Category Archives: Church History

What Happened in Paul’s Final Years of Life?

The end of the book of Acts leaves us in suspense about what happens to Paul. Scholarship is divided, as usual, about Paul’s subsequent years, but here are some ideas.

Clinton Arnold, in John, Acts: Volume Two (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), offers the following:

At the conclusion of his writing, Paul still has not faced his trial. Had Paul already been released, it is difficult to explain why Luke would not have recorded the outcome of the trial (unless he was planning to do so in a third volume—a work never completed). Paul has been in custody four years, and his readers await the anticipated acquittal by the emperor. It would have made a better ending to the Gospel and Acts to portray Paul as free from chains and proclaiming the gospel to Gentiles in regions beyond Rome.

One of the activities Paul engages in during this time is letter writing. From his Roman apartment chained to a soldier, he writes Philippians (if it was not written while he was in prison in Caesarea, or even earlier during his Ephesian ministry), Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians. Philippians may plausibly be explained as having been written just before Paul’s trial at the end of the two years since it reflects an approaching crisis that could end in life or death for the apostle (Phil. 1:19-26).

Stanley Toussaint, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, writes,

Perhaps no charges were filed in Rome and Paul was released. The Jews would know they had no case against Paul outside of Judea and so would be reluctant to argue their cause in Rome.

Probably Paul returned to the provinces of Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia and then turned west to Spain according to his original plans (Rom. 15:22–28). Then he ministered once more in the Aegean area where he was taken prisoner, removed to Rome, and executed.

An article on gotquestions.org called “How did the apostle Paul die?” answers this way:

The Bible does not say how the apostle Paul died. Writing in 2 Timothy 4:6–8, Paul seems to be anticipating his soon demise: ‘For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.’

Second Timothy was written during Paul’s second Roman imprisonment in AD 64—67. There are a few different Christian traditions in regards to how Paul died, but the most commonly accepted one comes from the writings of Eusebius, an early church historian. Eusebius claimed that Paul was beheaded at the order of the Roman emperor Nero or one of his subordinates. Paul’s martyrdom occurred shortly after much of Rome burned in a fire—an event that Nero blamed on the Christians.

Adding more details is a 2009 article titled “New Discoveries Relating to the Apostle Paul” at biblearchaeology.org. Speaking of Christian monuments in Rome, Brian Janeway writes:

But lesser known are those relating to the Apostle Paul, who was martyred in Rome at the conclusion of what most believe was a second imprisonment postdating the book of Acts, between which he traveled to Spain and Crete (Titus 1:5). Of this period, the 3rd century church historian Eusebius wrote:

‘After defending himself the Apostle was again set on the ministry of preaching…coming a second time to the same city [Paul] suffered martyrdom under Nero. During this imprisonment he wrote the second Epistle to Timothy’ (Eccl Hist. 2.22.2).

Paul’s poignant and triumphant words are preserved in chapter 4: ‘For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith’ (2 Tim. 4: 6-7).

Eusebius goes on to report ‘that in his [Nero’s] time Paul was beheaded in Rome itself and that Peter was likewise crucified. (Eccl Hist. 2.25.5) Paul’s execution took place at the end of Nero’s reign, c. A.D. 65-68. His legal status as a Roman citizen protected him from the ignominious sentence of crucifixion suffered by Peter.

The traditional spot for the beheading is known as the Abbey of the Three Fountains (the head reputedly bounced three times before coming to rest), which is south of the modern center of Rome. Early reports stated he was laid in the family tomb of a devout Roman noblewoman named Matrona Lucilla. His remains may have subsequently been hidden in catacombs for safekeeping during Vespasian’s reign (see below). Nearby the abbey is the monumental Church of San Paolo Fuori Le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls) where the remains of Paul are entombed.

Did Luke Write the Book of Acts?

The testimony of the early Christian church is virtually unanimous in ascribing the authorship of Acts to Luke, the companion of Paul and writer of the third Gospel. Some skeptics, however, claim that Luke is probably not the author of Acts because the theology of Paul, as presented in Acts, does not agree with the theology of Paul, as presented in Paul’s own letters. If Luke was Paul’s companion, how could he have so badly misrepresented Paul’s theology?

