Are New Testament Books Historically Relevant?

I am not even going to repeat the insistence of modern liberal Bible scholars who propose late dates for New Testament books, including the Gospels, based on hypotheses that are unsupported by any solid factual evidence. I do intend, however, to show that the authors of the New Testament books were contemporaneous with Jesus, some of them knew Him, and all of them wrote the scriptures in the first century AD. Therefore, the Gospels and Acts are faithful and useful historical records that attest to the life of Jesus Christ as an historical figure. I will consider all the books here, especially the Gospels and Acts and most especially the one found at the beginning of the New Testament, Matthew.

First, the early Christian authors were nearly all Jews (Jesus was a Jew, too, by the way) who had followed Christ or became followers of Christ not long after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Like Paul). If any of the New Testament was written after 70 AD the elephant in the room of scripture is the destruction of Jerusalem in the spring of AD 70.

“The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70, only five years after our epistle, was the greatest single event of a thousand years, and religiously significant beyond anything else that ever occurred in human history.” (James Burton Coffman, Commentary on James, 1 & 2 Peter, p. 231)

Josephus documented the conflict thoroughly and characterized it as worse than any that had gone before. He stated, “the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews [at the destruction of Jerusalem], are not so considerable as they were” (Wars , Preface, 4). With the slaughter of over one million people, the cannibalism, the physical destruction of the temple and surrounding buildings, it is understandable that Josephus would have had such an opinion.

The writers, such as John, could not have helped but noted such a destruction, such a blow to the Jewish people, even if he himself was a follower of Christ. Yet not one New Testament author mentions that terrible event and any time a description of Jerusalem is given, or one of the landmarks described, it is in present tense as if the city had remained whole. Before the spring of 70 AD this would have been true. In fact, since the Maccabean revolt had begun in 66 AD and rumors of Roman invasion had started not long thereafter, even the possibility of the destruction of Jerusalem would likely have been mentioned. But not one word on such a subject is found.

Gijs van den Brink on Matthew

“In Matthew 24 we find a second verse that is relevant for our investigation, which even gives evidence for accepting that the gospel was written before 66. This is found in Matthew 24:15-16.

“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation’, spoken of through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand–then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains”.

It now becomes impossible to accept that this last phrase ‘flee to the mountains’ was written with reference to actual events, since the mountains of Judea were in fact already in enemy hands at the end of 67 AD (Robinson 1976: 16). Moreover, according to the church father Eusebius (HE III,5.3), the Christians did not flee to the mountains, but left Jerusalem before the outbreak of the war in 66 and went to the town of Pella in the Transjordan. The most simple explanation for all of this is that the exhortations of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 24:16 are prophetic words, written down by Matthew before 66 AD

In closing, we shall discuss a matter that suggests that the gospel was written even before 62. What actually happened in 62? According to Eusebius, James, the brother of Jesus, died as a martyr in that year. As leader of the church of Jerusalem, he was succeeded by Simeon, the son of Clopas, the brother of Joseph (HE III,11; III,23.1-6; IV,22.4). This succession within the family through the line of the father reflects Jewish custom. Clopas, the father of Simeon, also appears in the New Testament as the husband of one of the Marys who stood by the cross (John 19:25). It is natural and most likely to identify this Mary with the one described by Matthew as the ‘mother of James and Joses’ and as ‘the other Mary’ (Matt 27:56, 61; 28:1; Meyer-Bauer 1963: 426). If Matthew had written his gospel after 62, at the very least one would have expected that he, who himself stood in the Palestinian tradition, would have indicated this Mary to be Mary the mother of Simeon. The fact that Matthew does not mention Simeon in connection with this suggests that he has written his gospel before 62 AD. (Robinson 1976: 106).”

CARM.ORG

This site was a find for me, and in reading it I had to revise the earliest possible date of the Book of Acts from around 40 AD to around 55-60 AD due to the established time of Festus as Procurator, as mentioned below. I disagree with their view of the time of John’s writings (which has a great deal to do with eschatology) but otherwise the information is relevant indeed.

