Date of Composition

Luke, the author of the gospel that bears his name, indicates in Acts 1:1 that he had already written his gospel, so this must have been prior to 62 AD, the time of Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome; it may have been completed as early as 58 AD.  And it must have been before 70 AD, as the sack of Jerusalem by the Roman legions occurred in that year.  Luke records Christ’s prophecy of this event which, if it had already occurred, he would have recorded as well.

Chapman writes: “St. Luke had plenty of time during the two years he lived with St. Paul at Rome to write the book of Acts.  The date of his Gospel is earlier.  He may have written it in his first year at Rome, or before this while St. Paul was in prison for two years at Caesarea, or even earlier yet.  One reason for thinking he wrote it at Rome might be that St. Mark’s gospel was written there, and that it was at Rome that he became acquainted with it, and used it for his principal authority, as containing the recollections of the Prince of the Apostles.  But he must have collected the materials which are peculiar to him before he left Palestine” (Chapman 1946, p 29).

Nyland concurs, saying, “The date is not known precisely: it was after the late 50s, and before the end of the 60s.  The book of Acts ends before Paul’s trial was over, suggesting that it was written prior to 62’3 AD.  It is clear that Luke-Acts is a two volume work and that Luke was written prior to Acts.  Matthew and Luke were unaware of each other’s work, and thus should be dated around the same time as each other.  Matthew was written prior to the war with the Romans in 66-70 AD, and Acts covers events up to 63 AD.  62 AD seems to be the most likely date for the writing of Luke” (Nyland, Dr. A, 2007, p. 105).

It seems that trying to establish dates for the writing of the gospels is notoriously difficult.  In the Introduction to Luke’s gospel, for example, the New American Bible Revised Edition gives us a different set of dates for Luke’s composition of his gospel.  “Because of its dependence on the Gospel of Mark and because details in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 13:35a; 19:43-44; 21:20; 23:23-31) imply that the author was acquainted with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70, the Gospel of Luke is dated by most scholars after that date; many propose AD 80-90 as the time of composition”.  However, these other proposed dates are made mostly by liberal scholars and are therefore not to be trusted as they come from a position of unbelief, as can be seen here in their non-acceptance of biblical prophecy being legitimate, i.e. the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies.  Whereas bible-believing Christians believe that biblical prophecy is history written in advance, the unbelieving and apostate liberals regard it as prophecy written in hindsight; and this prophecy is a classic example of their unbelief.


As with Matthew and Mark, Luke’s gospel doesn’t have his name attached to the text but, as with Matthew and Mark and secular histories, it doesn’t matter because this was common.  “Both style and language offer convincing evidence that the same person wrote Luke and Acts.  The ‘former book’ of Acts 1:1 then is likely a reference to the third Gospel as the first of a two-volume series, and the fact that the writer dedicates both books to Theophilus also strongly argues for common authorship.  Since church tradition unanimously attributes these two works to Luke the physician, a close associate of Paul (Col 4:14; Phm 24; 2 Ti 4:11), and since the internal evidence supports this view, there is no reason to dispute the Lukan authorship” (“New Spirit-Filled Life Bible” NIV).

The Church has always accepted that Luke was the author of the gospel attributed to him, and the witnesses for Luke’s gospel, i.e. John’s gospel, Papias, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, 1 Clement, are the same as for the other gospels, so we need only look at internal evidence.  However, it must be said that much of modern scholarship (aka unbelief) does not accept that this gospel was written by Luke the physician and travelling companion of the Apostle Paul.

Dr. Ross Clifford, a lawyer and Principal of Morling Theological College in Sydney, Australia, writing of Judge Bennett’s view of the evidence for Luke’s gospel, says “The book of Luke would be expected to have medical emphases if Luke were the author, for he was a doctor.  And we do have such evidence!  All four Gospels record the incident where Peter cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s servant.  But Luke alone (chapter 22, verses 50 and 51) documents Jesus restoring the man’s ear.

In addition, where Matthew and Mark speak of Peter’s mother-in-law as having a fever, Luke diagnoses (chapter 4, verse 38) a high fever.  Similarly Luke (chapter 5, verse 12) records Jesus as not just healing a leper, but a man full of leprosy.  Judge Bennett confirms that passages like these endorse Lucan authorship (emphases his).

It is also interesting to note that Luke (chapter 8, verse 43), unlike Mark (chapter 5, verse 26), makes no mention of the woman with the haemorrhage having spent all her money on doctors.  Perhaps this is a case of professional etiquette!” (Clifford 1991, p 20-21).

Luke’s Use of Matthew and Mark

Chapman suggests an interesting view of why the gospels have passages and words in common.  It will be seen from the following quote that he accepts that Matthew was first written in Hebrew, and this Hebrew Matthew was written before the other gospels. 

“Now it seems perfectly clear that when St. Luke was composing his Gospel he possessed no complete translation of St. Matthew; but it seems equally clear that before it was finished he came to know our Greek St. Matthew, and that he revised many parts of his Gospel according to the wording of his translation, but not any of those parts he had taken from St. Mark, evidently being aware that St. Mark’s authority, St. Peter, had used St. Matthew, so that St. Luke prefers St. Mark to St. Matthew.  He also must have introduced here and there short pieces from Matthew, but was unable to interpolate much into his nearly complete manuscript.