Darrell Bock, in, presents the skeptical case and then argues why the skeptical case is, in fact, not convincing.

The mismatch is said to involve issues of natural law, Jewish law, Christology, and eschatology (Vielhauer 1966). First, some pit Acts 17 and its openness to seeing God in creation against Romans 1, which seems to imply the revelation of God in creation is only enough to form a basis of our guilt before God. Second, they contrast Luke’s lack of discussion about the role of the cross in salvation with Paul’s emphasis on it. Third, critics say Luke has an adoptionistic Christology, where Jesus becomes Son of God during his earthly life. Fourth, some note how little Luke speaks about the end times, in contrast to Paul who emphasizes it.

Responses to this line of argument are plentiful (Ellis 1974, 45– 47; Bruce 1976; Fitzmyer 1998, 145– 47). First, Romans 1 no less than Acts 17 says creation testifies to God, but the issue is that Romans 1 points out that people (in this case, polytheists) resist this testimony and refuse to glorify God or show him gratitude (Rom 1: 21). The different settings of these two passages are important; Acts 17 represents Paul’s reaching out in an evangelistic setting, asking people to consider God, while in Romans 1 he is concerned with explaining the rejection of God and humanity’s guilt.

Second, Luke does note the cross briefly in two texts (Acts 20: 28; Luke 22: 18– 20). The second text is disputed in terms of textual criticism, but the disputed portion is likely original.

Third, Luke’s Christology is not adoptionistic (Moule 1966, 159– 86; Gathercole 2006). Jesus appears as Son from the very start of Luke (Luke 1: 30– 35).

Fourth, Luke has an end-time theology, as the Acts 3 speech shows.

Finally, the issue of how the law is viewed between Luke-Acts and Paul’s writings is more complex, but the key is to see what Paul himself says, namely that he is a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks (1 Cor 9: 19– 23). So his approach varied depending on the circumstance, and this may account for different approaches seen between these bodies of writing.

Bock notes that there are also non-theological differences between Acts and Paul’s letters that are used to argue against Lucan authorship.

“One such challenge to Lucan authorship notes that Paul presents himself as an apostle (e.g., Rom 1: 1), while Luke does not name him in this light (Haenchen 1987, 112– 6). Another says Luke presents Paul as a miracle worker and great orator, whereas Paul does not present himself as either of these things. However, Paul is a miracle worker according to his own material (Rom 15: 18– 19; 1 Cor 5: 4– 5; 2 Cor 4: 7; 12: 9, 12; 1 Thess 1: 5). While he lays no claims to being an orator, his letters are evidence of his rhetorical skills. In addition, Heanchen’s description of Luke’s portrayal of Paul as an orator is exaggerated; Luke has Paul failing to persuade the Athenians (Acts 17), failing to keep Eutychus awake (20: 7– 12), and giving Festus the impression that he has lost his mind (26: 24). Paul’s hesitancy about his own gifts in spots reflects his humility (Eph 3: 1– 9).

Finally, critics claim that the cause of Paul’s persecution differs between Acts and the Pauline epistles. They say that in the book of Acts, Paul is persecuted over the issue of resurrection, while in the Gospel of Luke it is because he rejects the Law. However, this ignores the cause of Paul’s arrest in Acts 20 and also reflects a reductionism that highlights only one key reason from each work. Also, the different emphases may indicate a difference between the point Paul most wanted to stress and the point an interested observer (Luke) most wanted to stress. These differences of emphasis give depth to the portrait of Paul and his ministry and do not indicate a contradiction. In his letters Paul focuses on how Jesus saves through justification by faith, while Luke focuses on who does the saving in Acts. Nonetheless, Luke clearly has Paul speak of salvation through faith in Christ during his Pisidean speech (see Acts 13: 13– 41, esp. vv. 38– 39).

