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How Do We Know When the Gospels Were Written?

Here is an important question that I have recently received.  It’s a tricky one!  But completely fundamental to the study of the New Testament.



I now have your book “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings”. Great book/text! Something I haven’t figured out is how do scholars know when the original Gospels (not copies) were written since apparently none survived?



This is a great question, and one that I get asked a lot.  How do we actually know when the Gospels were written?   It is actually a difficult question to answer, but I’ll start at the beginning, with some basics that I think everyone can agree on.   (Well, OK, there is *nothing* that  absolutely everyone agrees on, as I’ve learned with some chagrin over the years…)

First, Jesus died around the year 30, so the Gospels were written after that.   The first really convincing quotations of the Gospels (there are probable allusions earlier than this, but these are the most certain ones) come in the writings of Justin Martyr, around the year 150.  Justin does not name the Gospels as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but he does call certain books “The Memoirs of the Apostles,” he quotes them explicitly, and his quotations line up with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (it is debated whether he quotes John; but there are two quotations that certainly make it appear that he knows John).

This means, for starters, that the Gospels must have been written sometime between 30 and 150 CE.  And the question is how to narrow down the dates further.

If it is true that the Gospels are …

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A Peculiar Story of Peter’s Martyrdom



  1. Avatar
    craig@corbettlaw.org  September 21, 2018

    After the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library, has there been any scholarship on whether John may have been influenced by the Gnostic writings? Might this possibly help to date John?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      It has become increasingly clear that the Gnostic writings date from a time after John. Some of them were influenced by John, but not vice versa.

  2. Avatar
    John Murphy  September 21, 2018


    Do you think the trend towards exonerating Pilate while blaming the Jews (with regard to Jesus’ death) in both canonical and non-canonical gospels as the decades went by was primarily due to a desire not to antagonize or alienate Gentiles, particularly powerful Gentiles, around the Roman Empire, or did it reflect a widening of the gap between Judaism and Christianity, and the tensions between the two groups?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      I think it involved both things at once, working in tandem.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 21, 2018

    A great question and an easy-to-follow and thoughtful answer. Thanks

    Birth and Death stories: I just read in the morning newspaper that a past leader of North Korea was supposedly born at the base of Mt. Paektu, North Korea’s most famous mountain, and that when this leader died the ice in the Heavenly Lake in North Korea made a loud crack. I imagine most of us would immediately consider these to be “stories.” Humans are the “story telling” animal or as Walker Percy would have described it, the animal that can use symbols.

  4. Avatar
    Gary  September 21, 2018

    I like NT Wright’s response to the question: “Who wrote the Gospels; when did they write them; and where did they write them?”. Here is a short clip with his response: “I don’t know, nor does anyone else.”


    Conservative Christians will complain that the consensus position on the dating of the Gospels is based on a bias against the supernatural, specifically, that Jesus was able to predict the future (the destruction of the Temple). If we remove this bias, then we must expand our time range from 30 CE to the time of Ignatius (for the reasons given above). Conservative Christians discount the fact that Paul does not mention the Gospels in his writings for the reason that “he was addressing specific issues involving the churches” in his epistles. It’s the old, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” argument.

  5. talmoore
    talmoore  September 21, 2018

    The conclusion I have arrived at, so far, from the detailed analysis I have spent years now doing, is the following:

    The version of Mark we have now is based on an original version of Mark composed sometime during Paul’s mission, ca. late 40s to late 50s. The original version did speak of the destruction of the Temple, but it was in the sense that most apocalyptic Jews at that time thought that the tainted 2nd Temple was going to be replaced by a purified 3rd Temple — when “not will be left stone upon stone” לא תישאר אבן על אבן — possibly God’s own temple in heaven that would literally come down from the sky on top of the temple on earth. Mark was then revised during the Jewish War, sometime around or directly after the destruction of the Temple (ca.70), where the prediction of said destruction is made more clearly, as if Jesus was truly predicting the event that had just occurred. And that revised version is the one he have, extant, today.

