Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who Knows What About Religion? Pew Forum Survey

When I first read about this survey in yesterday's (September 28, 2010) Los Angeles Times, I had to laugh. Mainly, I laughed because the ignorance shown by Protestants is something that I have been keenly aware of for a number of years. This study clearly demonstrated that the appreciation for the life of the mind is glaring in its omission from the lives of Protestants. It appears that most Protestants don't even know some of the fundamental reasons for the Protestant Reformation let alone who was the the "key" figure in the Reformation (I place the word key in quotes, because any cursory study of the Reformation and pre-Reformation gives a reader a number of important reformers).

While much can be (and has been) said for the showing of the atheists, agnostics and Jews in this survey, I do not wish to focus on them. Here are some of the dismal results:

Protestants teach salvation through faith alone:
Christian - 16%
Protestant - 19%
White evangelical - 28%
White mainline - 14%
Black Protestant - 9%

This result does not surprise me given the shear amount of churches teaching Arminianism in this country.

Martin Luther inspired the Protestant Reformation:
Christian - 46%
Protestant - 47%
White evangelical - 52%
White mainline - 46%
Black Protestant - 40%

Again I am not surprised by this result. Ask yourself, "When was the last time I heard my pastor preach about the reasons for the Reformation, and why we do not genuflect at the alters of Rome?"

The next question was just as surprising. The Pew Forum asked the following:

Jonathan Edwards participated in the First Great awakening.

Christian - 11%
Protestant - 13%
White evangelical - 15%
White mainline - 10%
Black Protestant - 10%

Jonathan Edwards was America's finest preacher. His greatest sermon, "Sinner's in the Hands of an Angry God," still has people repenting and believing in Christ hundreds of years after Edwards' death. The fact that the mainline denominations don't know about him is not surprising when you take into consideration just how far into apostasy they have fallen. The numbers with the black Protestants may have something to do with Edwards' race.

The ignorance of Christians is not just limited to Christianity (which is inexcusable), but to other religions as well. The results from the Pew survey demonstrate that Christians are just as or even more ignorant of other world religions. How can the church properly present the message of the Gospel in the context of other world religions when the church does not understand those religions? The short answer is simple, "It can't!"

So the question that must be asked is, "Who is responsible for this woeful showing?" I think the blame can be laid at the feet of two groups. First and foremost, are American pastors. Secondly, the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) that have overrun most American churches due to the first group.

American Pastors

What I am about to describe is purely anecdotal, and while it does not in any way reflect what happens in other churches, I believe the principle is valid. That principle is simply that most American pastors have no true desire to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Let me explain, in the church I called home for the majority of my Christian walk (20-plus years), the pastor spoke on giving and/or tithing in more than half of his sermons during the year. The rest of the time was spent on his pet activities such as prayer and fasting. In the entire time I was a member of that church only once was a preaching through a bible book attempted (Ephesians, and it was never finished to my knowledge). Now how did this pastor justify himself? He said that teaching through a book did not meet the needs of the people in the quickest way possible. It is my opinion that this pastor simply could not or would not devote himself to the level of study that expositional preaching requires.

Secondly, and I will broaden my criticisms here, I believe that too many pastors want the "mega-church". This is something that constantly flows from my former pastor's lips every single service. Why is there such a desire for a church with 1,000-plus attenders? Simply, it is the money and prestige that a "mega-church" bestows on pastors of these sorts of churches. Once the 1,000 attender goal has been reached then the pastor is receives some sort of credibility that he believed he did not have prior to that milestone.

Further, "mega-churches" attract people that will give in order to soothe their consciences (more on this in a minute). Since these people will give in order to rid themselves of the guilt sin heaps on their lives, most "mega-churches" have $1 million budgets. As my old pastor tells that church, "Money gives you ability and credibility." This is true, but it also demonstrates a severe lack of faith in God's provision, but that is another story.