One final issue is the lack of citation of Paul’s letters in Acts. Bruce (1990, 52– 59) argues that Acts was written too close to the time of Paul’s letters for them to have been used, and that the issues about missions that are prevalent in Acts are distinct from the issues treated in Paul’s letters. Two issues that do overlap are circumcision and Paul’s relationship to the community in Jerusalem. These accounts also can be reconciled, especially if one sees Acts 15 taking place after Galatians 2 (Witherington 1998, 88– 97).

So, given these arguments, is there substantial doubt as to Luke’s authorship of Acts? Not in Bocks’ opinion.

In conclusion, the strongest point in the case for Luke being the author of Luke-Acts is the evidence of early church testimony. The issues that arise from a comparison of Luke-Acts to the Pauline letters do not reach the level of overturning this testimony. In fact, explaining how the early church came to mention Luke consistently as the author when other, better-known candidates existed suggests it must have had a strong reason for identifying him as author.

Did James and John, the Sons of Zebedee, Die for the Gospel?

In Matthew 20, Jesus confirms that his cousins, James and John, will suffer, and possibly die, for his sake. This raises the question of whether we have any historical documentation about the deaths of James and John.

With regard to James, the book of Acts, chapter twelve, actually records his death around the year AD 44.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.

Given that there are several Herods mentioned in the Bible, which Herod killed James? According to gotquestions.org,

Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great (Acts 12). It was he who persecuted the church in Jerusalem and had the apostle James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee, put to death by the sword. By the hand of Herod Agrippa I, James became the first apostle to be martyred.

With regard to John, the historical record is less clear. According to ccel.org, here is the most plausible account of what happened to John:

According to John’s Gospel (19:26-27), it was probably John who took Mary, the mother of Jesus as his adopted mother. He preached in Jerusalem, and later, as bishop of Ephesus, south of Izmir in western Turkey, worked among the churches of Asia Minor. During the reigns of either Emperor Nero (AD 54-68) or Domitian (AD 81-96), he was banished to the nearby island of Patmos, now one of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. He was subsequently freed and died a natural death at Ephesus c AD 100.

John likely was assigned to slave labor in the mines of Patmos, so he did indeed suffer greatly. There is also a church tradition which claims that, at one point, John was thrown into a basin of boiling oil.

Both brothers, then, suffered greatly for proclaiming the gospel. James was the first apostle to be martyred and John, although he lived several more decades than his brother, was banished to work the mines on the island of Patmos.

#7 Post of 2014 – Did Christians Steal from Egyptian Mythology?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Generally I don’t post videos as I’m more of a fan of the written word, but sometimes I run across something that is just too good to not post. Check out this video from Lutheran Satire that does an accurate and funny debunking of the folks out there who claim that Christianity was just copied from older Egyptian myths.

How Important Was Memorization in Ancient Palestine?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Most historians agree that the four Gospels were not written until at least a couple of decades had passed after Jesus’ death and resurrection, if not more. Even the apostle Paul’s letters were written 10 or more years after Jesus died. Likewise with the other letters in the New Testament.

If this is the case, then the sources for the facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (the sources that the Gospel writers used) are either written documents that have been lost, oral traditions, or a combination of the two. Assuming that oral traditions were part of the source material for the Gospel writers, how did this process of oral transmission work?

Christian skeptics like to claim that oral traditions are unreliable, that human memory is simply incapable of accurately remembering facts about people, places, and events. Oral traditions, by definition, simply cannot be trusted. Is this true?

Biblical scholar Richard Bauckham disputes this view of oral transmission in the ancient near east. In his book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, he argues that memorization was a crucial skill that teachers and students would have mastered.

[M]emorization would not always entail completely verbatim learning by rote, but some degree of memorization was indispensable to any deliberate attempt to learn and transmit tradition faithfully. It was the necessary alternative to trusting the unreliable vagaries of undisciplined memory. It is sometimes supposed that in predominantly oral societies the faculty of memory is better developed than in our own. It would be better to say that, in societies where reliance on memory is essential in large areas of life in which it no longer matters much to us, people took the trouble to remember and used techniques of memorizing. Memory was not just a faculty, but a vital skill with techniques to be learned.

