You are currently viewing The Case For The Reliability Of The Gospels – Part 3: The Dating Of The Gospels

The Case For The Reliability Of The Gospels – Part 3: The Dating Of The Gospels

This is part 3 in a multi-part blog post series making the case for the historical reliability of the gospels (unless, of course, you count the Introduction as the first part, then that would make this part 4, but I digress). The purpose of this blog post series is to show the reader that the gospels that we find in The New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – are historically trustworthy sources. So, if we want to know what the historical Jesus said, and did, we should have no qualms about looking to the gospels to find out. Even if one doesn’t regard the four gospels as sacred scripture, the evidence I am putting forth in this series will show that they are at least trustworthy historical documents which can be consulted for information about real people who lived in the first century, just as one would consult any of Plutarch’s “Lives” in order to learn information about the Roman emperors.

In part 1, we saw that the textual transmission of the gospels from the originals (or autographs) to the present day was extremely reliable, and that textual critics can and have reconstructed what the original gospels (and New Testament as a whole) said to a degree of 99.9% accuracy, and that 00.1% of uncertainty that remains doesn’t affect any essential Christian doctrine or claim about the historical Jesus. In part 2, we saw an abundance of external and internal evidence that the four gospels were written by Matthew the former tax collector, the nephew of Barnabas John Mark, Luke the physician and traveling companion of Paul, and John son of Zebedee.

Why Dating The Gospels Matters

In this article, we will look at the issue pertaining to when the gospels were written. If the gospels were written really late, then they can’t be considered very reliable. I do not even consider the gnostic gospels like the Gospel Of Peter, The Gospel Of Thomas, The Gospel Of Mary, or The Gospel Of Phillip to be as valuable because Jesus lived from sometime around 4 B.C to 33 A.D, but these later “gospels” were written in the late second century at the earliest, and some date well into the third and fourth centuries. These are hundreds of years removed from when Jesus lived. The Quran also talks about Jesus, but it was written sometime in the 6th century A.D which makes it even less valuable as a historical source.

To an extent, the evidence for traditional authorship we examined in the previous chapter also provides good evidence for early dating of the gospels. For if Matthew the tax collector and John the son of Zebedee really wrote their gospels (and they did), then their gospels would have had to have been written before these men died. In other words, they would have had to have been written sometime in the first century. If Luke the physician wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (and he did), then Luke-Acts would have had to have been written sometime before he died (i.e sometime in the first century).

That said, there are arguments for early dating that are entirely independent of the question of authorship, and I think it’s worth bringing up those arguments in this chapter.

No One Debates The Century, Just The Decade

I should point out that there isn’t a single New Testament scholar, no matter how anti-Christian and skeptical, who dates the canonical gospels past the first century. Not one. I am not exaggerating when I say that every single New Testament scholar writing today agrees that the gospels were written in the first century. The debate centers around not what century the gospels were written in, but what decade they were written in. More liberal New Testament scholars would date the gospels near the end of the first century; Mark in the 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 80s, and John in the 90s. Conservative New Testament scholars would date them earlier; Mark in the 40s, Matthew and Luke in the 50s, and John anywhere between the 60s to the 80s.

If the more liberal dating were correct, it wouldn’t necessarily cause a problem for the reliability of the gospels. It would still be within the lifetimes of people who knew the disciples (like Polycarp and Ignatius, which as we saw in the previous chapter, were personally acquainted with apostles like John and Peter). They would still be externally confirmed over and over and over again (see the next chapter in this series), and several categories of internal evidence such as Undesigned Coincidences and Unexplained Allusions would still be confirmed that they were at least (A) Getting their information from eyewitnesses and (B) were telling the truth. However, if the later, more skeptical dates were accepted, although the case for reliability wouldn’t be undermined, it would be dramatically weakened. For one thing, the later documents are, the more likely things are to be embellished. For another thing, this would make all four gospels secondhand testimony (not just Mark and Luke). Why? Because these dates, while in the lifetimes of people like Polycarp and Ignatius, would be after the apostles all died! The more liberal dating is not a fatal blow to the historical case for Christianity by any means, but since I’m running a Maximal Data Argument [1]as opposed to my usual Minimal Facts Approach, see my articles “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 1” and “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ … Continue reading, I’m willing to concede fewer items of contention “for the sake of the argument”.