    Luke-Acts was written, possibly by the actual Luke, right around the same time as the revised Mark, that is, ca. 70. Notice that Luke’s version of the destruction of Jerusalem is clearly not taken from the version of Mark that we have. For instance, the only similarity between Luke 19:44 and Mark 13:2 is the sentiment, “not will be left stone upon stone”. That part was original to the first edition of Mark. And that’s the part where Jesus and his followers were prophesying that the tainted 2nd Temple would be completely replaced by the new 3rd Temple.

    That’s also the part that was picked up by the writer of Matthew 24:2 (“not will be left stone upon stone”), sometime, probably, in the 80s. John was probably written around the same time as Matthew, ca. 80s, as the schism between the Semitic Christians and the Hellenized Christians began to widen severely following the Jews losing the war. Matthew was an attempt to retain and solidify the Jewishness of the Christian movement. John was an attempt to thoroughly Hellenize the Christian movement, right at the same time, by borrowing the language of Hellenized Jews such a Philo.

  6. Avatar
    fishician  September 21, 2018

    It seems that part of the dating is dependent on knowing the dates of other things, like the destruction of Jerusalem. But aren’t secular sources subject to the same dating problems as Biblical sources? Is the secular data from that time more complete and precise, or is that a bit of guess work as well?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      Yes indeed. The scholars who do the hard work have to take all that into account as well. But the date of the destruction of Jerusalem is extremely well secure (as an example), because of contemporary references to it.

  7. Robert
    Robert  September 21, 2018

    Archaeology, Source and Redaction Criticism:

    Archaeologists have recently unearthed the original source of this text as well as a copy:
    https://ehrmanblog.org/dates-of-the-gospels/ (5/12/2012)
    https://ehrmanblog.org/how-do-we-know-when-the-gospels-were-written-a-mailbag-blast-from-the-past/ (2/19/17)

    Note this key excerpt:
    “The question with Mark is whether it was written before or after the Jewish War with Rome, that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem, and the Temple, in 70 CE. Scholars debate the point, but the majority (outside of fundamentalists and very very conservative evangelicals) think the answer is “afterward,” in part because they see the comments of Mark 13 about the Temple (that it will be destroyed) as indicating that Mark was living after the fact. I’m not sure if this is right or not; I have tended to think that Mark’s description of the destruction is so vague that it’s not clear that he knows about it as a past event. But that may be simply because he is living outside of Palestine and has just heard the rumors of what it was like.”

    A later redactor of this source seems to be apparent here:
    “It is frequently noted that the earliest Gospels seem to presuppose the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and of the Jewish temple, as happened in 70 CE. And so, for example, in Mark’s Gospel Jesus indicates that the nation of Israel will be destroyed (12:9) and that the temple will not be left standing (13:1-2). Matthew is even more explicit …”

    When pressed about this apparent shift in his opinion, the later redactor admitted:
    “Yes, this is why I’ve changed my mind recently, and decided to go with the broader consensus, that Mark is just after 70, not around 65.”
    https://ehrmanblog.org/new-boxes-oral-traditions-and-the-dates-of-the-gospels/ (10/27/2014)

    An even later biblical redactor tried to harmonize the views of the original source and the first redactor:

    “Now that you agree that Mark was most likely written post 70 CE, after the destruction of the temple … “‘Now’ that I agree? I’ve always thought that!” … “I must have meant recent in the biblical sense…”

    One might be tempted to think that the later biblical redactor was writing independently of either or both of the original source and the first redactor, but we maintain there also exists the possibility of indirect nonliterary dependence and even actual identity of the source and both redactors.

  8. Avatar
    Raemon  September 21, 2018

    Bart, why don’t fundamentalists agree with this dating logic?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      The reason they *state* is that they think the dating presupposes an anti-supernatural bias, assuming that if the Gospels narrate the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple, they must have been written after the fact; the real reason, in my opinioin, is that they want the Gospels to date as close to the actual life of Jesus as possible.

