Greetings all! Alas, I am underway with my new blog in which I will explore a variety of topics related to Biblical studies, paying particular attention to the New Testament and other early Christian literature. With this being my inaugural blog post, I can think of no better topic to kick things off than an introductory primer concerning the composition dates of the New Testament Gospels. I intend to walk through some of the methods and thought processes involved in arriving at the most plausible date ranges for the Gospels – making application with a few of my own observations. Although this article is intended to be a primer and not an exhaustive treatment, a number of the concepts and conclusions put forth in this article will set the tone for other topics that I will discuss in the future.
Arriving at the most plausible date ranges for the documents comprising the New Testament is a prerequisite to forming a cohesive and expedient understanding of the formative dynamics in early Christianity. In other words, knowing when a text was written is relevant to understanding why it was written, what the text means, to whom it was written, by whom it was written, how the text relates to the attendant socio-religio circumstances, and whether the text shares an interdependent relationship to other writings.
Unfortunately, the Gospel writers did not personally time-stamp their manuscripts. And even if they had, none of the original manuscripts have survived. At best we have only scribal copies of copies that are several generations removed from the originals, the single oldest authenticated fragment (Papyrus 52) dating to the mid-2nd century. Still, more than 80% of New Testament manuscripts date to the 5th century or later.
But this invites the question: when were the New Testament gospels written? A view commonly held by some in the conservative camp echoes the Church tradition that the Gospels were written by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (in that order) a relatively short time after the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth c. 33 CE. For instance, Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace, author of the book Cold Case Christianity, proposes that composition of the gospels began as early as the 40s CE.
However, the dominant view held in mainstream New Testament scholarship is actually quite different. The prevailing view among today’s mainstream Bible scholars and even the majority of mainline Christian theologians, is the view that:
- The Gospels were written between the dates c. 70 CE and c. 100 CE.
- The Gospels are actually anonymous writings. The gospel writers do not purport to identify themselves anywhere in the texts; the titles we are accustomed to seeing were likely added later by scribes, taking note also of the fact that traditional authorship attributions do not appear in the record until mid to late 2nd century CE.
- Sequentially, the Gospel of Mark was written first around 70 CE and was followed by Matthew (80 CE), Luke (85-90 CE), and then John’s gospel (95-100 CE). The idea that Mark was the earliest gospel is called ‘Markan priority’, meaning that Mark was composed *prior* to the other New Testament gospels. Markan priority is accepted by a nearly universal consensus of Bible scholars.
For reasons that I will outline below, I am in general agreement with the mainstream consensus that the Gospels were most likely being composed between 70 to 100 CE. This date range means there are roughly 40 to 70 years between Jesus’ death and our earliest written narratives of his life and ministry. But again, can we actually know with any confidence the time-frame for when the gospels were written? In a word… yes.
How can we tell? Method & Application
First, we need to recognize that dating religious literature from antiquity is not an exact science. Yet, we do possess the tools and methods that will allow us to bring into focus a workable date range. What is needed in an examination of this nature is a willingness to ask proper historiographic questions without being constrained by tradition or preconceived assumptions, along with a willingness to seek out, examine, and synthesize the relevant data & evidence. And finally, what’s needed is a willingness to follow the weight of the evidence where it leads. Put simply – we should practice critical thinking. A salient principle that I learned while studying history in college and also while attending law school is that ‘evidence drives the conclusions, not the other way around.’ That principle will serve us well here.
There are two dates that define the range of any writing, namely the ‘upper limit’ and the ‘lower limit.’ The upper limit is the date after which a text could not have been written (i.e., the latest possible date of composition). The lower limit is the date before which a text could not have been written (i.e., the earliest possible date). To establish a practical date range scholars look to internal evidence (the content within the text itself), as well as external sources. For our purposes, external evidence is comprised of any probative evidence gathered from sources outside the gospel texts, such as the mention of the gospels or citations to them by other writers. External evidence could also include other relevant historical details germane to identifying the composition date.