When were the gospels written and by whom?

Dating the gospels is very important. If it can be established that the gospels were written early, say before the year 70 A.D., then we would have good reason for believing that they were written by the disciples of Jesus Himself. If they were written by the disciples, then their reliability, authenticity, and accuracy better substantiated. Also, if they were written early, this would mean that there would not have been enough time for myth to creep into the gospel accounts since it was the eyewitnesses to Christ’s life that wrote them. Furthermore, those who were alive at the time of the events could have countered the gospel accounts and since we have no contradictory writings to the gospels, their early authorship as well as apostolic authorship becomes even more critical.

Destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. , Luke and Acts

None of the gospels mention the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 A.D. This is significant because Jesus had prophesied concerning the temple when He said “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 21:5, see also Matt. 24:1; Mark 13:1). This prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and burned the temple. The gold in the temple melted down between the stone walls and the Romans took the walls apart, stone by stone, to get the gold. Such an obvious fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy most likely would have been recorded as such by the gospel writers who were fond of mentioning fulfillment of prophecy if they had been written after 70 A.D. Also, if the gospels were fabrications of mythical events then anything to bolster the Messianic claims — such as the destruction of the temple as Jesus said — would surely have been included. But, it was not included suggesting that the gospels (at least Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were written before 70 A.D.

Similarly, this argument is important when we consider the dating of the book of Acts which was written after the gospel of Luke by Luke himself. Acts is a history of the Christian church right after Jesus’ ascension. Acts also fails to mention the incredibly significant events of 70 A.D. which would have been extremely relevant and prophetically important and garnered inclusion into Acts had it occurred before Acts was written. Remember, Acts is a book of history concerning the Christians and the Jews. The fact that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple is not recorded is very strong evidence that Acts was written before A.D. 70. If we add to this the fact that acts does not include the accounts of “Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65),” and we have further evidence that it was written early.

If we look at Acts 1:1-2 it says, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.” Most scholars affirm that Acts was written by Luke and that Theophilus (Grk. “lover of God”) “may have been Luke’s patron who financed the writing of Luke and Acts.” This means that the gospel of Luke was written before Acts.

“At the earliest, Acts cannot have been written prior to the latest firm chronological marker recorded in the book—Festus’s appointment as procurator (24:27), which, on the basis of independent sources, appears to have occurred between A.D. 55 and 59.”

“It is increasingly admitted that the Logia [Q] was very early, before 50 A.D., and Mark likewise if Luke wrote the Acts while Paul was still alive. Luke’s Gospel comes (Acts 1:1) before the Acts. The date of Acts is still in dispute, but the early date (about A.D. 63) is gaining support constantly.”

For clarity, Q is supposedly one of the source documents used by both Matthew and Luke in writing their gospels. If Q actually existed then that would push the first writings of Christ’s words and deeds back even further lessening the available time for myth to creep in and adding to the validity and accuracy of the gospel accounts. If what is said of Acts is true, this would mean that Luke was written at least before A.D. 63 and possibly before 55 – 59 since Acts is the second in the series of writings by Luke. This means that the gospel of Luke was written within 30 years of Jesus’ death.

Matthew

The early church unanimously held that the gospel of Matthew was the first written gospel and was penned by the apostle of the same name (Matt. 10:2). Lately, the priority of Matthew as the first written gospel has come under suspicion with Mark being considered by many to be the first written gospel. The debate is far from over.

The historian Papias mentions that the gospel of Matthew was originally in Aramaic or Hebrew and attributes the gospel to Matthew the apostle.

“Irenaeus (ca. a.d. 180) continued Papias’s views about Matthew and Mark and added his belief that Luke, the follower of Paul, put down in a book the gospel preached by that apostle, and that John, the Beloved Disciple, published his Gospel while residing in Asia. By the time of Irenaeus, Acts was also linked with Luke, the companion of Paul.”

This would mean that if Matthew did write in Aramaic originally, that he may have used Mark as a map, adding and clarifying certain events as he remembered them. But, this is not known for sure.

