Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 6, we conclude J. Warner Wallace’s case for the early dating of Mark, Luke, and Acts, as written in his book Cold-Case Christianity. In the previous 5 posts, we have seen 11 pieces of evidence with which Wallace builds his case. Now it is time to see what we can conclude from the evidence. Here is Wallace:
First we’ve got to account for the suspicious absence of several key historical events in the New Testament record: the destruction of the temple, the siege of Jerusalem, and the deaths of Peter, Paul, and James. These omissions can be reasonably explained if the book of Acts (the biblical text that ought to describe these events) was written prior to AD 61– 62. These events are missing from the accounts because they hadn’t happened yet.
The absence of these key events leads us to think that Acts was written before AD 62, and certainly before AD 70. Given the dating of Acts, what does that mean for Luke?
We know from the introductory lines of the book of Acts that Luke’s gospel was written prior to Acts, but we must use the remaining circumstantial evidence to try to determine how much prior. The fact that Paul echoed the description of Jesus that was offered by the gospel writers is certainly consistent with the fact that he was aware of the claims of the Gospels, and his quotations from Luke’s gospel in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians reasonably confirm the early existence of Luke’s account, placing it well before AD 53– 57. Paul was able to quote Luke’s gospel and refer to it as scripture because it was already written, circulating at this time, and broadly accepted. Paul’s readers recognized this to be true as they read Paul’s letters.
So the Gospel of Luke is mostly likely before AD 53-57 because Paul’s letters were quoting from Luke, and we have good evidence for the early dating of Paul’s letters. If Luke was early, then what about Mark?
Luke told us that he was gathering data from “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1: 2). As a result he either referred to or quoted directly from over five hundred verses that are found in either the gospel of Mark or the gospel of Matthew. It is reasonable to infer that these accounts were in existence prior to Luke’s investigation. If this is the case, Mark’s gospel would date much earlier than Luke’s, and can be sensibly placed in either the late 40s or very early 50s. This then explains some of the characteristics we see in Mark’s gospel. There appears to be a sense of urgency in the gospel, similar to the crime broadcasts that are made by responding officers, and Mark appears to be protecting key players in the account as if they were still alive at the time of his writing.
Because of the evidence, Wallace offers dates of AD 45-50 for Mark, AD 50-53 for Luke, and AD 57-60 for Acts. Thus Wallace writes:
The reasonable inference from the circumstantial evidence is that the Gospels were written very early in history, at a time when the original eyewitnesses and gospel writers were still alive and could testify to what they had seen. This is why Mark was careful not to identify key players and Paul could reasonably point to five hundred living eyewitnesses who could still testify to their observations of Jesus’s resurrection. While skeptics would like to claim that the Gospels were written well after the alleged life of the apostles and much closer to the councils that affirmed them, the evidence indicates something quite different.