When was the New Testament written?

What is the New Testament?

It is the following books (in order):

  • Matthew
  • Mark
  • Luke
  • John
  • Acts
  • James
  • 1st Peter
  • 2nd Peter
  • 1st John
  • 2nd John
  • 3rd John
  • Jude
  • Romans
  • 1st Corinthians
  • 2nd Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • 1st Thessalonians
  • 2nd Thessalonians
  • 1st Timothy
  • 2nd Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon
  • Hebrews
  • Revelation

There has been some dispute as to who wrote the books in the New Testament/Renewed Covenant. (The Renewed Covenant means the New Testament). Some say that it was written by the apostles, others say that it was written a long time after the apostles’ passed away.

How do we know when they were written and by whom? I’ll let the Aramaic English New Testament book explain it to you:

When Were the Renewed Covenant Books Written?

While we do have plenty of evidence that points to the time frame of the original autographs, we must also remember these are best estimates. Regardless of the various opinions out there, every Bible student and scholar must make certain assumptions, so let’s first lay down some ground rules:

     1) That the most ancient and unanimous Eastern and Western traditions regarding the order, content and origin of these books is accurate and reliable.

    2) That these same traditions properly link these books to their authors, who themselves have accurate biographical data preserved, most notably the years of their deaths.

    3) That in cases where these traditions and internal textual evidence from the Renewed Covenant writings themselves contradict modern western scholarship, that the former trumps the latter. In particular that the ancient testimony on these matters is to be regarded as genuine, rather than arrogantly cast aside as is currently being done by much modern “higher” criticism.

While this study has been fully documented by Andrew Gabriel Roth in previous books it will not be footnoted as vigorously here. However, we will preview the main sources most helpful in piecing this information together.

As always, the most important resource is the Renewed Covenant writings themselves, both in their internal texts and in the manner that their most ancient manuscripts were assembled. The second most important source for the timeline is the First Century historian Josephus. Thirdly, later sources such as the Jewish (Talmud); Catholic (Church Founders) and Eastern Aramaic assemblies (Marganitha, the Doctrine of Addai) as well as Foxes’s Book of Martyrs and the Catholic Encyclopedia will also be utilized. However, as stated earlier a much more detailed survey of this evidence is available in Ruach Qadim: Aramaic Origins of the New Testament and Ruach Qadim: the Path of Life by Andrew Gabriel Roth.

Step 1: Link the books to their authors and determine when the authors died

While in some cases the details of how the apostles died do conflict a bit – such as Josephus and the Catholic traditions regarding the death of James – the basic time frame about when they died is not in dispute and it is this timeline that gives birth to our most important lines of evidence.

For example, Foxes’s Book of Martyrs, drawing on very ancient and reliable sources, tells us that Matthew, Mark, James, Peter and Paul were all murdered in the 60s of the Common Era, or about 30-35 years after the Resurrection but just prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70. Of the remaining writers, Jude’s death is recorded in the year 72 and Luke’s is between the years 72 and 74. John, however, is the only Renewed Covenant writer to live out the remainder of the first century, dying at around the age of 100. These facts along divide our book list into two halves:

  • Pre-70 books: Matthew, Mark, Acts, James, all Pauline Epistles including Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter.
  • Possible post-70 books: The Gospels of Luke and John, Jude, 1-3 John and Revelation

Step 2: Use internal evidence from the Renewed Covenant writings to narrow the time frame

This step can get a bit complex, as there are many historical lines of evidence to address, but here are a few examples:

1) Rav Shaul writes extensively in Galatians about circumcision controversies yet fails to mention the major Netzarim gathering that happened in Jerusalem on this very subject in the year 49 (Acts 15). Since Rav Shaul was a major part of that gathering and decision, it is inconceivable that he would have failed to mention it. Nor are there references to the later imprisonments after his missionary journeys toward the end of his life. Therefore, Galatians must have been written very early, perhaps between the year 45 and 48, which best fits into other biographical information Rav Shaul provides in his other letters.