Bauckham then gives two examples from ancient literature of the importance of memorization:

 In a revealing passage in the Apocalypse of Baruch, God says: “Listen, Baruch, to this word and write down in the memory of your heart all that you shall learn” (2 Baruch 50: 1). Here the memory is pictured as a book in which the owner writes memories down (so also Prov 3: 3; 7: 3). In other words, committing to memory is a deliberate and skilled act, comparable to recording words in a notebook. Later Baruch would transfer these remembered words from the notebook of his memory to the literal writing of a book. Similarly, Irenaeus says, of the traditions he heard from Polycarp, that he “made notes of them, not on paper but in my heart” (apud Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 5.20.7).

Along these same lines, Bauckham points to a well-known example of oral tradition in the New Testament:

The longest Pauline example of rehearsing Jesus tradition — to which, because of its demonstrably early date, we have already referred more than once — is here again instructive. The close verbal parallelism between 1 Cor 11: 23-25 and Luke 22: 19-20 cannot plausibly be explained by a literary relationship between the texts, since Luke’s Gospel cannot have been available to Paul and Luke shows no acquaintance with Paul’s letters. Only strictly memorized oral tradition (memorized in Greek) can explain the high degree of verbal resemblance. We should note that, although Paul seems to expect his hearers to know the memorized oral text, it is entirely possible that he expects only a general familiarity on the part of the community as a whole, while the exact form, with a high degree of memorized wording, would be preserved by teachers specifically commissioned to be guardians of the tradition.

Bauckham’s point is that although there may have been written documents that were circulated before the Gospels were written, memorization of key facts about Jesus would have occurred, and those facts would have been preserved by the early believers. Therefore, one cannot simply dismiss oral transmission as being completely unreliable. It was a way of life for those who lived in ancient Palestine.

How Is Apologetics Bringing Christians Together?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the largest blemishes on Christianity is the number of different denominations. Just among Protestants, there are dozens of major denominations and hundreds of smaller denominations around the world. And, of course, there are Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches as well. What does apologetics (defense of the Christian faith) have to do with denominations?

As a defender of Christianity, the very first thing you have to answer for yourself is this: what Christianity am I defending? It’s pretty difficult to defend something that you can’t describe.

I attend a Southern Baptist church, but when I started studying apologetics 10 years ago, I quickly came to realize that to defend the Southern Baptist denomination was not what I was called to do.

What I needed to defend was orthodox Christianity – the traditional, historical faith that was established during the first 500 years of the church, and codified in the ecumenical councils held during that time period. This is the Christianity that every major Christian group points back to in one way or another. As my seminary professor Norman Geisler once wrote, “Unity among all major sections of Christendom is found in the statement: One Bible, two testaments, three confessions, four councils, and five centuries.”

This is exactly the approach C. S. Lewis took in all of his apologetic writings. He always wrote about what he called “Mere Christianity.” Lewis had no interest in diving into the in-house debates among Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. His was a calling to defend the common doctrines that all of these groups held sacred.

As I’ve studied apologetics, I’ve read numerous non-Baptist scholars, including quite a few Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox thinkers. Every one of these men and woman do their utmost to enunciate mere Christianity to the non-Christian world. I guarantee that if I hadn’t been studying apologetics, I would not have been exposed to such a wide range of Christians outside my denomination.

If you’ve ever been to an apologetics conference, you’ve probably noticed the way that Christians from every denomination mingle and network without thinking twice. We don’t wear name tags that label our denominations. It never comes up, honestly.

I believe that Christian apologetics can be a powerful force that unifies all Christians around the essentials of our faith. When we truly focus on what is central, on what is at the heart of our faith, we find that many of our differences seem less important.

Are we ready to drop all of our differences and unite as one visible church? No. There are real and substantial disagreements to be worked out. But the apologists are at the forefront, whether we know it or not, of a global movement to unify around mere Christianity. I am really excited about that and I hope you are, too.

#9 Post of 2013 – What Are the Earliest Christian Writings?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Perhaps you’ve read or heard that the New Testament (NT) books were produced at the same time as other Christian writings, and that these other writings were unfairly  and unceremoniously kicked out of the NT canon. Is this true?

