How Does Jesus’ Prediction of the Destruction of Jerusalem Affect the Dating of Luke’s Gospel?

Liberal and skeptical scholars have long noted that Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in Luke 19:42-44 prove that the Gospel according to Luke must have been written after AD 70. How else, they argue, could the writer of the Gospel known about the Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem? In fact, since most scholars believe Mark was the first gospel written, and Mark also mentions the destruction of Jerusalem, then all the gospels must have been written after AD 70.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, writing at Catholic Answers, frames the issue this way:

With their rationalist presuppositions firmly in place, modern biblical critics concluded that the entire New Testament could not have been composed before the year 70. The reasoning went like this: ‘Mark’s Gospel is the earliest Gospel. Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. We know that people can’t foretell the future. Therefore this must have been written after the event and made to sound like a prophecy.’ This one conclusion—based on the assumption that seeing the future is impossible—is the basis for the continuing idea that the New Testament is a late-invented document.

Once this ‘fact’ was in place, every other piece of evidence relating to the dating of the Gospels had to conform to this single conclusion. So, if evidence was found that a particular Gospel was written earlier than A.D. 70, it could not be so, because everyone ‘knew’ that it all had to be written after A.D. 70. The authorship of the Gospels also had to be in question. If most the apostles died before A.D. 70, then it was impossible for them to be the authors of the Gospels.

What the critics fail to understand is that there are at least two other possibilities. First, Jesus may have been making an educated guess that Jerusalem would be destroyed due to her rebellious tendencies. The description of the siege in Luke 19 is applicable to almost any siege of a major city in the ancient near east.

Second, and more likely, Jesus was making a supernatural prediction. He could have had a supernatural vision of the destruction of Jerusalem which he then reported to his disciples, who then wrote the prediction down.

The only way critics can dismiss this second possibility is to deny the possibility that Jesus was given a vision of the future. But how can they possibly know that Jesus could not have received a vision from God? They cannot.

For many critical scholars, it is a philosophical presupposition that miracles cannot occur, that the supernatural does not exist, that a Creator God does not exist (i.e., that theism is false). But if a Creator God who interacts with the universe He created does exist, then it is entirely possible that Jesus received a vision from that God. Jesus repeatedly claimed to be an emissary from God, to have a special relationship with God, so if anyone was going to receive knowledge of future events, it would be Jesus.

In brief, the gospels cannot be dated by first assuming that theism is false. If there are good reasons to believe that theism is true (and there are many), miracles are possible. Since the New Testament is full of miracles, a scholar looking to date the NT documents simply cannot ignore the possibility that at least some of the miracles recorded actually did occur.

  • barry

    TQA: Liberal and skeptical scholars have long noted that Jesus’
    prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in Luke 19:42-44 prove that
    the Gospel according to Luke must have been written after AD 70. How
    else, they argue, could the writer of the Gospel known about the Roman
    siege and destruction of Jerusalem? In fact, since most scholars believe
    Mark was the first gospel written, and Mark also mentions the
    destruction of Jerusalem, then all the gospels must have been written
    after AD 70.Fr. Dwight Longenecker, writing at Catholic Answers, frames
    the issue this way: With their rationalist presuppositions firmly in
    place, modern biblical critics concluded that the entire New Testament
    could not have been composed before the year 70.
    ——————-barry
    jones: And since one’s presuppositions heavily impact one’s conclusions
    on the evidence (i.e., it’s no coincidence that fundamentalist
    Christian presuppositions lead to a fundamentalist Christian
    interpretation of evidence, etc), then perhaps it is wise to spend
    significant quality time first debating how reasonable or unreasonable
    such “rationalist presuppositions” really are. If it is reasonable to
    assert that it is only in the lowest of probabilities that the future
    could ever be known by somebody to the degree of detail and accuracy
    that biblical authors allegedly knew it, then the naturalistic
    explanation for the accuracy of bible characters in predicting the
    future, becomes reasonable.

    =============
    If you found a
    piece of paper in the attic of an abandoned house that contained a
    Christian message, was dated 1943, predicted that somebody named Clinton
    would become president of the USA in 1993, did not name its author but
    named the addressee as “George”, and nobody comes forward to claim to be
    author or addressee, what would you do? Would you perform tests to help
    you decide more accurately whether the given date of composition was
    the true date of composition? Why? After all, under your reasoning, if
    the document bears earmarks of having been composed in 1943, then it is
    reasonable to assume it was, and continue believe that’s the case (and
    thus believe the author performed the miracle of predicting the future
    by the hand of God) until a skeptic can prove foul play.
    ==============

    ==============
    If
    your Christian son explains the new pile of money on his bed (despite
    his and your poverty and no other naturalistic way to explain where it
    came from) as god’s making it miraculously appear there after he prayed
    for it, why do you initially suspect this supernaturalist explanation is
    faulty? Because your mind is not completely divested of devilish
    naturalism? Or because initial skepticism toward the miraculous in
    general is actually the better way to approach miracle-claims?

