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The Origin of our Gospels


I have studied the four Gospels for decades and have read a number of views and theories about the origins of these.  As many of us know, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptics because they have the same general backbone and overall structure.  John's Gospel is different and seemingly later with an emphasis on theological relationships.  I wanted to start a discussion on this subject, which I find fasinating.  Over time with much research I have come to what I feel is a reasonable view.  Below I will briefly (relatively briefly) state what I believe were the origins of the four Gospels..

Gospel of Mark

I do not believe any genuine scholar today places the publishing of Mark after 70 AD. This is the latest date for it.  On the other hand some recent fragments have been found that seem to be of Mark.  These are possibly from about 54 AD but are somewhat controversial (see 'P45 fragment'...).  Obviously if this is true then this gospel goes back prior to that date.  Marks gospel is generally considered to be the earliest and shortest.  Tradition has it (Papias..) that John Mark would sometimes travel along with Simon Peter and listen to the fast moving account as Peter told it.  It was probably published by Mark around 62 AD when Peter was getting on in years.  Peter was murdered by the Romans in the 60s.  John Mark is sometimes thought to be the young man that fled naked at the arrest of Jesus (Mark 14:51-), which is a small detail supporting his authorship of the writing...

Gospel of Matthew

Matthews gospel is still considered the earliest by a few and some have placed it as early as 37 AD, but most place it later then Marks Gospel.  I feel that it could be looked upon as a second edition of the early gospel, but with the editions of the Beatitudes and genealogies.  It is also considered to be more polished then the earlier gospel.  When Marks work was copied out many times and spread around to several churches someone around 80 AD (?) decided to publish another.  Its relationship to Marks gospel is a fact for it seems to contain over 90% of the early work.  The writer of this gospel used information from the community (Q...meaning 'source'). 

Gospel of Luke

I believe that this gospel is the second one published.  He (Luke) is also responsible for the Book of Acts, which terminates with Paul in prison.  Nothing in Luke-Acts is said of anything beyond that point suggesting that the writer (Luke) passed on or decided to say nothing more.  There is nothing about the horrific things in Jerusalem of 70 AD.  Although some will date this gospel to about 88/90 AD for styling reasons, I don't believe the facts warrant this and something more like 67 AD is more evident.  The writer clearly used the work of John Mark as well as the 'source'.

The three gospels listed above are the synoptics and have a clear relationship. 

Gospel of John

This gospel is clearly different but not in the sense of teaching a different story of Jesus.  It seems to bring up things which the earlier three did not mention. It also has a distint style.  It is much more theological, dealing with relationships and spiritual matters.  If this gospel is not from the apostle John then it was from a companion of his!  It also deals more with signs.  John is thought to have written this gospel as a very old fellow about 94/97 AD., possibly in Ephesus.

This is my unadorned and brief view of the times, dates, and order of the publishing of the 4 gospels.  I would like to point out that as time goes on and more information is discovered, about manuscripts and such, the New Testament has gradually been dated earlier and earlier.  Even as late as say 110 AD there were probably still living a few eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus.  There was not enough time for any legends to develop.  I can only speak for myself but I can remember many events that happened 50 or more years ago when I was a young boy.  This would be equivalent to some eyewitnesses of Jesus living in about the 80s AD, a couple decades after much of Paul's writings were published.

pastor Zomok



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  • A very interesting post Steve and a great subject for discussion.

    Although it is the message that is the important thing, that I am sure no one will argue over, there is plenty of meat here to chew over.  Some good many years ago now, I did some reading and research, just as you have done, and one hypothesis stood out to me that explains the similarity between the Gospels and the argument about who was first to go to press. Firstly we need to see why only four of the Gospels were regarded as worth including despite a couple of others since being found. Matthew was a tax-man, he had to keep records and so was literate. Luke as a physician would also have been literate, John seems to have been a fisherman, and we know so little about Mark that we do not know if he would have been literate or no. As John's Gospel seems to have been the last to be written, John may have learned to read and write in the intervening years, if he did not already have the skill. It is likely that he may have been literate as John seems to be the most spiritual of the four, which are historical accounts.