The Conspicuous Absence Of Paul’s, Peter’s, and James’ Martyrdoms

The book of Acts begins with the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1), followed by Pentecost (Acts 2), and then follows the early days of the church (Acts 3-8). It initially focuses on Peter, but the narrative focus shifts to Paul who was a persecutor of the church but then became a Christian after the text says that Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). The book of Acts focuses on Paul’s preaching, his travels, and his journeys across the Greco-Roman world. It narrates his hardships, his friendships, and God’s providence in his life and ministry. Paul is basically the main character of the book of Acts from chapter 9 onwards. And yet, despite Acts telling us so much about Paul’s ministry, it ends in chapter 28 with Paul under house arrest in Rome! Reading the book of Acts feels like following a TV show that got canceled due to bad ratings. What happens to Paul after he’s put under house arrest? Does he ever complete his missionary journey? What was the result of the trial held by Caesar? We’re not told in the book of Acts, and there are no other historical documents in The New Testament canon that tell us either. In order to find out what happened to Paul, we have to go outside the New Testament. Paul’s death is recorded by Tertullian, Clement Of Rome, and Polycarp, and we know from their writings that Paul was beheaded under the reign of the Emperor Nero, whose reign ended before A.D 68. The apostle Peter, who was the focus of the book of Acts in its earliest chapters, and was one of Jesus’ “inner three” is reported by multiple early church fathers to have been martyred for his faith. Clement Of Rome, First Clement 5: 2– 7 says “Because of envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars have been persecuted and contended unto death. Let us set the good apostles before our eyes. Peter, who because of unrighteous envy endured, not one or two, but many afflictions, and having borne witness went to the due glorious place. Because of envy and rivalries, steadfast Paul pointed to the prize. Seven times chained, exiled, stoned, having become a preacher both in the East and in the West, he received honor fitting of his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, unto the boundary on which the sun sets; having testified in the presence of the leaders. Thus he was freed from the world and went to the holy place. He became a great example of steadfastness.” The non-canonical second-century Acts of Peter has Peter say, at verse XXXVII: “I beseech you the executioners, crucify me thus, with the head downward and not otherwise: and the reason wherefore, I will tell unto them that hear.”

Moreover, we have the testimony of Flavius Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement Of Alexandria that James was martyred for his belief in his brother as the risen Christ. [2]Josephus, Antiquities Book 20, Chapter 9, Hegesippus as cited in “Eusebius. Church History Book II Chapter 23. The Martyrdom of James, who was called the Brother of the Lord”, Clement Of … Continue reading According to the aforementioned passage in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (20.9.1), “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” met his death after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus but before Lucceius Albinus had assumed office – which has been dated to 62. [3]Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100. – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved 10 December 2016.

Why would the book of Acts tell us so much about what Peter and Paul did, said, and what happened to them over the span of many decades, but fail to mention that they met their demise at the hands of a tyrannical anti-Christian Roman Emperor? The most natural inference is that Luke finished writing the book of Acts before these things happened. If Acts were being written after Paul had been beheaded and Peter had been crucified, the book would surely have mentioned them. After all, Peter and Paul were the two major characters in the book and showing that they were faithful to their Lord even unto death would surely have been encouraging to Christians who would read Acts. The same is true of James. We know from Acts 15:13-31 and Galatians 2:9 that James was a “pillar” in the Jerusalem church. Although he doesn’t get as much narrative time in Acts as do Paul and Peter, nevertheless, he was a major person of influence in the early church. As such, were Acts written after the Sanhedrin had him stoned, the book of Acts would surely report this. And yet, it doesn’t. The best explanation is that Acts was written before A.D 62.

The point is made more powerfully when you realize that Acts mentioned the martyr deaths of less prominent figures such as Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:3), and records the death of James the son of Zebedee (Acts 12:2) who was one of The Twelve.

The Conspicuous Absence Of The Neronic Persecution And The Destruction Of The Jerusalem Temple

Josephus and Tacitus both record the horrible persecutions on the late first-century Christians. Rome had experienced a great fire. Many buildings and homes were destroyed. The populace blamed Nero, and Tacitus says that Nero persecuted the Christians in order to try to get the blame off of himself and onto them. [4]Tacitus, “Annals” 15.44. Among the horrible things Nero did was have Christians crucified en masse and set on fire while hanging on the crosses in order to light his gardens. [5]ibid. Why would the book of Acts not mention this if Acts had been written after Nero’s persecution? The best explanation is that Acts was written before these things occurred.