  9. Lev
    Lev  September 21, 2018

    “Paul gives no indication that he had ever heard that there were Gospels about Jesus.”

    In 2 Cor8:18 the NRSA has “With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his proclaiming of the good news [gospel]” The NIV has “18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.”

    This anonymous brother who was “chosen by the churches” to accompany Paul in the collection of the offering is either “famous among” (NRSV) or “praised by” these churches for his “proclaiming” or “service” to the gospel. Perhaps Paul was familiar with at least one written gospel – and this was the infamous author?

    Maybe this brother was the author of Q – a collection of sayings of Jesus that had been translated into Greek and distributed to the churches? Moreover, if this author was the apostle Matthew, it would make sense to select him as someone trusted by the Jerusalem church to oversee the collection – given his former life as a tax collector.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      For Paul “gospel” does not refer to a written text/book about Jesus, but to his own proclamation of the salvation that Jesus brought.

  10. Avatar
    Pattylt  September 21, 2018

    To add on the dating of Mark: Mark12:15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
    But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”
    I’ve heard it argued by Fabian Udoh that there is no evidence of the denarius being used in Judea before 69 AD. Prior to this time (and during the time of Jesus) the primary silver currency in Palestine was the Tyrian shekel. To be sure, a few denarii made their way to Palestine through circulation but Tyrian shekels were the dominant currency that would have been used for taxation in coin.
    Seems 70 AD does seem the be the earliest year possible if this is accurate.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      Yes, I’ve heard that too, but I’ve never checked it out myself.

      • Avatar
        Pattylt  September 23, 2018

        In case you are ever interested… https://books.google.com/books/about/To_Caesar_what_is_Caesar_s.html?id=7CUPngEACAAJ&hl=en

        I haven’t read this book but rather a paper summarizing the evidence showing that the denarius was not used for taxation until after Vespasian in 70ce.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  September 25, 2018

        The community of Mark may not have written their gospel until the date of their facts match the date of their writing.

      • Avatar
        thrak  September 27, 2018

        I’m curious. Why haven’t you checked it out? Not saying you have to, it just seems like something that could be important when dating the Gospels. What am I missing?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 28, 2018

          Just for the simple reason that there are only 24 hours in a day, and about that many books on the NT get published every day!

    • talmoore
      talmoore  September 23, 2018

      It’s possible there were some denarii circulating in Galilee or Judea, but the notion that the historical Jesus would have requested one is a problem. For the story to make sense Jesus would have to ask for a denarius because that’s the coin that would have the emperor’s portrait on it. But a Jew in Palestine wouldn’t use a denarius to pay for anything because A) the shekel was the common currency in the area and B) the Temple tax would have to be paid with the shekel anyway because that’s the only currency that the Temple would accept, hence the money changers in the Temple. Therefore, even if the Jews were going to pay the publicans they would do so with a much more common currency, such as the shekel or the drachma.

      It’s possible that the historical Jesus mentioned the denarii without actually requesting one be produced. But still he would be asking his audience to imagine something that some of them may have never seen. What it looks like happened is that a story (or Sitz im Leben) was created around the received quote from Jesus that one should “give to Caesar what belongs go Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” The logic of the quote suggests one visualize a Roman coin with the emporer’s image on it, so someone simply manufactured a story in which Jesus outright asks the listener to visualize the coin with the image, which would then put the quote within a kind of historical context.

    • Robert
      Robert  September 24, 2018

      “… Seems 70 AD does seem the be the earliest year possible if this is accurate.”

      Personally, I’m methodologically agnostic on this question as it pertains to the historical Jesus, but I do note that Adela Yarbro Collins, in her excellent Hermeneia commentary on the gospel of Mark, reviews the evidence and concludes:

      “The evidence for the circulation of denarii in the time of Jesus is strong enough to support the conclusion that Mark 12,13-17 is based on an incident in the life of the historical Jesus” (p 554).

      Note also that she also views Mark’s gospel as being written shortly before 70 CE.