The earliest quotation of Matthew is found in Ignatius who died around 115 A.D. Therefore, Matthew was in circulation well before Ignatius came on the scene. The various dates most widely held as possible writing dates of the Gospel are between A.D. 40 – 140. But Ignatius died around 115 A.D. and he quoted Matthew. Therefore Matthew had to be written before he died. Nevertheless, it is generally believed that Matthew was written before A.D. 70 and as early as A.D. 50.

Mark

Mark was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life. He was a disciple of Peter and undoubtedly it was Peter who informed Mark of the life of Christ and guided him in writing the Gospel known by his name. “Papias claimed that Mark, the Evangelist, who had never heard Christ, was the interpreter of Peter, and that he carefully gave an account of everything he remembered from the preaching of Peter.” Generally, Mark is said to be the earliest gospel with an authorship of between A.D. 55 to A.D. 70.

Luke

Luke was not an eyewitness of the life of Christ. He was a companion of Paul who also was not an eyewitness of Christ’s life. But, both had ample opportunity to meet the disciples who knew Christ and learn the facts not only from them, but from others in the area. Some might consider this damaging to the validity of the gospel, but quite the contrary. Luke was a gentile convert to Christianity who was interested in the facts. He obviously had interviewed the eyewitnesses and written the Gospel account as well as Acts.

“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God,” (Acts 1:1-3).

Notice how Luke speaks of “them,” of those who had personal encounters with Christ. Luke is simply recounting the events from the disciples. Since Luke agrees with Matthew, Mark, and John and since there is no contradictory information coming from any of the disciples stating that Luke was inaccurate, and since Luke has proven to be a very accurate historian, we can conclude that Luke’s account is very accurate.

As far as dating the gospel goes, Luke was written before the book of Acts and Acts does not mention “Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65).” Therefore, we can conclude that Luke was written before A.D. 62. “Luke’s Gospel comes (Acts 1:1) before the Acts. The date of Acts is still in dispute, but the early date (about A.D. 63) is gaining support constantly.”

John

The writer of the gospel of John was obviously an eyewitness of the events of Christ’s life since he speaks from a perspective of having been there during many of the events of Jesus’ ministry and displays a good knowledge of Israeli geography and customs.

The John Rylands papyrus fragment 52 of John’s gospel dated in the year 135 contains portions of John 18, verses 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 70 A.D. But this is understandable since John was not focusing on historical events. Instead, he focused on the theological aspect of the person of Christ and listed His miracles and words that affirmed Christ’s deity.

Though there is still some debate on the dates of when the gospels were written, they were most assuredly completed before the close of the first century and written by eyewitnesses or under the direction of eyewitnesses.”

One has to keep in mind that the early church fathers agreed not only that these books were canonical scripture, but agreed to the authorship thereof. It is a fine thing for “scholars” to try to dispute such findings nearly 2,000 years later, but today we don’t have the same information that was available to, say, Origen.

Dr. van den Brink weighs in with some additional thoughts on the authorship of Matthew:

“In his Ecclesiastical History (HE VI, 25.4), Eusebius quoted Origen who wrote, “… first was written that according to Matthew, who was once a tax-collector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for those who from Judaism came to believe, composed as it was in the Hebrew language” (tr. Loeb II, 75). Irenaeus wrote, “Now Matthew published among the Hebrews a written gospel also in their own tongue, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and founding the church” (quoted by Eusebius, HE V, 8.2; tr. Loeb I, 455). However, the view that Matthew is the author of this gospel is especially based on a quotation also found with Eusebius (HE, III, 39.16). This quotation originates from Papias, bishop of Hierapolis around 130, and goes as follows, “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best as he could” (tr. Loeb I, 297).

