Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the previous post, we started arguing for early dates for several NT books, but we didn’t finish the discussion.  So this post picks up where we left off!

It is generally agreed upon by scholars that the gospel of Luke was written before the book of Acts.  Dr. Luke wrote both of them and most historians believe that Acts was the sequel to Luke’s gospel (read the beginnings of Luke and Acts to see this).  If this is true, then the gospel of Luke was written before A.D. 62, just as Acts was, but probably a couple years earlier.

Many scholars believe that the gospel of Mark was written before the gospel of Luke because Luke seems to use the gospel of Mark as a source.  This fact would then place Mark even earlier, say, in the mid-50’s.  Keep in mind that both of these gospels record the miraculous life, and more importantly, the resurrection of Jesus.  These events are recorded as facts.

There’s more!  Not a single book in the NT mentions the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.  If, indeed, many of the books of the NT were written after A.D. 70 (as some liberal scholars claim), that would mean that nobody thought the destruction of the temple was important!  How could this be?  The temple was the single most important place in all Judaism.

When Jerusalem was sacked and the temple demolished, the Jews lost the geographical center of their religion.  Tens of thousands of Jews died in the war.  The books of the NT often refer to the temple and the on-going worship of God there (e.g., Heb. 5:1-3, Rev. 11:1-2), so it seems incredible that nobody would mention its demise, yet not one person does.

Can you imagine someone writing about the people of New York City and never mentioning the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001?  Ridiculous, right?  The best explanation for the events of A.D. 70 never being mentioned in the NT is that most, if not all, of the NT was written prior to A.D. 70.

We now have evidence arguing powerfully for early dates for Mark, Luke, and Acts (before A.D. 62) and early dates for most, if not all the NT (before A.D. 70).  Remember the time it takes for legendary development: it takes more than 2 generations.  We aren’t even one generation removed from the events, so the possibility of legend creeping in is virtually zero.

Hang on, though.  There are parts of the NT that we can date even earlier.  One of the most interesting passages in the NT is 1 Cor. 15:3-7.  First, we should note that the First Corinthians letter is dated by most scholars to A.D. 55 or 56.  Now, in the verses mentioned above, scholars have noted some peculiarities that indicate Paul is repeating an oral creed about the resurrection of Jesus that had existed for some time.

In fact, many believe that Paul received the information in this creed from James and Peter in Jerusalem around A.D. 36-38 (Gal. 1:18-19).  This would mean that we have information about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus within just a few years of the events themselves.  Even scholars who are unfriendly to Christianity admit this could be true.  If so, there is no chance that this creed could be legendary.

Let’s sum all of these facts up.  Early dates are important to establishing the historical truth of a document.  If we can establish that the documents were written before 2 generations had passed, there is very little chance of legend or myth sneaking in.  The historical books contained in the NT more than meet this criterion.

We have good reason to believe that Mark, Luke, and Acts were written prior to A.D. 62, well within one generation; we have good reason to believe that First Corinthians contains an oral creed that dates to a few years after Jesus’ death; and we have good reason to believe that most, if not all, the NT was written prior to A.D. 70.

Even if we grant that some of the books of the NT were not written until the late 1st century, it is still too early for legend to corrupt the core facts.  Now that we know the documents of the NT are early, we need to ask whether the writers of the documents are trustworthy and reliable.  We will deal with that in the next post.

  • In fact ALL books of the NT were probably written before AD 70. There is NO evidence that they were written after that time.

    “Be ye ready to give an answer to those who ask you for an evidence concerning your faith”

    Johnson C. Philip, PhD
    India

  • Bino Bolumai

    Not a single book in the NT mentions the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.

    “1 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” ”

    Mark 13: Temple…will be destroyed.

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas >

  • Bill Pratt

    “Mark 13: Temple…will be destroyed.”

    Bino, this is a prediction, not a report of an event that already occurred. Future tense.

  • Bino Bolumai

    > > “Mark 13: Temple…will be destroyed.”

    > Bino, this is a prediction, not a report of an
    > event that already occurred. Future tense.