Lastly, while most pastors are afraid to even address finances (unlike my old pastor) they are even more afraid to address sin in the lives of the of the attenders. This is because if something controversial is said many of these attenders will leave in order to find a church that is more accepting of their religious hypocrisy. This is why you have the popularity of preachers like Joel Olsteen, who do not mention sin and the eternal consequences of it, but would rather teach attenders about living their best life now.

So rather than equipping the saints, as Paul commands in Ephesians 4:11-12, pastors continue to give pablum to placate the goats in attendance, and in the meantime true saints are severely malnourished from an unbalanced spiritual diet of pablum and milk at best, or pure heresy at worst.

The Goat Attenders

This is the saddest part of the entire equation. Because pastors no longer wish to offend any, they stop preaching on the bad news that makes the gospel good news. The bad news is that men are sinners, and that there are eternal consequences to sin. Instead pastors water down the effects of sin in the life of a person. They water down the message of the gospel which never begins with "God loves and has a wonderful plan for your life", but rather begins with sin and judgment, and ends with Christ's death and resurrection which forever rescues humanity from the penalty of sin.

It is these goat attenders that drive the sermon selection of the pastor. They want their itching ears tickled (2 Timothy 4:3), and so they church shop until they find the church that allows them to be comfortable in their religious hypocrisy. Sadly, since most pastors view the pulpit as a job and not a calling, they sell-out the gospel in order to gain more attenders. It is this "mixed company" (Exodus 12:38) that the pastor preaches to, all too often at the expense of the elect. The elect have to scratch on the ground digging for morsels of food just to survive, and in the meantime the goats are impacting the church for the negative.

It is these goats that have no interest in learning about the history of the men and women that have come before them. They consider the old hymns boring, the history and reasons for the Reformation as stodgy, and the study of doctrine as "head knowledge" with no "real life" application. So in order to keep them attending his church, and inflating the numbers (not to mention the pastor's ego) of attenders, the pastor fastidiously ignores these subjects and keeps his sermons as shallow as possible.

The Pew Forum Survey says a lot about the current state of the church in the early 21st century, but it really says more about the quality and calling of pastors more than the elect. Until the American church begins to really examine its ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), and begins to move back to a biblical model, the results as seen in the Pew Survey, will continue their downward spiral.

That said, I don't want to end on a down note. The true church, will always be triumphant. There are churches that are led by pastors who are faithful to the study of the word. Most of these pastors will never have a 1,000-plus member church, but they will have something even more valuable. They will have the words of our Lord Christ Jesus ringing in their ears, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master." How much more valuable are these words, when compared to a 1,000-plus attender mega-church and million dollar budget?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Evidence For Jesus Outside the New Testament, Part One

When followers of Jesus attempt to defend the trust they have placed in the books of the New Testament, they will appeal to scripture. However, the bible says that the mind set on the flesh, e.g., an unregenerate mind, cannot understand spiritual things (Romans 8:6-8). So what exactly is the point of apologetics when applied to the unbeliever? Simply, it is to get them “to think a second time” on the truth of the gospel message with the stumbling stone of an objection as a springboard to present the gospel.

One objection to the message of the gospel is the supposed lack of eyewitness testimony regarding the life of Jesus apart from the New Testament. They often say that if Jesus had actually existed and actually did what is reported in the gospels, then much, much more would have been documented about his life from sources outside the gospel writers. Is this a legitimate objection to counter the facts in the gospels? That will be answered shortly.

According to scripture there were, at one time, a great number of witnesses either to the life, death and resurrection. Luke, who was writing a thoroughly investigated biography of Jesus, opens his account of the life of Jesus with the following:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Luke1:1-4, ESV).
Here Luke tells his readers that there were “eyewitnesses” that could be accessed and interviewed in his day. While the apostles got all the attention there were literally hundreds of followers of Jesus that had witnessed his life, death and resurrection. In fact, when the apostles were deciding on whom to select as a replacement for Judas they looked for someone who was a witness to the life of Jesus from His baptism through to His resurrection. There were at least 120 followers of Jesus in the upper room at the time. From those 120, two were selected as being qualified, and eventually Matthias was selected as Judas’ replacement (Acts 1:15-26, ESV).