      Collins nonetheless agrees with Udoh that “prior to 70 CE direct taxes in Judea were confined to agricultural tribute paid in kind” so she understands this pericope as addressing not “a literal payment of tax in coin” but rather “the general issue of paying tribute to Rome” (p 555).

  11. Lev
    Lev  September 21, 2018

    You agree that Mark was probably written before the destruction of the temple, but could you flesh out your reasons for supposing it was close to the event?

    On the basis of Mk13:14 “‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.” there seems to be a couple of reasons for believing that Mark was written in the early 40s, rather than the mid-to-late 60s:

    1. This “desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be” probably alludes to Caligula’s attempt to erect a statue of himself in the Jerusalem temple in the early 40s rather than the desecration by Titus’ soldiers sacrificing to their standards in the temple area in the year 70 – by which time it was far too late for anyone to flee the city that had been under siege for three years.

    2. Mark cannot have been reporting Jewish believers fleeing Jerusalem in the late 60s, because they fled to Pella which is below sea level, rather than “the mountains”. Given that this prophecy (fleeing to the mountains) was never fulfilled, isn’t it more likely this is either a genuine saying of Jesus or a warning by Mark to high-tail out of Dodge if that statue is erected in Jerusalem?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      No, I think it was probably written after the event. (I’ve chnaged my mind over the past ten years or so)

    • talmoore
      talmoore  September 23, 2018

      Judea is hill country. It’s already in the mountains. What they meant when they said “flee to the mountains” was that they should leave the cities. The expression “flee to the mountains,” therefore, usually implied escaping authorities of the cities, often to start an insurrection. For instance, Jewish insurrectionists would often be based out of caves in rough hill country, out of which they would have to he rooted. Herod famously engaged in such cave-to-cave fighting in the Galilee against Jewish rebels just before he was made king by Augustus. And Jewish rebels hid in caves in the hills of Judea, such as the caves around the Dead Sea, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

      • Lev
        Lev  October 11, 2018

        If the gospel was written after the event, and this is an invented saying of Jesus, wouldn’t it be more likely that the author would place the words “flee to Pella” or “the Decapolis” or even more vaguely “the Galilee” on the lips of Jesus – which is where they actually fled to?

        I understand your point about insurrectionists fleeing to mountain caves, but the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem did not take part in the insurrection, and if the author knew they didn’t flee to the mountains and instead fled to a town below sea level, then it just doesn’t make sense for the author to have Jesus say those words.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  September 25, 2018

      The desolating sacrilege is not Caligula’s attempt to erect a statue of himself in the Jerusalem Temple in the early 40s. The scripture speaks of a done deal, not an attempt. Caligula’s order was never carried out.

      • Lev
        Lev  October 11, 2018

        That’s true – but Rome only abandoned its efforts to erect Caligula’s statue in the Jerusalem Temple soon after he died in 41. The build-up to the event that never took place included the Jewish people preparing for revolt and several Jewish diplomats who went to Rome to plead their case. The diplomatic efforts were initially successful at changing the emperors’ mind – until he changed it back again. The fear that this could happen again continued for some time. Tacitus says:

        “Indeed, the Jews had given the appearance of rising up in revolt; (but) after the news of (Caligula’s) murder there was no need for compliance (with his order). (Yet) fear remained that some emperor would command the same thing.” Tacitus, Annals 12.343

        Caligula had made a serious attempt to desolate the Temple with his image and the Jewish people feared another Emperor would attempt to do so again soon. It was therefore apt for Mark to add the editorial “let the reader understand” at this passage to indicate that he thought they were living in a time where this prophecy of Jesus was about to be fulfilled.

        • Avatar
          Steefen  October 12, 2018

          If the gospel was written after the event, and this is an invented saying of Jesus, wouldn’t it be more likely that the author would place the words “flee to Pella” … or even more vaguely “the Galilee” on the lips of Jesus?

          Flee to Galilee? After Vespasian killed Jesus and his band of mariners at the battle of Galilee and upon the Lake of Galilee?