New Testament professor Michael J. Kruger says no. In his blog post, “Ten Basic Facts about the NT Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize: #1: “The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess,” Kruger reminds us of some critical facts.

First, why is it important that the NT books are the earliest? For the simple fact that earlier dates “bring us the closest to the historical Jesus and to the earliest church.   If we want to find out what authentic Christianity was really like, then we should rely on the writings that are the nearest to that time period.”

Most of us consider the four gospels to be the most important books in the NT, so were they the first gospels written? Kruger explains that the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,

are the only gospel accounts that derive from the first century.  Sure, there are a few scholars have attempted to put the Gospel of Thomas in the first century, but this has not met with much success.  After all the scholarly dust has settled, even critics agree that these four are the earliest accounts of Jesus that we possess.

Virtually all of the other letters/books contained in the NT were written in the first century and pre-date all other extant Christian writings. Kruger does raise a couple of qualifications. A few of the NT books are disputed with regard to their dates of origin. Kruger points out that

some critical scholars have argued that some New Testament books are forgeries written in the second century.  Meanwhile, other scholars have defended the authenticity (and first-century date) of these books.  This is a debate that we cannot delve into here. However, even if these debated books are left aside in our discussions, we can still affirm that the vast majority of the New Testament writings (including the four gospels) still remain the earliest Christian writings we possess.

Further, there is the issue of 1 Clement, which is a Christian writing that dates to the first century, but is not in the NT canon. Kruger responds:

True, but the consensus date for 1 Clement is c.96 A.D.  This date is later than all our New Testament books.  The only possible exception is Revelation which is dated, at the latest, around 95-96 A.D.   But, some date Revelation earlier.  Even so, this does not affect the macro point we are making here.

Why is it important that most, if not all, the NT books are the earliest Christians writings? Because, as Kruger argues, “it seems that the books included in the New Testament are not as arbitrary as some would have us believe.  On the contrary, it seems that these are precisely the books we would include if we wanted to have access to authentic Christianity.”

Were the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ invented in the 4th and 5th Centuries?

Post Author: Darrell

(This post originally appeared on Darrell’s Thoughts and Reflections and is being reposted here for the benefit of TQA readers.)

One of the charges I often hear leveled against Christianity today is that both the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ were “invented” by the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries, during the Ecumenical Councils.  Proponents of these charges claim that the Church prior to the Ecumenical Councils believed neither in the Trinity, nor in the Dual Nature of Christ.  I freely admit that the language by which the Church codified these doctrines was fortified in the Ecumenical Councils.  However, I believe those who charge that the Church invented the doctrines themselves in the Councils and that the Church prior to the Councils did not hold to them are gravely mistaken.

One of the earliest Church Fathers to articulate a basic understanding of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ is Saint Ignatius.  Saint Ignatius was the third Bishop of Antioch, serving from 70 AD to 107 AD.  He was a disciple of the Apostle John, and Church Tradition teaches that he was the child Christ held in His arms when He said, in Matthew 18:3, “. . . unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Shortly after the turn of the second century, Saint Ignatius wrote several Epistles while in captivity on the road traveling to his martyrdom.  Seven of these epistles have survived to our day.  In the seventh chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians, he says:

But our Physician is the only true God, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.  We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.”  Being incorporeal, He was in a body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.

There are several aspects of this passage which demonstrate that Saint Ignatius held beliefs consistent with the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ.  First, he refers to two separate Persons, God the Father and Jesus Christ, yet he calls both of them God.  This is completely consistent with Nicene Theology, which teaches that both the Father and the Son are God by nature/essence.  The Nicene Creed calls Christ “true God of true God”, saying He is “of one essence with the Father” as God.  Had Ignatius been an Arian or had he held to a non-Trinitarian Doctrine that teaches Christ to be something less than or other than God, He would not have referred to Him as God.

