How Early Are the Remaining New Testament Books?

Previously we showed that the most reasonable dating of 21 of the 27 New Testament books were prior to 70 A.D (the destruction of the Temple). The remaining six we simply stated likely dates of writing.  This will be a shorter post to wrap up the likely dating of the remaining books.

The first books to look at are John 1, 2, and 3.  They would have been written sometime prior to the apostle’s death in 96 A.D.  These, plus Revelation, are the likely the oldest books written by an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry.

Jude is one of the shortest books in the Bible and was written by Jesus’ half-brother.  Most scholars place its writing between 65 and 80 A.D.  Although Jude doesn’t mention the destruction of Jerusalem, its context doesn’t lend itself to a discussion of those events.  If written close to the end of our range, the destruction would have been in the past and not bear repeating.  Because of that we will grant a date of 80 A.D.  Clement also appears to quote Jude 25 in his Epistle to the Corinthians (96 AD), so an 80 A.D. date is not unrealistic.

Hebrews is a difficult book to date in part because its author is unknown.  For many years it was attributed to Paul, but in the past 50 years that has come into doubt.  Some scholars suggest it was written by Clement of Rome, a companion of Paul.  Others have suggested Apollos, another companion of Paul.  Apollos might indicate an earlier writing so again, to give the benefit of the doubt to skeptics, we will assume it was written by Clement and give it a date of no later than 110 A.D.

That leaves Revelation.  Most scholars believe it to be the last book of the New Testament to be written.  Some scholars date Revelation to 68 or 69 A.D. during the reign of Nero while most date it to 95 or 96 A.D. during the reign of Domitian.  The later date is generally accepted, however there is an intriguing passage that could support the earlier date.  In Revelation 11:1-2, Jesus tells John to “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple.”  This could be the Second Temple which would mean Revelation was also written prior to 70 A.D.  Due to the cryptic nature of Revelation, it is difficult to determine whether this reference the Second Temple of Herod or the final reconstruction of the Temple prior to Jesus’ return.  For now, we will accept the 96 A.D. date.

From this and our earlier posts we see that the latest books in the New Testament was likely written less 70-80 years following the Crucifixion of Jesus.  These later books are largely theological, not historical, so the later dates do not threaten the historical accounts of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection.  It also shows that the basic beliefs of Christianity were established very early.

One question that may arise about these dates.  How do we know the authors listed actually wrote the books?  With the exception of the books discussed in this post, there was virtually no disagreement as to the authorship of the books of the New Testament among early believers.  The earliest manuscripts show the attribution of the books to the known writer, even though there are very few claims to authorship (except Luke) in the texts themselves.  We also have a “chain of custody” of the stories from teacher to student for nearly 200 years after Jesus.  Early Church fathers also quoted these books as authoritative, something they would not have done had they been forgeries.

All this leads us to a very solid case that we know the original authors, the books were written early, and the story didn’t change over time. Next week we will complete Part III of this series by looking at whether the Gospel and New Testament accounts can be considered eyewitness statements of historic events.

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