    (if
    you try to escape this argument by saying yes, you’d assume your son
    was telling the truth, then even most Christians would view you as
    gullible).

    (if you say you’d first investigate the naturalistic
    explanations to see how probable they were, you are testifying that when
    faced with a miracle claim, it is not unreasonable to first attempt to
    make sure naturalistic theories are unlikely, before becoming open to
    the possibility that you are confronted with a genuinely supernatural
    miracle. So you cannot condemn the skeptic who first tries to explain
    the data naturalistically, before believing the door will open to the
    possibility that the data describe a real miracle.)
    ==============

    ——Fr.
    Dwight Longenecker: The reasoning went like this:’ Mark’s Gospel is the
    earliest Gospel. Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. We know
    that people can’t foretell the future. Therefore this must have been
    written after the event and made to sound like prophecy.’ This one
    conclusion—based on the assumption that seeing the future is
    impossible—is the basis for the continuing idea that the New Testament
    is a late-invented document.
    ——————-barry jones:
    Technically, we say that seeing the future accurately is not very
    likely. But at the end of the day, in our mind, that which has a very
    low probability of occurrence, we eventually call “impossible”. In
    common parlance, we are not robots merely assigning differing levels of
    probability to different allegations. We eventually cross the line when a
    claim departs sufficiently from our pool of experience, and assert that
    the given explanation is “impossible”.

    ——-Fr. Dwight
    Longenecker: Once this ‘fact’ was in place, every other piece of
    evidence relating to the dating of the Gospels had to conform to this
    single conclusion. ——————-barry jones: Only fools trust
    propaganda written by zealots and pretend the burden of proof is on the
    skeptic to prove it false. The Nazis wrote much as zealots for Hitler,
    in their quest to “prove” the Jews to be inferior, and clearly the
    burden is on the idiot who thinks those writings should be assumed true
    until proven false. And since the reason you don’t automatically trust
    everything you read in the medias as true until prove false, is because
    you know the media often spins stories to give a false impression, then
    your own skepticism testifies to the reasonableness of using your own
    pool of life experience to decide how must trust you will initially
    accord to somebody’s particular but unverified version of a story.

    ——Fr.
    Dwight Longenecker: So, if evidence was found that a particular Gospel
    was written earlier than A.D. 70, it could not be so, because everyone
    ‘knew’ that it all had to be written after A.D. 70.
    ——————-barry
    jones: That is not my experience as a skeptic. Most skeptical and
    liberal treatments of gospel dating allow that much in the gospels goes
    back to what Jesus actually did/said, it is only the miracles and
    predictions that cause suspicion that these are just fables concocted by
    the authors around 70 a.d. I see no problem in dating the gospels
    before 70 a.d., and assuming that they went through revisions and
    editions before they took their final canonical form around 80 a.d. Luke
    appears to admit that in his day, yes, there were versions of written
    gospels circulating that gave something less than the exact truth about
    Jesus and the apostles. Luke 1:1-3 “many have taken in hand…”

    ——Fr.
    Dwight Longenecker: The authorship of the Gospels also had to be in
    question. If most the apostles died before A.D. 70, then it was
    impossible for them to be the authors of the Gospels.
    ——————-barry
    jones: but the ancient sources that tell us how and when the apostles
    died, are plagued by problems of inconsistency and date of composition.
    So it will be quite difficult, for example, for conservatives to argue
    that it is more reasonable to believe Matthew lived until 70 a.d. The
    better perspective, without going into a detailed study of the sources,
    is that the people who tell us how and when the apostles died, were
    relying on hearsay, and lord knows, the church fathers believed many
    weird things on the presumed basis of “tradition”.
    What the critics fail to understand is that there are at least two other possibilities.
    ——————-barry
    jones: Your comment is an unusable over-generalization. Yes, there
    probably are a few “critics” who never give consideration to your two
    other possibilities. But that is not the case with most active bible
    ‘critics’ and liberal scholars.

    —TQA: First, Jesus may have
    been making an educated guess that Jerusalem would be destroyed due to
    her rebellious tendencies. The description of the siege in Luke 19 is
    applicable to almost any siege of a major city in the ancient near
    east.
    ——————-barry jones: If that is a genuine
    possibility, then you are responsible for making it possible for critics
    to reasonably explain this prediction of Jesus in ways that do not open
    the door to the possibility of the supernatural.