Not many days later, Peter was empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach to the assembled crowd in Jerusalem. He gave testimony to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; as did the 120 that were with him in the room (Acts chapter 2, ESV).

However, there were not just 120 that were witnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. While it is hard to say exactly how many witnesses there were, the Apostle Paul does tell us that there were at least 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he states that “[Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:6, ESV).

Now take a moment and think about what Paul just claimed. Paul is saying that there are at least 500 followers of Jesus that saw Him raised from the dead. He is claiming that they can be located and questioned about the resurrection of Jesus. If Paul was lying, then all someone had to do was travel to Palestine and start asking questions. Yet Paul makes the claim on the basis that there are people who can and will substantiate his assertion. This claim is the single most important piece of evidence in and of itself. It is this statement that leads us to believe that many more people experienced the risen Jesus other than an intimate and select few.

You may ask, “So what? These are Christians, and they are biased in favor of the resurrection story. We can’t really trust what they have to say. I want to hear from unbiased sources.” Well, that’s a pretty difficult standard that you have laid out. No one is truly unbiased. Everyone brings their own presuppositions to the table. That said, we do have additional eyewitness accounts. These are unique in that they are hostile eyewitness accounts. In other words, these are accounts from persons who appear to have been enemies of Jesus, the apostles or both. There are non-Jewish accounts that were penned by people that had a vested interest in keeping Christianity from spreading further into the Roman Empire. In addition, there are Jewish accounts of Jesus that are less than flattering, at best, and quite vicious, at worst. We will look at the testimony of these two groups in our next post.

One last thing; keep in mind that while we learn apologetics in order to respond in a rational manner to those that may not understand or have been given incorrect information about the life Jesus. Apologetics will never bring anyone into the kingdom of God; just like it is impossible to “love someone into the kingdom of God.” Only the Holy Spirit can regenerate the heart of stone and transform it into a heart of flesh. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that you not get discouraged by the atheist, skeptic or religious person that disregards your presentation. That is why it is so important to bathe your apologetics in prayer and to have others praying for you as you engage the person.

Ultimately, the goal of apologetics is, as Greg Koukl (host of Stand to Reason) says is to put a stone in the shoe of the person you are talking with. Try to get away from a results based evangelism (which is unbiblical), but get into a planting and watering mindset (1 Cor. 3:6, ESV). This mindset will lead to less frustration on your part, and more reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit and the election of the Father.

That’s it for now. Till next time, grace and peace to you from our God and Father.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Taking The Roof Off

Every man has built a roof over his head to shield himself at the point of tension...The Christian lovingly, must remove the shelter and allow the truth of the external world and of what man is to beat upon him. When the roof is off, each man must stand naked and wounded before the truth of what is...He must come to know that his roof is a false protection from the storm of what is.
This quote comes from Francis Schaeffer, the late Christian theologian and intellectual. He is speaking of non-Christians, however, I believe that this statement also applies to Christians. What have you constructed a roof over in order to protect your worldview from the realities of the outside world and biblical truth?

I believe that God is sovereign of all aspects of humanity, including salvation. However, there are Christians that believe that God has a limited role in salvation. They believe that humanity must be allowed free will or else humanity are just robots, doing what they have been programmed to do. The problem is that man is already a robot, and free will is not the answer.

Free Will

What is "free will"? Most will say that it is the ability to make a decision free of any outside influence. However, does the bible teach the idea of "free will"? Is the decision making ability of humans free of outside influence? The biblical answer is no. The bible says that man is fully and radically fallen into sin.