          As for what the desolating sacrilege standing in the Temple was: when the Temple became desolate of its function and the Jewish Civil War leaders backed themselves into the Temple for protection and warfare and bloody bodies started piling up in the Temple, if not the Holy of Holies itself (highly likely but I don’t have time to look it up even though the book is on my desk), that’s where and what the sacrilege of a desolated Temple was.

          A statue of Caligula not placed in the Temple cannot compete with the greater horror of what did happen in the Temple AD 70. Second, a high priest named Jesus of Gamala was killed upon the Temple by a Jewish Civil War faction. I did not include that in a little youtube video I made where I just read their opposing speeches. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/Kct4cZttfP8

  12. Avatar
    wawawa  September 21, 2018

    Three years ago after being in USA for 35 years, I woke up one morning and said to myself, “You have been hearing a lot about the Bible and Jesus, but you do not know anything about them”. So I started my research, not academic research, mostly Google & Youtube. I found Dr. Ehrman in the first week, since then I have read three books and watched many Youtube debates/lecture by Dr. Ehrman. I want to thank Dr. Ehrman for his INTELECTUAL INTEGRITY, that is a rare commodity these days, Integrity.

    I just found out about Youtube channel “GHCHistory” that might interest our fellow readers in this blog. Best wishes to all.

  13. Avatar
    godspell  September 21, 2018

    Many famous monuments of the past had been destroyed–including the original Temple. While I agree what Jesus says in the later gospels displays the authors’ knowledge of what happened, Mark’s doesn’t.

    “Ozymandias” is neither prophecy nor history–it simply displays Shelley’s understanding that everything humankind raises up shall someday be brought down, and all empires shall someday fall, including the one he was living in, upon which the sun would never set, except of course it did.

    I think Mark’s words–whether the are a memory of something Jesus said or not–are not dissimilar in their import.

    Jesus was predicting that the Kingdom would come in the lifetimes of those listening to him. That is the same thing as predicting the fall of every existing state–including Rome. To Jesus, the Temple and its leadership were tools of Rome, and would be swept away with it. That isn’t what happened, of course. But it still would have savored of prophecy, if only because predicting the fall of the mighty is about the safest prophecy anyone can ever make.

    Luke and Matthew copied his language, and added to it, because for them it was Israel itself that was being punished for refusing to accept Jesus as Messiah. Mark is a lot less bloody-minded.

    In any event, there are still stones standing on other stones there.

  14. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  September 21, 2018

    Hello Dr Bart

    Before i ask my question I would like first to explain to you how Quran was revealed to prophet muhamed . The Quran, according to Islam, is the very word of Allah, revealed through Gabriel to the prophet Mohammed. The Quran is presented as the speech of God (Allah), who is speaking, first person through Gabriel to Mohammad.The revelations were conveyed to the Prophet in small segment by the angel Gabriel who made the Prophet recite the revealed verses in his presence. Muslims believe that the Quran was verbally revealed by God to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel
    My question : The Muslims claim is that jesus he too received revelation from God it was called the gospel in similar way that muhamed did meaning through Gabriel , but somehow it was lost . do we have evidence in NT which support that ? . Muslims believe we do . if you read in one of Paul letter where he was speaking about the gospel of jesus long before any gospel was written and refered to it as the gospel of our Lord Jesus
    2 Thessalonians 1 : 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

    In the gospel of Matthew , Mark and luke we have jesus is mentioning gospel or the word of God
    Matthew 26:13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

    Mark 8 : 35 For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

    Luke 5:1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret,

    How do you refute the Muslims claim ?

    Many thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      Since it’s a theological claim, not a historical one, I don’t refute it. I am not a believer, so I don’t think Jesus received any revelation from God at *all*.

      • Avatar
        Mhamed Errifi  September 23, 2018

        Hello Dr Bart

        but which gospel was jesus refering to ?

        Many thanks

        • Bart
          Bart  September 24, 2018

          Are you asking which written text called a Gospel would Jesus have referred to? He didn’t have any written Gospel texts.

