Analysis & Research

How late is too late?

What does it do to the trustworthiness of the witness testimony contained within the Gospels, when it is asserted that the Gospel of Matthew was not written until four, five, or six decades after the dialogues and events contained therein?

First, I want to highlight the dating claims made by some scholars concerning Matthew, which generally assume that the disciple Matthew did not write the Gospel of Matthew.

For example, Richard Bauckham states that “most scholars” assert that Matthew and Luke were written “during or close to the decade 80–90 CE,” after “most of the disciples of Jesus had died.”1 Craig Keener states that the book “may suggest a date after 70, perhaps as late as the 80s.”2 Per Jeannine Brown, “Matthew probably was written not much later than AD 80.”3 Bart Ehrman claims that Matthew was “probably produced … perhaps around 80 or 85.”4 Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli are confident that Matthew wrote after “the destruction of Jerusalem” and perhaps in “the early eighties.”5 Raymond Brown and Marion Soards date Matthew to “80–90, give or take a decade”6

I suspect that most people would concur that these late dates undermine the perceived credibility of any witness testimony contained within Matthew’s Gospel, despite whatever credit we might give to the robustness of contemporary memorization practices. Certainly, Christians can still choose to trust the contents of Matthew’s Gospel, believing that it was divinely inspired and therefore truthful, akin to the belief that books such as Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, etc. are likewise inspired and therefore truthful and inerrant, even though we don’t know who wrote such or when they were compiled and published. Yet, I contend that the Gospel of Matthew presents itself as something more, as offering the same kind of first person witness testimony which Peter and John claim elsewhere (e.g., 1 Pet. 5:1; 1 John 1:2).7

Others scholars, who affirm that the disciple Matthew was indeed the author, contend that the Gospel was written in the 60s,8 or perhaps even in the 50s.9 Even these dates have to presume that the author had quite an extraordinary memory or that he heavily leaned on supernaturally empowered recall, which almost rises to the level of divine dictation.

This all leads to the question which I want to leave you with. How late can we go with Matthew’s publication date without undermining the perceived credibility of the witness testimony, while not leaning too exclusively on supernatural empowerment?

  1. Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 19–20. ↩︎
  2. Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 42. ↩︎
  3. Jeannine K. Brown, Matthew, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015), 22. ↩︎
  4. Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000), 43. ↩︎
  5. Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli, Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature: A Literary History (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 49. ↩︎
  6. Raymond E. Brown and Marion L. Soards, An Introduction to the New Testament: The Abridged Edition, Abridged (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), 59. ↩︎
  7. Perhaps I need to overtly make the case in the future that Matthew presents itself as witness testimony. ↩︎
  8. For example, D. A Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 156; R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 19; Grant R Osborne, Matthew, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 34–35. ↩︎
  9. For example, Robert G. Gromacki, New Testament Survey (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1974), 71; John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 286–289. ↩︎

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