Genesis 6:5 describes pre-flood humanity in less than flattering terms. It says"the wickedness of man is great...that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Sin is a radical corruption, and no mere sickness. Humans are not sinners because they sin, but sin because they are sinners. Humanity is not spiritually challenged, but is in a firm and resolute rebellion against God.

"Yes, but God was speaking of the wicked people prior to the flood" is the common retort I have heard on this scripture. Well, just move two chapters over and see what God says about humanity post-flood, and what He thinks about humanity, "...[F]or the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth..." (Genesis 8:21).

The bible goes on with its dismal and depressing description of humanity's radical descent into depravity. Jeremiah 12:23 tells us that nothing good can come out of the human heart, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil." In other words, humanity can't do good, period. The sin in your life is there like the color of skin, hair or eyes. There is no "spark of goodness" just waiting to be fanned into a flame, regardless of what humanistic society through its books, movies and television shows tell you. Nor is the sin in your life the result of damaged emotions, or a lack of prayer, fasting or bible reading. Sin is not the result of low self-esteem. Sin is your natural state, just like a lion is naturally a meat eater.

The view of humanity as being radically depraved is consistent throughout scripture:
  • Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?"
  • Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me."
  • Psalm 58:3, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth."
Of course, I have received push back when using Psalm 58:3. Like a petulant child with hands on hips and stomping his foot, "I am not wicked!" they claim. Yet, the bible clearly says that we all were "children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). Paul is saying, in Ephesians, that we were children upon whom wrath rightly and justly belonged! Only the true believer in Christ realizes the extent of the wrath from which he/she has been rescued from.

Further man's depravity is not just limited to doing sin, but also includes the suppression of God's truth (Romans 1:18). Just look at the virulent atheists that have ranted against God from the Enlightenment thinkers to the "New Atheists" of our time. They have twisted their irrepressible religiosity into a godless idolatry. While they may not genuflect at dumb idols, they replace God with chance when it comes to the origin of life. With every book they write and every statement they utter they add more evidence to the reality that the children of Adam are utterly and hopelessly broken. This reality corresponds with Paul's final summation of humanity:

As it is written, "there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Romans 3:10-18
Man is a slave to sin. In modern language, man has a defect in his programming that does not allow him to seek after God. Man would rather do things his own way rather than submit to God's sovereignty. This is even seen in Christianity. Just look at how Christians flee the full sovereignty of God over every aspect of life. They desperately cling to free will as if it is a solution, and do not recognize that it is a problem. The problem is that free will is not biblical, but rather that humanity is so fallen, so depraved and so wicked, that they will not seek after God unless He graciously changes their fallen nature. This is the good news!

God made a way, through the life, death and resurrection of His son, Jesus, for salvation. You no longer have to be bound to sin like a slave. Today is the day of salvation! 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Can the Gospels be Dated Early, Part Two

In my previous post on this topic, I discussed the case for an early dating for the writing of the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. I believe that the case for the early dating is very compelling even without any scholarly comments on the subject. However, I believe that it is important that one stands upon the work of others, and use them to bolster the arguments. I want to point out that just because scholars say one thing or another, it is important to understand that these scholars are merely stating their opinions. Their statements are not facts. One should take their comments as an interpretation of the facts at hand. This is very much like an expert witness at a murder trial. That witness’ task is to assist the jurors in interpreting the evidence, either for or against the defendant. My purpose is to show that there are others that hold the same opinion as I do.

As with my previous post on this topic I want to point out that this post is not an exhaustive study. Rather a compilation of the most interesting points that I discovered in my research. If you want a deeper exploration of this and other topics I will discuss, then I suggest you utilize your preferred search engine.

Giuseppe Ricciotti

Ricciotti wrote many seminal works on the life of Christ and the Apostle Paul. Ricciotti concluded that the gospels were written early based on the same lines of reasoning that appeared in part one of this series. Based on these reasons Ricciotti claimed that Matthew was written between 50 and 55 AD, Mark between 55 and 60 AD, Luke was penned around 60 AD, and John near 100 AD.

