Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 1, let’s examine the evidence for dating the books of the NT, especially the books of the NT which contain substantial historical facts about Jesus and his followers.  First we should note that three leaders of the early church – Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp – quoted passages from 25 of the 27 books of the NT right around A.D. 100.  They could not have quoted from the books if they hadn’t been written, so the latest the books of the NT could have been written is A.D. 100.  But there’s strong evidence that many of them were written much earlier.

Several well-attested historical events occurred between A.D. 60 and 70.  First, the Jewish temple, the temple where Jesus and his disciples worshipped along with the rest of the Jewish people, was completely and utterly destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Roman army.  The Romans were extinguishing a significant Jewish rebellion and when they finally entered Jerusalem, they left no stones standing from the temple because they wanted the gold used in the contruction of the temple.

Second, both the apostles Paul and Peter were executed in Rome by the emperor Nero between A.D. 66 and 68.  Their deaths are recorded by church historians – Clement of Rome, in particular, who was alive when their executions occurred.  Their tombs are major historical landmarks in Rome to this day.  Third, James, the brother of Jesus, was executed in Jerusalem by the Sanhedrin (Jewish High Council) in A.D. 62.  This event was first recorded by a Jewish historian named Flavius Josephus in the first century.

Why are these three events important?  They help prove that the books of Acts, Luke, and Mark were written before A.D. 62.  Follow the logic.  Acts was written by the historian and medical doctor, Luke.  Luke was a companion of Paul and recorded many of the events of Paul’s life.

One odd thing about Acts is that it ends abruptly with Paul imprisoned in Rome; Paul is still alive at the end of Acts.  Luke also frequently mentions James, the brother of Jesus, and Peter, the apostle, in the book of Acts.  At the end of Acts, Peter and James are also alive (there is no mention of their deaths).

Now, if I were writing a biography of an individual, it seems like one of the most important events that would take place in the biography would be the death of the person.  It’s especially important because it ends the biography!  Luke mentions the martyrdom of Stephen, so he clearly has no trouble writing about the deaths of Christians, but we are left with the fact that Luke never records the deaths of three of the major characters in Acts.

There is only one good explanation for this fact:  they were all alive when Acts was written.  If they were all alive, then Acts must have been written before A.D. 62!  That means Acts was written within 30 years of Jesus’ death and not even a single generation had passed.

In part 3, we will continue to argue for an early dating of several NT books.

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  • Bino Bolumai

    > Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and
    > Polycarp – quoted passages from 25 of
    > the 27 books of the NT right around
    > A.D. 100. They could not have quoted
    > from the books if they hadn’t been
    > written, so the latest the books of the
    > NT could have been written is A.D.
    > 100.

    I am not aware that Ignatius names any of the gospels. I have the Fathers here on my shelf. I’d like to educate myself on the point. Please cite and quote the passages you have in mind where Ignatius and 1 Clement name our gospels.

    BTW, do Ignatius or 1 Clement mention the temple’s destruction?

    Does your theory of gospel dates care at all about the dates of the earliest attestation of our gospels? I’m interested in what dates you rely on in this regard. In formulating your theory, to what text and author do you attribute the earliest attestation of our gospel of

    Luke?
    Mark?
    Matthew?
    John?

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas >

  • Bill Pratt

    Bino,
    I never claimed that these church fathers mentioned the names of gospel writers. I claimed that they quoted from passages found in 25 of the 27 books of the NT. People often quote from other sources without mentioning the author of the original source. In fact, the NT writers did that all the time when they quoted from the Old Testament. It was common practice.

    I have no idea what Clement or Ignatius said about the temple. I don’t see how it’s at all relevant.

  • Bino Bolumai

    > I never claimed that these church
    > fathers mentioned the names of
    > gospel writers. I claimed that they
    > quoted from passages found in 25
    > of the 27 books of the NT. People
    > often quote from other sources
    > without mentioning the author of
    > the original source. In fact, the NT
    > writers did that all the time when
    > they quoted from the Old
    > Testament. It was common
    > practice.

    > I have no idea what Clement or
    > Ignatius said about the temple. I
    > don’t see how it’s at all relevant.

    Bill,
    Thank you for your prompt response.

    A
    Am I correct that you formulate your theory of gospel dates without taking into account the earliest attestation of the gospels?

