition, which was the parent of all extant manuscripis.3
In general the accepted opinion among Bible scholars, passed down to pastors and laypeople alike, is that the Gospels were written after the Epistles, at the end of the first century A.D., as were the book of Acts and Revelation. We now hear more and more criticism of this opinion. It is time for Bible-believing Christians everywhere to become informed about this latest development in scholarship placing the original Gospels (and Acts and Revelation) definitely before A.D.70 and even within the very decade of our Lord's death and resurrection.
Already in 1976 none other than the late Anglican bishop John A. T. Robinson published a scholarly book, Redating the New Testament. It did not receive anything like the world-wide publicity accorded Robinson's earlier, modernist Honest to God, for it took the New Testament at its own face value with regard to the dating of its books. Up to then, Robinson had "believed everything which he had been taught in the field of historical-critical exegesis, everything which the German school propounded," but then one day he asked himself what scientific foundation really existed for the critical school's dating of the Gospels, and found no answer.4 (One is reminded of the awakening of British taxonomist Dr. Colin Patterson to the wholly non-scientific nature of evolutionism.)5 Robinson realized that the entire New Testament is silent about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. This is especially remarkable with regard to the prophecies of Jesus Christ Himself about the destruction of the city and Temple in the synoptic Gospels. Would not the Gospel of Matthew, generally so concerned with pointing out the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, have pointed out how our Lord's prophecy about Jerusalem and the Temple had been fulfilled, if indeed it had been written "after the fact"? Robinson arrived at the conclusion, contrary to modern scholarly consensus, that the Fourth Gospel was written between A.D.40-60, and Revelation before A.D.70. David Chilton in a thorough study of the original date of Revelation cites not only Robinson but also other, more orthodox authorities including Alfred Edersheim, H. B. Swate, Moses Stuart, and Ernest L. Martin, as well as archeological support for an early (pre-A.D. 70) New Testament.6
A similar argument for the early dating of the New Testament comes from Claude Tresmontant, a distinguished scholar at the Sorbonne. In John 5 2 the pool of Bethesda, where Christ healed the lame man, is described as existing at the very same time John was writing ("there is [Greek, estin] at Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate, a pool ... called Bethesda"). If the Gospel of John had been written, as most modern scholars assume, around A.D. 90, the pool would have been buried under the rubble of destroyed Jerusalem already for some twenty years. Tresmontant, whose arguments were presented in The Hebrew Christ recently published in France and soon to appear in English, placed the writing of the original Gospels, which he believed to be in Hebrew, even earlier than Robinson. He
proposes reasons for believing that in its present form, in Greek, the Gospel of Matthew had been composed before the end of the 40's. But the original Hebrew or Aramaic is of course before this time.... the Gospels as we have them are really translations ... of much earlier original compositions in Hebrew or Aramaic and therefore much closer to the 'ipsissima verda Christi' [the very words of Christ].7
Another French scholar, the noted authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls Father Jean Carmignac of Paris (d.1986), has also re-evaluated the dating of the Gospels. As an expert in biblical Hebrew and faithful Christian, he understood the disastrous effect ~ of the modernist belief that the Gospels were not eyewitness, accounts of the life of our Lord but "later compositions, simply witnesses of the growing faith of the earliest Christian communities," and that "if the Jesus of History is practically unattainable, it is the Christ of Faith who very quickly is rejected!"8
