Dating The NT Documents

Arguments For Early Dating - Prior To 70 AD

Compiled by Ed. F. Sanders

The fact that Church historians (Philip Schaff), Jewish writers (Nelson Glueck), theological conservatives (F. F. Bruce, John Wenham, E. Earle Ellis), and liberals (Bishop John A. T. Robinson, Peter Stuhlmacher) have penned defenses of early dating for the New Testament is a witness to the strength of the data for an early date.

New Testament writings:

"It was at this point that I began to ask myself just why any of the books of the New Testament needed to be put after the fall of Jerusalem in 70. As one began to look at them, and in particular the epistle to the Hebrews, Acts and the Apocalypse, was it not strange that this cataclysmic event was never once mentioned or apparently hinted at (as a past fact)? (Redating, p. 10).

"One of the oddest facts about the New Testament is that what on any showing would appear to be the single most datable and climactic event of the period — the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 — is never once mentioned as a past fact. . . . [T]he silence is nevertheless as significant as the silence for Sherlock Holmes of the dog that did not bark". (Ibid., p. 13.)

Commenting on the Book of Revelation: "It is indeed generally agreed that this passage must bespeak a pre-70 situation. . . . There seems therefore no reason why the oracle should not have been uttered by a Christian prophet as the doom of the city drew nigh." (Ibid pp.  240-242).

[See chart based on Bishop Robinson's book Redating The New Testament]

On the early date of the book of Revelation:
"The early date is best suited for the nature and object of the Apocalypse, and facilitates its historical understanding. Christ pointed in his eschatological discourses to the destruction of Jerusalem and the preceding tribulation as the great crisis in the history of the theocracy and the type of the judgment of the world. And there never was a more alarming state of society."

"The horrors of the French Revolution were confined to one country, but the tribulation of the six years preceding the destruction of Jerusalem extended over the whole Roman empire and embraced wars and rebellions, frequent and unusual conflagrations, earthquakes and famines and plagues, and all sorts of public calamities and miseries untold. It seemed, indeed, that the world, shaken to its very center, was coming to a close, and every Christian must have felt that the prophecies of Christ were being fulfilled before his eyes."

"It was at this unique juncture in the history of mankind that St. John, with the consuming fire in Rome and the infernal spectacle of the Neronian persecution behind him, the terrors of the Jewish war and the Roman interregnum around him, and the catastrophe of Jerusalem and the Jewish theocracy before him, received those wonderful visions of the impending conflicts and final triumphs of the Christian church. His was truly a book of the times and for the times, and administered to the persecuted brethren the one but all-sufficient consolation: Maranatha! Maranatha!" (History of The Christian Church, Vol. I, pp. 836-837)
the present existence of the Jerusalem temple (11:1) and its future desolation (11:2) are fairly strong indicators of a pre-AD 70 date for Revelation.” (The Making of the New Testament Documents, p 214)

It is a persuasive argument that all the New Testament books were written before 70 A.D., within a single generation of the death of Christ, and probably earlier. Given Jesus’ miracles, claims and controversy, which began early in His ministry, it is inconceivable that His disciples would not have recorded Jesus’ words as He spoke them or immediately after. Even before He began His public ministry there had to be stories circulating about Him, such as about the unique circumstances surrounding His birth, the visit by the shepherds, His presentation in the temple, the visit by the Magi, His escape to Egypt, the return to Nazareth, the event in the temple as a boy and so on. At His baptism the Holy Spirit descended on Him as a dove and He went to the desert to be tempted by Satan. His first miracle in Cana, the changing of water to wine, His cleansing of the temple, the healing of a nobleman’s son and so on were all done in the first six months or so of His public ministry. Even the people of His hometown tried to kill Him at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30).It is likely the Gospels would have been constructed from these accounts as soon as necessary, which could have been as early as 40 A.D. or even earlier.

The implications of this are significant. A New Testament written between 40-70 A.D. virtually destroys the edifice on which higher critical premises regarding the New Testament are based. If true, insufficient time elapsed for the early Church to have embellished the records with their own particularist views. What the New Testament reports, it reports accurately.

66 (see article)
65 (prior to)
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians 58
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy 67
2 Timothy
1 Peter
2 Peter
1 John
2 John
3 John

Also see the helpful chart by Dr Stan Murrell on dating the OT and NT books

1. Professor Glueck also said "To date no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a single, properly understood biblical statement"! He further  states "the almost incredibly accurate historical memory of the Bible, and particularly so when it is fortified by archaeological fact"! (Rivers in the Desert, Philadelphia: Jewish Publications Society of America, 1969, p. 31).

2. Quotes / Sources used in this article:
F. F. Bruce “The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable?” (IVP)
Craig Blomberg, "The Historical Reliability of the Gospels"  (IVP)
Bishop John A. T. Robinson, "Redating the New Testament"
John Ankerberg and John Weldon, "The Historical Reliability of the New Testament Text"
John Wenham, "Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke"
Stanford E. Murrell, "The New Covenant In Christ: A Survey Of The New Testament"
E. Earle Ellis, The Making of the New Testament Documents (2002).
Peter S. Ruckman, The History of the New Testament Church

Updated 2-13-2010