There’s one terrible reason to believe the gospels were written late, and there are 7 historical reasons to believe that they were written early

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Here’s a question that’s raised by skeptics from time to time. Why were the gospels written a generation after Jesus died? I mean, it’s only the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” Why did it take them so long to write this thing down if it was so important?

How reliable can these stories be if they weren’t written until 40–60 years after the crucifixion? These are some of the questions skeptics raise against the gospels. What basis do they have?

One terrible reason to believe the gospels were written late:

I’ll be straight up here. This dating comes from historians who rule out the supernatural. You see, Jesus had a lot to say about the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. You can read about it in Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Luke 21. Critics say that these were words the church put into Jesus’ mouth to make him look more like a prophet.

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And Jesus asked them “how much of the discourse do you want” And his disciples replied “Olivet”. (Sorry, lame joke)

There’s a big problem with that view: If that’s the case, they could have made him look a lot more dead on. Look at the works of Josephus. He gets into gory details about some of the horror that went down during that dark time.

Why not have Jesus get more detailed to show off what an amazing prophet he was? Yet Jesus ends up sounding a lot more apocalyptic. He sounds more like Jeremiah, Daniel, Joel, and other Old Testament prophets.

That’s about all that the case for the later dating of the gospels has going for it. I’m serious. Just google it for yourself. The sauce is rather weak if you ask me.

7 good historical reasons to believe the gospels were written early:

Luke was the first church historian. And Acts is the sequel to his own gospel, which he says he was careful to interview eyewitnesses about. (Luke 1:1–4) There’s a lot of interesting details we find out about life and (hard) times of the early church.

We read about the martyrdom of James the brother of John. (See Acts 12:1–3) We read about the martyrdom of Stephen. (See Acts 7:56–60) We read about the early church persecution of Peter and Paul. We follow Peter in the first half of the book, and then we get up close with Paul in the last half of the book.

There are some big events that are missing from Acts that you’d expect to find. So let’s look together why scholars sans anti-supernatural bias believe the gospels were written early.

1. The death of Paul.

2. The death of Peter.

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3. The death of James the brother of Jesus.

4. The severe persecutions of Nero.

This happened around 64 AD. We can read about it in some detail in Tacitus. It’s a strange thing for Luke not to mention this. He mentions the church’s persecution other places, like Jerusalem, Phillipi, Ephesus and more places. But he doesn’t mention one of the more gruesome persecutions of the time?

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5. The destruction of the temple and Jerusalem itself.

6. Luke was true to his times.

7. Paul quotes Luke as scripture.

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (1 Tim. 5:17–18)

So here Paul quotes Deuteronomy alongside Luke, as this saying is found only in Luke 10:7. Scriptures refer to something written down, so this goes beyond oral tradition. And he’s just mentioning this in passing, he doesn’t explain. Meaning that they must have had some familiarity with what scriptures Paul was talking about.

I understand some critics say Paul didn’t write 1 Timothy, perhaps for this reason. That’s another blog post for another time, but I don’ think there are good reasons to reject the traditional authorship. Regardless, critics generally agree that 1 Timothy was written somewhere between 55–64 AD.

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So what does this all mean for the dating of the gospels?

So we’re not talking about the gospel being written 40 years after the fact. We’re looking at a decade or two. If someone were to write eyewitness accounts of 9/11 today, we wouldn’t be suspicious of them.

So we see that there’s only one reason to reject the early dating of the gospels, and it’s a biased one. And there are several good reasons to believe they were written early.

Dodgy lawyers try to discredit a witness against their client. Likewise, these critics try and push back the dates to say that the gospels are too late to be trusted. But they say that because stuff like prophecy and miracles aren’t possible. It’s all kinda circular when you think about it.

For the argument in more details, read and watch:

The Dating of the New Testament by Norman Geisler, bethinking.org

Video: Why We Know the New Testament Gospels Were Written Early by J. Warner Wallace

Written by

I am the Reasonable Faith Chapter Director in Cedar Rapids and the writer for isjesusalive.com. I’m interested in the intersection of Christianity and history.

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