          • Avatar
            Omar6741  September 25, 2018

            So how would Jesus of Nazareth have understood the word ‘euangelion’? (I am making the plausible assumption that he knew some Greek.)

          • Bart
            Bart  September 26, 2018

            I don’t think he knew Greek.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  September 29, 2018

            “how would Jesus of Nazareth have understood the word ‘euangelion’?”

            The Greek ‘euangelion’ is probably a translation of the Hebrew b’shorah tovah (בשורה טובה), “good tidings” or “good news”. The Hebrew word is etymologically related to the word for “to herald” (verb: לבשר, l’basher) or a “herald” (noun: מבשר, m’basher), which also carries the meaning of “harbinger” and “portent”. In other words, the idea was that Jesus and his “apostles” were heralding the imminent eschaton, similar to how John the Baptist was heralding the imminent eschaton. So in that sense what John was proclaiming was the gospel (euangelion), as well.

            The message, however, seemed to change after Jesus’ death from heralding the imminent eschaton to the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. And so the “good news” went from being the advent of the eschaton to the “good news” of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Why the shift in meaning of the “good news”? Well, clearly, the eschaton failed to arrive (we’re still waiting 2,000 years later!), which necessitated the shift from imminent eschaton to salvation through Jesus’s death.

  15. Avatar
    mkahn1977  September 22, 2018

    Do we know why the editors/redactors decided to keep 4 separate gospels versus just truncate everything into one unified story/gospel? (Contradictions and all.)

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      Short story: these four books were circulated independently of one another and widely known. Only in Syria was there a serious attempt to combine them into one extensive account, in the second century Tatian’s Diatessaron. That one-Gospel edition was very popular for a long time there, but only there; and eventually the common practie of having four separate Gospels was seen to be better, even there.

  16. Avatar
    Steefen  September 22, 2018

    What problems do you have with the claim that Matthew came before Luke?

    Luke said he wanted to produce a better gospel than other gospels floating around..
    One way Luke differentiates his version of Jesus from Matthew which gives us Stoicism in the Beatitudes and The Our Father Prayer is to remove from an already present gospel of Matthew some of the Stoicism from the Beatitudes and the Our Father Prayer.

    When I googled and searched in biblehub dot com, I found Mark doesn’t have the Beatitudes and Mark does not have The Our Father Prayer.

    How can we be sure the Our Father Prayer and the Beatitudes were said by Jesus and not added by Matthew then redacted by Luke?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      It’s possible, of course, But more scholars think that Matthew and Luke both inherited the passages from the Q source. There are problems with thinking that Luke edited Matthew directly. For one thing it would mean that the vast majority of the traditions in Matthew but not in Mark were relocated to different parts of the story by Luke, and that would seem implausible.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  September 23, 2018

        It’s possible, of course, But more scholars think that Matthew and Luke both inherited the passages from the Q source.

        …inherited the passages from Q and worked independent of one another. Even if so, Matthew has been found to contain Stoic principles. (For only two writers to work from Q suggests a presentation of Q and Mark and a commission to do something better with it. “Matthew” and “Luke ” weren’t just in a library and the librarian put up a sign: “Copy of Q, we encourage you to read this” and these two writers went to their own study carrels and worked independenltly.

        Many have undertaken to compose an account
        of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
        just as they were handed down to us by the initial eyewitnesses and
        servants of the word–librarian/patron.
        Therefore, having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good
        also to me to write an orderly account for you most excellent Theophilus,
        so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught

        Most scholars accept Luke 1: 1-4, so we agree that Luke was including the gospels of Matthew and Mark in these verses.

        So, Luke would have had Mark, Q, and Matthew before him. And when Luke got to the Our Father Prayer and it said deliver us from evil, he did not include that phrase (from Matthew and maybe from Q) because it was referencing the Stoic Hymn to Zeus in which there’s a phrase of prayer to save us from evil.

        And when Luke got to, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” in Matthew (5: 48) , he de-Stoicized it to “Be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful” (Luke 6: 36)

        No, I’m not saying Luke directly edited the gospel of Matthew before the gospel of Matthew was published.

