Why do we need to rethink the dating of the New Testament texts?

Tim Murray writes: It is an exciting time in New Testament studies! Change is in the air, and the scent of it can be caught in Jonathan Bernier’s Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament. For those of you who doubt that biblical scholarship can ever be particularly exciting, let me try to explain what I mean.

Every academic discipline has its inherited ‘consensus positions’ – paradigms that frame the starting points for further research – and the study of the New Testament is no different. Although there is barely anything that is uncontested, there tend to be certain positions that achieve the status of ‘default’, ‘assumed’, or (with a knowing, self-satisfied glance to one’s colleagues), ‘truly critical’ or ‘objective’. Such positions come to carry a weight, not so much of authority, but of fear-of-being-thought-of-as-naïve-or-uninformed’, and because of this they exert a kind of ineffable influence over the field.

Of course, having majority positions and assumed starting points is unavoidable, but what is frustrating is when these orthodoxies are repeatedly reasserted even when the original scholarship that they were built on has been substantially challenged. There can be a swell of younger scholars who are no longer convinced, but conduct their research within the established parameters for fear of not being taken seriously by their older colleagues (who often hold the influential positions in the guild). However, there comes a time when enough of such older scholars retire or die, and a critical mass of dissent has emerged, that there is a chance to change the default settings. I wonder if New Testament studies is entering this kind of period.

As a symptom of this (in my reading), enter Jonathan Bernier’s monograph. The dates of New Testament texts are exactly the kind of thing I’ve been talking about. Although always contested, the ‘default’ assumptions are evident in our field. Galatians and 1 Thessalonians come first (late 40s/early 50s CE), the other ‘authentic’ letters (another ‘default’) of Paul trail along through the 50s. The gospels appear towards the 70s and 80s, with John latest of all around the turn of the century, along with Acts, Hebrews and Revelation. The other letters are scattered between the late 60s and the early second-century. 2 Peter, Jude, the Pastorals are ‘almost certainly’ inauthentic (and therefore ‘late’); Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians and James are suspect (and therefore the ‘default’ casts an eye of disapproval over any early date), and so on… 

Bernier challenges this consensus by arguing that almost all the NT books were written before 70 CE. In doing so he is consciously and critically attempting to improve on the work of John Robinson, who wrote Redating the New Testament nearly fifty years ago. Each book is analysed in the three categories of synchronization (“seeks to establish the text’s temporal relationship to other events or situations, including the composition of other texts”), contextualization (“seeks to establish the text’s probable relationship to the general course of early Christian development”) and authorial biography. Much of Bernier’s time is spent evaluating and dispensing with unconvincing evidence or arguments that have been cited to support later dates. With regards to his positive case, the most important lines of argument are as follows:

  • Acts should be dated before the death of Paul and after the composition of Luke, and Luke likely post-dates Mark and Matthew.
  • John 5.2 is “more fully intelligible before 70 than after”.
  • Most letters whose authenticity has been doubted should be taken as authentic (he remains cautious about 2 Peter and the pastorals)
  • Internal evidence for dating Revelation and Hebrews suggests a pre-70 date (and Irenaeus’ claim that Revelation was written under Domitian is not sufficient reason to overturn this data).

Bernier’s monograph has several important strengths:

  1. His argumentation is clear and systematic. Bernier has developed a way of presenting his arguments and the relevant data that make it easy to see how and why he is drawing his conclusions. This is brave, for all academics know that the more complex our argumentation, the more difficult we make it for other to critique us. Bernier’s approach is bold – if I could sum up the tone of his challenge it would be thus: ‘here is the data; if you think there is a better way to interpret it then you write a monograph and show me.’
  1. Bernier presents the primary sources and relevant citations as he goes along, which again makes him easier to follow.
  1. He also clearly distinguishes the weight of various arguments – we are left with the clear impression of what evidence carries the most weight, for Bernier, and where he is more or less certain of his conclusions.
  1. Many of Bernier’s specific arguments are pretty robust. I doubt anyone will agree with all of them and I found myself disagreeing with him numerous times on particular points (for example, he is overconfident that Luke should be dated later than Matthew, making light of the evident possibility that the two-source hypothesis allows Matthew to post-date Luke, and giving no attention at all to the Matthean Posteriority hypothesis), but it is clear that his positions are generally well argued.
  1. Bernier repeatedly points out that Robinson’s work is the only other monograph, besides his own, to appear in the last century or so that attempts to deal with dating the texts and stresses the desirability of other comparably clear monographs arguing for later dates, to allow for proper critical comparison. 