    Why do you do that?

    B
    I wasn’t clear. I didn’t ask if the fathers named the gospel authors , I asked if they mentioned the gospels—the writings —themselves. My understanding, and reading of them, is they did not.

    As I understand it, these early fathers fail to quote our gospels, they simply give sayings of Jesus that are similar to the gospels, but are not identical. They also quote saying of Jesus that are not found in our gospels – certainly they had a sayings source other than our gospels.

    Further these first datable fathers fail to mention any factual details about Jesus’ life from our gospels.

    Do these two facts together suggest to you the fathers knew a shared saying source, but not the gospels themselves? On what evidence does your theory answer this question?

    > I have no idea what Clement or
    > Ignatius said about the temple. I
    > don’t see how it’s at all relevant.

    You claimed to know that early Christians would definitely have written about the fall of the temple. This was the basis of your dating of our gospels. Now it appears you formulated your theory without checking whether early Christians did in fact, or did not, mention the fall of the temple.

    May I take it that if Ignatius and 1 Clement do not mention the fall of the temple, you will revise your theory of gospel dates?

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas >

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Bino,
    My theory of NT dates is held by many conservative scholars, and I find it quite convincing. The earliest attestation, meaning when the gospels are specifically named, only sets an upper limit on the dates. It doesn’t tell you how much earlier they might have been written. For that, you need to look elsewhere.

    The early church fathers were not modern-day journalists. Their quotations and citations were probably based on a variety of sources and they would often paraphrase to just communicate the general meaning of a passage. They may very well have had many other sources about Jesus other than the gospels. They were disciples of “the disciples,” so to speak, and so they would have heard numerous stories about Jesus’ life. So, they were quoting from both written and oral sources of information.

    Regarding Clement and Ignatius and the temple, I did not say that early Christians never wrote about the temple. I said that the NT writers, who were almost all devout Jews who cared deeply about the temple, never wrote about the destruction of the temple. The church fathers had no connection with the temple because they most likely never saw it and never worshipped there. It is because of the NT writers’ intense connection to the temple that it is strange they did not write about it. Of course, these arguments are all probabilistic, and none of them are knock-down proofs, but this temple argument, I think, is a persuasive one.

  • Bino Bolumai

    Dear Bill,

    > My theory of NT dates is held by many
    > conservative scholars, and I find it quite
    > convincing. The earliest attestation,
    > meaning when the gospels are
    > specifically named, only sets an upper
    > limit on the dates. It doesn’t tell you how
    > much earlier they might have been
    > written. For that, you need to look
    > elsewhere.

    Yes I agree entirely.

    “There is no direct evidence the gospels existed before 140ish AD,” would also be correct.

    > The early church fathers were not
    > modern-day journalists. Their
    > quotations and citations were probably
    > based on a variety of sources and they
    > would often paraphrase to just
    > communicate the general meaning of a
    > passage. They may very well have had
    > many other sources about Jesus other
    > than the gospels. They were disciples
    > of “the disciples,” so to speak, and so
    > they would have heard numerous
    > stories about Jesus’ life. So, they were
    > quoting from both written and oral
    > sources of information.

    “Probably.” “May very well.” “Would.”

    Reasonable people may thus conclude the evidence that Ignatius and 1 Clement quoted our gospels is speculative, right?

    In fact it may be true that they did not quote our gospels at all, right?

    > Regarding Clement and Ignatius and
    > the temple, I did not say that early
    > Christians never wrote about the
    > temple. I said that the NT writers, who
    > were almost all devout Jews who cared
    > deeply about the temple, never wrote
    > about the destruction of the temple.

    I see. I honestly didn’t know that was how this worked.

    Am I correct to see a circularity here? You think they cared about the temple because you think they were devout Jews, and you think they were devout Jews because you think they were eyewitness disciples – and that’s really the reason the books must have been early. The original disciples would have been dead by 73.

    The temple theorizing doesn’t really add anything does it? Or am I missing something?

    As to Jews caring about the temple, the theory brings to mind Josephus’ experience in Galilee during the war. Do I remember right that towns there went to the Roman side, not the temple-Jewish side? Does that fact affect your analysis at all?