Second, Ignatius refers to Jesus Christ as begotten “before time began”.  This is almost word for word identical to the Nicene Creed, which says, “I believe in. . . one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. . .”  Some today claim that the Early Church believed Christ’s being ”begotten” of the Father was in relation to His birth from Mary (specifically, this is an LDS claim).  However, Ignatius’ comment here demonstrates that the Early Church’s understanding of Christ’s nature as “only-begotten” was a relationship with the Father that was “before time began” and has nothing to do with His earthly incarnation.  It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated as “only-begotten” both here and in the New Testament is ”monogenes”.  Monogenes literally means “one of a kind,” and to the Church Fathers it connoted Christ being of the same nature as the Father. . . something that was entirely unique to Him.

In addition to calling Christ God and claiming Him to be the “only-begotten” of the Father “before time began”, Ignatius tells us that “afterwards” Christ “became man”.  Ignatius then goes on to point out some aspects that Christ’s becoming man added to His nature.  He says that although Christ was incorporeal, He was in a body; although He was impassible, He was in a passible body; although He was immortal, He was in a mortal body;  although He was life, He became subject to corruption.  These differing aspects of Christ’s nature, aspects that are polar opposites to one another, speak to Christ having two natures, one as God and one as man, and demonstrate that Saint Ignatius understood Christ in this manner.  As God, Christ was incorporeal, impassible, immortal, and life itself.   However, as man He was corporeal, passible, mortal, and subject to corruption.

Last, Ignatius explains that Christ took on our nature in order to free our souls from death and corruption, heal us, and restore us to health.  This speaks to the true reason for the Doctrines of the Trinity and Dual Nature of Christ.  Rather than being doctrines for doctrine’s sake, created as purely intellectual pieces of information to be discussed by dry theologians over coffee and tea, they are doctrines directly tied to our understanding of how Christ redeemed us.  He was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, true God of true God.  Yet He chose to take upon Himself our nature, becoming man for our sakes, so that He could unite our nature to the Divine Nature in His Person, giving us a rebirth in Him.  Had He not been God and had He not taken on our nature, He would have been unable to redeem us.  The Church understood this from the earliest times, and as the writings of Saint Ignatius show us, it is not an understanding created in the fourth and fifth centuries.  It is Apostolic Doctrine that has been handed down to us and is a product of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church.

Why Should We Think That Mark, Luke, and Acts Were Written Before AD 62? Part 6

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 6, we conclude J. Warner Wallace’s case for the early dating of Mark, Luke, and Acts, as written in his book Cold-Case Christianity. In the previous 5 posts, we have seen 11 pieces of evidence with which Wallace builds his case.  Now it is time to see what we can conclude from the evidence. Here is Wallace:

First we’ve got to account for the suspicious absence of several key historical events in the New Testament record: the destruction of the temple, the siege of Jerusalem, and the deaths of Peter, Paul, and James. These omissions can be reasonably explained if the book of Acts (the biblical text that ought to describe these events) was written prior to AD 61– 62. These events are missing from the accounts because they hadn’t happened yet.

The absence of these key events leads us to think that Acts was written before AD 62, and certainly before AD 70. Given the dating of Acts, what does that mean for Luke?

We know from the introductory lines of the book of Acts that Luke’s gospel was written prior to Acts, but we must use the remaining circumstantial evidence to try to determine how much prior. The fact that Paul echoed the description of Jesus that was offered by the gospel writers is certainly consistent with the fact that he was aware of the claims of the Gospels, and his quotations from Luke’s gospel in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians reasonably confirm the early existence of Luke’s account, placing it well before AD 53– 57. Paul was able to quote Luke’s gospel and refer to it as scripture because it was already written, circulating at this time, and broadly accepted. Paul’s readers recognized this to be true as they read Paul’s letters.

So the Gospel of Luke is mostly likely before AD 53-57 because Paul’s letters were quoting from Luke, and we have good evidence for the early dating of Paul’s letters. If Luke was early, then what about Mark?

Luke told us that he was gathering data from “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1: 2). As a result he either referred to or quoted directly from over five hundred verses that are found in either the gospel of Mark or the gospel of Matthew. It is reasonable to infer that these accounts were in existence prior to Luke’s investigation. If this is the case, Mark’s gospel would date much earlier than Luke’s, and can be sensibly placed in either the late 40s or very early 50s. This then explains some of the characteristics we see in Mark’s gospel. There appears to be a sense of urgency in the gospel, similar to the crime broadcasts that are made by responding officers, and Mark appears to be protecting key players in the account as if they were still alive at the time of his writing.