By way of a modern-day illustration, if today I were to come across an undated letter that contains an ancillary reference to the tragic truck bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City carried out by domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, then we can conclude solely from that information that the letter could not have been written earlier than April 19, 1995. That the letter itself directly references this event is the internal evidence, while historical knowledge of when the attack occurred and by whom is the external evidence. This combined data aids in establishing the ‘lower limit’ for the composition of this hypothetical letter, which in this case would be April 19, ’95. Of course, this does not mean that the letter was written on this date. But it does necessitate that the letter could not have been written prior to this date. So now that we have the conceptual basics down, let’s make application to our examination of the Gospels!
What’s war got to do with it?
As we all know, the Gospels tell us that Jesus was crucified in Judea at around 30-33 CE. This means that the Gospels were necessarily composed after c. 33 CE. But how long after? When it comes to evidence pertinent to establishing a lower date limit for the Gospels, the most glaring evidence would be that the Gospels make explicit reference to the Roman-Jewish War (66 – 73CE). Specifically, the Gospels refer to when Roman soldiers surrounded Jerusalem in 67 CE, and most notably the Gospels mention the complete destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, which happened in 70 CE (see e.g., Luke 21 and Mark 13). According to this scholarship, the Gospels were in all likelihood written after these events since they make direct mention of them. Nevertheless, those who espouse early composition dates for the Gospels ordinarily assert that the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple as mentioned in the Gospels constitutes prophecy, and thus, the Gospels must have been written prior to these events – lest these prophecies attributed to Jesus be rendered as prophecies after-the-fact.
Setting aside for now the circularity of that view, to insist that the mention of the siege and Temple destruction within the Gospels be taken only as evidence of prophecy and not as evidence that the gospel writers had historical knowledge of these events amounts to a methodological double standard – especially when we are not equally charitable with secular/pagan writings attesting to would-be prophecies. If we’re going to appeal to customary academic considerations in our historiographic analysis of texts, then we have to be consistent in our methodology when we do so. We cannot make arbitrary exceptions.
For instance, the writings of ancient figures such as Pindar, Herodotus, Plutarch, Horace, and Virgil include purported prophecies from notable predecessors; and these prophecies often correspond to actual events. Yet, upon basic evaluation scholars universally recognize that these are in actuality prophecies post eventum. Given that the gospels must have been composed after 33 CE and there is no evidence proving that these texts were composed before 67 – 70 CE, then the potential window for the composition of the Gospels includes mid to late first century CE – which overlaps with the timeline of the Roman-Jewish War and Temple destruction. In other words, like the aforementioned Greco-Roman writings, the Gospels were composed appreciably contemporaneous to, or after, the events that are said to have been predicted. If we are going to be academically honest and methodologically consistent in our approach to examining ancient literature and Biblical history, then we are compelled to examine such matters in accordance with the same methods and pursuant to the same standards that are employed in our exploration of any other historical matter from antiquity. To do otherwise is to succumb to the fallacy of ‘special pleading.’
Having said that, I consider myself to be a fair and reasonable person. Thus, I am going to set aside altogether the whole matter of the Jerusalem Temple destruction. I will not factor in this event as evidence one way or the other in determining when the Gospels were written. Going forward, I will rely exclusively on other evidence to narrow down the most plausible date range for the Gospels. So let’s continue our examination to see what some of the other evidence yields.
Fathers know best?
At this point of the analysis we need to take a look at when the Gospels first show up on the historical radar. And as one might surmise, we would look to early Christian writings from the Apostolic fathers and Patristic fathers of the primitive church. Upon examining the record, we find that the four Gospels do not receive mention or attestation in the writings from any of the earliest Apostolic fathers ranging from 60 CE to at least 115 CE. This conspicuous silence has long been acknowledged by secular and Christian scholars going as far back as 17th century theologian Dr. Henry Dodwell who wrote:
“We have at this day certain most authentic ecclesiastical writers of the times, as Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius… who wrote in the order wherein I have named them, and who wrote after all the writers of the New Testament. But in Hermas you will not find one passage or any mention of the New Testament [Gospels], nor in all the rest is any one of the Evangelists named.”
If the Gospels had already been written, circulated, and known in the Christian community as early as the 40s or 50s CE, then we are left to ponder how four of the earliest Christian sources from 60 to 115 CE (with many hundreds of pages of literature between them) could neglect attestation to any of the Gospels or display absolutely no awareness of the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Any number of explanations could be posited to account for this silence; yet the most obvious and conspicuous answer is that these early Christian writers could not cite or mention texts that had not yet been written (or were in the process of being written and newly circulated).