    > The
    > church fathers had no connection with
    > the temple because they most likely
    > never saw it and never worshipped
    > there. It is because of the NT writers’
    > intense connection to the temple that it
    > is strange they did not write about it.

    Oh I see. Are you relying on internal evidence in the gospels themselves?

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas >

  • Bill Pratt

    “Reasonable people may thus conclude the evidence that Ignatius and 1 Clement quoted our gospels is speculative, right?”

    There are so many alleged quotations of NT documents from these men that I can hardly see how every alleged instance is wrong. There may be some debate over some of the quotations, but the overhwhelming number and quality of quotations seems to negate your claim that “reasonable people” would call these citations speculative. Of course, I can’t speak for all reasonable people. Perhaps those people who are so inclined should go read Clement and Ignatius and see whether they find in their writings sentences, phrases, and passages that resemble many of our NT books.

    “Am I correct to see a circularity here? You think they cared about the temple because you think they were devout Jews, and you think they were devout Jews because you think they were eyewitness disciples”

    I think they were Jews for many reasons. First, the apostle Paul claimed to be and he wrote much of the NT. Second, many of the NT books quote heavily from the Old Testament, which is a Jewish document. Third, many of the peoples’ names, geographical locations, and traditions written about by the NT writers are distinctly Jewish in character. Fourth, I read great scholars like William F. Albright, one of the pre-eminent archaeologists of the 20th century, who said, “In my opinion, every book of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the forties and the eighties of the first century a.d. (very probably between about 50 and 75 a.d.)” (emphasis added)

    In scholarly circles, I have never heard of anyone question that the NT documents were largely written by devout Jews. If you truly believe that they weren’t, I’m curious as to why.

  • Bino Bolumai

    Bill,

    Thank you for your time.

    > > “Reasonable people may thus conclude the evidence that
    > > Ignatius and 1 Clement quoted our gospels is speculative,
    > > right?”

    > There are so many alleged quotations of NT documents
    > from these men that I can hardly see how every alleged
    > instance is wrong. There may be some debate over some
    > of the quotations, but the overhwhelming number and
    > quality of quotations seems to negate your claim that
    > “reasonable people” would call these citations
    > speculative. Of course, I can’t speak for all reasonable
    > people. Perhaps those people who are so inclined should
    > go read Clement and Ignatius and see whether they find
    > in their writings sentences, phrases, and passages that
    > resemble many of our NT books.

    Yes, the theory you suggest is the one conservative scholars use:

    1. Ignatius and 1 Clement quote Jesus saying things that are paralleled in the Gospels.

    2. Therefore Ignatius and 1 Clement copied from the Gospels.

    3. Therfore Ig and 1C are evidence the gospels existed.

    A.
    The theory is circular. It might equally be that the gospels copied their quotations from Ig and 1C, or, more probably, that they both copied from now-lost saying sources. (That such sources existed is beyond dispute – Ig and 1C give Jesus quotes not in our gospels).

    Not proof. But suggestion. And reason for reasonable people to doubt Ig and 1C are evidence of gospel dates.

    B.
    The further difficulty with your theory it that, as you say, the fathers’ quotations do no more than “resemble” – MB Metzger says “echo” – the gospel sayings. This fits the did NOT use our gospels theory perfectly, but leaves conservatives running around inventing excuses about imprecise quotations, as you have been forced to do earlier.

    By mid 2d century Mt is quoted clearly and precisely by Justin (if I remember), but not yet under the name we now attach to the author. Again, this fits the Ig & 1C didn’t quote perfectly, and leaves conservatives scrambling to invent yet more excuses why the early fathers didn’t quote accurately and Justin did.

    Rather than simply jump into the raw texts themselves, your readers may like Helmut Koester’s review of the subject in Ancient Christian Gospels, which goes through many of the alleged quotations, and the one or two that present real possibilities of copying.
    http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Christian-Gospels-Helmut-Koester/dp/0334024501/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1235247900&sr=8-1

    Not proof. But suggestion. And reason for reasonable people to doubt Ig and 1C are evidence of gospel dates.

    C.
    The great number of parallel quotations of Jesus, comparing Ig and 1c with our gospels, is real.

    That being so, that there is no mention in Ig & 1C of Jesus’ deeds suggests Ig and 1C did not use the gospels – or they would have used all of them, instead of just parts.