This last point is somewhat overplayed as many other scholars have chosen to present their arguments about dating texts in introductions to the NT, which does represent a somewhat systematic attempt to treat the issue. But I agree with him that a focussed monograph arguing for different dates would be welcome. I doubt, though, that it will happen, because I wonder if later dates are often dependent upon other ‘defaults’ that are beginning to look a little shaky…

The previous consensus on dates is tied up with other default positions, for example: that we can identify distinguishable ‘schools’ (Johannine, Pauline, Petrine) that continued to produce literature in the apostles names after their deaths, and that such schools were in tension with one another. This, in turn, relied on the assumption that early Christianity was a conflict-ridden jumble of competing factions only later smoothed out into an imposed orthodoxy. Or, that the gospels require a long period of development of oral tradition. Or reflect communal writing practices. Or that developments in early Christian theology and ecclesiology must have taken long periods of time. Or that most of the arguments for why certain letters should be assumed to be inauthentic have not been substantially refuted. 

Part of the significance of Bernier’s monograph is that it cuts against that picture. If most of the NT texts were early, then that ties in with other evidence (see the work of Richard Bauckham) that the gospels are based on eye-witness testimony, and so their sense of authenticity is a product of their essential reliability, and not merely a narrative device. With early dates, we would not need the increasingly vulnerable ‘schools theory’; the different theological emphases we find in the different NT document are then just that—different emphases, which fit together, rather than irreconcilable ‘Christianities’. And this also supports the evidence we find all through the texts that, far from early Christian belief developing slowly over the first century (or two), there was in fact a theological ‘explosion’ attached to the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth.

In fact, when you really begin to chase down what evidence actually stands behind many ‘default’ positions, my experience is that you tend to enter into a mass of assumptions and models that are strikingly fragile, or that have even been deconstructed by better scholarship over recent decades. And yet the assumed consensus remains. For the moment. Ironically, I wonder if anyone is brave enough to write an equally clear monograph as Bernier’s defending the (former?) majority-view?

As I said towards the start of this review – it is unavoidable to have starting points assumed from previous scholarship. It is necessary to build new research on the arguments and models of those that have gone before us, otherwise we’re always starting everything again from the beginning. And the evidence is often weaker than we would all like it to be. One of the things that strikes the reader of Bernier’s monograph, because of his clarity, is that there is often so little really convincing evidence on these questions. This should give us an appropriate humility about our own conclusions, but also an appropriate confidence to resist ‘default’ positions, the influence of which may be far greater than their foundations. It seems to me that many of these foundations are shifting and there is the opportunity to dispense with the intimidation of some of these orthodoxies. Bernier’s monograph is, I think, a straw in the wind.

Dr Tim Murray completed his PhD in New Testament at the University of Nottingham supervised by Professor Roland Deines. He is now a staff elder at Amblecote Christian Centre near Stourbridge in the West Midlands.

James F. McGrath, who is Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature, Butler University, Indianapolis, offered this endorsement for the book:

In Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament Jonathan Bernier offers a much-needed corrective to the tendency for dates assigned to New Testament works to drift further in opposite directions due more to ideological preferences than to evidence, or to be placed in the middle of a possible range as though that were the best way to respond to our uncertainty. With careful attention to the evidence for each work, Bernier makes a strong case for dates that are often earlier than the scholarly consensus. He takes seriously our inability to be certain and precise about dates, never shying away from providing a range that starts astonishingly early or continues well into the second century when the evidence supports it. At the same time he never allows the range of possibilities to hinder arguing for what is likely. Whether by gaining wide acceptance or by prompting well-argued responses, Bernier’s book promises to shake up the scholarly study of the New Testament and some extracanonical Christian works. What Bernier has provided will undoubtedly serve as an impetus to refreshing scholarly conversations for decades to come.”