Because of the evidence, Wallace offers dates of AD 45-50 for Mark, AD 50-53 for Luke, and AD 57-60 for Acts. Thus Wallace writes:

The reasonable inference from the circumstantial evidence is that the Gospels were written very early in history, at a time when the original eyewitnesses and gospel writers were still alive and could testify to what they had seen. This is why Mark was careful not to identify key players and Paul could reasonably point to five hundred living eyewitnesses who could still testify to their observations of Jesus’s resurrection. While skeptics would like to claim that the Gospels were written well after the alleged life of the apostles and much closer to the councils that affirmed them, the evidence indicates something quite different.

Why Should We Think That Mark, Luke, and Acts Were Written Before AD 62? Part 5

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In part 5, we continue with J. Warner Wallace’s case for the early dating of Mark, Luke, and Acts, as written in his book Cold-Case Christianity.

The eleventh piece of evidence is that Mark seems to be protecting key players. Wallace explains:

In my years as an investigator, there have been many times when a witness carefully chose his or her words to avoid dragging someone else into the case. This was particularly true when working gang cases. There were a number of times when a witness had the courage to come forward with information, but was less than forthcoming about the identity of others who might have seen something similar. Driven by the fear that these additional witnesses might be in a position of jeopardy, the witness would mention them in his or her account but refuse to specifically identify them. Most of the time the witnesses were simply trying to protect someone who they thought was defenseless and vulnerable.

I experienced just the opposite in some of my cold-case investigations. When re-interviewing witnesses who spoke to investigators years earlier, I found that they were now willing to provide me with the identities of people whom they previously refused to identify. Sometimes this was because they developed some animosity toward these people over the years; this was especially true when boyfriends and girlfriends broke up and were eventually willing to talk about each other. Sometimes it was a matter of diminishing fear; when the suspect in a case died, it wasn’t unusual to have people come forward and identify themselves simply because they were no longer afraid to do so.

Many careful readers of Mark’s gospel have observed that there are a number of unidentified people described in his account. These anonymous characters are often in key positions in the narrative, yet Mark chose to leave them unnamed. For example, Mark’s description of the activity in the garden of Gethsemane includes the report that “one of those who stood by [the arrest of Jesus] drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear” (Mark 14: 47). Mark chose to leave both the attacker and the man attacked unnamed in his description, even though John identified both (Peter as the attacker and Malchus as the person being attacked) in his gospel account. Similarly, Mark failed to identify the woman who anointed Jesus at the home of Simon the leper (Mark 14: 3– 9), even though John told us that it was Mary (the sister of Martha), who poured the perfume on Jesus’s head.

While skeptics have offered a number of explanations for these variations (arguing, for example, that they may simply be late embellishments in an effort to craft the growing mythology of the Gospels), something much simpler might be at work. If Mark, like some of the witnesses in my gang cases, was interested in protecting the identity of Peter (as Malchus’s attacker) and Mary (whose anointing may have been interpreted as a proclamation of Jesus’s kingly position as the Messiah), it makes sense that he might leave them unnamed so that the Jewish leadership would not be able to easily target them. In fact, Mark never even described Jesus’s raising of Mary’s brother, Lazarus.

This also makes sense if Mark was trying to protect Lazarus’s identity in the earliest years of the Christian movement, given that the resurrection of Lazarus was of critical concern to the Jewish leaders and prompted them to search for Jesus in their plot to kill him. If Mark wrote his gospel early, while Mary, Lazarus, Peter, and Malchus were still alive, it is reasonable that Mark might have wanted to leave them unnamed or simply omit the accounts that included them in the first place. Scholars generally acknowledge John’s gospel as the final addition to the New Testament collection of gospel accounts. It was most likely written at a time when Peter, Malchus, and Mary were already dead. John, like some of the witnesses in my cold cases, had the liberty to identify these important people; they were no longer in harm’s way.

In part 6, we will conclude this series and summarize why all the evidence leads to an early dating of Mark, Luke, and Acts.