Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Significance of Dating the New Testament

Those familiar with reading commentaries and doing research into the history of the Bible have to read about dating. When was something written? Who wrote it? Why was it written? To whom was it written?

It struck me once that all this research is necessary but I wonder if we have approached it correctly?

Every commentary or set of commentaries on the New Testament takes it for granted that the Epistles were written before the Gospels. It is NOT that simplistic but the effect is the same. We are led to believe that Paul, Peter and John (among others) wrote their instructions and then others found the time to put together the books we call Gospels.

I had not realized how preposterous this entire group of assumptions appeared until I read J. A. T. Robinson's Redating the New Testament. Then it occurred to me: how incredible that the early christian community would be nurtured upon the stories of Jesus Christ and confess Him as Lord and would only record His words as a secondary source.

Why not rather assume that the Gospels were the primary source, rather than some elusive Q, and that all of the Epistles were derived as expressions of the meaning of the Gospel. Further, if one honestly studies the structure of the Gospels, using all the insights of modern research, it becomes clear this is a very possible conclusion.

It also makes sense that the early christians would have recorded the words of Jesus as soon as possible since the original witnesses were under duress and subject to all manner of threats including execution.

To make a modern parallel; if someone makes a comment about the latest book by John Grisham we will not consult Mr. Grisham's twelve best friends. We can contact Mr. Grisham himself and determine the meaning of anything he has written. It would be madness to do otherwise.

Similarly, it would be madness to let the witness of this unique life and His unique words linger in memory longer than necessary before they were committed to paper. It was NOT the habit of the Hebrew mind, as familiar as it was with oral tradition, to let the Word of God remain unwritten but to commit it to a written form as soon as possible. If we honestly read the Gospels, particularly Luke and John, we will see that this is precisely what was done.

A. I.

1 comment:

Grayslake5 said...


Your blog is great...very thought provoking! I enjoy the topics you discuss AND the humor you provide. Thanks!