The painting at the top is another by Flemish artist Jacob Jordaens, ‘The Four Evangelists‘.

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198 thoughts on “Why do we need to rethink the dating of the New Testament texts?”

  1. I’m thankful for those of sound faith who work in these fields, I imagine it may be easy for faith to be rocked by the assumed scholarly consensus.

    • This assumes a stereotype that scholars normally date *everything* late. No. (Scholars are many and diverse anyway.)
      (1) Bernier and Robinson are themselves scholars and have done more detailed thinking than most.
      (2) Casey and Crossley and N Taylor date Mark very early.
      (3) The all-or-nothing perspective (either everything-late or everything-early) is just silly and has no place in precise and detailed discussion. Who would exalt lack of precision against precision? No – each document needs to be looked at individually one by one.
      (4) Also, have you seen how a lot of what claims to be discussion is just bandying around of dates, i.e. preemptive conclusions? Conclusions are hard won, but some treat them as the first base. A symptom of our short term society, alas. We need always to discuss factors only, not conclusions. Any conclusions will follow from the array of factors.

      • While I think you make some decent points, this one struck out to me as particularly flawed.
        Each document needs to be looked at individually one by one.
        I do not understand how you could look at Acts individually without considering Luke or some of the Pauline epistles. Maybe you mean that each document needs to be analysed individually? I do agree we need to focus on factors and not conclusions but I’ve seen weak factors added to make supposedly strong conclusions. An example is the late dating of Luke based on assumptions about the destruction of the temple and the deviations from Mark. I have also seen people assume Acts used Josephus without establishing a strong connection or people assume Luke or Acts are wrong based on supposed contradictions with Josephus without first establishing that Josephus was correct.

  2. Good stuff. I first came to the academic study of the gospels as an atheist (30+yrs ago!) and as well as coming to faith I have become more and more ‘conservative’ in my understanding of these dating questions, much helped by Bauckham amongst others. So, for example, I’m persuaded that Mark’s gospel is essentially a transcript of Peter’s memories – and therefore, in substance (if not in final form) to be very early. That claim about Acts is very striking and parallel. I believe this ties in with the claims of the early church. I wonder if there is a good book available which goes through the claims of the early church about the Scriptures (eg from 100AD to 300AD) and tests them against what is a) now understood in NT studies and b) what had been understood in NT studies in a previous, more sceptical generation. I’d find it very interesting to see if the early church claims are now seen as more credible than during the greatly secular 19th and 20th centuries. So, the archaeological discoveries that ended up confirming John’s descriptions for example. A good doctoral thesis for someone?

    • We need to be precise in what we are saying. Mark is chockfull of firsthand material that reflects what happened in the 20s-30s. But it is not itself from the 20s-30s. These ideas about Acts have received repeated airings over the years.

      • Although few if any scholars would argue for a 30s date for Mark, I would be interested to know the arguments that Mark was not written in the late 30s? Is there anything in the text itself or external evidence for that?

        • PC1 – well, as you know, I have asked several times in these discussions – and haven’t received any answers – (a) what evidence do they have that the `plain man’s assumption’ – that copious notes were being taken about the ministry of Jesus when he was here on earth. After all, following the prophecies in Daniel, it was pretty well established when the Messiah would come – and, theologically, it was pretty well understood that this was a `once for all’ event of utmost importance; (b) why they don’t think there was an absolute imperative among the gospel writers (and other writers of the good news) to get the message out, in written form, as a matter of extreme urgency as soon as possible after the ascension.

          Given the extraordinary circumstances, the natural `plain man’s assumptions’ would be (a) and (b) – and I see very little evidence of modern scholarship actually interacting with these plain man’s assumptions (and trying to prove them wrong if they don’t agree with them).

          So I kind of agree with you. Mark’s gospel is understood to be things that Peter said to Mark – surely Mark would have understood that there was a tremendous urgency to get the message out as quickly as he possibly could.

          Until there is serious evidence that scholars have actually interacted with the `plain man’s assumptions’ and have good reasons to discredit them, I’ll stick with the plain man’s assumptions.