The Romans waged war against the Jewish people from about 64-70 A.D. This ultimately resulted in the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus tells us much of these events in his War Of The Jews.

Counting Backwards From Acts

Given that Acts was written no later than 62 A.D, the gospel of Luke must have been written even earlier. Why? Because, as we saw in the previous blog post, Luke and Acts were written by the same author. Luke 1:1-4 says “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (emphasis mine). Luke says he is writing to a man named Theophilus. In Acts 1:1 we read, In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (emphasis mine) The author of Acts (i.e Doctor Luke) says that Acts came after his “former book” which is most naturally inferred to be the gospel of Luke.

Books take time to write. They take even longer to reach their intended audience in an age before FedEx trucks were invented. Since 62 is the latest that Acts could have been written, we should probably postulate a time gap of about a year or two at minimum in between Luke’s two works. This would place the Gospel of Luke at 60-61 A.D.

If you remember from the previous blog post in this series, all scholars believe there is some interdependence among the synoptic gospels. Most scholars think Luke used Matthew and Mark for some of his material [6]Although certainly not for all of Luke’s material. Luke includes plenty of content that is not absent in Mark, some that are only shared between him and Matthew, and some unique to Luke’s … Continue reading. This would mean that Mark and Matthew would need to be written even earlier. Realistically, Mark and Matthew were probably written several years before Luke, placing Matthew in the early 50s and Mark in the late 40s. I mean, it’s certainly possible that Mark could have written his gospel in 58, and Matthew in 59, and then comes Luke right after (so we have gospels coming out every year like they were Marvel movies), but it seems to me more likely that Mark and Matthew circulated around the ancient world a bit before Luke put pen to papyrus. Let’s put Mark at 50 and Matthew at 55.

Since Jesus’ ministry spanned 28-30 or 30-33 A.D, this places Mark (widely believed to be the first gospel written) at 20 years after the events he describes! It’s only 25 years after the events Matthew describes, and 30 years for Luke!

This is incredibly early, especially by ancient standards. The biographies of Alexander The Great were written by Arien and Plutarch and were written 400 years after he lived, yet historians still consider these good sources to consult to learn about this Greek King of Macedon.

Answering Objections From Skeptics

Despite this positive case for early dating, skeptics still have objections. These objections either pertain to the arguments for early dating or they argue that even given these dates, the case for reliability isn’t advanced. Let’s raise and respond to some of these objections in this segment.

Objection 1: 20-30 Years Is A Long Time. The Authors Could Have Misremembered Things.

With the events of Jesus’ ministry being roughly 28-30 and the earliest gospel being written roughly 50-55 A.D., some skeptics have argued that this is plenty of time for the authors to have lapses of memory and perhaps get things wrong. At the time of writing this article, I’m about to turn 31 years old. If you were to ask me to recall events from my 10th birthday, I might be able to recall some things. I could tell you my Mom and Dad held it at Myrtle Beach at Ocean Lakes Family campground, that I got a lot of Pokemon stuff including a comforter with all the Generation 2 Pokemon on it (which, incidentally, I still have and am snuggly wrapped up in as I’m typing this in a chilly room). But I couldn’t really tell you much else. What all did we do during this week-long vacation? What other than the comforter did I receive as a present? I honestly couldn’t tell you. However, I could give a better account of what we did for my 21st birthday. 21 is a whole decade closer to my present than 10! So, could the disciples writing 20-30 years be able to recall something equally temporally distant better than I can?

I see no reason why they can’t. Perhaps if Jesus were just an ordinary Rabbi who said and did things you’d expect any Rabbi to do, their memories of what happened during those three years would be as fuzzy to them as my 10th birthday is to me. But if we assume their accounts of Jesus are true, then Jesus was no ordinary Rabbi. Jesus worked miracles; He healed lepers, restored eyesight to blind people, he restored hearing to the deaf, he raised the dead, he taught scandalous things like “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. He died brutally on a Roman cross and rose from the dead Himself! A man as astonishing as Jesus was (or at least was reported to be) could hardly be forgotten.