2) The Book of Acts, like Luke’s Gospel, is written to a man named Theophilus, or Tawpeela in Aramaic. However, the first line of Acts tells us the Gospel was Luke’s “former volume”. That being the case, and factoring in when we know Luke died, we can look at the historical data in Acts and get a range. In this case, Luke’s events stop at Rav Shaul’s arrival in Rome in the early 60’s, and he is mentioned by Rav Shaul as being with him toward his end in 2 Timothy 4:11. That same passage also mentions Mark, who we also know died in the year 62. However, Luke fails to mention the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 and this is odd for two reasons. First, Y’shua predicted this would happen in Luke’s Gospel, so why not show it’s fulfillment in Acts?

Secondly, the Temple is shown in all its glory right at the end of his Gospel and in the beginning of Acts 1-2, so again why not mention the tragedy he probably was in a position to witness like his contemporary Josephus did? Taken together then, it seems clear Luke must have written his Gospel after the year 61 but before the year 70, living out the few remaining years allotted to him in relative obscurity.

3) The Epistle to James in 5:12 quotes verbatim from a line exclusively in Matthew’s Gospel (5:37). Since James died in the year 62 and since it is far more likely he would use Matthew’s material than the other way around, Matthew’s Gospel must be earlier than this. Exactly how much earlier we will explore a little later. However, with Matthew’s own death well established in the year 60, his Gospel had to be written at least in the previous decade.

4) John 5:2 mentions the Sheep Gate in the present tense, but the structure was destroyed in the year 70 by the Romans. The fact that John would have even the slightest expectations that his readers would be able to check on a major piece of architecture like this argues strongly for not just a pre-70 date for his Gospel to have been written, but possibly significantly pre-70 for it to circulate throughout the Middle East.

5) Another huge chronological clue is at the end of John’s Gospel with the words of 21:24: “This is the disciple who testified about all these things and wrote them and we know that his testimony is true.” Reason being, just about all other references in the Renewed Covenant refer to the Twelve Apostles as a whole or individual disciples by name. But by using the word “we”, John implies that his work is being certified and confirmed by other eyewitnesses that he need not specify, pointing to a time when perhaps all Twelve were still alive, which would be prior to the year 44CE. More likely, though, he is referring to a late enough time where the vast majority of original apostles and followers were still alive, perhaps roughly contemporaneous with the line in 1 Corinthians 15:6. Interestingly enough Rav Shaul’s biographical information put his Corinth preaching squarely in his second missionary journey in about the year 50 CE, right after the famous Jerusalem Council meeting in Acts 15. These facts are notable because 1 Corinthian 16:8 tells us the letter was written specifically from Ephesus, the same city where the Apostle John lived, and Rav Shaul’s pattern was to visit with the elder Apostles whenever he could, making a late 50’s date for John’s Gospel possible. After this time, Rav Shaul himself would be imprisoned and enough of the other original followers would have been killed as to make John’s statement problematic at best.

6) In terms of predicting the destruction of the Temple, most liberal scholars look at Y’shua’s reference to it happening with skepticism, alleging that the Gospel accounts came after the fact. However, even if modern scholars suppose that Y’shua had no such special powers, the fact remains that a reasonably intelligent person could have likely foreseen this disaster. Such a feat might me mirrored in modern times, for example, by predicting that Al-Qaeda would strike the United States with another mass-casualty event within a decade. If it happened, it would not be regarded as great prophetic acumen since many believed that to be a high probability. In the same way, predicting Jerusalem’s destruction at Roman hands certainly need not exclude the written accounts of that prediction from a pre-70 date.

7) Rav Shaul’s epistles can roughly be divided between those he wrote before being imprisoned and those he wrote afterwards, in the last 5-6 years of his life. We know this because of frequent references to his confinement in his letters to the Ephesians (3:1), Philippians (1:7), Colossians (4:10) and twice in Philemon (1:9,21). Therefore, these for Epistles must range roughly somewhere between the years 61 and 67. The same can be said of 1 and 2 Timothy where Rav Shaul is anticipating his death with the famous, “I have fought the good fight” sentiments and the like (1 Timothy 1:18, 2 Timothy 1:8,16; 4:6-8). The rest of his Epistles with the exception of Hebrews (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians) clearly belong to the 50’s during the time of his missionary journeys but prior to his Roman imprisonments.