          • Jock, have you any idea how many NT scholars there have been, and how many of these have written at length on the origin of the Jesus material?
            Secondly, have you any idea how often it has been impressed on you that they have already done so?
            Third, why are you asserting that they have never done so, without having done any of the research to see whether or not they have done so? How honest is that?
            Gerhardsson, Riesenfeld (Scandinavians used to how an oral heritage operates, and to understanding the role of note taking in all this); Linnemann; period late 1990s onwards for 20 years was a golden age in the study of this.

            Since my 2019 paper on dating when I tried to see as many factors as possible synoptically and to put major emphasis on interrelationships of documents and what these imply, I have come to put James a year later and Mark a couple of years later. My current position, always open to refinement and tinkering and adjustment, but refined over 25 years, is:
            50 1Thess
            51 2Thess
            55 1Cor
            55 Gal
            56 2Cor
            57 Rom
            58 Heb
            60 Php
            60 Eph
            60 Col
            60 Phm
            65 1Ptr
            70 Rev
            71 Jas
            72 Mark
            c80 John
            c83 1Jn-2Jn-3Jn
            c85 Jude
            c87 2Ptr
            c90 Matt
            [93 Josephus, Antiquities, closely followed by Contra Apionem]
            c95 Luke
            c96 1Clem
            c98 Acts
            c100 Titus
            c100 1Tim
            c100 2Tim.

            I often observe the large and completely unnecessary and unscholarly hold exerted by ideology. In terms of imagined ideologies the above turns out to classify eclectically as follows:
            Dated earlier than average: 2Thess, Heb, Eph, Col, 1Ptr, Rev, John, 1Jn-2Jn-3Jn, 2Ptr [or else average];
            Dated averagely: 1Thess, 1Cor, 2Cor, Rom, Phm, Jas, Jude[, 1Clem], Titus, 1Tim, 2Tim;
            Dated later than average: Gal, Mark, Matt, Luke, Acts.

            What I am constantly amazed at is that people see one or two factors and show no interest in finding out about the remaining 101 or 102.

          • Christopher – what you say about dating is fair enough. I’m sure you have put a lot of careful thought into your work – and I’m sure that there are many aspects of it that are illuminating.

            The fact remains, though, that you have stated things on here which, if true – and if you were to convinced of them – I suspect that I wouldn’t remain a Christian for very long. You may be right, but if you are then I conclude that Jesus is not the Messiah – and that we have to look elsewhere.

            These things, I readily accept, are not the datings of the NT documents in and of themselves. Having said that, a later dating does give the authors the opportunity to develop in theological maturity and invent more things (e.g. it would take much more theological maturity on the part of Luke to invent a parable rather than simply relating a parable which he had been told came directly from Jesus).

            The basic point about the gospels and Acts is that the onus was on the writers to establish that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be – that this was the `once for all’ event – and this basically means absolute honesty from the authors, providing an accurate testimony.

            While the teaching of Jesus is very useful, it is a secondary matter (it is of vital importance as part of the proof that Jesus was who he said he was). The Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts 8:26-40 indicates that much was
            already understood from Isaiah; the Ethiopian Eunuch’s basic question was – who is this man? And that is the question that the writers of the gospels and Acts had to answer, in a way that stood up to remote posterity.

            If someone really could establish (for example) that the words attributed to Jesus in John’s gospel weren’t actually words that issued forth from the mouth of Jesus, but that the author of the gospel is putting words on the lips of Jesus – then I for one begin to wonder what else is being mucked about with here – and whether any of the testimony can be trusted at all. I don’t recall that you ever raised doubts about the authenticity of the words attributed to Jesus in John’s gospel, but you have attributed a parable to Luke when Luke tells us that he was relating something that Jesus said.

            If Rudolf Bultmann could have convinced me that John’s gospel really was constructed along the lines that he said it was, then I would have considered it a very good case for deciding that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah after all.

            I know that you are not a fan of Bultmann.

            (Incidentally, neither was Thomas Torrance. I think that everybody is aware of an exchange in one of his tutorials where a student brought up Rudolf Bultmann’s views on the matter under discussion. Torrance replied, `You speak with the voice of the Anti-Christ. Leave the room.’)

