Sunday, June 10, 2012

How did we get the New Testament?

Timothy Paul Jones has a good essay on the criteria used by early Christians to select books for the New Testament.


[F]rom the first century onward, Christians viewed testimony that could be connected to eyewitnesses of Jesus as uniquely authoritative. The logic of this standard was simple: The people most likely to know the truth about Jesus were either eyewitnesses who had encountered Jesus personally or close associates of these witnesses. So, although Christians wrangled for some time about the authority of certain writings, it was something far greater than political machinations that drove these decisions. Their goal was to determine which books could be clearly connected to eyewitnesses of Jesus. 
I am fascinated by the study of the early Christian writings. Which gospel was written first? In what way are the gospels related? When were the gospels written? Why were they written? Did the authors actually know Jesus personally?

Much of the modern study of the New Testament has been corrupted by Higher Criticism, which is too often a veil for agnostic and atheist scholars who use pseudo-scholarship to advance their personal bias. One obvious example of tendentious scholarship would be the contention by most liberal scholars that Luke's gospel was written in the 80's of the first century and that Mark and Matthew were written in the 70's at the earliest.

Yet Acts ends with Paul's imprisonment in Rome, almost certainly before Nero's persecutions, which Luke never mentions. And Luke never mentions the most transformative secular event in that era of Jewish-Christian history-- the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 66-70. Thus, Acts was obviously written prior to the mid 60's, and Luke refers to his own gospel as a prior work, dating the gospel of Luke to the early 60's at the latest. And Luke refers to the works of others in his prologue, which almost certainly refers to Mark and perhaps Matthew, dating these gospels to prior to the 60's.

Why would liberal scholars ignore the obvious? The synoptic gospels were written prior to the mid-60's.

This is why: an early dating of the gospels enhances their historical reliability, because of proximity to the events and because of the existence of living eyewitnesses who could have, but didn't, point out mistruths.

Late dating of the gospels advances the atheist agenda. And of course atheists have no qualms about faking science to suit their agenda. It didn't start with Darwin. 


  1. Nice try. But ... We don't know who wrote the Gospels. We don't know where they were written. But, they were written in Greek, not Aramaic, presumably outside of Palestine.

    New Testament scholars generally agree that Mark was the earliest, around 60 CE, followed by Matthew and Luke about 10 years later, and John around 90 CE.

    However, the 'agnostic' and 'atheist' NT scholars also agree that there were earlier accounts Q, M and L which were later lost but which provided sources for the accepted Gospels. Which ruins your argument that the dates of the accepted Gospels were deliberately pushed back to cast doubt on them. Obviously earlier accounts would act as a temporal bridge to the later ones.

    It's a silly argument that if the Gospel accounts were inaccurate or even fabricated, then there would have been records documenting this. Firstly, eyewitnesses (begging the question that if the Resurrection didn't happen, then how would there be eyewitnesses?) would have to be literate to read the accounts, if they were available, and literacy wasn't very common in 1st century Palestine, secondly, they'd need to be able to write down their denial of the accounts (and being able to write is a much more difficult skill to master), and thirdly, their accounts denying the accuracy of the Gospels would need to have been preserved and copied down the centuries, and after the 4th century, that was entirely in the hands of orthodox Christians.

    And then you finish with your usual anti-science diatribe.


  2. Why would liberal scholars ignore the obvious? The synoptic gospels were written prior to the mid-60's...

    In passing, another reason for the later dates may be because the synoptic gospels speak of events that have not yet come to pass, the destruction of Jerusalem for instance. In other words, they contain predictive prophecy. The type of scholarship mentioned assumed predictive prophecy an impossibility. Since the gospels contain references to future events, it would be necessary, in light of that assumption, to date the accounts accordingly.

  3. I've been reading "Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authenticity of the New Testament Books" by Michael J. Kruger (Crossway). He reviews the major models for determining canonicity and introduces a new theological model. It's been kind of a forehead-slapping experience for me. The theological model seems pretty obvious - after he's carefully walked the reader through it.