The first ostensible quotations of the Gospels come in the writings of Justin Martyr around 155 CE. Notably, though, when Justin cites verses that appear in our Gospels, he does not indicate that they were ever named Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. In fact, he does not refer to this literature as “Gospels” at all. Justin never delineates or otherwise distinguishes these writings into individual texts or specifically identified authors. To the contrary, Justin refers to this literature as a generic corpus that he called the “memoirs of the Apostles.” Regardless of the manner by which Justin referred to them, he seems to be familiar with some form of Gospel literature (even if the traditional authorship names were not attached). Accordingly, his writings in the 150s CE represent the first credible attestations to the New Testament gospels. From this data we can conclude that the Gospels must have been written sometime between 30 CE and 150 CE.
In view of the details above, one creates difficulties in maintaining dates of 40s to 60s CE for the composition of the New Testament Gospels, but failing to account for their attestation and reception in the Christian community until at least mid-2nd century CE. The ignorance of the Gospels by writers before Justin is better explained by them not being available or known in Christendom than by an assumption that earlier writers from 60 CE to well into the 2nd century (e.g., Barnabas, Clement, Hermas, Ignatius, or even Hegesippus – the first early Church historian) did not find them useful or authoritative. Let’s see if we can drill down even further…
The tradition that Mark and Matthew wrote Gospels is commonly traced back to the writings of 2nd century Church father Papias of Hierapolis (c. 110 – c. 150 CE). While Papias refers to texts that he attributes to Matthew and Mark, there are several scholars who have aptly noted that we should not be so certain that Papias had in mind those texts appearing in the New Testament. There is indeed reason to suspect that Papias was not talking about our “Gospel of Matthew.” To start, Papias described the Matthew text as logia (“sayings”) written in Hebrew or Aramaic. However, our canonical Matthew is a Greek literary narrative that is textually dependent on Mark, which itself is an original Greek text. Papias also refers to Mark as a collection of logia (“sayings”) and as a non-organized compilation of ‘chreia‘ (short, pithy anecdote) without regard to proper sequence. Papias does not suggest at all that Mark or Matthew are parallel narrative accounts that follow a structured chronology and common plot. These represent a few of the reasons that some scholars question whether the Mark and Matthew that Papias described are the same Mark and Matthew that appear in the New Testament. If these are not the same texts, then there are two implications that follow: 1.) Papias cannot be cited as a witness to the New Testament Gospels; and 2) the authorship names traditionally associated with the New Testament gospels were being used for multiple unrelated texts. Notwithstanding all the above, for purposes of this article, I shall assume arguendo that Papias did have in mind the Matthew and Mark of the New Testament.
Papias does not discuss any specific content in these gospels; but regarding the provenance of Mark’s gospel he maintains that Mark was the translator for Peter and that Mark compiled a gospel from memory based on some of Peter’s teachings while he was alive. Papias explains:
“Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of his followers, but later, one of Peter’s. Peter adapted his teaching to the occasion, without making an organized arrangement of the Lord’s sayings, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39)
Next comes Church father Irenaeus of Lyon, France (c. 180 CE). Irenaeus, writing roughly 150 years after the time of Jesus, is finally the first Patristic source to mention all four Gospels by name. It is within Irenaeus’ major five-volume work ‘Against Heresies’ that he formally introduces the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as being the only acceptable Gospels for the church. In discussing the Gospel of Mark, Irenaeus echoed the remarks of Papias, explaining that Mark’s gospel was written after the deaths of Peter and Paul. He writes:
“…Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their demise, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.” (Against Heresies III.1)
In our undertaking to establish workable composition dates for the Gospels, the most crucial item to note from both Papias and Irenaeus is that the Gospel of Mark was written after the deaths of Peter and Paul. Why is this such a key piece of information? Well, according to Church records as detailed in the “Chronicle” of church historian Eusebius, the thirteenth or fourteenth year of Emperor Nero is given for the deaths of Peter and Paul. This means that Peter and Paul were killed in 67 or 68 CE! To connect the dots, the Gospel of Mark, our earliest gospel account was written at some time AFTER. So, what d’ya know… we are right back to ~ 70 CE for the earliest possible composition date.