            You may have followed the evidence in a good and scholarly manner;
            you may have reached correct conclusions, but if you have – and if you can convince me of them (e.g. the parable was Luke’s – and these were not the words of Jesus), then I conclude that Jesus was not the Messiah and that we have to look elsewhere.

            But I find this conclusion unlikely.

          • That seems like a non sequitur. Jesus is not responsible for his biographers. No-one is. And if his biographers did the best they could with the material available – i.e. far better on average than we could reasonably expect – then who is grumbling? We have 4 decent-length accounts within 70 years. Of whom else can that be said in the ancient world?

          • So I kind of agree with you. Mark’s gospel is understood to be things that Peter said to Mark – surely Mark would have understood that there was a tremendous urgency to get the message out as quickly as he possibly could.

            One thing that does occur is that in a pre-printing-press era, writing something down would actually be one of the slowest ways of ‘getting the message out’.

            If you wanted to get the message out as quickly as possible, writing it down would just be a waste of time. You’d write a document and then it could be read to a group of people, after which it would have to be carried to another group and read there, etc etc.

            Whereas if you spent the time, instead of writing it down, telling the story to a dozen, maybe twenty people, then they can go out in all different directions and tell the story to a dozen groups at once; and then maybe their hearers could go and tell more groups …

            So actually if you wanted to get the message out as quickly as possible because you realised its urgency that would be a reason not to write it down but instead to train people to tell it.

            That all changed with the printing press of course, where you could write it once and then instantly print off any number of copies that could be sent out all over the world. But before the press, if you wrote something down you had one copy, and making another, and making one more would take weeks, and then you had two, and after more weeks you could have three …

            Not what to do if you want to get a message out urgently!

          • Scrolls were things that were read from in synagogues, not how you got your news or how new ideas were spread. So writing something down would be about archiving rather than disseminating . Making a written record was a way to transmit information to the future, not to other people in the here and now — of course if you had to send something to someone remote and you couldn’t travel there in person, say because you were in gaol, then you might write a letter, but in general the more urgent the information the more likely you would be to transmit it by word of mouth rather than waste time writing it down. Writing was a huge investment of time, only worth it for for things you wanted to pass down to many future generations.

          • Good point, S.

            Narratives and sayings would however certainly need to be written down (as Homer was written down) when there was danger that people would otherwise forget. I.e. a generation later. Hence Mark, Acts, James.

          • Hi Jock,

            You wrote:
            “If someone really could establish (for example) that the words attributed to Jesus in John’s gospel weren’t actually words that issued forth from the mouth of Jesus, but that the author of the gospel is putting words on the lips of Jesus – then I for one begin to wonder what else is being mucked about with here – and whether any of the testimony can be trusted at all.”

            To be fair on the authors, they did not have sound recording so, for example, some of the long speeches in John’s Gospel might reasonably be assumed to be careful summaries of what the author could recollect. It seems unlikely and unrealistic that the ‘words put on the lips of Jesus’ were verbatim, and literally the exact words he spoke.

            What I think we should suppose – in a context where these early Christians were willing to put their lives on the line or face mockery or persecution – is that they believed in the truth they reported. In terms of important meaning, they did not make it up.

            John 14:9 to 21
            John 14: 23 to 16:16
            John 17:1 to 17:26

            These are incredibly long passages to memorise verbatim, and must surely be careful paraphrases.

            But does that matter?

