Authenticity of the New Testament – Objections and Answers

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… Consequently the logical conclusion, based on the internal evidence, is that the gospels predate the fall of Jerusalem and were based on the testimony of witnesses, supplemented by written notes.

Not unless you believe in prophecy!

There is no evidence to suppose that Jesus acted as a “hoseh”, a seer, and the Jews themseves refer to him as a false “nabhi”, who was basically an interpreter of Torah.

Really! If you discount his prophecies to begin with, of course there will be no evidence. And would you seriously expect the Jews to call him a prophet?

But even disbelief in prophecy is not a valid reason to assume a post AD 70 dating. As one critic commented during a discussion of this issue:

‘So far as I can see there appear to be two camps:

  1. the group which says the references to the destruction of Jerusalem indicate this must already have happened;
  2. the group which says that this was a prophecy;

My own standpoint is that neither viewpoint is necessary. It would be pretty obvious to a babe in arms that, in that political climate with various Messiahs charging around trying to emulate Judas Maccabeus, the Romans would eventually get fed up and destroy the city walls, etc. Predictions of the fall of Jerusalem are not particularly impressive, so either I am foolish, or Jesus was simply stating the obvious.

It is folly to assume that predictions in a document must have been written after the event.’

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So how come there are some 200,000 variant readings in these 24,300 documents?

It is sometimes stated that there are between 150,000 and 200,000 variant readings. This figure counts even a misspelt word as a ‘variant reading’; and counts it in every document in which it appears (i.e. if the same misspelling occurs in 500 documents, that is counted as 500 variants)! So if, for example, just 10 errors were inherited by the majority of these 24,300 manuscripts, we would have achieved the 200,000 total. Clearly, this figure is not a realistic measure of the accuracy of the text.

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Textual analysis shows Revelation wasn’t written by the author of John’s gospel!

This is not a fact, but a claim based on arguments derived from literary criticism, covering such things as vocabulary, grammar, etc..

As discussed more fully later in the main article, its weakness is that it fails to adequately account for differences in style resulting from content or circumstance. In few cases are such differences more pronounced than when comparing prophetic and poetic speech with normal narrative. More importantly, we know John had the help of others in compiling his gospel (c.f. Jn 21:24). He was a Galilean fisherman, not a native Greek speaker. But he wrote Revelation whilst in exile on Patmos, where it is unlikely that he would have had the same helpers, if any. Small wonder then, that the linguistic style is not the same.

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But most scholars still believe John’s gospel wasn’t written till after AD 90!

John was the only apostle not martyred, having been exiled to Patmos (Rev. 1:9), and he lived to a ripe old age (Jn. 21:23-4); so he could easily have written his gospel as late as the AD 90’s, which currently remains the more popular dating amongst a majority of scholars.

The recent suggestions that this should be dated much earlier (besides being more consistent with the testimony of the early fathers and with the absence of any reference to the destruction of the temple having occurred) are based upon evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls. These have proved that concepts in John’s gospel which were formerly held by higher critics to be of much later origin were in fact current in Jesus’s day.

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If John was written much before the Synoptic Gospels it is surprising they did not follow John’s account of events…

The balance of opinion, including early church testimony, would still appear to date John after the Synoptics. But the ‘primacy of John’ theory, serves to underline the extent to which recent evidence has confirmed the contemporary nature of these accounts.

However the Synoptic writers would not necessarily follow John unless they were trying to fabricate a story. Then, one would expect them to be very careful to keep their stories consistent. But, although John is written from a completely different standpoint (focussing more on specific dialogues and just 7 selected miracles), the lack of attempts to cover up apparent discrepancies indicates that fabrication was not the intention.

In fact, although there is no evidence of collusion, closer examination of apparent discrepancies can often help shed light on unexplained aspects of the other gospels. For example, why did the fishermen leave their nets so readily when Jesus called them? John’s account reveals that this was not their first encounter with Jesus.

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According to Professor Mack, Paul’s letters covered the period CE 55 to 85.

This is very much a minority view, since most scholars (including liberal ones) date Paul’s death at AD 62. But there is some speculation that he may have been released and travelled to Spain prior to his martyrdom; thereby allowing some of his epistles to be dated post AD 62. This has no bearing on the validity of the documents, however, as this is primarily a quibble about dating; not authorship.

(N.B. CE (Common Era) is just a modern secular alternative to AD (Anno Domini, Year of the Lord). The dates are the same. Many do not care to be reminded that the very Christ whose historicity they would challenge forms the basis of our modern system of dating.)

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Contemporary? There is a gap of thirty years! So, only in the sense that the alleged authors were still alive: not to the events they describe.

Just over 20, in the case of Paul’s letters. But can you not remember important events that took place in your life 30 years ago? If you had an encounter with someone who was supposed to be dead, wouldn’t you be able to remember what had happened? Even with a relatively untrained memory you can still recite, virtually word-perfect, nursery rhymes you learned as a child. How much more those who were trained from early childhood to commit large portions of the sacred teachings to memory?

We may remember incidents that happened that long ago, but I would greatly doubt the testimony of any witness who claimed to remember accurately what was said 30 years ago; and clearly the writers of the Gospels were unable to do so or all the accounts would agree.

