Wasn't the New Testament written hundreds of years after Christ?

by Matt Slick

Though some say that the New Testament was written 100-300 years after Christ died, the truth is that it was written before the close of the first century by those who either knew Christ personally, had encountered him, or were under the direction of those who were His disciples.1

In the article When were the gospels written and by whom?, I demonstrated that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written before A.D. 70. Basically, the book of Acts was written by Luke. But Luke fails to mention the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, nor does he mention the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65). Since Acts is a historical document dealing with the church, we would naturally expect such important events to be recorded if Acts was written after the fact. Since Acts 1:1-2 mentions that it is the second writing of Luke, the gospel of Luke was written even earlier. Also, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple in the gospels: "As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down." (Luke 21:6, see also Matt. 24:1; Mark 13:1). Undoubtedly, if Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written after the destruction of the Temple, they would have included the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy in them. Since they don't, it is a very strong indication that they were written before A.D. 70.

The gospel of John is supposed to have been written by John the apostle. It is written from the perspective of a firsthand witness of the events of Christ's life. The John Rylands papyrus fragment 52 of John's gospel dated from A.D. 117-138 contains portions of John 18:31-33, 37-38. This fragment was found in Egypt, and a considerable amount of time is needed for the circulation of the gospel before it reached Egypt. It is the last of the gospels and appears to have been written in the 80's to 90's.

Of important note is the lack of mention of the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70. But this is understandable since John does not mention Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of the Temple. He was not focusing only on historical events. Instead, he focused also on the theological aspect of the person of Christ and listed His miracles and words that affirmed Christ's deity. This makes perfect sense since he already knew of the previously written gospels.

Furthermore, 1, 2, and 3 John all contain the same writing style as the gospel of John and the book of Revelation which is supposed to have been written in the late 80's or early 90's.

Paul's Writings:

Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians,
1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon

Paul the Apostle was a convert to Christianity. The book of Acts speaks of his conversion in Acts 9. Since Acts was written before A.D. 70 and Paul wrote the Pauline Epistles and we know that Paul died in A.D. 64, the Pauline Epistles were all written before that date. Furthermore, in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 is an early creed of the Christian church where Paul mentions that Jesus had died and risen. "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures," (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Notice that he says he received this information. From whom did he receive it? Most probably the apostles since he had a lot of interaction with them (see Galatians 1-2). This means that Paul received the gospel account from the eyewitnesses. They were, of course, contemporaries and since they all died before the turn of the century. Therefore, their writings were completed within the lifetime of the apostles of Jesus.

Hebrews

It is not known for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews. Authorship has been proposed for Paul, Barnabas (Acts 4:36), Apollos (Acts 18:24), etc. The only geographical area mentioned is Italy (Heb. 13:24). The latest possible date for the writing of Hebrews is A.D. 95 but could have been written as early as A.D. 67. The book of Hebrews speaks of the sacrifice by the High Priest in the present tense (Heb. 5:1-3; Heb. 7:27) possibly signifying that the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70 had not yet happened.

James

This epistle claims to have been written by James, "James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings." (James 1:1). The question is, "Which James?" Is it James, the son of Zebedee (Matt. 10:2-3), James, the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:2-3), or the most commonly and accepted James who was the brother of Jesus? "Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56And His sisters, are they not all with us?" (Matt. 13:55-56). Notice the context of the verses suggests immediate family since it mentions Jesus' Mother, brothers, and sisters. Also, see Gal. 1:18-19 which says "Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother." It is probable that James didn't believe in Jesus as the Messiah until Jesus appeared to him after His resurrection as is mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:7, "then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles."

James was martyred by the order of the high priest Ananus after the death of the "procurator Festus in A.D. 61 (Josephus, Ant. 20. 9)." Therefore, the epistle of James was written before A.D. 61.2

1 and 2 Peter

Both epistles clearly state that they were authored by Peter, an eyewitness of Jesus' life and post resurrection appearances. Though there has been some who have doubted the authorship of these two epistles, the clear opening statements of each epistle tell us Peter was the author. "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus . . . ", (1 Pet. 1:1) and "Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours . . . " (2 Pet. 1:1). It certainly seems most logical that Peter is indeed the author of the letters that bear his name.

