The Dating of the New Testament

When the New Testament was written is a significant issue, as one assembles the overall argument for Christianity. Confidence in the historical accuracy of these documents depends partly on whether they were written by eyewitnesses and contemporaries to the events described, as the Bible claims. Negative critical scholars strengthen their own views as they separate the actual events from the writings by as much time as possible. For this reason radical scholars argue for late first century, and if possible second century, dates for the autographs [original manuscripts]. By these dates they argue that the New Testament documents, especially the Gospels, contain mythology. The writers created the events contained, rather than reported them.

Arguments for Early Dates (Luke and Acts)

The Gospel of Luke was written by the same author as the Acts of the Apostles, who refers to Luke as the 'former account' of 'all that Jesus began to do and teach' (Acts 1:1). The destiny ('Theophilus'), style, and vocabulary of the two books betray a common author. Roman historian Colin Hemer has provided powerful evidence that Acts was written between AD 60 and 62. This evidence includes these observations:

1. There is no mention in Acts of the crucial event of the fall of Jerusalem in 70.

2. There is no hint of the outbreak of the Jewish War in 66 or of serious deterioration of relations between Romans and Jews before that time.

3. There is no hint of the deterioration of Christian relations with Rome during the Neronian persecution of the late 60s.

4. There is no hint of the death of James at the hands of the Sanhedrin in ca. 62, which is recorded by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews (20.9.1.200).

5. The significance of Gallio's judgement in Acts 18:14-17 may be seen as setting precedent to legitimize Christian teaching under the umbrella of the tolerance extended to Judaism.

6. The prominence and authority of the Sadducees in Acts reflects a pre-70 date, before the collapse of their political cooperation with Rome.

7. The relatively sympathetic attitude in Acts to Pharisees (unlike that found even in Luke's Gospel) does not fit well with in the period of Pharisaic revival that led up to the council at Jamnia. At that time a new phase of conflict began with Christianity.

8. Acts seems to antedate the arrival of Peter in Rome and implies that Peter and John were alive at the time of the writing.

9. The prominence of 'God-fearers' in the synagogues may point to a pre-70 date, after which there were few Gentile inquiries and converts to Jerusalem.

10. Luke gives insignificant details of the culture of an early, Julio-Claudian period.

11. Areas of controversy described presume that the temple was still standing.

12. Adolf Harnack contended that Paul's prophecy in 20:25 (cf. 20:38) may have been contradicted by later events. If so, the book must have appeared before those events.

13. Christian terminology used in Acts reflects an earlier period. Harnack points to use of Iusous and Ho Kurios, while Ho Christos always designates 'the Messiah,' and is not a proper name for Jesus.

14. The confident tone of Acts seems unlikely during the Neronian persecutions of Christians and the Jewish War with the Rome during the late 60s.

15. The action ends very early in the 60s, yet the description in Acts 27 and 28 is written with a vivid immediacy. It is also an odd place to end the book if years have passed since the pre-62 events transpired.

If Acts was written in 62 or before, and Luke was written before Acts (say 60), then Luke was written less than thirty years of the death of Jesus. This is contemporary to the generation who witnessed the events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. This is precisely what Luke claims in the prologue to his Gospel:

Many have undertaken to draw up a record of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. [Luke 1:1-4]

Luke presents the same information about who Jesus is, what he taught, and his death and resurrection as do the other Gospels. Thus, there is not a reason to reject their historical accuracy either.

First Corinthians

Continue Reading --->