I’ve read that most scholars believe that Gospel of Mark was the first gospel written, but a number of scholars say Matthew is the first.. Then I was surprised when I read that there are people who argue that Gospel of Luke was the first!!!! What are their evidences for Lukan priority? Are these evidences strong? What’s your opinion?
Here is the bottom line: The order in which the gospels were written is not an important question for Christians. What is important is that these books are all inspired. The question of the exact dates of writing and the order of the gospels is a matter for the experts and we would do well to bear in mind that it is not an essential issue for us as believers. If we needed to know, I am sure God would have made it clear.
Nevertheless, the experts will debate this question and we may as well try to decide how to think about this, as someone will probable eventually ask us about the issue. I believe that only people on the left wing–liberals–will propose that Luke was written first. Here is the reason. Luke was almost certainly not written before AD 63 because it is a companion letter to Acts, which includes the arrest of Paul and his imprisonment in Rome. Because it does not include the death of Paul, it was probably written by AD 65. I believe that Mark is very likely (but not absolutely proved) to have been written in the fifties AD. I cannot rule out the late 40s for Mark, but the 60s is unlikely. The late 40s is more likely than the mid 60s, based on the evidence I have seen. The date of writing of Matthew is less certain, but it, too, is likely to have been written by the end of the 50s. If this is true, then Luke comes later. Those who say Luke came first have a bias (in my opinion) to place Mark and Matthew as late as possible. They put Matthew and Mark as late as AD 80, which is extremely unlikely, as these books clearly were written before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. These folks are generally liberals who question the inspiration of the Bible, so I tend to discount their arguments as coming from those who do not believe in miracles. They assume that the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem are fake–that they are put in the mouth of Jesus after the destruction. This sort of ad hoc hypothesis should be rejected.
The arguments for the date of writing of the three synoptic gospels is based on the question of who borrowed from whom. Nearly all of the material found in Mark is also found in either Matthew or Luke or both. This has been used to argue that Mark came first. This is a fairly strong argument, in my opinion. However, others argue that, although Mark and Matthew have much material in common, there is some evidence that Mark is adapting Matthew, and not vice versa. In addition, scholars argue from the material in common in Luke and Matthew that these authors were using a fourth document, that they traditionally call “Q”. They propose that this document was written in the late 40s or early 50s. This theory is speculative, with no direct evidence, but it is possible. The reason the experts are not in full agreement is that it simply is not clear. We will have to settle for some doubt here. Of course, the order of writing is really not important to the Christian faith, and we should bear this in mind.
I am being a bit vague here. I have read multiple books and articles on this question, but such information does not “stick” with me all that well because I do not find this to be a very important question, personally. You can read any good commentary on Matthew or Mark to see the arguments in more detail.
I am copying and pasting below a short article which summarizes the arguments fairly well. I found it at https://carm.org/when-were-gospels-written-and-whom
Destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. , Luke and Acts
None of the gospels mention the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 A.D. This is significant because Jesus had prophesied its destruction when He said, “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down,” (Luke 21:6, see also Matt. 24:1; Mark 13:1). This prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and burned the Temple. The gold in the Temple melted down between the stone walls and the Romans took the walls apart, stone by stone, to get the melted gold. Such an obvious fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy most likely would have been recorded by the gospel writers if they had been written after 70 A.D. Also, if the gospels were fabrications of mythical events then anything to bolster the Messianic claims — such as the destruction of the temple as Jesus prophesied — would surely have been included. But, it was not included suggesting that the gospels (at least Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were written before 70 A.D.
Similarly, this argument is important when we consider the dating of the book of Acts which was written after the gospel of Luke by Luke himself. Acts is a history of the Christian church right after Jesus’ ascension. Acts also fails to mention the incredibly significant events of 70 A.D. which would have been extremely relevant and prophetically important and naturally would have garnered inclusion into Acts had it occurred before Acts was written. Remember, Acts is a book of the history of the early Christian church. The fact that the incredibly significant destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple is not recorded is very strong evidence that Acts was written before A.D. 70. If we add to this the fact that Acts does not include the accounts of “Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65),”1 and we have further evidence that it was written very early and not long after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
If we look at Acts 1:1-2 it says, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.” Most scholars affirm that Acts was written by Luke and that Theophilus (Grk. “lover of God”) “may have been Luke’s patron who financed the writing of Luke and Acts.”2 This means that the gospel of Luke was written before Acts.
