I have a little piece of interpretive tidbit for you Bible nerds.
I’m writing a review of Brant Pitre’s The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ, which is a defense of the deity of Christ and traditional authorship of the Gospels, against the charges of liberal scholars such as Bart Ehrman, among others.
I learned something new in chapter 4, where Pitre covers the Patristic witness for the traditional authorship of the four Gospels. He notes that both Origen and Jerome understood 2 Cor 8:18 as a reference to Luke and to the fact that Luke’s Gospel was already circulating at that time.
About 2 Cor 8:18, Origen said, “Luke wrote…the Gospel that was praised by Paul” (see Case for Jesus, p. 47).
Likewise, Jerome said, “Luke, a physician from Antioch, indicated in his writings that he knew Greek and that he was a follower of the apostle Paul and the companion of all his journeying, he wrote a gospel about which the same Paul says, ‘We have sent with him a brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches’” (Case for Jesus, p. 48).
I naturally had to take a second look at 2 Cor 8:18. The Greek says, “ho epainos en tō euangeliō,” literally praise in the gospel.
Interestingly, most translations take a dynamic equivalence approach and make it sound like 2 Cor 8:18 is referring to the brother’s preaching or ministry, and so they add words to that effect. For example, the ESV says:
With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel (ESV; cf. NIV, NLT, CSB).
But the words preaching or ministry do not appear in the Greek. That’s an interpretation, not a translation.
The two King James translations are identical (aside from a comma) in their translations, and more literal:
And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches (KJV, NKJV).
Pitre translates it literally this way:
With him [Titus] we are sending the brother who is famous in the Gospel among all the churches (2 Cor 8:18).
What does “famous in the Gospel” mean? Modern English translators think it might be a reference to that unnamed person’s general ministry. Pitre notes that it is impressive that a native Greek speaker like Origen, who lived between AD 184-253, understood Paul to be referring to Luke’s fame for writing his Gospel. If that’s right, far from being a later Gospel, the Gospel according to Luke is quite early, already well-known during Paul’s ministry, and referred to in the NT.
That makes sense given that the book of Acts (the sequel to Luke’s Gospel) ends before Paul’s death, indicating that Luke wrote Acts while Paul was still alive (otherwise he would have recorded the manner of Paul’s death). If Acts were written while Paul was alive, then the Gospel must have been, too.
And that, in turn, gives us a clue that the other Gospels were written very early on. Although there is absolutely no agreement among NT scholars on the order in which Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written, many think Luke depended on either Matthew or Mark or both when writing his Gospel (cf. Luke 1:1). If Luke’s Gospel was already famous while Paul was alive, then that suggests Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels were written while Paul was alive, too, dating their time of writing to within a couple of decades of Jesus’ death.
I don’t know if that is right or wrong, but it certainly gives new meaning to 2 Cor 8:18.
Edit: Wes Spradley wrote to me with more evidence:
I thought I would add in what has been for me a very strong testimony about the dating of Luke’s gospel—1 Timothy 5:18: “The laborer is worthy of his hire,” a word for word quote from Luke 10:7…that Paul refers to Luke 10:7 as Scripture infers the written gospel was in circulation long enough for Timothy and no doubt the elders and the church to be familiar with the Gospel according to Luke.”