Peter died at Rome during Nero's persecution of Christians around AD 64, so the epistles were obviously written before that time.

1, 2, 3 John

The writer of 1 John does not identify himself in the letter. The writer of 2 and 3 John refers to himself as "the elder" (2 John 1; 3 John 1). Regarding the first epistle, authorship can reasonably be determined to be that of John the Apostle. The opening of John is written from the perspective of someone who was there with Jesus (John 1:1-4). Also, "Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, 3.39) says of Papias, a hearer of John, and a friend of Polycarp, 'He used testimonies from the First Epistle of John. Irenaeus, according to Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, 5.8), often quoted this Epistle. So in his work Against Heresies (3.15; 5, 8) he quotes from John by name, 1 John 2:18 . . . Clement of Alexandria (Miscellanies, 2.66, p. 464) refers to 1 Jn 5:16, as in John’s larger Epistle.'"3 "In the earliest canonical lists, dating from the end of the second century, 1 John already appears. Indeed, 1 John is quoted as authoritative by Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna [a disciple of John the apostle] before the middle of the second century. The attestation of 2 John is almost as good. There is no second-century reference to 3 John, but that is not surprising, since it deals with a specific, local issue."4

Furthermore, the style of the three epistles is very similar to that of the gospel of John. 1 John mentions the "word of life" (1 John 1:1) as does the gospel of John 1:1, etc. It appears that the epistles were written after the Gospel of John since the epistles seem to assume a knowledge of the gospel facts.

Date of writing varies from A.D. 60 to the early 90's.5

Jude

Jude identifies himself as the brother of James (Jude 1). It is most likely that Jude, in true Christian humility, does not want to equate himself as the brother of Jesus as he is traditionally held to be and seems to be supported by scripture: "Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?" (Matt. 13:55).6 Instead, he mentions himself as a servant of Jesus as James has also done.

The date of writing seems to be anywhere from A.D. 68 to the early 90's. Remember that if Judas was a brother of Jesus, he was born around after Jesus which would mean the later the writing date--the older was Judas. There is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem which could have been naturally included in the writing considering that Jude mentions judgments from God upon believers and unbelievers alike (Jude 5-12). Nevertheless, it appears that Jude may have quoted from James. Jude 17-18 says, "But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18that they were saying to you, "In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts." Compare this to 2 Pet. 3:3, "Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts." If this is a quote, it would place the epistle after the writing of 2 Peter.7

Revelation

The author of the Book of Revelation is John. "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John," (Rev. 1:1). "Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, p. 308) (A.D. 139–161) quotes from the Apocalypse, as John the apostle’s work."8

Revelation was probably written at the end of John the Apostle's life. Some hold to the 90's and it is the last book written in the New Testament.

Conclusion

Though this information is basic, it supplies enough evidence to support the apostolic authorship of the New Testament documents. The debate on the dating of the books may never be absolutely settled; but as scholarship and archaeology advance, confirmation of early authorship of the New Testament continues to be validated.

  • 1. In fact, the vast majority of even non-Christian skeptical New Testament scholars today hold to the fact that all four of the Gospels were written in the first century.
  • 2. The New Bible Dictionary, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1962.
  • 3. Jamieson, Robert, A.R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1998.
  • 4. Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper’s Bible Dictionary, San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1985.
  • 5. Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Wheaton, IL: Scripture Press Publications, 1983, 1985.
  • 6. This is not Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus--"Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, "Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us, and not to the world?" (John 14:22). Also, Clement of Alexandria [Adumbrations, in Epistle of Jude, p. 1007] says, "Jude, through reverential awe, did not call himself brother, but servant, of Jesus Christ, and brother of James" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, 1998).
  • 7. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, 1998.
  • 8. Ibid.

 

 

 

 
 
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