          • (1) Van Nes’s study is beyond brilliant and is unlikely to be seriously challenged in what it affirms.
            (2) It is not ambitious in how much it seeks to demonstrate: it is not a study of whether Paul wrote the Pastorals yes or no.
            (3) And even then its conclusions are simply advocating a greater *agnosticism*. E.g. ‘Lexical variation in the Corpus Paulinum need not necessarily be explained by author variation.’.
            (4) It restricts its discussion to the very central matter of the linguistic and lexicographical (seeking to take the discussion beyond the Harrison point) when a treatment of the authorship of the Pastorals would have many further dimensions. Some of the findings (unusual quantities of hapaxes in NT terms is affirmed, yet richer vocab in general is not affirmed) could be seen to point further away from Pauline authorship.
            Thus it never deals centrally with the very important issues like highly-Lukan language or clustering of echoes of particular Paulines: 1 Cor in 1 Tim and Php in 2 Tim (as also found in Acts 20 with 1 Thess, Eph; Acts 26 with Col). Pastorals as Luke’s 3rd volume (Quinn) could kill 2 birds with one stone by bringing very necessary and appropriate closure both to Paul’s by-now-collected oeuvre and also to Luke’s own oeuvre. The use of Pastorals in Ignatius and Polycarp (authoritatively) suggests they cannot have been completed much after 100 (Luke would also soon be too old, and though now adept through Acts at writing in persona Pauli has become capable of writing only shorter pieces rather than a full narrative). But I sense the hand of Polycarp in the final (added) verse of 1Tim with the letter’s two clear Marcionite references in 1 verse, and in the anachronistic ‘Carpus’ and his closest associate Crescens of 2 Tim 4, where the passing of a mantle/cloak vis-a-vis the role of executor of MSS is probably the point. At least both texts make full sense with full continuity in their supposed older version.

          • Hi, Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” and/or Paul Eddy & Greg Boyd’s “The Jesus Legend” might help. Bauckham, in particular, refers to a general preference for the voice of a living witness rather than a text. This was not a print-based society with easy access to reliable books and even in our technological society, where we do have access to reliable texts, we still prefer a living voice, not only “hearing it from the horse’s mouth” but also in court, where second hand evidence and hearsay is not accepted. Secondly, unless you assume that the early church expected early martyrdom or the imminent end of the world, why the rush to transcribe everything? Paul wrote letters to distant churches as a matter of convenience, but even these needed careful reading and were sent by authorised messengers and not just bunged in the post! The apostles focused on preaching and teaching – which must have included passing on what they had received from Jesus. The culture was a strongly oral one, with emphasis on memory and faithful recall – however, this did not mean exact reproduction. “The Jesus Legend” has a good section on Oral Culture and the transmission of Oral Tradition. It also, I think, points to other scholars – such as Kenneth Bailey – who discuss how communal memory works in such a society. Rather than there being a kind of random “Blessed are the Cheesemakers” game going on, they show that the community was careful to safeguard the traditions it received. Eddy and Boyd suggest that this sort of transmission can help to explain features in the Gospels and actually support basic reliability. This is not to deny that someone like Levi/Matthew the tax collector might have known and used a form of shorthand, but such a skill would not have been common among the earliest disciples – remember that Acts tells us that Peter and John were considered uneducated by the Jerusalem elite. (Paul was clearly both literate and educated, but Acts shows that the Athenian elite didn’t think much of him, either!)

  3. I have been inclined towards Jonathan Bernier’s position for a number of years, although i have not researched it enough or have come to a firm conclusion. One surely significant point is that the siege and fall of Jerusalem is never presented in the New Testament as a historical event, yet its impact of such an event must have been huge. I shall be interested to read further research, evidence and comment on this subject.

  4. “Of course, having majority positions and assumed starting points is unavoidable, but what is frustrating is when these orthodoxies are repeatedly reasserted even when the original scholarship that they were built on has been substantially challenged.”

    This statement could be made of many areas of biblical scholarship. The Nicene Creed is c. 230 words, the Westminster Confession (coming some 1,300 years later) is c. 34,000 —and some of the orthodoxies contained in the latter are increasingly being challenged by biblical scholarship. To give an example, the doctrine of original sin is recently queried by Tom Schreiner, and Douglas Moo seems to want to distance himself from it—despite both having held Confessional positions on such. So, I am with N. T. Wright, who suggests that these expansive Confessions can form a false epistemology and a hostage to fortune.

    Moo, D. J. The Letter to the Romans. 2d ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018.
    Schreiner, Thomas R. “Original Sin and Original Death.” Pages 271‒288 in Adam, The Fall, and Original Sin. Edited by Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2014.

    • Colin

      I’m surprised by your assertions about Moo and Schreiner. I can check Moo but not Schreiner. Can you tell me where in Moo? Romans 5:12?