Let me ask the reader a question. Assuming you’re old enough, where were you and what were you doing when airplanes crashed into The World Trade Center towers on September 1st 2001? This is actually a good analogy as the time between those events and the point at which I’m writing this is about 20 years – the same gap between Jesus’ ministry and death and the biographies about Him. Every September 11th, everyone answers this question, and they’re able to do so in vivid detail. I was a 9-year-old homeschooled kid. My mom had dropped my little sister off at Meyer Center; a school for special needs children. So until she got home to give me my schoolwork for the day, I watched cartoons. I was watching Tom and Jerry on Cartoon Network. Suddenly my mother burst into the room in a panic. I had no idea what was going on at first, but she explained to me that she heard on the news that an airplane had hit one of the twin towers in New York City. I had no idea at that time what The World Trade Center was or what it was used for, but I knew planes crashing into buildings was bad! Mom turned the television over to Fox News where the tragedy was being covered live. I can still remember seeing the towers collapse in real-time, the panic of New Yorkers, speculation of how and why this could have happened, the loud sounds of fire trucks and people covered in dust and debris as they fled the area. I remember that during the week, Fox News, MSNBC, and every other network talked about nothing but this terrorist attack. Shortly after, George W. Bush gave a speech that America would track down Osama Bin Ladin and his organization and make them answer for their evil deed perpetrated on innocent people. I can especially recall the line “I hear you, America hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear ALL of us soon!” [7]I recalled this without even having to find it online and rewatch it. My mom kept the radio on a talk radio news station for weeks. The station was called W.O.R.D. I remember missing hearing music, and I remember my mom put an American flag on our car’s antenna.

This was a huge deal. I can tell you where I was and what I was doing, and even what happened in the ensuing weeks.

I can also tell you where I was, what I was doing, and what was going on the day I gave my life to Christ and became what John 3:3 calls “born again”.

These are what psychologists call “Impact Events”. They’re such powerful, life-changing events that they “stick with you.” A soldier who has fought in a war will be able to recall in vivid detail everything that happened in Vietnam but won’t be able to tell you what he had for breakfast yesterday morning. The obvious reason is that the former stuck with him. It was a major event in his life and it was something that changed him forever. But whether he had pancakes or bacon for breakfast the prior day is hardly important at all.

With that in mind, do you think that if someone walked on water, controlled the weather, raised the dead, healed the blind and the deaf, and appeared to you after he rose from the dead, that those would fall under the category of impact events? Do you think you’d remember his teachings, and his comings and goings? I certainly would!

Objection 2: What If They Experienced The Mandela Effect?

Now, some might want to modify the previous objection to make it a bit stronger. “Ok, but what if they experienced The Mandela Effect? What if the stories about Jesus that were passed around orally got embellished before they were written down and this affected even the memories of the eyewitnesses? What if they falsely remembered Jesus saying and doing certain things that he didn’t really do?” For those who don’t know, The Mandela Effect is a psychological phenomenon in which people collectively misremember things and are completely confident that their false memories are true. We’ve all experienced this, believe it or not. Did you think the Fruit Of The Loom logo had a cornucopia behind the fruit? I did too, but it does not, and it never did. Not even as far back as 1883. Did you think Darth Vader’s famous line was “Luke, I am your father?” Well, if you did, you are wrong. Darth Vader actually said “No, I am your father”. Did you think Pikachu had a black tip at the end of his tail? Many did, but he doesn’t. [8]I never believed this, but I’ve consistently played the Pokemon video games and watched the anime since the 90s. I see Pikachu all the time. That’s probably why I don’t relate to … Continue reading