    —TQA:
    Second, and more likely, Jesus was making a supernatural prediction. He
    could have had a supernatural vision of the destruction of Jerusalem
    which he then reported to his disciples, who then wrote the prediction
    down. The only way critics can dismiss this second possibility is to
    deny the possibility that Jesus was given a vision of the future. But
    how can they possibly know that Jesus could not have received a vision
    from God? They cannot.
    ——————-barry jones: “cannot” is a
    stronger term than is warranted, meaning you are no longer arguing, you
    are preaching. You can disagree with atheism, but to sweep away the
    many critiques of theism with the word “cannot” is a bit presumptuous.
    You are talking about a debate that has raged for centuries.

    —TQA:
    For many critical scholars, it is a philosophical presupposition that
    miracles cannot occur, that the supernatural does not exist, that a
    Creator God does not exist (i.e., that theism is false). But if a
    Creator God who interacts with the universe He created does exist, then
    it is entirely possible that Jesus received a vision from that God.
    ——————-barry
    jones: And if that creator god is as arbitrary and presumptuous and
    wrongheaded as the bible makes him to be (he regrets his own prior
    decisions, Genesis 6:6-7, in a context where neither grammar nor context
    nor genre support the “anthropomorphism” interpretation [he also vows
    to never deal with sin again by flooding the world, apparently showing
    gain in wisdom or knowledge, implying he later felt his prior decree to
    flood the world wasn’t the best answer to sin he could come up with,
    Genesis 8:21]…He irrationally desires to slay Israel at the foot of the
    mountain, and only changes His mind after Moses the sinner talks some
    sense into His head, Exodus 32:9-14, again, in a context where neither
    grammar, context, nor genre will support the “anthropomorphism”
    interpretation), then whether such a god could know the future, as is so
    blindly presumed to be the case by most Christians, looms.

    —TQA:
    Jesus repeatedly claimed to be an emissary from God, to have a special
    relationship with God, so if anyone was going to receive knowledge of
    future events, it would be Jesus.
    ——————-barry jones: Again, at this point you start “preaching”, you are no longer making “argument”.

    —TQA: In brief, the gospels cannot be dated by first assuming that theism is false.
    ——————-barry
    jones: But denying god’s existence and thereby assuming people cannot
    know the future with amazing accuracy, is rational and reasonable for
    those informed atheists who have consistently fought the arguments for
    theism…unless you can demonstrate flaws in their critiques.

    —TQA: If there are good reasons to believe that theism is true (and there are many),
    ——————-barry
    jones: Showing again how our presuppositions are so strong, they often
    make the evidence at issue irrelevant. Does the bible permit you to be
    open to the possibility that God doesn’t exist? No. Are you firmly
    committed to defending the biblical view of things? Yes. See? Now
    atheism is not characterized by traits such as weekly gatherings and
    signing and praises and worship like Christianity, so that whatever
    impells atheists to be closed to the possibility that Christianity is
    true, it involves far less brainwashing than the biblical model that
    requires constant repetition, and consigning to an indivisible enemy all
    thoughts contrary to the currently accepted world view.

    —TQA:
    miracles are possible. Since the New Testament is full of miracles, a
    scholar looking to date the NT documents simply cannot ignore the
    possibility that at least some of the miracles recorded actually did
    occur.
    ——————-barry jones: Most skeptical scholars I’m
    aware of do not ignore that possibility, rather, they provide reasons
    why Christian defenses of supernaturalism fail, and therefore, at the
    end of the day, skeptics are not unreasonable to view miracles as lowest
    on the table of probabilities. We are talking about documents that are
    not only 2,000 years old, whose authorship and date is debated amongst
    Christian scholars themselves, but documents for whom there is at least a
    200 year gap between alleged original and the earliest extant copy,
    hence, a 200 year “dark period” in the manuscript history. Don’t be
    too sure that everything you read in English Luke draws from something
    Luke wrote in his Greek original. Given what we already know about
    textual corruption and emendation and how one gospel author modified
    another’s text (Synoptic problem), there is a great likelihood that the
    manuscript “dark period” saw many alterations which left behind no trace
    of their late origin. Early scribes choosing to conjure up a false
    ending to Mark 16 is just one example of how textual falsities can
    become so popular that they end up deceiving the church for a long
    time. How long did the long-ending of Mark 16 cause readers of the KJV
    between 1611 and 1960 to think Mark 16:9-20 was part of the original?
    That is a giant chasm of possibility that the Greek text we can recover
    today is full of non-Lukan interpolations added during the textual “dark
    period”.