Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Why the Gospels were written about 25 years after Jesus

I am finally wrapping up this series that has taken me way longer than expected to write (I started in July 2010).

After reading chapter 4 of Dean Overman's A Case for the Divinity of Jesus: Examining the Earliest Evidence I changed my mind on the dating of the Gospels. This series will pretty much be based off that chapter from his book title: "Reliability of the Canonical Gospel Accounts is Supported by the Historical Evidence".

From looking at a range of historical events, church fathers and modern scholars I think the Synoptic Gospels were written about 25 (give or take 5) years after Jesus' death and resurrection. 25 years after the events may seem like a little gap in time, but it is well within living memory and this date doesn't include possible other sources in the Synoptic Gospels that were either written down before hand or orally kept in memory.

One argument that the Gospels were written after 70 AD is based on a prophecy that Jesus said about an "abomination of desolation" (in Matthew and Mark) or Jerusalem being surrounded by armies (in Luke) which kinda took place in 70 AD. Since prophecy can't happen, the words Jesus is recorded to have said must have been written post the event. The problem with this is the specifics that Jesus is recorded to have said would have been bad advice in 70 AD for the hills he tells people to flee to were in the hands of the army for a good two years before that.

Another problem I have with a post 70 AD date comes form my assumption that Mark was written first, as both Matthew and Luke borrow/copy from Mark and that Acts was written after Luke.

Acts makes no mention of the fall of Jerusalem which kinda goes against the point of the book, which was to record an orderly account of what happened in the early church. If Luke was written after 70 AD and Acts was written after this, then the destruction of Jerusalem is quite a bit oversight. But that isn't the only historical oversight that Acts leaves out if written post 70 or even post 62:

Paul's death is missing from Acts which people assume happened around 67 AD.

Peter's death is also missing from Acts (around 67/68 AD), and the next generation thought that Mark wrote his Gospel before Peters death, so at least the Gospel of Mark had to have been written before this.

Paul cites the Gospel of Luke in 1 Timothy, and if Paul died before 67/68 AD then the Gospel of Luke had to have been written before that.

James' death is missing from Acts which people assume happened around 62 AD.

Nero's persecution of the Christians is not mentioned in Acts (around 64 AD), which again if written post 70 AD would have been an important event in early church history or overlook.

To be fair I should point out that some scholars and sceptics may say that some of my argument is one from silence, as I mention what Acts doesn't include. But I think the omissions point to an early writing of Acts which then pushes the Synoptic Gospels to be before that.

Overman argues:
The most reasonable explanation for the absence of any reference to the death of James, the outcome of Paul’s trial, and the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple is that Luke wrote Acts prior to any of these events. In other words, Acts was most likely written no later than AD 62, the year of James’s execution.

Because Acts was written after the gospel of Luke, the gospel account must have been written before AD 62. Luke appears to have relied on Mark. This means that the most accurate date for the composition of Mark would then be before the late 50s. We are now looking at dates of composition within the first two decades after the crucifixion of Jesus. (p 87)

So what is the point of this whole series? So what if the Gospels were written around 70-90 AD and not 50-60 AD? In all honesty, I don't think much. Both time periods are within eye witnesses life spans meaning the Gospels can give a first hand account of what took place. I more just want an alarm bell to ring in your head when you hear people taking about the dates of the Gospels and to question the underlying assumptions that they are making.


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