John Arthur Thomas Robinson

Robinson was an Anglican bishop who wrote Redating the New Testament. His research utilized a historical approach that was grounded in the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Based on his research, he concluded that the gospels were penned at an early date. Robinson places the writing of Matthew from between 40 and 60 AD, Mark from between 45 and 60 AD, Luke from between 57 and 60 AD, and John between 40 and 65 AD.

John W. Wenham

Wenham was a professor of New Testament Greek and biblical scholar. He wrote Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem. He compared the each synoptic gospel (Matthew, Mark & Luke) with each other, as well as their relationship to other early writings as well as with the early church fathers from the first through third centuries. Based on this research, Wenham concluded that the synoptic gospels were written at an early date. Wenham places Matthew near 40 AD, Mark at around 45 AD, and Luke in the mid 50s.

Birger Gerhardsson

As a professor at Lund University, Gerhardsson wrote The Reliability of the Gospel Tradition. In it, Gerhardsson, examined Jewish oral tradition. In particular he focused on the teaching and memorization techniques of the Jewish rabbis in Jesus’ day. This approach is similar to research done by Harold Reisenfeld and Thorleif Boman. These three scholars conclude that the gospels are consistent with the teaching and memorization traditions of the Jewish rabbis. As a result, all three conclude that the gospels should be dated early.

Marcel Jousse

Jousse is a biblical scholar from France. He wrote L’anthropologie du Geste which examined the Semitic nature and rhythm of Jesus’ statements in the gospels. He concluded that the gospels are consistent with the language and characteristics of first century rabbinical teaching. Based on this research Jousse concluded that the gospels can be dated very early.

Jean Carmignac

Carmignac spent 20 years researching the Hebrew language as a backdrop for the writing of the gospels. He wrote The Birth of the Synoptic Gospels and concluded that one or more of the synoptic (Matthew, Mark & Luke) had a Semitic origin. This conclusion has been agreed with by scholars such as Robert Lindsey, David Flusser, Pinchas Lapide and David Bivin. Carmignac’s work argued that the synoptic gospels formed in the Jewish culture of the first half of the first century.

Phillippe Rolland

This French biblical scholar wrote Epitre aux Romains: Texte Grec Structure. By comparing the language from several New Testament letters and the Book of Acts Rolland formed the opinion that the gospel of Matthew was first written in Hebrew around 40 AD, and then translated into Greek around 63 to 64 AD along with the gospel of Luke. He also argued that the gospel of Mark was not the first gospel written, rather it was the third gospel written, and that the gospel of John appeared on or near 100 AD.

There are many more scholars that I could have quoted from both sides of the spectrum. However, that is not our purpose here. Our purpose is to demonstrate that there are experts in academia that hold to an early date for the writing of the gospels, and that this view is not simply “wishful thinking” on the part of Christians desperately clinging to their bibles and their faith. Rather, Christians have solid reasons and evidences for the trust they place in the bible as being what it claims to be.

So we have seen that we can trust that the New Testament is accurate. We have seen that a solid case can be made for an early dating of the gospels. However, can we trust the gospels in that they have given us an honest account of the events they claim to chronicle? That question will be answered in the next post.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Error in the New Testament Dating Post

Unlike newspapers, which bury their corrections, or TV news, which never admit their mistakes, this author will freely admit his errors. It has been pointed out that the comments I made regarding the evidence for making a 50s date of the gospels based on the work of Jose O'Callaghan is incorrect. I have spent a great deal of time looking into this, and I have discovered that this is the case. Virtually no New Testament scholar agrees with O'Callaghan's dating of the 7Q5 fragment. 

While I attempt to be as thorough as possible, I do (and will continue to) make mistakes in my research. I also believe that when I do make a mistake, and I am able to confirm the error, I am compelled to not only admit it, but to admit in the clearest possible manner. This incident has taught me to be more careful in my research, and I will endeavor to do so.

