There is much debate concerning when the gospels were written. Some argue that the Gospels were written later than the time of the eyewitnesses because Christians believed that Jesus was returning soon and saw no need to record Jesus’ teachings in writing. Others argue that Christians would have had good reason to immediately begin preserving Jesus’ teachings in writing.
Oral Apostolic Authority?
Some argue that the authority of oral tradition from the apostles meant that people did not see a need to write down the apostles’ teachings. In the east, word of mouth was more authoritative than written documents, so it is suggested that Christians did not see a need to write down the apostles’ teachings until these eyewitnesses had died.
However, one argument against this position is that since Christianity spread so rapidly, people would have seen a need to spread the apostles’ teachings through writing, since the apostles could not be everywhere at once.
Also, Luke says in his Gospel that for an undefined period before he wrote, other people had also produced written accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings. From this, it seems there was motivation early on to preserve Jesus’ life and teachings in writing.
Parousia – The Imminent Return of Christ?
Some argue that Christians did not see a need to write anything down because they believed Jesus would return at any moment. However there are several arguments against this position:
- The New Testament epistles were written before the Gospels.
- Jesus Himself said that before the parousia, His return, the nations must first hear the gospel. It is reasonable to believe that Christians would have thought it was important for writing down Jesus’ teachings to teach the nations about Jesus.
- There had already been a tradition of writing down the teachings of God’s anointed people in the Old Testament.
Cost of Writing Materials?
Some argue that it would have been impractical to write down Jesus’ teachings because of the high cost of writing materials. However, this problem would be the same no matter when the Gospels were written, whether earlier or later.
It seems that if Christians wanted to write down Jesus’ teachings, the teachings would be written down somehow.
Reasons Christians Had to Write the Gospels Early
Below are several other reasons Christians would have had to write down the Gospels at an early date:
- Christians would likely have wanted to write down Jesus’ teachings for catechetical purposes. Written documents would likely have been seen as important to spread Jesus’ teachings to the Gentiles.
- Written documents would have been used for liturgical, or worship, purposes.