Now it is worth noting that prudent historical analysis would require an examination into the credibility and reliability of Eusebius, Irenaeus, Papias, etc. – which exceeds the scope of this article. But it bears repeating that even if we defer to the claims and testimony of those considered to be the most ‘authoritative’ early church sources, we have established with confidence that (at a minimum) the earliest Gospels were being composed concurrent with or after the Jewish War.
Another poignant observation is that as soon as the Gospels received attestation with their authorship names they became increasingly cited, quoted, and explicitly integrated into the writings of the Patristic fathers. From 60 to 150 CE we note virtual silence from the early Church relating to the Gospels. Then once the Gospels are first attested in the mid-2nd century, there is suddenly constant discussion of them. Justin made numerous references to the “memoirs.” But in-depth discussion and exposition of the Gospels exploded in late 2nd century when the traditional authorship names had firmly attached beginning with the writings of Irenaeus (c. 180), then Clement of Alexandria (c. 200), then Tertullian (c. 207), Origen (c. 230) and so on. This is not a coincidental correlation.
Luke’s Tell-Tale Anachronism
Earlier I mentioned that the Gospel writers did not personally time-stamp their manuscripts. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. I should amend that statement to say that the Gospel writers did not intentionally time-stamp their manuscripts. However, it appears that at least one of the Gospel writers left an anachronistic clue in his narrative as to the timeframe for his composition.
Occasionally, narrative writers will give inadvertent clues revealing when they wrote their story owing to the presence of anachronisms in the story. An anachronism refers to an object, event, or even a word that is mistakenly placed into a time period where it does not exist. Put simply, anachronisms are historical inaccuracies that result in chronological impossibilities. An easy way to illustrate this concept is by highlighting examples from movies. In the movie Dead Poet’s Society, which is set to the year 1959, the lone bagpiper plays “The Fields of Athenry.” That song wasn’t written until the late 1970s when it first recorded in 1979 by Danny Doyle. Thus, the notion of someone playing that song on bagpipes in 1959 is a chronological impossibility – or anachronistic. Anachronisms of this sort are tell-tale indications as to the earliest the movie could have been written. So even if you had no clue as to when the movie Dead Poet’s Society was filmed, the fact that it features the song “The Fields of Athenry” is definitive evidence that the movie could not have been produced prior to 1979, regardless of the time setting that the screenwriter intended to depict on film (i.e., 1959).
So, what does all of this have to do with the Gospel of Luke? Let’s take a look to see if Luke gives us a similar clue as to when he wrote his gospel. The birth narrative of Jesus as featured in chapter two of Luke’s Gospel speaks of an empire-wide or universal census requiring all the inhabitants of Roman territory to return to the land of their ancestry for purposes of census registration.
“At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. All inhabitants returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.” (Luke2:1-5)
There are several items of concern with Luke’s statement, and they are too numerous to discuss at length in the present piece (I quickly address one issue footnoted here ). But the main observation as it relates to our topic of dating the Gospels is that Luke’s claim of an empire-wide or universal census is anachronistic. There was never a singular universal or empire-wide census instituted by Caesar Augustus. The censuses under Augustus were taken intermittently among the distinct Roman provinces at separate times/intervals as the regional political circumstances dictated – these censuses were not uniformly decreed or taken simultaneously throughout the empire at any time. In fact, there is no record or apparent possibility of a universal Roman census ever in the empire until Vespasian and Titus conducted a universal census in 74 CE. That Vespasian was the first to pursue a massive universal enrollment was one of the notable items of his reign. Apparently, the author of Luke’s gospel wrote his narrative considerably after this innovation and was unfortunately unaware that this practice was not historically typical nor was it practiced by Caesar Augustus. Luke erroneously and anachronistically retrojected geo-political features from his contemporary paradigm onto his nativity narrative. Whoops! So, the takeaway from Luke’s historical gaffe is that we can be assured that the Gospel of Luke was composed after 74 CE, and probably appreciably so.