As an aside, this blog was linked at a major ex-Jehovah's Witness site, and there were a number of comments made. I will not respond to them, because I believe that if a person is going to make a comment about a blog, then that person should do so on the blog in question. Hopefully those people will read this, and respond accordingly.

Now, back to the topic at hand.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Can the Gospels be Dated Early?

We have determined that in spite of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s colorful assertions in his plethora of books, the New Testament we have today has a very high degree of accuracy (see The Accuracy of the New Testament, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), and we can be confident that what we have today is what was contained in the original autographs (original New Testament gospels). Knowledge of these facts can help shut the mouths of critics and skeptics that believe that the New Testament is riddled with errors and inaccuracies.

However, there is another objection that critics and skeptics fire out, and these ideas are devoured by this sin loving and blinded generation in order to further suppress the truth of God’s revelation (Romans 1:18). This objection is that the New Testament gospels were written too late to be eye witness testimony, but are instead legends, myths and embellishments of the story of Jesus. Is the truly the case? Is there any evidence that exists that can demonstrate that the New Testament gospels were written early enough to be the testimony of eye witnesses to the life of Jesus? This blog post will focus on that objection and give an answer to those that ask for a “reason for the hope within” us (1 Peter 3:15).

We are going to look at the existing manuscript evidence first, and make a case that the gospels we have today were written early enough to be one of the following: the testimony of eye witnesses, the memoirs of an eye witness, and the compilation of the testimonies of eye witnesses to the life of Jesus. Secondly, we will look at what various scholars have to say about when the gospels the gospels were written. The purpose of this apologetic, like all apologetics is, first to glorify God. Secondly, we want to strengthen the faith of the believer in the authenticity of the gospels. And thirdly, we want to shut the mouth of the skeptic. We want to accomplish the third by graciously presenting the facts that surround the life of Jesus and what His followers said about Him.

The Manuscript Evidence

I am going to present the case for the manuscript evidence for the early dating of the gospels by laying out a cumulative case for the early dating of these gospels. I am going to start with a very late date and then move down toward dates that are earlier and earlier. It is my hope and prayer that not only will these posts be read, but I am also looking for challenges to what I have written here. I don’t think I know everything, and perhaps I missed something that will make the case for the other side.

Earlier Than 250 AD

In 1931, the Chester Beatty Papyri was discovered. These papyri contain eleven manuscripts and three fragments of the New Testament. These papyri have been dated from between 200-250AD.

Earlier Than 200 AD

This is based on the “Bodmer Papyri” discovered in Egypt in 1952. These papyri contain the gospel of John (with the exceptions of John 5:3b-4; 7:53-8:11). These papyri have been dated from between 200 and 225 AD. Since the majority of scholars view John’s gospel as being the last gospel written, we can reasonably presume that the other three gospels were in existence at this time.

Earlier than 180 AD

We get this date from the Diatesseron. This was an attempt by Tatian the Assyrian (120-180 AD) to harmonize the four gospels into the language of Syriac. The Diatesseron became the standard text for Syriac speaking Christians for the next 500 years. Since this work was obviously written before Tatian’s death in 180 AD, we can safely presume that this work was completed earlier than 180 AD.

Earlier Then 150 AD

We come to this conclusion based upon the usage of the gospels by the early church fathers. For example, Justin Martyr in his work “First Apology” (150 AD) quotes from and alludes to John chapter 3 (1 Apol. 61, 4-5). Further, the above mentioned Tatian the Assyrian was a disciple of Justin Martyr, and therefore it is reasonable to presume that Justin was aware of Tatian’s work, the Diatesseron.

Earlier Than 130 AD

According to Eusebius, Papias of Hierapolis mentioned the writings of Matthew and Mark in his (Papias’) five-volume work, Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, around 130 AD. Further, the famous “Ryland’s Papyri” contains a fragment of John dating from around 130 AD. It is clear that the gospel of John was completed long before 130 AD given the fact that it had been written, copied, and transmitted from Greece to Egypt over some period of time before becoming part of the “Ryland’s” collection.

