Does it matter which of the Gospel writers wrote first?

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Papias said Matthew wrote first. Someone else said Mark wrote first. Lindsey said Luke wrote first. Does it matter? Why can’t we just accept that the four gospel writers were four independent individual persons used by God to write one complete Gospel?

Response revised: 8-Apr-2012

Question from Pieter Kraay (Bishop’s Stortford, Herts., England) that was published in the “Readers’ Perspective” column of Jerusalem Perspective 50 (Jan.-Mar. 1996): 7.

Papias said Matthew wrote first. Someone else said Mark wrote first. Lindsey said Luke wrote first. Papias was probably right.

Does it matter? Why can’t we just accept that the four gospel writers were four independent individual persons used by God to write one complete Gospel? Why, oh why, do learned people love to waste precious time, money and paper on unimportant matters?

Jerusalem Perspective responds:

To be accurate, Lindsey believed that Jesus’ disciple Matthew wrote first; however, Lindsey also believed that the author of the “Gospel according to Matthew” was neither the disciple Matthew nor the Matthew to whom Papias referred. Although there is a church tradition—dating not earlier than 175 A.D.—that the disciple Matthew composed the first gospel, the Gospel of Matthew itself nowhere names its author. (See Joseph Frankovic, “Pieces to the Synoptic Puzzle: Papias and Luke 1:1–4,” Jerusalem Perspective 40 (Sept.-Oct. 1993): 12-13.)

For the importance of ascertaining which synoptic gospel was written first, see the Conclusion to Robert Lindsey’s “Unlocking the Synoptic Problem: Four Keys for Better Understanding Jesus,” Jerusalem Perspective 49 (Oct.-Dec. 1995): 16-17.

This article originally appeared in issue 50 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

David Winter of Danbury, Essex, England wrote this response to Pieter Kraay’s letter:

In reply to the letter from my friend and neighbour Pastor Krayy, I remember being at the barber’s some years back with Dr. Bob Lindsey, and I said to him: “Bob, I’m just a simple Christian. Were is all this research getting us? What is the bottom line?”

“Well, David,” Bob replied, “among other things, we can say today that we have a far more accurate account in the Gospels of the life and teaching of Christ than the so-called ‘higher critics’ would ever have credited us with!”

Incidentally, Pastor Kraay’s church runs a Christian school which has just received high praise from government inspectors; they have classified it as one of the best schools in the country! All this learning—does it matter?

David Winter
This article originally appeared in issue 52 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

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