Briefly revisiting the implications of Markan Priority
The scholarly consensus holds that Mark was the first Gospel to be written. Mark, Matthew, and Luke are known collectively as the ‘Synoptic’ gospels because they tell so many of the same stories, typically in the same sequence, using the same literary framework, and often in the same words at times with verbatim agreement (thus, they are Synoptic or “seen together”). Because the Synoptic gospels have so much in common, and in view of the striking literary and rhetorical similarities evincing a textual relationship among them – the vast majority of New Testament experts conclude that Matthew and Luke knew Mark’s gospel as a source and incorporated Mark as a template for their own Gospels as they endeavored to expand or improve upon (and occasionally make corrections to) Mark’s narrative. To put this into perspective, Matthew incorporates about 600 of Mark’s 649 verses into his Gospel, and Luke retains about 360 verses of Markan material. All told, 97% of Mark is reproduced in Matthew and/or Luke. Meanwhile, John’s gospel is quite distinct from the Synoptics in style, sequence, and in the stories it tells. Yet, some scholars have made strong arguments that the author of John was certainly aware of the “Synoptic” gospels – even if he did not copy that template.
In my view the argument for Markan Priority is compelling and supported by the aggregate weight of the evidence, though all the details cannot be set forth here (perhaps in the future). But for purposes of this discussion, I shall assume Markan priority as the proper intertextual relationship between the Synoptic gospels.
Bringing to mind again the claims from Papias that Peter relayed to Mark a non-organized compilation of Jesus’ sayings and that Peter would also adapt his maxims to the occasion without having conveyed them in any particular order, and that Mark’s gospel is not in proper sequence and that he wrote down “some things” as he remembered – it is then notable that both Matthew and Luke track Mark’s narrative so closely in sequence, literary structure, and vocabulary.
Let’s consider again the Gospel of Luke for a moment. The introduction to Luke’s gospel very plainly says that the author “investigated everything from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order….” (Luke 1:3) The Greek word that’s translated as “consecutive order” is καθεξῆς (kathexés), which literally means ‘in proper sequence’ or ‘in order’, and is a synonym for ‘chronological.’ Except an interesting thing occurs with Luke’s gospel. Luke’s narrative actually follows Mark’s chronology of events very closely throughout – even more so than does Matthew. Yet Papias made a point to note that Mark’s account is not sequential/chronological as things happened, nor is it comprehensive. Mark simply wrote various sayings and pericopes, without respect to chronology, as he remembered them from Peter’s situational anecdotes. That both Matthew and Luke track so closely to Mark’s narrative and literary framework is itself probative evidence that ‘Luke’ and ‘Matthew’ likely knew Mark’s gospel and relied on Mark’s text as a source. This observation highlights just one of the arguments in support of Markan Priority.
To conclude, the evidence establishes that Mark’s gospel was composed no earlier than ~70 CE, and the evidence buttressed by the strength of scholarly consensus maintains that Mark was the first gospel and was relied upon by Matthew and Luke. Then it necessarily follows through Markan Priority that Matthew and Luke were composed no earlier than the 70s and more likely in the 80s or 90s CE (or perhaps even later).  To conclude otherwise is to conclude against the weight of the evidence.
As for the date of John’s Gospel, other than a minority within the conservative camp who espouse a pre-70 CE date, virtually no one denies that John was likely composed around 95 – 105 CE. To this point Irenaeus asserts that John through his gospel wrote to “remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men, and a long time previously by those termed Nicolaitans.” (Against Heresies iii.2). Cerinthus was prominent around 100 CE. So, if Irenaeus is asserting that John’s Gospel was written to correct Cerinthus, then that implies John’s Gospel was composed during or after the activity of Cerinthus. Finally, the famous P52 fragment of John’s Gospel dates to around the middle of the 2nd century. Though this fragment establishes a firm terminus ante quem of ca. 150 CE for the Gospel of John, factoring in time for composition, copying, and circulation of the text suggests that John was likely written a tad earlier.