Step 3: Combine the textual evidence with data from other historical sources

From this point some of the other primary evidence mentioned earlier comes into play.

Starting with Matthew’s Gospel, it is demonstrated in this diglot according to two independent resources for a date far earlier than the 80-90’s timeframe generally accepted in the West. In his landmark historical work, the famous Eastern scholar Assemani documents a manuscript of Matthew dated to the common year 78. However, the second resource actually comes from recent research into obscure Talmudic texts, with one citation talking of a rabbinic parody of Matthew written by Rav Shaul’s former teacher, Rabbi Gamliel. Since Rabbi Gamliel died in the year 73, it seems reasonable that it would take several additional years for the original Matthew to circulate and come into enough prominence to be challenged by one of the greatest scholars conventional Judaism has ever produced. Once again also, the latest James could have quoted from Matthew 5:37 was the year 62, which reasonably fits into this general line of evidence.

In addition there is one other ancient resource that has a direct bearing on Matthew’s early date. Early Aramaic and Greek records tell us that the Apostle Thomas reached India in the year 52 with a copy of the Gospel written in Hebrew letters. The use of ktav ashurri (Hebrew style square script) in Renewed Covenant texts was largely confined to Israel, and was known to continue in this manner until at least the year 125, where the Talmud passage Mas Shabbath 116a comments on “Nazarene Gospels” with the Hebrew name of YHWH in them. Such clear trending strongly suggest a late 40’s date for Matthew’s Gospel to first be circulating in Israel. This date would also allow Mark and Luke time to incorporate Matthew’s material as well.

At the other end of the spectrum is the book of Revelation, which is nearly universally dated to the year 96, based on the testimony of the Early Church Founder Irenaeus who interviewed John’s own students. The curious thing about Revelation is that it appears to have the longest gestation period between rough draft and final form – perhaps as long as 30 years. The reason for this assertion is simple: Like the Gospel also bearing his name, Revelation 11:1 contains a reference to the earthly Temple and the instruction to “go and measure the Temple of Elohim and count the worshippers there.” As if that were not sufficient proof that the earthly, rather than the heavenly, structure is intended, the very next line talks about excluding the outer Court of the Gentiles from the calculation! So if that vision is prior to the Temple’s destruction, that’s quite a long time to wait for the last half of the book being released in CE 96!

All other Renewed Covenant books then squarely fall between these two dates of 48 and 96 CE.

Step 4: Assemble the chronology

With the data established, we can make the following approximate chronological list for the Renewed Covenant books:

48 CE:

Matthew

Galatians

50’s CE:

Romans

1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians

1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

Early to mid 60’s CE:

Mark, Acts, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, James, Hebrews, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Titus, Philemon, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy.

Late 60’s to mid 70’s CE:

Luke, John, Jude

70’s to early 90’s CE:

1-3 John

96 CE:

Revelation.

Summary:

The time frames, linkages of books with their authors and ancient testimony of the life-spans of each writer offers plenty of useful information for building a strong consensus on the most likely dates that these books were authored. From a Western perspective many scholars who operate under “higher criticism” with little or no respect for ancient testimony postulate much later dates. This, of course, is also heavily influenced by their theory that the original autographs were written in Greek, rather than Hebrew and Aramaic. Obviously books that were authorised within the generation of the Temple’s destruction, are more logically of a Semitic origin, rather than a Greek one. From the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt (CE 135) and onward it would be more plausible that Jews would adopt Greek as a vehicular language rather than their native Hebrew and Aramaic.

IN CONCLUSION:

Let it speak for itself.

3 thoughts on “When was the New Testament written?

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