Father Carmignac undertook to translate the Gospel of Mark into Hebrew. He became convinced that the "rather inelegant and eargrating Greek" of this Gospel "could not have been redacted [originally written] directly in Greek and that it was in reality only the Greek translation of an original Hebrew.... The Hebrew-Greek translation had transposed word for word ... " He pointed to a number of examples of typically Hebrew play on words in the text of this and other Gospels. One of these is Luke 1:68-79, the priest Zachariah's praise to the God of Israel after the birth of his son John (the Baptist). Here the very names "John," "Zachariah," and "Elizabeth" have as their root meanings "Jehovah shows mercy," "Jehovah remembers," and "the oath of God" respectively. In the same sequence Luke 1:68-79 refers to God's showing mercy to His people, in accordance with His remembrance of His people and of the oath He swore to Abraham. Of course these allusions and deep similarities exist only in Hebrew and are lost in Greek or English. But in Hebrew the connections between the names and God's acts are deliberate. We might add that with God the very names "Zachariah" and "Elizabeth" were given these aged parents by His eternal purpose, not by "accident" or "chance," even as He expressly commanded them to name their miracle baby "John." Father Carmignac found that since the fifteenth century some 80 retranslations into Hebrew had been made by other scholars, and he believed that
by the year 2000 scriptural scholarship will start with the Hebrew or Aramaic rather than the Greek. "Sooner or later, specialists will be hit right between the eyes and see themselves like me staring directly at the very backdrop of the Gospels."9
Once you begin to think about it apart from the fog of modernistic teaching, it seems obvious that the original autographs of the Gospels were not written in Greek but in Hebrew, for the authors were Christians from Judaic circles who could express the message of Jesus Christ in Aramaic or Hebrew only (and not in Greek) prior to about A.D. 50. Wrenn refers to further substantiation of the early date of the Gospel of Mark from the history of the church by Eusebius, who in turn cites Papias.10 Halley's Bible Handbook comments as follows on "What Papias Said about Mark":
Papias, A.D. 70-155, a pupil of the Apostle John ..., wrote, in his "Explanation of the Lord's Discourses," that he had made it his business to inquire of the Elders and followers of the Elders, and "The Elder said this also: Mark, having become the Interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he remembered—not, however, in order—of the Words and Deeds of Christ. For neither did he hear the Lord, nor was he a follower of his, but later on, as I said, he attached himself to Peter, who would adapt his instruction to the need of the occasion, but not teach as though he were composing a connected account of the Lord's Oracles; so that Mark made no mistake in thus writing down some things as he remembered them. For one object was in his thoughts—to omit nothing that he had heard, and to make no false statements. ~ ~
Now Peter, according to Eusebius, was martyred during the persecution of Nero which followed shortly after the burning of Rome in 64 A.D., and Peter had himself authorized the reading of the book of Mark in the Christian assemblies. Thus the Gospel of I Mark was written some time before 64 A.D. Wrenn adds that even if the Gospels were handed down by oral tradition until after A.D. 66 or 70 and written down only then, which is scientifically totally unproven and even improbable as shown, the Gospel tradition preceded their writing; in fact, "In 1957 at the Oxford Congress on the Four Gospels, the eminent Swedish specialist in the New I Testament, H. Riesenfeld, maintained that ... the gospel tradition I [was] prior to the Easter event—therefore going back to Jesus, Himself...12
In conclusion, we may rejoice that the historical-critical, modernist school of Bible study which has done so much harm to I Western Christendom is now at the end of its tether. As with the, tenets of Darwinian evolutionism, so it is with the pillars of "higher criticism," the "documentary hypothesis" and also the dating ~ (really post-dating) of the Gospels: they are collapsing and being ! replaced by sound re-evaluation of evidences both from within and without Scripture itself. The original Gospels were written shortly after the death, Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord, based on His very words and deeds by authors who had witnessed them or passed them on faithfully. As the Apostle Peter says, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16)
1 Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn, "Commentary," Fidelity. November 1987, p. 12.
2 Robert J. Clinkert, "Moses vs. Evolution," Creation Social Science and Humanities Quarterly, X:1 (Fall 1987), p. 3û.
3 Henry H. Halley, Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids, Ml: Zondervan. Twenty-Fourth Edition 1965), p. 528.
4 Wrenn, Fidelity, November 1987, p. 8.
5 Reported in Acts and Facts (a publication of the Institute for Creation Research. El Cajon, CA) in June 1982.
6 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), pp.3 -4.
7 Wrenn, Fidelity, November 1987, p. 9.
9 Ibid., p. 10.
10 Ibid., p. 11.
11 Halley, Halleys Bible Handbook p. 458.
12 Cited in Wrenn, Fidelity, November 1987, p. 11.