Luke denies an early (pre-70) date for the Gospel of Mark

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by Neil Godfrey

The gospel of Mark is said by some to have been written soon after the time of Jesus, possibly as early as the 50’s or even 40’s c.e. A significant part of this argument asserts that the events sequenced in the Little Apocalypse in each (Mark 13; Matthew 24) can be found in the historical events facing the church as early as that time. Luke’s gospel re-words this prophetic speech by Jesus in a way that informs readers that its author did not believe any of the events prophesied had happened so early. Firstly, a look at the sequence of events as found in the gospels of Mark and Matthew. . . .

Mark 13:6-8; Matthew 24:5-8 (all text references are hyperlinked)

The first prophetic event attributed to Jesus is that many deceivers would come in His name claiming “I am (Him).

Arguments for an early date for the recording of this in Mark’s gospel (the earliest written) say that this could have been fulfilled by Christian leaders boasting that Christ was speaking through them (Theissen). The Samaritan prophet who led a group up Mount Gerazim in search of Temple vessels according to Josephus, and the self-promoting claims of Simon Magus, are also tossed in as possible referents. This despite the fact that there is no evidence that either of these latter two made the sort of potentially deceitful claim touted by Jesus. The earliest evidence for what Simon Magus did say, Acts 8, in fact denies absolutely that he presented himself making his proclamations in the name of Jesus.

The next event are the wars, among both “kingdoms and nations (peoples/races)”

Early daters of Mark refer here to the Antipas-Nabatean war of 36-37 c.e. and rumours of war or at least intrigues involving more distant Parthians and Armenians. Greek-Jewish riots in Alexandria led to the Roman emperor Caligula sending legions to enforce the placement of his statue in the Jerusalem temple around 40 c.e. The only actual war then affecting Judea in any way at all was the Antipas-Nabatean war, but the other events can be talked up to create the impression of a more objective state of “wars and rumours of wars among kingdoms and nations” than everyone will feel comfortable accepting.

Next, earthquakes, famines, etc.

There was a major earthquake in Antioch/Syria in 37 c.e. Some have seen agrarian tax alleviation policies as signs of famines, although there could be other reasons for these. Occupying Roman legions, for example. Besides, does one earthquake to the north of Judea and several years old justify a claim that earthquakes (plural) point to Judea being under apocalyptic threat?

All of these are the beginning of sorrows; don’t fret; the end is not yet

Both gospels of Mark and Matthew make it clear that all of these things must first happen, but that readers should take them in their stride. They will be daily news when they happen and will not themselves be signs of the end.

Luke 21:8-11 follows the same sequence as found in Mark and Matthew above.

Luke changes direction

Comparing Luke 21:12 ; Mark 13:9-13; Matthew 24:9-13

Both Mark’s and Matthew’s gospels structure the sequence of events, along with notices of what must first happen, etc, to lead readers to understand that after the above events, persecution will fall upon the church. Not only persecution, but betrayals from within.

Don’t worry, what you see is not the sign you want to see, just be careful you are not deceived. Next: persecution follows. Now it gets serious for believers. More than simply be alert to avoid deception, they must now consider whether they can endure to the very end. That’s the message of the first two gospels.

But not Luke’s gospel. Luke changes the words of Jesus to say something else, to throw the whole sequence up into the air. And there would appear this author had a good reason for this change which I will come to.

Luke 21:12

But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you . . . (The English translation accurately enough reflects the Greek here.)

In other posts I have argued (or will argue) that our gospel of Luke was a redaction of an earlier gospel, redacted by the same who authored Acts (Tyson). However that may be, many accept some form of unity of authorship or redaction of Luke-Acts. The final author of Luke worked with Acts in mind. And Acts establishes a foundational history of the church that begins, first and foremost, with persecutions. Persecutions had to come first in the words of Jesus in the gospel of Luke.

So how does this impact on the dating of the gospel of Mark?

It establishes that the author of our gospel of Luke (and Acts) either did not know of, or rejected, the so-called historical fulfilments of the sequential events in the Little Apocalypse as found in the gospels of Mark and Matthew.

To the author of our Luke-Acts, the threat of mass deception of the faithful was still an event waiting to happen in the future, specifically after Paul departed Miletus and Ephesus for the final time (Acts 20:28-30).

In other words, the very first event Jesus warned about in the Little Apocalypse is still a future event as far as the author of Luke-Acts is concerned. It was an event that the author warned would begin from the time that the events in the Book of Acts draw to a close.

The author of the gospel of Luke, by changing the sequence of the prophetic events spoken by Jesus, in fact denied that any such events had been fulfilled until much closer to the time of the fall of Jerusalem, certainly after 60 c.e. He denied that Mark’s gospel was grounded in social and political events of the late 30’s and early 40’s c.e.

Other issues arising

This post has only touched on one sliver of one facet in relation to the whole question of the dating the gospels, and of questions arising from the various redactions of the Little Apocalypse. Perhaps I’ll touch on a few more in future post discussions — one sliver at a time.