    Yes Bill, but certainly you know the ancients believed in portents and prophesies, and after great events they made up stories about them, and wrote them into their histories as if they’d really happened. In fact, they did this for the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 73 AD. Here’s Josephus:

    “the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their [the Jews] future desolation.”[Josephus, Jewish War, ,6.5.288] He goes on:

    “Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year.” [6.5.289]

    And in the Temple, “at the ninth hour of the night of the night a great light shone round the altar….This light seemed to be a good sign to the naive, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes as to portend the events that followed.” [6.5.291- 293]

    And, “also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple.” [6.5.292]

    “Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner temple. . .was seen to be opened of its own accord. This also the vulgar thought a happy prodigy…but the men of learning understood it.”[6.5.293 – 295]

    And, “…chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds. [6.5.298 – 299]

    And “Jesus, son of Ananus…came to that feast whereon.. everyone makes tabernacles to God in the temple…and began on a sudden to cry aloud, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house.” [6.5.300- 301]

    Tacitus somewhere gives the same list. The ancients made up prophesies, and wrote them back into their histories. Therefore the difficulty with your theory is

    1. You can provide no (non-circular) reason to suppose Mk’s story of Jesus’ temple prophesy is different from Josephus’ and Tacitus’ fanciful invented temple prophecies — which at any rate follow common ancient story telling convention.

    2. If you insist, as you must to salvage this part of your gospel date theory, on abandoning the reasonable and possible (indeed likely!) after the fact explanation of Mks prophecy story, you must also abandon Mk as evidence of Jesus.

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas >

    PS. This Josephus/ Tacitus stuff rather goes against your 3-generations-to-legend theory too, don’t you agree?

  • Bill Pratt

    Bino,
    Please read what I say. For the third or fourth time, I will reiterate this point. Pointing out a few examples of people in ancient history that made up prophesies or made up stories, or made up anything at all, is not telling evidence against the NT books. It does not follow. Your argument is a non sequitur. Following is your argument:

    1) Josephus made up prophecies about the temple after it was destroyed.
    2) Therefore Jesus’ prophesy about the temple is also made up after the fact.

    That is your argument. It doesn’t work.

    What if I said:

    1) Certain critics of Christianity have been proven to make up stories about early Christianity (Dan Brown would be a good example)
    2) Therefore Bino Bolumai is making up stories about early Christianity.

    Would you agree that my argument is sound or that it proves anything?

  • Bino Bolumai

    > Bino,

    > Please read what I say. For the third or fourth time, I will
    > reiterate this point. Pointing out a few examples of people in
    > ancient history that made up prophesies or made up stories, or
    > made up anything at all, is not telling evidence against the NT
    > books. It does not follow. Your argument is a non sequitur.
    > Following is your argument:

    > 1) Josephus made up prophecies about the temple after it was
    > destroyed.

    > 2) Therefore Jesus’ prophesy about the temple is also made up
    > after the fact.

    > That is your argument. It doesn’t work.

    > What if I said:

    > 1) Certain critics of Christianity have been proven to make up
    > stories about early Christianity (Dan Brown would be a good
    > example)

    > 2) Therefore Bino Bolumai is making up stories about early
    > Christianity.

    > Would you agree that my argument is sound or that it proves
    > anything?

    Bill,

    I haven’t explained my argument well. I think you’re overlooking the imbalance of probabilities in the two choices.

    A. You are correct to suppose I’m making up stuff. Lots of people like Dan Brown, and Zeitgeist, and web sites about Horus do. So when you hear Jesus was made of green cheese stolen from the temple of Mitras, the reasonable first impression is, This guy’s making it up. Even though myther skeptics occasionally do say things that are true, the balance of probability is against it.

    B. The factor I think you are not accounting for is the balance of probabilities. The likelihood of an ancient making up a fake prophesy is high. The likelihood of a real prophesy is, best we can measure, zero.

    A more congruent analogy would be this. You’re staying at the Marriott, and a guy walks on the elevator wearing a Federation Star Ship uniform and a name tag saying, Capt. Vellokcjt from Org .

    It seems to me you are reasoning that because some people at the Marriott have name tags with their real names, it is reasonable to conclude that Capt. Vellockjt’s name tag is also real, and he’s an alien from Org. In doing this you are not accounting for relevant facts.

    First: best we can tell, there are no star ships, no Federation, no Org. We’ve never actually seen any of these things.

    Second: There’s a Star Wars convention in the hotel. Lots of people are walking around in Federation uniforms. We understand that none of these people are really Federation warriors. They’re just making that up.

    So, best we can tell, the probability that a guy in a Federation uniform is really from Org is zero. But we’ve seen lots of people in Federation uniforms who we know are NOT from Org. The only reasonable conclusion is, Capt Vellockjt is not from Org, he’s a conventioneer.