    Interestingly The four Gospels were all anonymous until 180-185AD and all written in the third person about Jesus and his disciples, not one of them contains a first-person narrative, as one would expect. “Justin Martyr, writing around 150-60 AD, quotes verses from the Gospels, but does not indicate what the Gospels were named. For Justin, these books are simply known, collectively, as the 'Memoires of the Apostles.” (from "Forged" by Bart Ehrman (2011). P225).

    The theory to which I believe holds mush credit is that all three Gospels were originally constructed from 'Tracts' of notes written mainly Jesus ministry, which were used by the disciples when they later preached to the people. It is likely that these were written by a third party, accounting for them being written in the third person. It has been suggested that Judas may have written many of these notes as the group's scribe. These 'notes' will have been passed around and copied time and again and many of the apostles and church leaders would have had copies. They were possibly first collated by the author of Mark's Gospel and passed on in that bool-form.

    Of the three synoptic Gospels, Luke's stands out because his in-depth account of the pre-birth period, it seems to me that Luke made a definite effort to interview/talk in depth to Mary to gain the information here. John's Gospel is entirely different; language, sentence structure and style to the other gospels. The Gospel contradicts all three of the other Gospels on almost every point of history, John. instead set out to write interesting and meaningful stories about Jesus, who was by then, famous c125AD.

    Whilst I believe that the Gospels are accurate in their reporting, I feel there is some strong evidence that the church fathers ascribed the Gospels to the four disciples later, around 180AD, and used the four high profile disciples as they needed famous names for the four books.

    • Your 'tracts' theory sounds a bit like the theory that a large proto-gospel existed and about 63 AD several individuals tailored their own forms of it. Could be, could be...........?   I think all we can say with certainty is that our 4 gospels originated amongst the early Christians between 35 and 100 AD, and that the synoptics have somekind of relationship. Furthermore these were being quoted by the church fathers by the second century which means that they were being spread around for awhile.

      I do appreciate Lukes (I presume it was Luke) research.  I can see  little differences in his details when compared to Mark and Matthew.  An example of this is where he says about '8 days' (chapter 9:28), rather than 6 days as Mark and Matthew.  The man obviously interviewed some folks who knew about or experienced the Transfiguration but were not sure of the exact number of days between a prior event and it, but plainly it was around a week.  This sort of difference gives more support to the account.  Luke did real research and speaking to others about it

      • You are right, these are the basic facts Steve, a part of my thinking is that as the dates for the Gospels get further and further away from the actual events the less accurate they become, if they were taken from memory. There must have been some form of core reference, that was passed around. Certainly the late date for Johns Gospel, at up to 124 AD makes me very suspicious of John's Gospel, surely at least by that age John must have been on Patmos. If indeed the John of Revelation was the same as the disciple John, which I have always had doubts about. I normally quote one as the Disciple John and the other as John the Evangelist (you may have noticed). The main reason for this is that the Book of Revelation has been dated as recent as 175 AD at at least 100 AD; how old was John when he died? I consider that if these are two different Johns the later one, the Evangelist, may have been responsible for John's Gospel. Other than that, it was just a random name chosen by the early church fathers. The many inconsistencies in John's version, can lend itself to support both theories, that John's memory was failing him and that it was written by a different John.

        • The John Rylands fragment (P52) of John's Gospel is generally dated to about 120 AD by paleography but the range is very broad 100 to 190 AD or so but it does show that Johns gospel had to be wide spread by the second century. These had to be copied out by hand so to find even a piece just 3 by 3 inches or so would indicate that a number of copies must have been around by say the year 150.  Actually the same can be said about the Book of Daniel.  Many date it long after Daniels day and suggest 165 BC, yet it is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls around 100 BC. which suggests, in the eyes of many, that it comes long before 165 BC. 

          One of the things I wanted to mention for readers is that bits and pieces of the gospel events are found in the Letters of Paul too.  1 Corinthians 11:23-25 echoes Luke 22:19-21.  This is but one example.

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