A very easy to follow explanation of when the Gospels were written.
The New Testament begins with the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These accounts detail the life of Jesus Christ and are known as the Gospels (meaning ‘good news’). They are the most important source of our knowledge about Jesus’ actual teachings, actions, sacrifice on the cross and resurrection.
But when were the Gospels written? Some say that they were written decades or even centuries after Christ’s life on earth. Therefore, the accounts within the Gospels must be flawed an inaccurate, as they were compiled long after the deaths of everyone who actually saw and heard Jesus.
On the other hand, there are many arguments and proofs for an early writing of the Gospels. If the Gospels were written close to the time that Jesus ascended to heaven, then they would be much more likely to be true and accurate. People’s memories of Jesus would be still fresh and clear. By ancient standards, the release of the Gospels would be like a newsflash!
The Internal Evidence: Backwards From Acts
One example is from the Book of Acts.
Acts details the doings of the Apostles in the time since Jesus left them. Among them are how Paul chose to follow Christ, his travles, and his awaiting trial before Caesar for alleged troublemaking.The book of Acts ends with Paul still awaiting trial (Acts 28: 11-31), so the trial must have not yet taken place when Acts was written.
Acts is the continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Both are believed to be written by Luke and addressed to a certain Theophilus, and Acts opens by mentioning Luke’s ‘former book’. So Luke must have been written before Acts.
Luke is said to have taken material from either the Gospel of Mark, or wherever Mark got his information from. See the Wikipedia article on Q document. That means Mark (or his source) must be dated even earlier than Luke.
And finally, back to the end of Acts: Paul was martyred in the reign of Emperor Nero, around 64 AD. Therefore, however late the Gospel of Mark must have been written, it must still be within 30 years of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension to heaven (around AD 33).
(Compare with Wikipedia’s article which says that the Gospel of Mark is generally believed to have been written around 60 to 70 A.D.)
People who had seen and heard Jesus in person were still alive to dispute any inaccurate facts; doubtless the Pharisees would have been the first to criticize any false reporting they found. Therefore, the Gospels (or at least Mark) must have been written as an accurate, true account about Jesus Christ.
(Note too that Acts is a very historically accurate book. It correctly names dozens of people, places, titles and events. Many of the ‘facts’ in Acts were very much disputed by secular historians, until new archaeological finds corroborated with the account in Acts.
Therefore, it is highly likely that the writer of Acts wouldn’t suddenly tell an outright lie about details such as whether Paul had been tried yet, or how the Apostles spread the faith, or how Jesus ascended to heaven, or how the Holy Spirit empowered the believers.)
PS. This post is a refinement of a comment I made in this blog. I comment points 44, 52 and 57.