Gresham’s Law applies to Christianity. Whenever a decent anti-Christian argument is defeated, a newer, lower-quality, internet-born meme will rise in its place. Like a hydra or a phoenix of the worst kind with the ability to vaporize goalposts.
There was once a decent argument that the credibility of the Bible is reduced due to the fact that the authorship of the Gospels was dated late enough that their claims of eyewitness status were questionable.
Today there is strong evidence for the early dating of the Gospel. J. Warner Wallace argues convincingly that the earliest of the Gospels was Mark and the latest was John. He dates John to “a time frame between 64-70AD.”
Wallace dates the Gospels earlier than the consensus of New Testament historians, but he does so on convincing evidence. New Testament scholars in general, however, including secular scholars, agree to Galatians having been written 48-55 CE. Galatians is considered “One of the indisputably genuine Pauline letters.” Keep in mind the Crucifixion is dated precisely to 33 CE. Here’s another link on the date of 33 CE.
This would mean we have multiple eyewitness testimonies within two and a half decades of the actual events, and multiple additional eyewitness testimonies up to four decades after the events, as well as corroborating extra-biblical evidence. Historians continue to gather more research verifying and validating the Bible. Less than 6 months ago, for example, in June 2018, a new, early papyrus fragment of Mark was reported. It looks suspiciously like a first-century fragment. As Wallace notes, there is a long history of skeptic claims being overturned by new empirical evidence. Trolls make Christianity out to be anti-empirical, but it is in fact the most empirically verified religion out there.
Wallace ends up dating Mark at 45 – 50 CE. This video covers the reasoning very well, and he’s also written on the topic extensively. I set the video link to jump to a specific point in time where he directly answers the question, “Why didn’t the apostles write this stuff down right away?” His answer is, “I think they genuinely thought Jesus was coming back in their lifetime, and if that’s the case there’s not much need.”
I think Wallace makes a great point, but I have some additional answers:
- Who says they didn’t? The main reason we date Mark at 45 – 50 CE is because we know it had to be written before Luke and Luke was written in 53 CE. At the same time, it’s not like we have any evidence Mark was certainly not written possibly as early as 33 CE.
- I actually sent this question to Wallace. I’ll provide an update if he responds: “@jwarnerwallace Hey J! I know you date Mark 45 – 50 CE because Luke was written about 53 AD, but do we have any compelling evidence to rule out the possibility that Mark was written as early as 33 CE, later the same year after the crucifixion?”
- Many scholars think the New Testament writings had additional precursors including the so-called M, L, and Q sources, as well as unnamed collections of sayings. Some of these precursors may well have had pieces of them written in 33 CE, or even earlier during the ministry.
- Maybe they were just super busy? The book of Acts records stuff that happened after Jesus’ ascension. It doesn’t say “we pretty much chilled.” It’s more like “we were traveling all the time, preaching, sometimes doing miracles, and sometimes getting killed.”
- Writing plausibly would have been less fruitful and enjoyable than focusing on personally experiencing and interacting with God in human form.
- Redirecting effort from actively executing the spread of the gospel and other mission tasks to writing things down at times other than those times which were actually selected may have plausibly reduced the effectiveness of the early ministry.
- Paul wrote several letters while he was in jail, which makes sense. He finally had some down time.
- Look at me: I’ve been scribbling blog posts for years but I haven’t had the time to collect them and organize them into a completed book yet. Much of my most complicated material is in the form of YouTube video which I have never bothered to transcribe and edit in written language.
I often like to point out the irony in secularism tending left while principles of leftism should contradict such secular tendencies. A recent example was my pointing out that secularists criticize Christianity for diversity of belief within the religion. Another current example is the case of the left’s opposition to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination on the grounds of Christine Ford‘s personal recollection from 1982. That gap of 36 years is larger than the gap of time between the Crucifixion and the authoring of most of the New Testament, including Mark, Luke, Acts, the Epistles, and more.
Ford was a lone woman with no external verification, and with plausible political and monetary biases. The New Testament writers were several, their stories are consistent, they were corroborated by external evidence, and rather than being positively incentivized they were all killed for their beliefs, which they never recanted.
Notice how socially rich the Gospel is. The Gospel describes a far better social standard than the progressive ideal. The Gospel was not only unprecedented in its own time, but for all time. In the first century, the testimony of women was not counted as credible. God upset that cultural imperfection by choosing Mary Magdalene as the first witness of the resurrection. If you want to #believewomen, why not start with Mary, who “told the disciples that she had seen the Lord.”
Two more resources on the early dating of the gospel:
- See this segment of a talk by William Lane Craig speaking to a Presbyterian congregation in Peoria. He refers to Paul’s quotation of an earlier tradition in Corinthians as extrabiblical in the sense that it wasn’t authored by Paul. Craig dates this early tradition to within five years of the crucifixion.
- Another source adds more color to the “within five years” claim above, noting that “The strong majority of historians acknowledge that the creed dates back to AD 30-35.”
- This coincides with the broader point in this article: There is reason to think we have essential doctrine identified imminently after the resurrection.