I have said that St. Luke respects the order of St. Mark.  In fact he inserts his additional matter into St. Mark in great chunks, and never in small details.  He has a long piece at the beginning of Our Lord’s Birth, and a long piece at the end of his Resurrection.  Of the other additions, the longest is an interpolation of scarcely less than nine chapters at about the end of St. Mark’s ninth chapter.  All this gives a series of incidents and discourses and parables, described as taking place during Our Lord’s last journey to Jerusalem.  There does not seem to be any strict chronological order either here or elsewhere in St. Luke.  He often strings together incidents with only vague indications of time, and hangs one saying on another without any logical connection.

The extraordinary beauty of St. Luke’s Gospel depends chiefly on those parts, more than a quarter of the whole, which are in no other Gospel.  Of these portions the most famous and the most dearly loved by Christians, is that which comprises his first and second chapters…” and Chapman goes on to mention those passages which are unique to Luke’s gospel.

“Thus all these additions of St. Luke are of astonishing beauty.  How painfully [perhaps he meant ‘painstakingly’?] he must have collected them, and how carefully and wisely selected them!

We can now guess why he omitted a third part of St. Mark, who’s Gospel he evidently venerated and wished to complete.  What he omitted would not be lost, since it was in St. Mark.  But he had so much to add of infinite value to souls.  And he is evidently anxious not to exceed a single volume.  For there was a definite size for a roll of commerce, and St. Luke has reached the limit of custom and convenience.  His is the longest book in the New Testament, and the publishers and booksellers would have allowed no more.  And when we examine what St. Luke has omitted of St. Mark, we can almost invariably guess the reason.  In most cases it is a duplicate which he omits”; and Chapman then recounts the omissions” (Chapman 1946, p 32-35).

Luke’s other Sources

Luke tells us that his gospel is a compilation of previously written accounts about Jesus.  It is also quite likely that some of his material was verbal accounts in circulation around the churches, and perhaps even his own interviews with some of the eyewitnesses; e.g. Mary could have been one of these interviewees. This is speculative but more than likely, and should be considered.

We’ve already seen that his major sources were the gospels of Mark and of Matthew; but it is also evident that there were other sources (Lk 1; 1-2).  Unfortunately, none of them exist now and scholars are left with the difficult task of trying to identify them because there are no extant autographs or copies of any written record of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus apart from the gospels.  The earliest record we have is Mark’s gospel, which is the eyewitness account of the apostle Peter as given to Mark. 

I am aware that most modern scholars, even some of them being evangelical, regard the Four Gospels as being written by others than the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  But I am only interested, for this series of articles, in stating the case for the authorship of Matthew and John, the disciples of Jesus, as therefore being eye-witness accounts, with Mark and Luke being the accounts of unnamed eye-witnesses as recorded by them.

I. Howard Marshall (1994, p. 979), a highly regarded evangelical scholar, who is one of those who regard the Gospels as being written by unnamed and unknown later authors, says: “The most commonly accepted theory is that Luke and Matthew both had access to copies of the earlier Gospel of Mark as well as to a further collection of sayings of Jesus (generally known as ‘Q’) which has not survived.  But in addition to what he got from these sources, Luke had a considerable amount of further information of his own (sometimes referred to by the symbol ‘L’).In view of their origins among people with personal knowledge of Jesus and the early years of the church Luke rightly regarded these sources as reliable for his purpose”.

Luke’s introduction gives us the impression that he is very meticulous about his sources.  He tells us: “I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Lk 1:3-4 NRSV).  Here is reassurance for the reader that the gospel he has in his hand is a true record of the events of the most important Person who ever lived.  And we have further assurance of the reliability of Luke’s gospel because the scripture says that “All scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim 3:16).  Luke may not have been aware that he was writing scripture, but God nevertheless guided him in what he was writing and compiling.  “…no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21 NRSV).

Like Matthew but to a greater extent, Luke rewrote Marks’ material, making many small changes in it; and yet he was using his sources responsibly to record the story, as we can see from the geographical and political background to the events about which he wrote, and with particular faithfulness to the words of Christ.  Nevertheless, it is disconcerting that there are differences between the gospels, and some of them cannot be adequately explained.  But while the Gospels are a record of the life and ministry of Jesus, and are set out in an orderly manner, they are nonetheless sermonic in character, and the Gospel authors move events around in the story to suit their theological purpose.  The aim of the authors was to bring people to faith in Jesus.  This explains why there are differences between them.

Marshall says, “If, like John, Luke has given us an artist’s portrait of Jesus rather than a photograph, he has given us a true portrait” (p. 979).  So the problem of the differences between the gospels is not that they contain errors gathered over time through careless or malicious copying but that the gospel writers wrote them that way.  They took the original source material and wove it into a portrait, rather than presenting the story as strictly historical or biographical narrative.  They were constructed so as to bring people to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (see John 20:3-31).


Chapman, Dom John, “The Four Gospels” 1946, publ. Sheed and Ward, London, England.

Clifford, R, “Leading Lawyers Look at the Resurrection” 1991, Albatross Books, Sutherland, Australia.

Nyland, Dr. A, 2007, “The Source New Testament”, Translation and notes by Dr. A. Nyland.  Copyright by Anne Maxwell-Nithsdale Nyland 2004, 2007, publ. Smith and Stirling Publishing, Australia.

Wallace, D. 2011, “Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament”, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 49501