The Synoptic Gospels in the Ancient Church: A Testimony to the Priority of Matthew’s Gospel

F. David Farnell | August 25, 2009

Modern historical criticism has systematically ignored the writings of the early church fathers regarding their viewpoints on the Gospels. This article examines pertinent writings of several significant early fathers (Papias, Tertullian, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, and Augustine) regarding any information that they can impart regarding the chronological order of the Gospels. Their writings reveal that the unanimous and unquestioned consensus of the early church was that Matthew was the first gospel written. They also reveal that, while they considered John as written last, Luke was predominately considered second and Mark third (although admittedly Mark, at times, appears in second place). Since the church fathers lived much closer to the time of the composition of the gospels and were scholars in their own right, their testimony must be given serious consideration in any hypothesis regarding chronological order. Such early testimony stands in direct contradiction to the predominant contention of source criticism that concludes for the Two- or Four-Document Hypothesis (i.e. priority of Mark and Q), especially since the latter is not a product of objective historical analysis but a late-blooming conjecture spawned by Enlightenment ideologies.

Vol. 10, no. 1 (Spring 1999)

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Farnell, F. David. "The Synoptic Gospels in the Ancient Church: A Testimony to the Priority of Matthew’s Gospel." The Master's Seminary Journal 10, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 53-86.