~ Doston Jones
Follow me on Twitter @DostonJones
 This fact is conceded even among some notable conservative evangelical scholars such as Craig L. Blomberg, who stated: “It’s important to acknowledge that strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous.” The Case for Christ (p. 26)
 Note on Ignatius: There are 15 letters bearing the name of Ignatius, yet only 7 of them are deemed by scholars to be mostly authentic. Some have posited that within these texts are one or two brief instances in which Ignatius could be referencing the Gospel of Matthew. For instance, Ignatius makes mention of the virgin nativity. But this begs the question of whether he is citing Matthew or if he is instead relying on non-Matthean creedal or liturgical material. A number of scholars think it is the latter, and I tend to agree. Here’s why… in the Ignatius letter to the Ephesians he writes: “Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the Prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God. How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star, and its light was exceedingly great above them all. And there was agitation felt as to whence this new spectacle came, so unlike everything else above.” (Ig. Ltr to Eph. 19). Sure, Ignatius mentions the virgin Mary and even a star, but… what’s this stuff about her virginity being hidden from the devil, as well as her offspring and the death of the Lord? That’s nowhere in Matthew or any other Gospel text. Also, the notion that all the rest of the stars, and sun and moon formed a chorus to the star that pronounced the arrival of Jesus is also nowhere to be found in Matthew. Furthermore, Ignatius makes no mention of the Magi or that the star moved about the sky to settle over the place of Jesus’ birth. It seems quite apparent that Ignatius is not interacting with the text of Matthew at all. Notwithstanding his awareness of the virgin nativity, in telling this pericope Ignatius is relying on liturgical or creedal material that is foreign to the New Testament gospels. But even if we were to grant that Ignatius is relying on Matthew (which is a tenuous argument, and it implies that Matthew was the sole possessor of the virgin birth narrative), this brings the terminus ante quem for the Gospels to 115 CE. For a fuller discussion see article by R. Carrier entitled Ignatian Vexation.
 Related note: Justin evinced no knowledge of the book of Acts. In point of fact, Acts was never quoted, discussed, or mentioned until 180 CE by Irenaeus.
 The records of Papias are primarily preserved in the writings of Eusebius from the 4th century.
 Notably, it is Irenaeus who first relates the tradition that the author of Luke’s gospel was a companion to Apostle Paul.
 Additionally, Eusebius, in “The Ecclesiastical History,” purports to quote from Dionysius of Corinth in reiterating the prior claim from “Chronicle” that Peter and Paul died at or around the same time. Eusebius was courtier to Emperor Constantine and took on the role of historian for the early Church. Much of what we know about the pre-Nicene Patristic fathers and their writings is filtered through the pen of Eusebius. While it is certainly prudent to cross-examine the veracity and credibility of Eusebius’ claims, such goes beyond the scope of this blog post. Since Eusebius is regarded in Christendom to be the most authoritative early historian, I will (for the sake of argument) utilize the dates given by Eusebius as the dates for the deaths of Peter and Paul – 67/68 CE.
 As a preliminary matter, there was never such a migratory census in the entire history of the Roman Empire where all the inhabitants were required to travel to their land of ancestry for census registration. To the contrary, and as supported by historical records of various census decrees in Roman provinces, a Roman census would have required Joseph to register not at his ancestral home in Bethlehem but at his own domicile in the principal city of his residential “taxation district” – presumably somewhere in the region of Galilee (the location of Nazareth). Indeed, this was the whole point of census registration. As the political need required, a given Roman province was to gather an accounting of its residential population and resources for the purposes of taxation and governance. These census registrations of residents were executed at the governor level. And this is undoubtedly true under Caesar Augustus. An empire-wide migratory census as described by Luke would not only have been a logistical nightmare, it would have in effect undermined and completely defeated the governing purpose of tax-based census registrations.
 We have record of the Quirinius census (6 CE) that Luke references in 2:2, which was taken pursuant to the fact that Judea had recently been annexed into the Roman province of Syria after the death of Herod the Great. Since Judea had officially become new Roman territory, it was necessary for Augustus to order a census specifically of Judean inhabitants. See Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17.355 and 18.1-2
 E. Meyer, Ursprung und Anfänge des Christentums, I.51. See also, T. Mommsen, Historia de Roma (citing to Phlegon and referencing to census lists); Pliny the Elder also remarks about the Vespasian enumeration of inhabitants in his volume Naturalis Historia (c. 77 CE)
 Mark Allen Powell, ‘Introducing the New Testament’ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009).
 Additionally, it highlights some apparent tension in the testimonies of Papias and Luke. Also note that as it pertain’s to dating Luke’s Gospel, if we consider that the 2nd century ‘heretic’ Marcion’s Gospel was some version of Luke, then we have to concede that some iteration of the Lukan text existed c. 140 or before.
 See generally, L. Michael White, From Jesus to Christianity (2004);
Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 2nd ed. (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000);
Mark Allen Powell, Introducing the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009); and
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999)