Differences in memory account very well for the variations in narrative detail. Most people would indeed have difficulty accurately remembering casual conversations: but as pointed out above, even today we can quite easily remember large portions of poetry or drama learned many years ago. The culture of Jesus’ day was geared to such memorisation, and so was Jesus’ teaching style. Add to that the existence of various collections of Jesus’ sayings, as an aide-memoire, and you have a fully coherent explanation of the manner in which the gospel writers could have compiled their own accounts, augmenting and amending the narrative in accordance with their own personal recollections.

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The Encylopaedia Britannica dates Mark in the decade before the destruction of the Temple and all the rest much later.

It is not generally safe to treat the EB as a guide to the most recent state of scholarly opinion on issues of historical debate. It undergoes major revision only at relatively long intervals, which is when the edition number changes. Revisions to individual articles, or inclusion of new articles, normally occurs between editions only where a significant body of new data becomes available. Historical articles are seldom changed between issues for the obvious reason that historical concensus usually only changes very slowly.

The various sections are updated where needed each year. Look at the piece on the Dead Sea Scrolls for instance!

Articles on the Dead Sea Scrolls have been updated for the simple reason that a huge amount of new material has come to light in the past 20 years; especially after the Israel Antiquities Authority agreed to make them more generally available to the scholastic world in 1992. Note also that subsequent study of some of this very material has contributed significantly to the acceptance of earlier datings of the gospels, particularly that of John.

Do not be confused by the copyright or publication dates on a particular copy of the EB. The current, or 15th, edition (as of 1997) was first published in 1974, and none of the sections dealing with the dating of the NT documents have been updated since then. This may be confirmed by referring to the EB Year Book. Since the conclusions reported here represent a more recent swing in theological and critical thought, the discrepancy between these dates and those reported in the EB is hardly surprising.

For example, the main article on ‘Biblical Literature’ was jointly authored by Rev. Krister Stendahl and Emilie T. Sander. Sander died in 1976, which was the same year that the book ‘Redating the New Testament’ by John A.T. Robinson was first published. Robinson himself was no conservative theologian, but a noted liberal scholar and New Testament specialist of considerable standing. Another of his books, ‘Honest to God’, caused a storm in the late 60’s by seemingly rejecting the traditional concept of God.

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The two nativity accounts almost seem to contradict one another in places. – Seem to? They do!

Close examination shows each is an incomplete account from the perspective of a different witness (Luke’s account could only be from Mary whereas Matthew’s must have come from Joseph, possibly via his son, James, who became the leader of the Jerusalem church). Try comparing them:

  • Matthew starts with Joseph’s shock at learning of Mary’s pregnancy, and the dream he has reassuring him. He doesn’t describe the actual birth at all, other than to mention it was in Bethlehem, then continues with the narrative of the arrival of the wise men (some time later, apparently, because by this time they are no longer in the stable) and the dreams warning them and Joseph to escape from Herod. All these details appear to come from Joseph’s perspective.
  • Luke begins with the vision of Zacharias (John the Baptist’s father to be) in the temple, then goes on to Mary’s encounter with Gabriel some 3 months later, followed by her visit to Elizabeth (her cousin and John’s mother). This is followed by the birth of John. Luke then explains why Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, followed by the birth and the visit of the angels to the shepherds. He then describes the events at Jesus’ circumcision a week later. In this case, all the details appear to have come from Mary, whom he tells us, ‘treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19).

That’s enough – go back to main article.

Love the guesswork.

Some, yes: but not a lot. It is generally accepted that Joseph died before Jesus began his ministry; but he is the only possible source of information about his dreams, so the question is, who did he tell? Since Matthew lacks any narrative from Mary’s viewpoint she is not a prime contender as the one who passed on this account. Jesus’ brothers were members of the early church and could well have heard Joseph speak of these things, so they are obvious candidates.

Some see great significance in the omission of the account of the Magi and Herod’s persecution from Luke’s gospel: but if Luke simply hadn’t heard that part of the story he could not have written about it. Also, the ages of the children slaughtered by Herod suggest that this incident may have taken place some time after the birth of Jesus.

The culture of the times generally paid little attention to the early life of great leaders, focussing rather on their deeds as adults. There is no evidence that accounts of Jesus’ childhood played any significant part in the teaching of the New Testament church (they focussed on Jesus the risen, exalted Lord – c.f. 2 Corinthians 5:16), so it is not particularly surprising if Luke, a non-Jew, had not heard of this.

That’s enough – go back to main article.

The bigger problem is the inclusion of the Magi in Matthew.

If you mean, because they were Mageans (regarded as sorcerors in the NT), then there is no doubt this would have been quite a shocker to an Orthodox Jew: but it is consistent with Jesus’ message that the gospel was destined to affect all nations, even though starting with the Jews.

Missed the point, I’m afraid. Most Christians find the idea of astrology a little outre, to say the least! The obvious link is with Zoroastrianism, of course. (But don’t tell orthodox Christians that – it’s a little too embarrassing).

No, that’s precisely the point (except that the specific link to Zoroastrianism is speculative). Matthew would have been well aware of the nature of the Mageans himself when he recorded this account. So here were men from a foreign nation, engaged in practices that were abominations to the Jews (never mind the Christians). Yet, in their quest for truth they stumble across something that causes them to come seeking the King of the Jews. They find him, worship him, and subsequently choose to obey God rather than Herod.

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