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In Defense of the Gospels: Post Reformation Arguments for the Necessity of an Early Publication of Matthew

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Few and far between are the contemporary voices who yet contend that a written Gospel was published and widely disseminated during the first decade of the Christian church. Yet there exists a rich history of post-Reformation era scholars who contended that the first Gospel, Matthew, was published within a few years or perhaps within a decade of the ascension. While these authors leveraged the writings of the church fathers for this viewpoint, along with internal features of Matthew’s Gospel, our primary interest will be in their related arguments concerning the necessity of an early written Gospel for propagating the gospel message and for preserving its contents, as the church expanded beyond Judea. These scholars spoke of the common desire of ancient people to preserve their religious tenets through written materials, the duty of the witnesses to employ a written medium, the need to secure the church against the spread of falsehoods, the additional weight, authority, and certainty which a written record provided, the uniqueness of the Christian message, and the advantage of written instructions over oral.

The literary efforts of these authors were not merely academic, for many were defending the Christian faith and scriptures against contemporary challenges to its authenticity and authority, and they believed that the credibility of the Gospel witness was linked to the publication date of Matthew’s Gospel. Correspondingly, the intent of this paper is to showcase these historical writings and to demonstrate that these scholars considered the early publication date for Matthew’s Gospel to be defensible based on the perceived motivations of the early church. But further, it will be suggested that modern apologists should adopt a similar “motivational argument” for an early publication date for the Gospels, in defense of their veracity, rather than accepting the popular theory that multiple decades transpired before the church was motivated to publish the first Gospel. For pragmatic reasons, the scope will be limited to fourteen English works, published between the mid-1600s and AD 1900, with other works cited as appropriate.

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