|What is the evidence for holding that Luke wrote his Gospel
before Mark did his, as noted in the Table of the Books of the Bible of the New World Translation?
The Watchtower, March 15, 1963, pp. 191-2
Copyright © 1963 Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Many theologians of Christendom theorize that Mark’s Gospel and another source of information designated “Q,” standing for the German word Quelle, and meaning “source,” were the basis for Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels and that therefore Mark and “Q” must have come first. The reason for many holding this is that they endeavor to account for the similarity of the Gospels, since they do not accept them as inspired. But all such faithless theories must fall when brought head on with the facts, such as the incontrovertible testimony of the early church overseers that Matthew was the first to put his Gospel into writing. Said Origen (A.D. 185-254): “The first Gospel was written by Matthew.”
Then who came next, Mark or Luke? Christian Bible students for long held that Mark came before Luke, but further consideration makes it appear that Luke most likely wrote his Gospel before Mark wrote his. Throwing light on this question is the record at Acts 24:27 to 27:1, which shows that Paul’s imprisonment of two years at Caesarea ended shortly after Porcius Festus succeeded Antonius Felix when Festus sent Paul to Rome because of his appeal to Caesar. And when was this?
While there is some question as to the exact years, the weight of opinion is that Festus succeeded the renegade Felix in A.D. 58. Thus A New Standard Bible Dictionary states: “On the whole, 58 A.D. seems the most probable date on which his [Festus’] procuratorship began.” This is also the date given by Young’s exhaustive Bible concordance and is supported by The Encyclopædia Britannica, 1959 edition, Vol. 3, page 528, which in its article on Bible chronology states, among other things: “The balance of the two lines of argument suggest the year 58 for the recall of Felix and arrival of Festus. If St. Paul was arrested in 56, and appealed to Caesar on the arrival of Festus in 58, then, as he reached Rome in the early part of the year following, and remained there in prison for two full years, we are brought down to the early spring of 61 for the close of the period recorded in the Acts.”—Acts 27:1–28:1, 11-16, 30.
It follows that Acts must have been written then, for had it been written later it is reasonable to conclude that Luke would have given us further information regarding Paul. Now at the beginning of Acts Luke tells his friend Theophilus that he had previously written his Gospel. So his Gospel must have been written before 61. But just when? While Luke was in Rome with Paul? Hardly, for there he would not have had access to the many ‘compilations of statements’ that he mentions, nor would he have been able to interview any personally, as he no doubt did, such as the surviving members of Jesus’ family and the other disciples and apostles. (Luke 1:1-4) So it is reasonable to conclude that he did this before Paul’s imprisonment in Rome and most likely while Paul was in prison in Caesarea, which was during 56 to 58.
As for Mark’s Gospel, there can be no doubt that it was written in Rome and for Romans by reason of its style, Latinisms and explanatory remarks, even as is the testimony of the early church overseers. (See The Watchtower, November 1, 1961, pages 664, 665.) But just when? We read of Mark’s leaving Paul and Barnabas and later of Paul’s separating from Barnabas over Mark, Barnabas taking Mark with him to Cyprus. (Acts 12:12; 13:13; 15:37-39) But then for many years we hear nothing of Mark until Paul tells us of his being with him in Rome. (Col. 4:10, 11; Philem. 24) It appears that when Paul was released Mark left Rome, for at 2 Timothy 4:11, written when Paul was again in Rome, Paul requests Timothy to come as soon as possible and to bring Mark along with him. This would seem to argue that only Paul’s presence in Rome brought Mark there each time and that therefore it was only after Paul was imprisoned that Mark wrote his Gospel for the Romans.
Mark without a doubt got his information from Peter and it is apparent that he must have spent some time with Peter for Peter to refer to him as “Mark my son.” This most likely was after Mark’s separation from Paul and between Paul’s first and second imprisonments, when it appears that Peter wrote his first if not also his second letter.—1 Pet. 5:13.
Thus by reasoning upon the Scriptural testimony we can see why it is reasonable to hold that Luke wrote his Gospel before Mark wrote his.
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