What if the disciples experienced the Mandela Effect? What if their memories of what Jesus said and did are different from what he actually said and did? Well, I don’t see how we can rule out the Mandela Effect altogether. Perhaps they remembered Jesus phrasing one of his teachings in a certain way when he really phrased it in a different way. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” may be what was remembered, but what Jesus actually said was “Your enemies are people God loves, so you should love them too. Keep them in your prayers and hope that they will come to know Him.” [9]this is what Dr. Lydia McGrew calls “Recognizable Paraphrase”. In contrast to the radical use of “paraphrase” that many New Testament scholars employ, in which entire scenes … Continue reading. Indeed, no one in New Testament scholarship thinks that the recorded words of Jesus are recalled ver batim, not even the most conservative of evangelical scholars. New Testament scholars will say that the gospel authors recorded the ippsisima vox of Jesus rather than the ippsisima verba. Those terms mean “actual voice” and “actual words”. In other words, they captured the essence of what Jesus taught and what people said to him even if worded slightly differently. [10]Though again, in her book “The Mirror Or The Mask: Liberating The Gospels From Literary Devices”, Lydia McGrew shows how even some evangelical New Testament scholars take this concept and … Continue reading

So yeah, I will concede that they may have been under the Mandela Effect to a certain degree. However, I’ve never come across examples of the Mandela Effect so severe that it would effect a large number of memories on a single subject. Would they really misremember so much? Consider how much content about Jesus is in the gospels. Jesus wasn’t reported as simply doing one miracle, or living a mundane life before dying and rising from the dead. His whole story is permeated with miraculous, unusual events. I can imagine John son of Zebedee remembering Jesus saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” when Jesus actually said “There is no way to the Father but me; the Son of Man. And The Son Of Man is life and the essence of truth.” but it strains credulity to imagine an entire 3 year ministry permeated with miracles, radical teachings, which culminated in a crucifixion and resurrection being misremembered. You just don’t get that kind of thing wrong.

I am willing to be corrected; but from what I’ve surveyed, there is no example of the Mandela Effect that involves multiple, MULTIPLE things being collectively misremembered about a single person. All of the examples pertain to one or two minor things pertaining to any given subject. We may all misremember Darth Vader saying “Luke, I am your father.” But we don’t misremember that the movie involved a light saber fight between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. We don’t misremember that Luke had trained with Yoda to master The Force in order to become a full fledged Jedi. We don’t misremember that Luke had an android companion called R2D2, and we all seem to recall Yoda’s famous line “Do or do not. There is no try.” with perfect accuracy. In other words, there’s a small line by Vader we all somehow collectively misremembered, but not much else. [11]See this article for more examples of the Mandela Effect, “The Mandela Effect: What Is It (and 51 Interesting Examples)” by Galina Hitching. — … Continue reading

We may misremember the Fruit Of The Loom brand featuring a cornucopia, but we don’t all collectively misremember that they’re a grocery store chain when the reality is that they make clothing! The human brain’s ability to remember is imperfect, but it isn’t completely non-functional!

Even the example from whom the phenomenon got its namesake isn’t as severe as misremembering Jesus’ entire Kingdom Of God inbreaking miraculous ministry. Lots of people collectively remembered Nelson Mandela dying in a prison in the 1980s when the reality was that he passed away in 2013. However, they didn’t have memories of Nelson Mandela being able to restore blindness just by touching people, bring the dead back to life, or any other superhuman abilities. They didn’t remember Mandela being resurrected from the dead or claiming to be God. All they did was get a couple of details about him wrong details surrounding his death; i.e the time and location. An analogy with Jesus may be that some remembered it being at noon while the reality was that he passed at 3:00 in the afternoon. Or perhaps many people misremembered Mary Magdalene being the sole woman who visited the tomb the first Easter morning when the reality was that multiple women went. [12]these are actually cases of possible contradictions between the gospels that I’ll address later in this series. But here, they serve as object examples of minor things the gospel writers may … Continue reading But THAT Jesus died, that He died on a cross, and that they saw him alive a few days later is something that would be hard to misremember. That’s a lot more significant than getting a line in a movie wrong or even misplacing the decade of when a famous figure died.

Objection 3: Why Did They Wait So Long?

At this point, the skeptic might say, “Okay, fine. The gospels were written pretty early, but it’s not as early as I would expect. Why did they not record the biographies of Jesus even sooner? If I saw and heard the kinds of things they said they saw and heard, there’s no way I would wait 15 or 20 years to write it down.” There are several reasons.