  4. This discussion puts a lie to the very notion that the Bible is the infallible inspired word of God.


  5. Fascinating post, Dr Egnor.
    I have often thought it amazing to what heights the scrutiny of the dating of the Gospels. Even more amazing is the fact these inspired works have survived each and every test.
    I wonder if the so called sceptics and atheists etc have ever considered that their very purpose for inquiry may be to test the position in such a way as to prove it?
    That paradoxical and self defeating stance may be an indicator of the essential force behind the endeavour - the motivating force.
    Just a thought.

    1. Atheists always did have enough rope to shoot themselves in the foot!

    2. Pepe,

      Very nice mixed metaphor. Where did you steal it from?

    3. It was a book on computer programming I read a long long time ago in a far far away galaxy!

  6. Nice try... But we don't know who wrote the Gospels. Where exactly they were written and when. We do know that they were written in Greek outside of Palestine. Most New Testament scholars accept that Mark was written around 60 CE. Matthew and Luke around 10 years later. John around 90 CE.

    It rather spoils your argument that 'atheist' and 'agnostic' scholars are trying to push back the dates of the accepted Gospels to cast doubt on them. They also believe that there were earlier now lost texts Q, L and M which served as a source for the later texts. Earlier texts would obviously bridge any temporal gap.

    Your other argument, that if the Gospels were inaccurate or even false, that there'd be written texts disputing them, also doesn't work. If an eyewitness (and that also raises the question as to how someone could be an eyewitness to the Resurrection if it didn't happen) is able to dispute the Gospel accounts, he would have to have access to them, be able to read (a rarity in 1st century Palestine) and more importantly, be able to write down his account of the events. Which would then have to be preserved and copied down the centuries; a process that was in the control of Christians after the 4th century.

    Prediction in the Bible is a funny thing. Often it isn't prophesy - its just a warning of what will happen if the people don't change their wicked ways. Often it's postdiction, to give weight to what is being written.

    The trouble with insisting that the Gospels were written close to the events on the basis of eyewitness accounts is that they contradict each other in respect to important events. Compare the accounts of Matthew and Luke regarding the birth of Jesus.

    1. If the Bible is inspired, it is foolish vanity to assume that textual criticism or any other method that might be applied to ordinary texts can provide anything definitive. Such methods necessarily remove the Holy Spirit from both the writing and the reading of the texts. If the Bible isn't inspired, then the whole discussion is pointless anyway.

  7. Even more obvious, and supported by the overwhelming weight of evidence including direct early testimony, is that John was really written by John. It implicitly requires an elaborate conspiracy theory to conclude otherwise, the sort which would be laughed to ribbons were anyone to use it to explain anything in more recent history. But no matter how implausible the conspiracy theory, "higher critics" *must* to accept it over the evidence that John is what it's advertised to be, because admitting that John wrote it is pretty much tantamount to admitting that Christianity is true.

    1. @ The Deuce,

      And your evidence? John isn't included in the Synoptic Gospels, because it is so different to the others. It includes stories that aren't in the other three, including the resurrection of Lazarus. And where is the direct early testimony?

    2. The best explanation, in my view, is the Two Gospel Hypothesis. It relies heavily on external evidence (testimony of church fathers within a couple of generations of the Apostles.) The TGH asserts that Matthew was written first, for Jewish Christians, in the 40's or 50's. Paul asked Luke to write a gospel for Gentiles, which he did, but because neither Luke nor Paul knew Jesus in life, Paul asked Peter to verify the text. Peter gave a series of sermons in Rome, corroborating Luke, and the lectures were compiled by Mark. This scenario is testified to by a number of early writers.

      I believe John is very early (40's) with some additions/redactions later. John is intimately familiar with Palestinian geography, speaks an an intimate eyewitness, and refers to the pool Bethesda in the present tense ("there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool..."), but the pool was destroyed by the Romans in 66-70. The obvious contest is that the document was written before it was destroyed. The assertion "There are two towers at the World Trade Center" dates the assertion unequivocally prior to 9/11/2001. Same for John 5.

    3. Mike, that was great. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    4. Thanks, Mike. Also, see here:

  8. Dr. Egnor,

    I went to see For Greater Glory last night. Amazing!

    Have you seen it yet? You'd better hurry. I don't think it will be in the theaters much longer.