      My inclination is to think that they express reservations about a specific formulation of original sin. Some, myself included, may define original sin as the imputation of Adamic guilt in some seminal or federal sense. We die because Adam is our federal head. Others may describe original sin not as the imputation of an act and guilt but the passing on of a sinful nature. I wonder if it is around these issues discussions lie.

      • A review of the chapter by Schreiner says this,

        In this chapter, Schreiner argues that the most plausible reading of Romans 5:12–19, both exegetically and theologically, supports the doctrine of original sin and original death. Interacting with Henri Blocher, who rejects alien guilt, Schreiner is rightly convinced that sin, death, and condemnation are the portion of all people because of Adam’s one sin and his covenant headship. Just as we receive alien guilt in Adam, we receive alien righteousness in Christ. Schreiner sees the human race functioning as one organic whole. He is in favor of John Murray’s treatment of the subject. However, he points out Murray’s fundamental weakness of interpreting Romans 5:12–14 to say that the sins of those who lived between Adam and Moses were not counted against them (v. 13). Schreiner touches on those who bring up the question of infants, who die lacking mental capacities to make choices, but he does not work out all the details of their arguments or counterarguments.

        • Schreiner:

          “Whether Scripture teaches what is traditionally called “original sin” depends
          significantly on the exegesis of Romans 5:12–19 … the interpretation of Romans
          5:12 plunges us into a thicket of difficulties … what Paul says is fiercely contested and difficult to understand … I have changed my mind [on this] since writing my Romans commentary … The text could be construed to say that death spread to all because all without exception sinned individually.”

          Thomas R. Schreiner, “Original Sin and Original Death,” in Adam, The Fall, and Original Sin (ed. Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2014), 271–75.

          • Personally I think Paul understood Genesis 2 literally or largely literally. The original man sinned, bringing in death to mankind (whether that death is physical or spiritual or both is debatable – I suspect he meant both). Paul is quoted by Luke in one of his speeches referring to the original man, father of all mankind. That is a perfectly logical position to take – we all come from our parents, and they came from their parents…

            Paul of course also consistently compares and contrasts Jesus with Adam. Whilst he could be an archetypal Adam, given the rest of his teaching I think he still views such an archetype as an actual individual, the father of all the nations.

            Regardless of how sin ‘spread’ to everyone else, the reality is that everyone without exception sins. Hence death to all.


          • Hi Peter

            Yes I’ve always thought common first parents was necessary for a species. It’s difficult to see how it could be otherwise. I know received wisdom at the moment seems to posit a number of different ‘first parents’ which seems illogical. I also notice that the latter has been challenged recently by another way of reckoning. Unfortunately its all a bit vague in my mind. I think it is by tracing origins by genealogy rather than genetically.

            Like you I believe in a literal Adam. Scripture seems to demand it,

          • So let’s be clear Colin; no one at any time has not sinned, after Adam. We are all sinners. (Or to change the emphasis; in Adam we are all sinners).
            There are two classes of sinners : forgiven in Christ; not forgiiven.

        • Hi John,

          If you see my specific quotes from Tom Schreiner they demonstrate a remarkable intellectual integrity as a biblical theologian—it is almost certain his academic post depends on him adhering to an original sin confessional position.

      • Douglas Moo:
        [“Because all sinned” i.e., not that all sin in Adam] is by far the most popular understanding among modern scholars […] Paul says nothing explicitly about how the sin of one man Adam has resulted in death for everyone—nor has he made clear the connexion, if any, between Adam’s sin and the sin of all people. (350)

        What he has made clear is that the causal nexus between sin and death exhibited in the case of Adam has repeated itself in the case of every human being. […] Probably a majority of contemporary scholars interpret v. 12 […] to assert that the death of each person is directly caused by that person’s own, individual sinning. (350–51)

        Paul in v. 12 asserts that people die because they sin on their own account; [but] in vv. 18–19 he claims that they died because of Adam’s sin. Paul does not resolve these two perspectives and we do wrong to try to force a resolution that Paul himself never made. A systematic theologian may have to find resolution, but we exegetes do not insist that Paul in this text assumes or teaches one. (351–52)