First of all, this brings up the question as to what Papias meant with ta logia (literally words, proverbs). Since Schleiermacher many explained the word logia in this passage as ‘sayings’ and believed Papias had refered to a document containing (only) sayings of Jesus. But nowadays there is more or less a scholarly consensus that Papias used the word in the sense of ‘reports’, including quotational elements as well as narrative units. He called his book ‘Investigations of the logia’ (HE III,39.1) and by this Greek expression he meant the canonical gospels, whether they contain sayings or narratives (Reicke 1990: 299). The Church Fathers after him also understood his words in that way.

When we read that Matthew ‘has combined his gospel in the Hebrew language’, another problem emerges: almost all scholars agree that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek, and is not likely to be the work of a translator. Therefore, it is assumed that Papias was wrong here, or that a Semitic translation of Matthew’s Greek gospel was in circulation at the time. However, both suppositions lack conclusive evidence. We may just as well assume Matthew wrote both an Aramaic and a Greek gospel. As Davies and Allison (1988: 12) rightly observe, it is not easy to determine whether an ancient text, especially one so clearly bearing the marks of two cultures, as does Matthew, is or is not a translation. They mention the fact that learned Greeks, such as Eusebius, Origen, Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus, presumably knew the Greek language better than most modern scholars. And they all took canonical Matthew to be the translation of a Semitic original.”

It is very interesting to note that one very significant historical record would be the Jews themselves. The Jewish people were known for keeping careful records and taking note of events of the day. Perhaps no record was more important than the Talmud. This column which appeared in the Kansas City Star (among other publications) sheds additional light here. (all sections in bold enhanced by me)

Support for the Authenticity of Book of Matthew Comes from an Unlikely Place

As reported in the Kansas City Star – Posted on Sat, Jun. 07, 2003 to KansasCity.com

“Buried in ancient texts of Jewish historical works are fragments of evidence that appear to show the first book of the New Testament actually was written by one of Jesus’ apostles.

One of these texts also challenges a long-held assertion that no ancient text except the Bible mentions Jesus’ birth.

Taken together, the information lends support to the claims of some Christian scholars that Matthew actually wrote the Gospel bearing his name, a Gospel that more than the three others emphasized Jesus’ Jewish roots.

“One of the reasons that people have not come to grips with the Jewishness of Jesus is that it makes the accounts of the Gospels plausible,” Craig Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Theological Seminary, said in an interview this week. “For the Jewish or Christian believer, it helps them better understand who Jesus was, what he stood for and what to do with this Gospel.”

Since the 1800s groups of scholars have argued that Jesus might have been a real person, but that he wasn’t the son of God, that he didn’t perform miracles and that the four Gospels are mostly myths composed by people who assigned to Jesus godlike powers.

More recently the scholarship has taken the form of the Jesus Seminar, a group of about 200 academics who have been studying the Gospels since the mid-1980s. The seminar created a media splash a decade ago when it publicly announced its conclusions that Jesus said only 18 percent of what’s conventionally attributed to him in the New Testament. The Gospels, they concluded, are not historically reliable.

But as scholars of Judaism continue to research the history of early Christianity, they are uncovering evidence that appears to show the Gospels of the New Testament may be more reliable than some thought.

Matthew as parody

In the New Testament, none of the authors of the Gospels identifies himself as the writer. The names — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — belong to followers of Jesus who early church leaders believe wrote the texts.

Until the 1800s Gospel authorship was rarely, if ever, questioned. Then scholars in Germany shook up conventional belief by questioning the authorship and challenging commonly accepted dates for when the Gospels were written.

One of the first Gospels to be doubted was Matthew. Church tradition said it was written by Matthew, a tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus, a witness to events. Conservative Christian clergy and scholars said they believe the book of Matthew was written between A.D. 40 and 60, within Matthew’s lifetime.

But other scholars concluded the Gospel wasn’t written any earlier than A.D. 85, perhaps as late as A.D. 135, long after Matthew’s death. If the author wasn’t a witness, the thinking goes, the Gospel becomes less credible.

So to scholars the dating is important.

In an essay written for the book Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times, Israel J. Yuval of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University reported a find in the Talmud that appears to show Matthew could have been written earlier than some scholars contend.