    Could there be a Federation? Could there be an Org? Yes. I can’t prove there’s not. I also can’t prove Zeus and Mitras are not real. But we’ve looked and never seen any of these. The reasonable conclusion is, Capt Vellockjt is a conventioneer.

    The congruence of course is Mk 13’s temple prophesy is Capt Vellokcjt, and all those other prophesies are the conventioneers.

    C. Your reasoning has a further problem. From ancient accounts of dozens of gods and thousands of prophesies, you have chosen ONE god whose miracle stories you believe. You have offered no reasoned analysis to support that choice over all the others.

    If a guy on the elevator decides Capt Vellockjt is real, but all these other people in Federation uniforms are fake, it is reasonable to ask on what basis the distinction was made.

    You think Mk 13’s prophesy was real, and must therefore have predated the destruction of the temple.

    But the probability is otherwise. A reasoned analysis must conclude that Mk’s prophesy was made up after the fact. The only reasonable conclusion is that Mk was written after the destruction of the temple.

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas >

  • Bill Pratt

    Bino,
    Thank you for your explanation. I think I’m starting to see the root of your argument. Let me ask you a question. Do you believe that supernatural or miraculous events have ever occurred in human history, events that a being, outside of our space/time universe, caused to occur?

  • Bino Bolumai

    > Thank you for your explanation. I think I’m starting to see the
    > root of your argument. Let me ask you a question. Do you
    > believe that supernatural or miraculous events have ever
    > occurred in human history, events that a being, outside of our
    > space/time universe, caused to occur?

    Bill,

    Einstein or someone said Either nothing is a miracle, or everything is. If I thought about it, I’d come down with everything. But I don’t think about it. I know the ideas don’t mean I think they mean.

    My argument is not that miracles are impossible.

    Incidentally, I don’t think our modern “outside time and space” theory of God and miracles is biblical. That’s not how the ancients saw miracles, or gods. Back then there were Gods in heaven, but the word was “sky”, and it was real. You got there by going up and down in the sky.

    And dunames was a real thing, a power in the real world…

    “And a woman… touched his garment. For she said, If I touch but his garments, I shall be made whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her plague. And straightway Jesus, perceiving in himself that the power from him had gone forth, turned him about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?”
    Mark, 5:25 – 30″

    That’s not a modern outside time and space miracle. That’s an ancient magic miracle.

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas >

  • Bill Pratt

    I don’t think you answered my question. If you did, I didn’t get it. Let me rephrase. Do you personally believe that events which require the suspension or override of natural laws can occur or have ever occurred? For example, is it possible for people to come back from the dead after they’ve been in a grave a few days? Is it possible for someone to walk on water? Do you believe things like this have ever occurred?

  • Bino Bolumai

    > I don’t think you answered my question. If you did, I didn’t get it.
    > Let me rephrase. Do you personally believe that events which
    > require the suspension or override of natural laws can occur or
    > have ever occurred? For example, is it possible for people to
    > come back from the dead after they’ve been in a grave a few
    > days? Is it possible for someone to walk on water? Do you
    > believe things like this have ever occurred?

    My personal belief is,
    I do not know if natural laws have been over ridden.
    I do not deny they can be.

    I believe that according to natural law it is not possible for people to come back from the dead, or walk on water.

    I do not know if people in the past raised from the dead, or walked on water. If they did, I believe natural law was over ridden.

    I do know that stories about people coming back from the dead were common in ancient culture. And stories about people walking on water too, apparently.

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas >

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Bino,
    Sorry for the delay, but I’ve been traveling.

    So, it seems that you do not rule out supernatural events occurring. In your previous comment, you said that supernatural events which override or suspend the laws of nature may have occurred, but you don’t know. That’s a perfectly reasonable position.

    But I have to ask you whether you rule out the existence of a god. If you believe that these events are possible, then do you believe that a god may exist who performs these events?

  • Bino Bolumai

    > So, it seems that you do not rule out supernatural
    > events occurring. In your previous comment, you
    > said that supernatural events which override or
    > suspend the laws of nature may have occurred, but
    > you don’t know. That’s a perfectly reasonable
    > position.

    > But I have to ask you whether you rule out the
    > existence of a god. If you believe that these events
    > are possible, then do you believe that a god may
    > exist who performs these events?

    Oh sure, a god may exist who performs/causes these theoretical events.

    But the apologists’ next step, generally along the lines, “Well then Jesus’ miracles could be real,” is a dead end for a number of reasons, including:

    1. It is circular.

    2. It fails to do what apologists want it to do. It fails to make Jesus’ miracles probable. It cannot make the NT stories EVIDENCE for miracles.