First is a cultural reason. You have to understand the cognitive environment of the gospel authors. Most people during this time were illiterate. As such, there initially wasn’t a big motivation to write it down. First-century guys and gals, by and large, developed powerful memories in order to pass on information orally. They did so out of necessity. Dr. William Lane Craig writes;

“In an oral culture like that of first-century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, elementary school, and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus.” [13]William Lane Craig, “The Evidence for Jesus.” Posted online at

In an oral culture like this, the teachings of Jesus and other things about him were probably told in forms that contributed to easy memorization. There’s good evidence for this. Dr. Gary Habermas has identified 41 short sections of the New Testament that appear to be creeds, i.e short sayings that were easy to remember. [14]Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1996), chapter 7. Those who have read my content on The Minimal Facts Argument for the resurrection of Jesus will recall 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 as one example.

Second, as Frank Turek points out in his book, it’s possible that they thought Jesus was going to return in their lifetimes. But when that didn’t happen, they realized they needed to write things down for posterity. [15]Frank Turek, Norman Geisler, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”, Crossway, 2004, page 246.

Thirdly, as Christianity spread, written documents became a more effective means of communicating over long distances rapidly. In other words, time and distance forced the gospel authors to put pen to papyrus.

Objection 4: Early Dating Doesn’t Prove That They Were Telling The Truth!

You’re right. It doesn’t. Not by itself. The case for the reliability of the gospels is cumulative. I will call to your attention my criteria for what makes the gospels reliable from the Introduction.

1: The gospels we have today say what the originals said.

2: The gospels are either written by or got material from eyewitnesses.

3: The gospels are early (within a maximum of 100 years of the events they describe).

4: Extra-Biblical Sources (both written sources and archeological sources) validate their claims more often than invalidating them.

5: Internal Evidence indicates that they were eyewitnesses interested in and succeeded in recording the facts.

So far, we’ve checked off 3 of the 5 boxes. The evidence from textual criticism shows that the gospels we have today say what the originals said, external attestation and contents within the gospels themselves cumulatively show that they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the gospels are really early. Even by liberal standards, they’re within that 100-upper limit I set, but in this blog post, I’ve made a case for even earlier dating. The first 3 criteria are important because it shows us that the authors could have told us the truth. Criterias 4 and 5 will show us whether or not they actually did. After all, even with the reliable textual transmission, early records, and testimony from people who were there, it is still possible that the authors are just straight-up lying. It’s very important that we remember the cumulative nature of the case for reliability, lest the reader gets so focused on the trees that he misses the forest.

Objection 5: The Gospels Record Jesus Predicting Things That Happened After Your Proposed Dates!

This is the main objection to my case. It is the main reason why scholars prefer to date the gospels and Acts in the 70s to the 90s. In Matthew 24 and Mark 13, Jesus predicts the destruction of the Jerusalem temple which Josephus records as having occurred in AD 70. Luke even records Jesus as saying this; ““…when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.'” (Luke 19:41-44)

How could these documents be written before these events even occurred? Well, first, as I said in the previous installment of this series, this kind of argument presupposes that Christianity isn’t true. It presupposes that Jesus had no supernatural knowledge of future events. And remember that I said that if I can’t presuppose the truth of Christianity to make a case that it’s true, the non-Christian can’t presuppose Christianity is false in order to make a case against Christianity. Circular Reasoning is fallacious no matter who does it. We must make our arguments on worldview-neutral assumptions. We must make arguments using reasoning that anyone of any worldview would accept. For example, we can all agree that a document is more reliable if it was recorded early, has been transmitted faithfully, and comes from an eyewitness than if it were late from third or fourth-hand sources, and the textual transmission was iffy.

Secondly, the Christian Apologist Erik Manning has made some arguments in a CrossExamined article that the details of these passages make more sense if the gospels were written earlier rather than later. Manning writes;

Furthermore, several of Jesus’ warnings about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple make no sense if Jesus gave them after the event. This is true of all three synoptic gospels.

‘But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…Pray that it may not happen in winter.’ (Mark 13:14, 18)

Matthew adds: ‘Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.’ (Mt. 24:10)

And Luke writes: ‘But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it…’ (Luke 21:21)

The Romans destroyed the Temple in the Summer of 70 AD. It makes no sense for Luke to add a warning about not entering into Jerusalem if the city was already destroyed.

