Apologetics Tuesday: Trusting the New Testament Part 4
Over the past few weeks you know we have been looking at notion of being able to trust the New Testament as an accurate source. Last week I introduced the idea of different criteria we can use to trust if what The New Testament reports is accurate. Some of those criteria were early testimony, eyewitness testimony, embarrassing testimony, and enemy testimony.
All of these are very important in their own way of showing the accuracy of the NT documents. For the most part we will deal with the Gospels since that is where most of our info about Jesus’ life is. However we will look at one other piece of the NT to show some of the earliest writing we have.
Before we look at “Early Testimony” we need to know when the Gospels were written. Most conservative dating puts them at 30-40 years after Christ’s death for the time of writing. Others date them up to around 60 years after the events happened. I find the earlier dating fits better because we have one solid concrete piece of historical dating that we know happened in A.D. 70. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. This is undeniable. The Gospel being Jews would most likely have mentioned something about the Temple being destroyed, but none of them did, even thought they reported the words Jesus spoke about No stone will be left unturned in Mark 13:1-4. If you read the passage in Mark it’s clear the writer didn’t know about the destruction of the Temple because it hadn’t happened yet.
To compare how 30-40 years after the events compares to other ancient sources make sure to look at the chart from Week 2.
Now the interesting thing though is that looking at the Gospel of Mark (Which is the earliest Gospel account) and 1 Corinthians 15 (One of Paul’s letters which was written before the Gospels) you find two very peculiar passages that bring light to how early these stories about Jesus go. Even if “legends” about Jesus were created by the time of the Gospel writing, (which scholars agree is not probable because of the short time period and availability of live eye-witnesses to refute any false claims) these two passages stand out.
First is the Passion Narrative (last week of Jesus) in the Gospel of Mark. Here is what Dr. William Lane Craig says about this Pre-Markan story from the Gospel of Mark.
First and foremost is the Passion source which Mark used in writing his Gospel. Whereas most of Mark’s Gospel consists of short anecdotal stories strung like pearls on a string, when we get to the final week of Jesus’ life we encounter a continuous narrative of events from the Jewish plot during the Feast of Unleavened Bread through Jesus’ burial and empty tomb. The events of the Last Supper, arrest, execution, burial, and empty tomb were central to the identity of early Christian communities. According to James D. G. Dunn, “The most obvious explanation of this feature is that the framework was early on fixed within the tradition process and remained so throughout the transition to written Gospels. This suggests in turn a tradition rooted in the memory of the participants and put into that framework by them” (J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 2003, pp. 765-6.) The dominant view among NT scholars is therefore that the Passion narratives are early and based on eyewitness testimony (Mark Allen Powell, JAAR 68 : 171). Indeed, according to Richard Bauckham, many scholars date Mark’s Passion narrative no later than the 40s (recall that Jesus died in A.D. 30) (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 2006, p. 243). So we’re dealing here with an extraordinarily early source.