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Dating The Writings of Luke














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Why Luke’s Writings had to be before AD 70

 

 

     In the opening lines of his Gospel Luke gives his purpose for writing: Forasmuch as many haue taken in hande to set foorth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely beleeued among vs, Euen as they deliuered them vnto vs, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, & ministers of the word: It seemed good to me also, hauing had perfect vnderstanding of things from the very first, to write vnto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:1-3 KJV AV 1611[1]).  In this opening passage Luke tells us that there were other “Gospels” already in circulation. These Gospels were from eyewitnesses and ministers of the gospels: Apostles? How many were there and exactly who were the writers Luke doesn’t tell us. There is no evidence that would preclude any one of the other three gospels from being in that group.

     Luke’s Gospel has been dated by many as being written in the 80’s AD[2].  This has to be from conjecture as there is no internal evidence that would lead one to this date. In fact, there is no internal evidence that would need such a late date to be assigned to the writings of Luke.  All of the internal evidence in the gospel of Luke and Acts point the reader to an early date for the writings.

      Many scholars put a date on Luke’s Gospel that makes it later than the Gospel of Matthew. Both of these Gospels include the parable of the Great Supper: Matthew 22:1ff and Luke 14:16ff.  After a reading of the parable in both Gospels it becomes obvious that there are differences in the two. Of these differences Gunther Bornkamm wrote, “One sees that Luke tells it different than Matthew, and provides the older text.”[3] Though Bornkamm gives Luke later composition date, between AD 75 and AD 95,[4] he gives it a composition date earlier than Matthew. If Luke was written before Matthew, and there were more than one Gospel already in circulation, could Mark and John both predate Luke? Most scholars give Mark the earlier of the dates suggesting that Luke and Matthew drew from Mark’s work in their Gospels: In contrast to the traditional view, many contemporary scholars regard Mark as a source text used by the author(s) of Luke. Since Mark was probably written after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem around 70, Luke could not have been written before 70. Based on this datum, scholars have suggested dates for Luke from 80 to as late as  150, and Acts shortly thereafter, also between 80 and 150.[5]  But, there is no internal evidence to suggest such a date or require it. In fact all Biblical for the writings of Luke suggest a date earlier than the one given it by most scholars.

     In his first epistle to Timothy, Paul wrote, “For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not mousell the oxe that treadeth out the corne: and, The labourer is worthy of his reward (1 Timothy 5:18 KJV 1611). Paul calls this verse “scripture” using the Greek word graphe (Strong’s number1124). Strong’s defines graphe as “a document, that is, holy Writ (or its contents or a statement in it): - scripture.[6]  Paul called these verses a part of a written document: Scripture! So, these scriptures can have a date no later than the mid to late 60’s AD as Paul was beheaded during this time. They had to be in written form and in circulation before the death of Paul as he refers to using the word graphe: written word.  In his Gospel, Luke records the following: For the labourer is worthy of his hire (Luke 10:7).  Paul, in 1 Timothy 5:18, calls Luke 10:7 scripture. Paul refers to the writings of Luke as scripture, graphe: written word already in circulation by the mid 60’s AD.  In quoting Luke as scripture, Paul not only challenges the later dates many scholars have assigned to his work, but he provides external evidence that the Gospel of Luke was in fact written before the AD 70 fall of Jerusalem.

     If a later date is used for the composition of Luke, curiously missing is any record of the events of AD 70.  In regards to the Fall of Jerusalem, Luke records Jesus as saying, “As for these things which yee behold, the dayes will come, in the which there shal not be left one stone vpon another, that shal not be throwen downe” (Luke 21:6).  We are given a prophecy made by Jesus, yet through Luke’s Gospel and Acts we are never given any account of its fulfillment. If Luke had written his Gospel after the AD 70 events would he have omitted something as important as the Fall of Jerusalem: an event foretold by none other than Jesus himself? Would this not have helped him to show that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be? Would this not have made a better impression and given more credence to his words when Theophilus read them? Would a person of Luke’s caliber leave out such an important fact: not just the biggest event in the Jewish history, but the fulfillment of one of Jesus’ prophecies?

     The same lack of evidence requiring a later date is present in the book of Acts.  Luke records neither the fall of Jerusalem nor the death of one of the main characters of the Book. The apostle Paul was beheaded during the reign of Nero. This date can be no later than AD 68, the year Nero committed suicide.[7]  It can also not have a date before AD 64, the year Nero burned Rome and blamed the Christians and began to persecute them. Yet, the Acts are silent on the beheading of Paul. If Luke had written Acts after AD 70, there is no doubt he would have included the account of the fall of Jerusalem. Likewise, had Luke written Acts after the beheading of Paul, Luke would have surely included it in the book of Acts.  Instead, Luke ends the Book of Acts with Paul under house arrest; he gives us no account of the death of Paul.

     The Book of Acts would require a date of 63-64 AD. And, when we look at Luke’s reason for writing the Acts, we see that Acts is follow up to the Gospel of Luke: “The former treatise haue I made, O Theophilus, of al that Iesus began both to doe and teach” (Acts 1:1). Therefore we can conclude that for Acts to be a sequel to the Gospel of Luke, and Acts has a date of 63-64 Ad, Luke’s Gospel had to come out before this time. Assigning a date of the late 50’s-early 60’s is the best bet on a date for Luke’s Gospel, with a date of 63-64 for the Book of Acts.

      There is no evidence in any of Luke’s writings that would require a date after the early 60’s AD. In fact the evidence in Luke’s writings not only point to a date before the mid 60’s, they require one. 

  



[1] All Bible verse King James Authorized Version 1611 unless otherwise noted

[2] http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/luke/intro.htm

[3] Gunther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth, (New York: Harper and Rowe, 1975), p.18

[4] Bornkamm, Appendix 1

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Luke

[6] James Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance  (United States: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997)

[7] http://www2.evansville.edu/ecoleweb/timeline/































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