Est. May 2008

31 July, 2013

Timelining

Susan B. Thistlethwaite discusses Reza Aslan’s Fox News interview over his new book, Zealot, in her latest column. 

My purpose here isn’t to discuss Mr. Azlan’s credentials (Robert Spencer covers that quite well), nor is it to discuss whether the book is a work of fact or fancy (Billy Hallowell dissects it here).  What I’m most interested in is Mr. T’s assertion, made nearer the end of her column, that (emphases mine):
The sifting (sic) of blame for the crucifixion of Jesus from the Romans to the Jews is more understandable if you actually know the context of what has happening when the Gospels were composed, that is, after the Roman destruction of the Temple.  You then can see the fear newly forming communities of Jesus’s (sic) followers had of the murderous Roman military state. This is crucial in interpreting the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus as it is presented in those Gospels.

I will agree – late-dating the Gospels, particularly to after the AD 70 destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, is crucial for those ‘scholars’ who have a hard time dealing with Jesus’ miracles, His statements of deity, and the like.  In fact, late-dating the Gospels is the only way to ‘fix’ this little problem, since if the Gospels are dated late, then everything written in them was made up by early Christians and has no historical basis.

There’s a problem with this approach, though: the preponderance of evidence, both internal to the Bible and external, points to the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) being written before AD 70; in fact, except for the letter of Jude, John’s letters (1, 2, and 3 John) and the book of Revelation (and, perhaps, the book of Hebrews) were all written before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 (see here and here).

J. Warner Wallace collates the following internal evidence in his book Cold Case Christianity (Chapters 11-14). 

1) The siege of Jerusalem (AD 66) and the destruction of the Temple which ended it (AD 70) aren’t mentioned in any of the books of the New Testament.  Why?  Well, for the bulk of the books, it hadn’t happened yet; for the books of Jude, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation, the topic wasn’t pertinent.  In fact, the lack of this information in the book of Hebrews – which discusses the Temple and the sacrificial system being replaced by Christ – doesn’t mention it, either.  The Temple’s destruction would have gone a long way to affirming the point of the book of Hebrews, as well as affirming Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 24, verses 1 through 3.  It simply makes no sense that this event, which so severely impacted the Jewish people, would have been neglected in the New Testament had it happened before the books were written.

2) Luke, the physician/historian, includes the stoning of Stephen and the death of the apostle James (John’s brother) in the book of Acts (Chapter 7, verses 54 to 60 and Chapter 12, verses 1 to 2), but he never mentions the martyrdoms of James, the leader of the Jerusalem church (AD 62), Paul, the ‘apostle to the Gentiles (AD 64) or Peter, the ‘leader’ of the apostles (AD 65).  Why would Luke do so, unless he wrote the book of Acts before James’ death in AD 62?  Those three martyrdoms would have had as much impact on the fledgling church as the destruction of the Temple had on the Jews, yet they are conspicuously absent.

3) Luke’s gospel predates the Book of Acts, as can be seen by the first two verses of the latter book: ‘In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.  The ‘first book’ Luke speaks of is his Gospel account; since the information I wrote about in #2 came after the ‘first book’ the ‘first book’ had to have been written before Acts – and before James’ martyrdom in AD 62.

3) Luke’s Gospel quotes the Gospels of Mark and Matthew repeatedly, which means it was written after Mark and Matthew’s Gospel accounts.

4) Paul quotes Luke’s Gospel in 1 Timothy 5:17-18 (‘the laborer is worth his wages’ comes from Luke 10:7) and in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, where he uses Luke’s formulation for the Lord’s Supper.

5) Mark’s Gospel is as unique as John’s.  Mark’s Gospel, as Mr. Wallace points out, is like a police ‘crime report’ – ‘just the facts’, delivered as quickly and as succinctly as possible.  Mark also names few names, which Mr. Wallace puts down to an attempt to protect his players; this makes sense only if Mark was writing at a time when the Romans would have been searching out the leaders of this new religion for potential punishment – after all, they’d crucified the leader of this new cult, and His disciples might foment the same kind of trouble He did.

There are plenty of other pieces of internal evidence to indicate the Gospels (and the bulk of the New Testament) were written  before AD 70; Mr. Wallace refers to these in the remainder of that section of his book (Chapters 12 – 14): corroboration, accuracy, and potential bias of the writers and their evidence.  In those chapters he includes extra—biblical evidences, such as the writings of Josephus, Tacitus, and other secular authors, some of whom had no love of the new religion which became known as Christianity. 

Archaeological evidence is another form of extra-biblical evidence, and as time goes on more and more information comes to light which tends to reinforce an early dating of the books of the New Testament; one piece of this evidence is a fragment of the Gospel of Mark, announced back in February of last year, which may very well be the earliest fragment of any New Testament book found so far – tentative dating places it some time in the ‘first century A.D., or during the time of eyewitnesses of Jesus' resurrection’.

Suffice to say, there is plenty of evidence – internal to the Bible and external – which indicates early dating of the first 21 books of the New Testament.  And so far, none of the ‘late-daters’ has anywhere near the volume of evidence the early-daters have to prove their case.

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