        You want us to think openly that while the Our Father and the Beatitudes are not in Mark but in Matthew and Luke, it is possible first that they were in Q without Stoic content, second that they were in Q with Stoic content, third, they were not in Q and they were inserted by Matthew and included in Luke who would not include Stoic references.

        I speak not of the vast majority of Mt but the Stoic content.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 24, 2018

          No, most scholars think Luke did not have Matthew as one of the Gospels available to him.

          • Avatar
            Steefen  September 24, 2018

            Professor Stanley K. Stowers of Brown University:
            Broad scholarly agreement holds that Luke follows Q, and that Matthew’s dramatic changes and additions reflect its own preoccupations. (See G. N. Stanton, 1992, “A Gospel for a New People: Studies in Matthew. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.)

            So, Luke makes it clear that the blessing to come in the kingdom of God is pronounced on actual poor, hungry, and oppressed people (6: 20-26). Matthew changes “blessed are you poor” to “blessed are the poor in spirit, which plays a central role in Stoic thought.

            Luke’s Jesus announces a mission directed at the poor and the oppressed. Matthew’s Jesus teaches about a rigorous quality of character that is the goal of his ethic and that will characterize the winners in the future kingdom.

            To Matthew, Luke’s Jesus, Mark’s Jesus, and Mark and Q’s Jesus does not tower over the ethical teachers of Greece and Rome.

            Professor Stanley K. Stowers:
            [“Matthew”] inherited a Jesus who was known as a teacher but had no clear and elaborated ethical teachings that would make him like or rather superior to the other great teachers of the culture. Stoicism was the most prominent and widely respected philosophy of the day. Furthermore, it had a reputation for being both rigorous and popular in the sense that it was directed at everyone and focuses upon those who were sinners and those who were trying to make moral progress. The Matthean Gospel’s adaptation of the ethic also helped to solve a huge proglem that it had inherited from Mark and Q. How is it that the people of God, the Jews, had been so blind and evil, and reject God’s chosen Messiah, that God had to destroy the nation, [the Temple, and Temple Judaism] ? [As Jesus criticized Temple authorities, perfection/righteousness with a clean heart was missing.]
            = = =
            Still, no written Q, no dating of Q (before or after Mark), no dating of the lifespans of the members of the Matthean and Lukan communities who produced the gospels.70-85. But we do know Stoicism is a key to Pauline ethics in Romans 12-15. When Paul went to Nero, he had to go through the Stoic Seneca and had to speak Seneca’s language to his Roman audience. Matthew is closer to Paul than Luke is, in reference to Stoic influence. Yes?

      • Avatar
        Steefen  September 25, 2018

        We do know Matthew contains Stoic principles, Romans 12-15 contains Stoic ethics, there is Stoic law in the writings of Paul, and when Paul went to Nero, he had to go through the Stoic Seneca and had to speak Seneca’s language to his Roman audience.

        First, we might as well conclude the historical Jesus was not an advanced and technical student of Stoicism but Matthew and Paul were.

        Second, the Stoic words Matthew puts into the mouth of Jesus were not Jesus’ words because Jesus was not an advanced and technical student of Stoicism.

        Third the Stoic content in the teachings of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew is more demanding than the teachings of Jesus in Luke. Those who have made sacrifices to meet the demands of Stoic teachings in Matthew were not doing so for the historical Jesus.

        Furthermore, the Our Father Prayer, the Beatitudes, the call to be perfect (all referencing Stoicism) do not appear in the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of canonical gospels are not the words of Jesus because 1) Jesus was not a Stoic and 2) they could be later additions by the communities of “Matthew” and “Luke”.

        Furthermore, the main word in the Beatitudes was coined by Cicero, so a person who developed a sermon on beatitudes is indebted to Cicero, a major contributor to Roman Stoicism. (The Latin noun beātitūdō was coined by Cicero to describe a state of blessedness, and was later incorporated within the chapter headings written for Matthew 5 in various printed versions of the Vulgate.)

