How do we know the NT documents were written in the first century?
by Dr. Peter Saunders
Almost invariably these days sceptics come up with the argument that the New Testament (NT) documents are unreliable because they were written long after the events they purport to describe took place.
In my experience this claim is almost never backed up with any evidence other than hearsay.
So on what do I base my confidence that the NT documents were written in the lifespan of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection?
The NT contains 27 separate books which have been gathered together in one volume. There are four Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the book of Acts (which describes the history of the early church), thirteen letters by Paul , three by John, two by Peter, one by each of Jude and James, the letter to the Hebrews (disputed authorship) and the book of Revelation.
The best way of dating these books is to begin with the book of Acts as it makes reference to two key historical events, the dates of which are established by archeological evidence independent of it.
The first of these is Claudius’ edict expelling the Jews from Rome in AD 50, which sent Aquila and Priscilla to Corinth (Acts 18:2).
The second is an inscription at Delphi, in central Greece, that contains a proclamation of the Emperor Claudius referring to Gallio as the Roman Proconsul of Greece dated to AD 52 (Acts 18:12).
These two events correspond in Acts to Paul’s arrival in Corinth and his ensuing trial.
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So Acts was written after AD 52 and most scholars date it to AD 62 on the following basis as argued by Roman historian Colin Hemer:
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 (18.104.22.168).
5. Acts seems to antedate the arrival of Peter in Rome and implies that Peter (who was martyred in the late 60s) and John were alive at the time of the writing.
6. 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.
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.
The author of Luke and Acts was a companion of Paul on his journeys (the ‘we’ passages in Acts) and is attested by 2nd century church fathers, many of whom would have been alive at the time Luke and Acts were written, to be Luke the Physician…
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