It is also baffling why Matthew or Mark would add commands to pray about something that didn’t take place at the particular time that it happened.” [16]Erik Manning, “13 Good Historical Reasons For The Early Dating Of The Gospels”, February 19th 2020, — … Continue reading Manning goes on to quote New Testament scholar Dale Allison as saying “What would be the point of inserting an imperative to pray about a past event, that does not take place at a particular time?[17]as quoted in ibid

Moreover, one has to wonder why the New Testament writers would have Jesus make a prediction, but not record the fulfillment of that prediction. Wouldn’t it be a great apologetic motif to have Jesus predict something ahead of time and then record that thing coming to pass? The gospel authors had no qualms narrating the fulfillment of other predictions Jesus made, such as Matthew 24:9 which says “Then they will deliver you over to be persecuted and killed, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” and John 16:2 which says “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” The fulfillment of these predictions of Jesus were narrated in the early portions of the book of Acts (e.g Acts 7:54-60). If Acts were written after 70, why not narrate Jesus’ fulfillment of the Jerusalem Temple’s destruction as well? The only reason I can think of – apart from it just being a huge oversight – is that the gospels and Acts were written pre-70.


We have seen good reasons to accept the earlier dates of the gospels and no good reasons to accept the later dates apart from an anti-supernatural bias. We’ve come to the end of this section. We now know that the gospels could have told the truth. The copies we have today say what the originals said, they were written by eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) and close associates of eyewitnesses (Mark and Luke), and they were early enough for the contents to be remembered, and for embellishment to be minimal if not non-existent. However, none of this proves that the gospels really did tell us the truth about Jesus. It only proves that they could have. In the next article in this series, we will begin examining extra-biblical evidence that verifies the gospel narratives at various points, showing that they indeed were committed to telling us the truth rather than feeling free to make things up. After that, we’ll scrutinize the testimony of the gospels themselves to see if there any internal indications of truth-telling.

Liked it? Take a second to support Evan Minton on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!


1 as opposed to my usual Minimal Facts Approach, see my articles “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 1” and “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 2” for examples
2 Josephus, Antiquities Book 20, Chapter 9, Hegesippus as cited in “Eusebius. Church History Book II Chapter 23. The Martyrdom of James, who was called the Brother of the Lord”, Clement Of Alexandria, also cited by Eusebius in ibid.
3 Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100. – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
4 Tacitus, “Annals” 15.44
5 ibid
6 Although certainly not for all of Luke’s material. Luke includes plenty of content that is not absent in Mark, some that are only shared between him and Matthew, and some unique to Luke’s gospel alone
7 I recalled this without even having to find it online and rewatch it
8 I never believed this, but I’ve consistently played the Pokemon video games and watched the anime since the 90s. I see Pikachu all the time. That’s probably why I don’t relate to this specific example.
9 this is what Dr. Lydia McGrew calls “Recognizable Paraphrase”. In contrast to the radical use of “paraphrase” that many New Testament scholars employ, in which entire scenes and sayings are made up, but they’re considered “paraphrase” simply because they convey something vaguely like what the historical Jesus taught, a recognizable paraphrase is something Jesus would have really said in space and time. In other words, if you were to get in a time machine and go back to listen to Jesus yourself, you’d think to yourself “This isn’t word for word what I’ve read in my Bible, but this is definitely The Parable Of The Wicked Tenants” or “This isn’t word for word what I’ve read in my Bible, but this is definitely The Sermon On The Mount.”
10 Though again, in her book “The Mirror Or The Mask: Liberating The Gospels From Literary Devices”, Lydia McGrew shows how even some evangelical New Testament scholars take this concept and take it to extremes. To where they hypothesize entire fabrications of what Jesus taught, so long as it reflected something vaguely like what Jesus taught.
11 See this article for more examples of the Mandela Effect, “The Mandela Effect: What Is It (and 51 Interesting Examples)” by Galina Hitching. —
12 these are actually cases of possible contradictions between the gospels that I’ll address later in this series. But here, they serve as object examples of minor things the gospel writers may have gotten wrong, but not getting a massive list of things wrong.
13 William Lane Craig, “The Evidence for Jesus.” Posted online at
14 Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1996), chapter 7.
15 Frank Turek, Norman Geisler, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”, Crossway, 2004, page 246
16 Erik Manning, “13 Good Historical Reasons For The Early Dating Of The Gospels”, February 19th 2020, —
17 as quoted in ibid

Leave a Reply