        = = =
        Dr. Ehrman, do you agree with the above conclusions? If not, what do you instruct as to correct those conclusions?

        Dr. Ehrman, do you agree that since Jesus did not deliver a Luke version and a Matthew version of his Our Father Prayer and Beatitudes, only one version suits the historical Jesus and that version would be the version of Luke, since it is Matthew who had preoccupations with Stoicism, not Jesus?


        • Bart
          Bart  September 26, 2018

          No, I don’t think Matthew was heavily influenced by Stoic philosophy. I’d be interested in seeing which specific Stoics you’re talking about and what specific passages you detect stoic influence in. I’m most familiar with Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, and I see Matthew as fundamentally different from all three. So if you have specific parallels to specific passages (i.e. which words in Matthew line up with which words in which Stoic author), with references, I/we would like to see them.

          • Avatar
            Steefen  September 26, 2018

            UNC Chapel Hill Libraries
            Call Number: BR128.A2 S76 2010
            Davis Library (3rd floor temporarily closed — Use request form
            Stoicism in Early Christianity
            Chapter 4: Jesus the Teacher and Stoic Ethics in the Gospel of Matthew
            by (Professor) Stanley K. Stowers (Brown University)

            You might as well get the line of reasoning from someone your own size than second hand from me.

          • Bart
            Bart  September 28, 2018

            It is never a question of whether one person/scholar or another says/maintains one view or another.

  17. Avatar
    caesar  September 22, 2018

    If we were to assume that Jesus actually predicted the destruction of the temple (whether he was divine, or just made an educated guess), is it feasible to date the gospels much earlier? For example, I think James Crossley dates Mark in the 30s or 40s

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      Yes, i’ts possible. You’d still have to account for why authors like Paul and the later writers of the NT do not appear to know anything about written Gospels; and the texts do seem to presuppose sayings/accounts that have been molded for a logn time in the oral tradition. But the 40s would be theoretically *possible*, even if not as likely.

      • Avatar
        Barryb  March 21, 2020

        to me it seems very plausible that Mark could have been written very early. between 40 and 62.
        Jesus his claim, that all these things will take place at a time that this generation will not have passed, is a more convincing argument then the one that Paul didn’t mention the gospels.
        the writer of the gospel of Marc wouldn’t have written it down like that if he was writing after, for example, 65AD. most of that generation would have been dead. at those times it was an exception that people lived longer then 50 or 60 years old.
        Paul could have reason’s for not mentioning or knowing the gospels. could be he didn’t agree with them, could be they where not circulating a lot yet at that time.
        To me is seems also very possible that the writer of Marc could have gotten his information on Jesus from first hand, from a person or more people who knew Jesus personally. he could have heard them preaching, he could have met and talked with one of or more of them personally.
        The claim that the gospel writers got their information on Jesus through oral tradition that have been going on for decades and there for is not reliable doesn’t have to be true.
        that is guessing in my opinion.
        We just don’t know and both options are open.

  18. Avatar
    Stephen  September 22, 2018

    I read recently that there is a textual variant in one manuscript of the gospel of John where the witness to the Empty Tomb was not Mary of Magdala but Mary the mother of Jesus. The thinking was that if the variant was the original reading the textual tradition might have been modified to bring John’s account in line with the other gospels. Does this textual variant exist? if so what do you make if it?


    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      No, I don’t see any textual variant at that point.

  19. Avatar
    wje  September 22, 2018

    Was there anything ever written in Aramaic?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      Yes indeed. Even parts of the bible (portions of both Daniel and Ezra).

  20. Avatar
    Kohlglau  September 22, 2018

    Thanks for the great post. I have a question Dr. Ehrman.

    In your opinion is Matt 22 employing a mixed metaphor? Is the “king” God sending the Roman army, but is the “king” also the Roman emperor sending his own Roman army?


    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2018

      It appears that the “king” is God here; he is the one responsible for the troops destroying Jerusalem (the other things said about the king wouldn’t fit the Roman emperor)

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