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.