Yuval wrote that a leading rabbinical scholar of the time was “considered to have authored a sophisticated parody of the Gospel according to Matthew.”

The parody, written by a rabbi known as Gamaliel, is believed by some well-respected liberal Christian scholars to have been written about A.D. 73 or earlier.

The fact the parody exists and the date when it was believed to be written “would undercut badly (biblical critics’) claims of a late date of A.D. 85-90 or later,” said Bob Newman, professor of New Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.

“That is very significant and very important,” said Tim Skinner, associate professor of Bible and theology at Luther Rise Seminary in Georgia, because that validates the legitimacy of Matthew’s Gospel…it confirms the truthfulness of the biblical account in Matthew and confirms the truth of what Jesus did.”

Blomberg said a close study of the parody’s wording indicates it was based on an existing text. If that text was Matthew, the Gospel existed much earlier than some scholars believe.
Similarly the earlier the Gospel was written, the more likely eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life would still be alive.

“(Which) would mean that Matthew’s Gospel would be seen by other eyewitnesses who could check and authenticate it,” Blomberg said.

Praise and pronouncements

Among the challenges to Christianity was the charge that Jews had rejected Jesus and that no Jewish leaders or scholars ever accepted Jesus as the Messiah. But even one of the most revered Jewish texts, the Talmud, a collection of rabbinical writings from 100 B.C. to A.D. 500, suggests otherwise.

In the second century A.D., Rabbi Judah Ha Nasi (A.D. 135-200) purged the Mishnah, part of the Talmud, of many references to Christianity and those who adhered to it. But not everything was edited out.

In his classic work, The History of the Talmud, Jewish Talmudic scholar Michael L. Rodkinson wrote: “There were passages in the Mishnayoth concerning Jesus and his teaching…the Messianists…(were) many and considerable persons and in close alliance with their colleagues the Pharisees during the (first) two centuries.”

Those words from the Mishnah appear to correspond to New Testament accounts that many Jews, including Pharisees and “a great company of priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).

The Talmud mentions that the Romans hanged Jesus from a tree, while in another text section the Talmud does something done nowhere else but the New Testament — mentions Jesus’ birth.

English scholar R. Travers Herford, in his book Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, wrote that rabbinical writings mention that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was “descended from princes and rulers.”

Despite the noble lineage, Herford noted, the Talmudic text referred to Jesus as “Ben Pandira,” roughly translated as “son of a virgin,” which was considered an epithet.

“While the Jesus Seminar was making radical pronouncements (among them that Jesus was not the Son of God) and courting the media,” Blomberg said, “what is less well-known to the public is the study in which scholars have been growing in their appreciation of Jesus’ Jewish roots.”

He said, “These things have never been presented in any popular forms of consumption to the American public.”

(Neil Altman is a writer who lives in Pennsylvania and specializes in the Dead Sea Scrolls and religion. His others works have appeared The Times of London, the Toronto Star and The Washington Post.

David Crowder, an investigative reporter with the El Paso Times, and Bill Norton, of The Star, contributed to this story.)

A Conclusion

Just as Uniformitarianism and Darwinism got started in the 1800’s, so did the attempt to label the Gospels and Acts with later dates and discredit the authorship thereof. One cannot wonder if perhaps this was another instance of world view fueling the fires rather than an advance in knowledge.

That the Talmud authenticates the birth and life of Jesus Christ is significant because the Jews who did not follow Jesus would not have wished to give Christianity any credit. That the Talmud also validates Matthew as being written by Matthew and having been written certainly earlier than 73 AD discredits the liberal “scholarship” of the last 200 years and presents Matthew as a credible, contemporary, eyewitness account of the ministry of Jesus Christ. It is not just Pliny and Tacitus and Josephus and Origen and Julius Africanus who mention Christ, it is the very people who slew Him and wanted nothing to do with Him. (References to Jesus can also be found in Roman writings that refer to “Chrestus” or His followers.)

I say, therefore, that there is ample historical evidence that Jesus was absolutely a real person and that eyewitness accounts to His ministry do exist.

(original link)

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