    Again, not proof. But suggestion. And reason for reasonable people to doubt Ig and 1C are evidence of gospel dates.

    > > “Am I correct to see a circularity here? You think they
    > > cared about the temple because you think they were
    > > devout Jews, and you think they were devout Jews
    > > because you think they were eyewitness disciples”

    > I think they were Jews for many reasons. First, the
    > apostle Paul claimed to be and he wrote much of the NT.

    > Second, many of the NT books quote heavily from the Old
    > Testament, which is a Jewish document.

    > Third, many of
    > the peoples’ names, geographical locations, and traditions
    > written about by the NT writers are distinctly Jewish in
    > character.

    > Fourth, I read great scholars like William F.
    > Albright, one of the pre-eminent archaeologists of the 20th
    > century, who said, “In my opinion, every book of the New
    > Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the
    > forties and the eighties of the first century a.d. (very
    > probably between about 50 and 75 a.d.)” (emphasis
    > added)

    > In scholarly circles, I have never heard of anyone
    > question that the NT documents were largely written by
    > devout Jews. If you truly believe that they weren’t, I’m
    > curious as to why.
    >

    Yes Bill, but your point wasn’t that the NT authors were Jews, it was that they were Jews who, after converting to Christianity , were still so interested in Judaism that they must include the temple’s destruction in their books about Jesus.

    This theory has several difficulties.

    1. It demonstrates no theology tied to the fall of the temple that is present in post-temple-fall ancient Christianity but not in the gospels. If the fall of the temple would have been a big deal to Christians, it should have been mentioned by Christians. But in datable post-temple-fall documents, it is not.

    2. It confuses prior and posterior probabilities. This is decisive.

    3. It presumes you know more about the Jews than you do. You know what some literate Jews wrote. Lots of Jews didn’t write anything that survives. Lots of Jews didn’t write anything at all. And when Essene writings were found, turns out that whole group of Jews had largely given up on the temple doings.

    4. According to Josephus, entire towns in Galilee went over to the Roman side in the war. Indicating Jews were less “devout” than you imagine.

    5. It ignores the obvious – by the time they’d become Christians, the early Jewish Christians were no longer devout Jews, any more than Joseph Smith, when he wrote the B of M, was any longer a devout Methodist.

    6. The observation works as well for a late gospel date. We have actual evidence that by the early 1st century (Ig & 1C) the destruction of the temple was not important to Christian theology. Therefore gospels written then may well not have included it.

    7. Mark does mention the destruction of the temple.

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas >

  • Bill Pratt

    “Yes Bill, but your point wasn’t that the NT authors were Jews, it was that they were Jews who, after converting to Christianity , were still so interested in Judaism that they must include the temple’s destruction in their books about Jesus.”

    It’s not just the temple destruction. The entire city of Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, and thousands upon thousands of their fellow countrymen were killed. Here are how the Jews who wrote the books of the NT related to Jerusalem and the temple:

    1) they grew up around Jerusalem in Galilee or Judea, 2) they worshipped at the temple, 3) they wrote about the temple, 4) they quoted countless Hebrew Bible verses about Jerusalem extensively in their writings, 5) they claim to have seen their leader crucified and resurrected near Jerusalem, 6) they formed the first Christian church at Jerusalem, 7) they held church councils at Jerusalem, 8 ) they understood Jerusalem to be the future capital of an eschatological kingdom of God, 9) their descendants, 2,000 years later, in Israel, are still fighting for occupation of Jerusalem and the temple mount.

    If you feel that none of them would have felt the need to mention the total destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in AD 70, then I can do no more convincing. You seem to be dogmatic on this issue and further conversation along this thread will just serve to frustrate both of us.

    With regard to the early fathers quoting from NT books (not just gospels), I don’t feel like you added anything new to your argument except accusing conservatives of “inventing excuses.” When someone says something like that, I start to worry that we’re no longer discussing intellectually, but leaning toward personal attacks. I hope you’ll step back and give us your evidence without accusing those you disagree with of “inventing excuses.”

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  • DonS.

    Bino, you seem to be struggling immensely with the truth of the Gospels. Please study Eusebius, the father of church history who will explain everything you ask. Here’s a link …
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eusebius_of_Caesarea Books are available on Amazon.com.

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