Earlier Than 120 AD

In 120 AD, Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of the Apostle John, and one of the three most important church fathers, wrote a letter to the church in Philippi. In this letter, Polycarp quoted from the gospels and other New Testament letters. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the gospels were in existence and well known prior to 120 AD.

Earlier Than 110 AD

Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch in the late first and early second century AD. Ignatius wrote several letters around 110 AD that quote or allude to the gospel of Matthew. In his letters to Ephesus, Smyrna and Polycarp, Ignatius quotes or alludes to Matthew 12:33; 19:12; and 10:16. It is clear that Matthew was in existence and well known prior to 110 AD.

Earlier Than 100 AD

The Didache literally means “the two ways.” It is a non-canonical Christian writing that was apparently a manual of instruction used for the initiation of proselytes in the Synagogue, and later converted into a Christian manual. Athanasius described The Didache as “appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly joined us, and who wish for instruction in the word of goodness.” The Didache is most recently dated at approximately 100 AD, and quotes Matthew’s version of the “Lord’s Prayer” in Didache 8:1. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that Matthew’s gospel existed and was well known prior to 100 AD.

Earlier Than 95 AD

Clement is listed as either the third or fourth Bishop of Rome, and wrote a letter to the church in Corinth that is known as 1 Clement. This letter is commonly dated to the end of the reign of Roman Emperor, Domitian (95 to 96 AD).Clement quotes or alludes to the gospel of Matthew in this letter. This establishes that the gospel of Matthew was already in circulation and quotable as early as 95 AD.

Earlier Than 70 AD

We place the gospels prior to this date because of a very significant event to both Jews and Christians, namely the Roman sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of Herod’s temple by four Roman legions under the command of the future Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasian. This event is important because there is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple in any of the gospels. The lack of any mention of these events is especially conspicuous in relation to Jesus’ prophecies concerning the destruction of both the city and her temple. It is reasonable to presume that if the gospels were written after 70 AD, that the writers would refer to the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecies in their chronicles of the life and saying of Jesus.

Further, there is absolutely no reference to this event, by the Jewish writers of the New Testament in any of the subsequent letters contained in the New Testament canon. Why is such a mammoth event conspicuously missing from the writings of the gospels and epistles? The reasonable answer must be that the gospels and epistles were written prior to 70 AD.

I also want to point out that this is not an argument form silence. The reason is simple, since the majority of first century Christians were ethnic Jews and came out of the Judaism, Jerusalem and its temple were an essential part of their worship as seen in the Book of Acts. It is therefore reasonable to presume that the lack of any mention of the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple is due to the fact that they had not been destroyed at the time of the writing of these gospels and letters.

Earlier Than 64 AD

The book of the Acts of the Apostles can be dated around 64 AD. We place the book at this date based on the following: 1. Luke makes no mention of the Jewish war on the Romans started in 66 AD; 2. Luke makes no indication of the destruction of Jerusalem or her temple; 3. Luke does not mention the persecution of the Christians by the Roman army that began in the mid-60s AD. Further, there are expressions used by Luke in Acts that are very primitive and fit well into a Palestinian context prior to the fall of Jerusalem. Luke also makes no mention of the martyrdom of three key Apostles: James, the brother of Jesus (62 AD), Paul (64 AD), and Peter (65 AD). In fact, Paul is still alive at the end of the Book of Acts. It is therefore reasonable to presume that Luke was written prior to 64 AD.

Since the Book of Acts was an ancient “sequel” to his gospel, it is reasonable to conclude that the Gospel of Luke was written before the Book of Acts. Paul knew of Luke’s gospel based on Paul’s quotation of Luke’s gospel in one of the last letters he wrote (1 Timothy 5:17, 18). Here Paul quotes both the Old and New Testaments (Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7). Based on this usage it is clear that Luke’s gospel was already in existence and was accepted as scripture by Paul at the time he wrote this letter. Based on these facts, it is reasonable to conclude that Luke’s gospel was written in the early 60s.

