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.