- “At the earliest, Acts cannot have been written prior to the latest firm chronological marker recorded in the book—Festus’s appointment as procurator (24:27), which, on the basis of independent sources, appears to have occurred between A.D. 55 and 59.”3
- “It is increasingly admitted that the Logia [Q] was very early, before 50 A.D., and Mark likewise if Luke wrote the Acts while Paul was still alive. Luke’s Gospel comes before the Acts (Acts 1:1). The date of Acts is still in dispute, but the early date (about A.D. 63) is gaining support constantly.”4
For clarity, Q is supposedly one of the source documents used by both Matthew and Luke in writing their gospels. If Q actually existed then that would push the first writings of Christ’s words and deeds back even further lessening the available time for myth to creep in and adding to the validity and accuracy of the gospel accounts. If what is said of Acts is true, this would mean that Luke was written at least before A.D. 63 and possibly before 55 – 59 since Acts is the second in the series of writings by Luke. This means that the gospel of Luke was written within 30 years of Jesus’ death.
The early church unanimously held that the gospel of Matthew was the first written gospel and was penned by the apostle of the same name (Matt. 10:2-4). Lately, the priority of Matthew as the first written gospel has come under suspicion with Mark being considered by many to be the first written gospel. The debate is far from over.
The historian Papias mentions that the gospel of Matthew was originally in Aramaic or Hebrew and attributes the gospel to Matthew the apostle.5
- “Irenaeus (ca. a.d. 180) continued Papias’s views about Matthew and Mark and added his belief that Luke, the follower of Paul, put down in a book the gospel preached by that apostle, and that John, the Beloved Disciple, published his Gospel while residing in Asia. By the time of Irenaeus, Acts was also linked with Luke, the companion of Paul.”6
This would mean that if Matthew did write in Aramaic originally, that he may have used Mark as a map, adding and clarifying certain events as he remembered them. But, this is not known for sure.
The earliest quotation of Matthew is found in Ignatius who died around 115 A.D. Therefore, Matthew was in circulation well before Ignatius came on the scene. The various dates most widely held as possible writing dates of the Gospel are between A.D. 40 – 140. But Ignatius died around 115 A.D. and he quoted Matthew. Therefore Matthew had to be written before he died. Nevertheless, it is generally believed that Matthew was written before A.D. 70 and as early as A.D. 50.
Mark was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life. He was a disciple of Peter and undoubtedly it was Peter who informed Mark of the life of Christ and guided him in writing the Gospel known by his name. “Papias claimed that Mark, the Evangelist, who had never heard Christ, was the interpreter of Peter, and that he carefully gave an account of everything he remembered from the preaching of Peter.”7 Generally, Mark is said to be the earliest gospel with an authorship of between A.D. 55 to A.D. 70.
Luke was not an eyewitness of the life of Christ. He was a companion of Paul who also was not an eyewitness of Christ’s life. But, both had ample opportunity to meet the disciples who knew Christ and learn the facts not only from them, but from others in the area. Some might consider this damaging to the validity of the gospel, but quite the contrary. Luke was a gentile convert to Christianity who was interested in the facts. He obviously had interviewed the eyewitnesses and written the Gospel account as well as Acts.
- “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God,” (Acts 1:1-3).
Notice how Luke speaks of “them,” of those who had personal encounters with Christ. Luke is simply recounting the events from the disciples. Since Luke agrees with Matthew, Mark, and John and since there is no contradictory information coming from any of the disciples stating that Luke was inaccurate, and since Luke has proven to be a very accurate historian, we can conclude that Luke’s account is very accurate.
As far as dating the gospel goes, Luke was written before the book of Acts and Acts does not mention “Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65).”8 Therefore, we can conclude that Luke was written before A.D. 62. “Luke’s Gospel comes (Acts 1:1) before the Acts. The date of Acts is still in dispute, but the early date (about A.D. 63) is gaining support constantly.”9