Earlier Than 60 AD

Like the Book of Acts, none of the Gospels ever mention an event that occurred prior to 61 AD. The Gospel of Mark is repeatedly quoted by Luke in his gospel which was clearly written prior to the Book of Acts. This comes as no surprise since Luke was functioning as a historian who was consulting the witnesses he had available to him (Luke 1:1-4). Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that Mark’s gospel was already in existence and widely accepted as an accurate account of Jesus’ life. If Luke can be safely placed in the early 60s, then it is reasonable, based on the above, to place the gospel of Mark in the late 50s.

Earlier Than 55 AD

Even though many liberal scholars deny that Paul wrote all the epistles attributed to him in the New Testament, even the most skeptical scholar accept that Paul wrote the Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians and Galatians, and that these letters were written between 48 and 60AD. The Epistle to the Romans is of particular importance to our discussion here, in that it has been dated at around 50 AD. The reason for the importance of this Epistle is that this letter contains “high Christology.”

In these letters, Paul portrays Jesus, not as a humble son of a carpenter from some insignificant village in a backwater region of the Roman Empire who taught nice things, and evolved into the Christ mythology. Rather, merely 17 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul outlines Jesus’ life just as it was described in the gospels.

In Romans, Paul proclaims Jesus as the resurrected “Son of God”. In 1 Corinthians, Paul summarizes the gospel and reinforces the fact that his message was the same message that was delivered to him by the Apostles. In Galatians, Paul describes his interactions with the Apostles (Peter and James, the brother of Jesus), stating that this meeting occurred 14 years prior to the writing of the letter (Galatians 1:18, cf. 2:1). Paul’s statement of events in Galatians means that Paul saw the risen Christ and learned the gospel accounts from the eyewitnesses (Peter and James) within five years of the actual event. This is why Paul states, in his definitive doctrinal statement of the resurrection, that there were still many living eyewitnesses who could confirm the resurrection accounts (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).

Paul’s description of Jesus never changes in any of his letters. Paul stubbornly describes Jesus in the same manner over and over again. There is no evolution of Jesus from man to God in any of Paul’s writings. Paul is rooted in the gospel description of Jesus that he heard from his first meeting with the eyewitnesses who knew Jesus personally.

Further, Paul appears to be familiar with Luke’s historical account of Jesus’ life in describing the Lord’s Supper to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, cf. Luke 22:19-20). Paul, wrote this letter from between 53-57 AD, and appears to be quoting Luke’s gospel (as Luke’s gospel is the only account of Jesus’ life that uses “do this in remembrance of me”). Since Luke travelled with Paul, it is reasonable to conclude that Paul was familiar with Luke’s body of work. Luke gathered his information from available eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4). It is reasonable to conclude that Luke used Mark’s account as it would be available at the time, and served as a basis for many of the details Luke records.

Further evidence of a 50s gospel can be gleaned from the work of Spanish Jesuit papyrologist, Jose O’Callaghan. O’Callaghan examined a papyri fragment discovered in Cave 7 at Qumran that contains Mark 6:52-53. This fragment has been dated at 50 AD. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that Mark’s gospel was in existence prior to 50 AD.

There are many good reasons to accept the fact that the gospels were written early and circulated by the early Christians who read them, quoted them and preserved them for later generations. This is why I have taken the evidence and arranged them in reverse chronological order in order to establish the early dating of the gospels. You, the reader, have read down the list and travelled back in time, and you have seen how each date is substantiated by the preceding date. I believe that we have a very strong chain that demonstrates that the gospels (and the epistles) are clearly early in their origin. However, is that just my opinion, or is there scholarly support for this conclusion. That will be the subject of the next post.