    3. It is unnecessary. Pagan syncretism explains the evidence better, without recourse to magic.

    Believers can convince each other, but the logic is inescapable. You must loose – are loosing – the argument in the greater culture.

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas >

  • Bill Pratt

    Bino,
    I wasn’t going to argue at all in the direction you headed. I was going to ask you: if it is possible that God exists and that miracles are possible, how should we judge claims of supernatural events that are recorded in history? You can’t rule them out a priori, because you admit these things are possible, so how do you determine whether recorded supernatural events really happened?

  • Bino Bolumai

    > I wasn’t going to argue at all in the direction you
    > headed. I was going to ask you: if it is possible
    > that God exists and that miracles are possible,
    > how should we judge claims of supernatural
    > events that are recorded in history? You can’t rule
    > them out a priori, because you admit these things
    > are possible, so how do you determine whether
    > recorded supernatural events really happened?

    I don’t think the gospelers, or ancient people in general, thought the Jesus’ miracles were beyond-time-and-space events the way we think of them now. So the first thing you’ve have to do is accept that your beyond-time-and-space understanding of Jesus’ miracles is non-biblical.

    Your question highlights the apologists’ difficulty. It would be nice to determine the miracle stories were real or not. But there’s a disconnect between the question and the method. The question is supernatural—beyond-time-and-space. The method of determining things is within time-and-space, cause-and-effect. We moderns determine something is real by seeing, touching, measuring it.

    There is, it seems to me, in principal no way to use time-and-space, cause and effect to determine that cause and effect didn’t happen.

    So multiply attested, early dates, first hand accounts don’t help you. The question will always come down to, which is more likely A) Real world cause and effect [no miracle] or B) a cause beyond-time-and-space. But there is no way to measure the probability of a beyond-time-and-space cause.

    Which is more likely A) Jesus did not walk on water, but some credulous primitive said he did, or B) Jesus did walk on water. The answer, to the extent it can be measured, must be A.

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas >

  • Bill Pratt

    Bino,
    So, in essence, you rule out all miracles regardless of the evidence for them. I figured that was the case, but I wanted to make sure that was your position. I just want to be clear that there is no amount of historical evidence that you would ever accept to prove a miracle occurred. It is always more likely that the “credulous primitive” lied about it or was mistaken.

    The problem with this position is that you are presiding over a court trial, but you made up your mind before any evidence was presented! In fact, you are telling the attorneys not to bother bringing evidence because you won’t consider any of it!

    If that is the case, why don’t you just say that right at the beginning when you post on these issues? Why do you lead people to believe that you are presenting historical evidence that disproves Christian miracle accounts, when, in fact, you think that all of this evidence is bunk? In fact, your last couple sentences are what I would recommend you start your comments with: “Which is more likely A) Jesus did not walk on water, but some credulous primitive said he did, or B) Jesus did walk on water. The answer, to the extent it can be measured, must be A.” Then we would know where you stand and not waste time trying to dialogue with you on a subject where you believe dialogue is fruitless.

    The issue you have is not with historical evidence of miracles in Christianity. The issue you have is that you don’t believe they are, in principle, possible. What you should be arguing with Christians is whether God exists and whether miracles can occur. These would be more fruitful paths of discussion, in my opinion.

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  • It really does not matter when the gospels were written–they are still inconsistent and contradictory, and therefore, they are not reliable sources. Furthermore, you claims that “myths” do not begin for at least 2 generations after an event occurs is bizarre.

    Muhammad Ali’s actually hit Sonny Liston in 1964, but nevertheless it became known as the legendary “phantom punch” and it has been debated ever since. Clearly, one can see the punch when viewing the tape, and there is no such thing as a phantom punch, but that does not stop people from making up horrendously elaborated hyperbole–if you know what I mean.

    However, let us assume what you say is true. Then you would have to accept the Zend Avesta (Ahura Mazda) the Qur’an (Allah), Bhagavad Gita (Krishna) and hundreds of other eyewitness testimonies about other gods and goddesses.

    I recently wrote a blog post illustrating the fact that there is as much, if not more evidence for the existence of unicorns, as the Greeks, the Chinese, and even the Bible mentions them. In the Bamboo Annals. the Chinese emperor Fu Hsi makes an eyewitness account of a unicorn that rules the heavens and brings goodness to humans!

    The name of the post is: “Atheists and Unicorns, NOT An Emotional Appeal–A Rebuttal of JW Wartick’s Argument”

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