        One popular explanation holds that Paul assumes [but does not articulate] a middle term in the connexion between Adam’s sin and the condemnation of all human beings: […] a corrupt nature inherited from Adam. […] Nevertheless, we may question whether this is what Paul meant in v. 12. (352–53)

        The most serious objection is that this interpretation adds a step in Paul’s argument that is not explicit in the context […] While it possible that Paul would want us to assume [this] addition he has given us little basis for doing so. (353)

        We must admit that the case for interpreting all sinned in v. 12 as meaning all people “sinned in and with Adam” rests almost entirely on the juxtaposition of v. 12 with vv. 18–19 and maybe we should not force this combination when Paul himself did not explicitly do so. (354)

        Moo, D. J. The Letter to the Romans. 2d ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018.

        • So, in Douglas Moo and Tom Schreiner we have two eminent biblical theologians of our age who have specialised in Romans both suggesting that the doctrine of ‘original sin’ is largely based on just eight verses in that letter—and that they could be interpreted in a different way (i.e., that they do not teach ‘original sin’). And both scholars come from within the guild that strongly supports such teaching.

          This doctrine is not a marginal issue but is a central building block of Reformed systematic theology and their understanding of Christian anthropology

          In any other academic discipline such comments would surely ring alarm bells—but as Jonathan Bernier says: “… what is frustrating is when these orthodoxies are repeatedly reasserted even when the original scholarship that they were built on has been substantially challenged.”

          • Thanks Colin.

            I take the view documented here by Moo that the parallel with Christ demands some sense of representative head. We are not righteous because we copy the righteousness of Christ and so we are not sinners because we copy the sin of Adam. Exegetically v 12 could read either we all sinned like Adam or we all sinned in Adam but theologically taking into account vv18,19 a representative head is required. The death of infants cannot be down to personal sin but must lie in participation in Adam.

            Very interesting. Thanks for posting.

          • Probably a majority of contemporary scholars interpret v. 12 […] to assert that the death of each person is directly caused by that person’s own, individual sinning.
            In any other academic discipline such a view would be regarded as bunk. It is evident that not only human beings but all animals are mortal, from the lowliest worm upwards. We can reasonably say that death entered the entire animal world through Adam – though ‘world’ in Rom 5:12 does not necessarily mean more than human world – but once the progenitor’s mortality was fixed, that was it. All his progeny were mortal too, as a simple matter of this-world biology.

            In fact Genesis shows that, biologically, Adam was mortal from the beginning (Gen 3:19). What happened is that he forfeited the opportunity of becoming immortal, not that he was immortal and became mortal. As Romans says, sin came first, then death – the consequence of not choosing life.

          • Steven Robinson – although the verse does not show what you are saying, you make a very good point about immortality. There was (of course) the specific sin of eating of the forbidden fruit. At the same time, God had instructed them to tend the whole garden, which included the tree of life, and by the time that Eve hearkened to the Serpent, they still had not done this – showing, at the very least, that they hadn’t exactly put their backs into obeying God’s instructions. This is a point that William Still makes in his notes on Genesis.

            Of course, Romans 5 does teach that death entered the entire animal (and human) world through the sin of Adam – slowly at first – the characters in the early part of Genesis lived extraordinarily long lives – but the text always pointedly states `and then he died’ – as counterpoint to the Serpent’s statement `you will not surely die.’

          • Steven what does ‘mortal’ mean? Does it mean ‘must’ die or ‘may’ die. Adam was mortal in the latter sense.

          • I am of the opinion Adam’s sin brought death into the whole world and not just the human race. It was due to Adam’s sin that the whole creation was ‘subject to futility’. Of course such a view makes evolution impossible since evolution presupposes death and a world red in tooth and claw. Is that the world that God looked upon and declared ‘very good’?

          • Colin,
            They are far distant disciplines:
            1 medical research and practice
            2 Biblical scholarship based on text, history, theology and God’s revelation.

            Furthermore the universal nature of death, of God’s curse remains, that is the outworking of the fall from God’s grace as it were.
            What do you do with the curse in your theological system, Colin?
            All humanity sins as it does not comply with the summary of the law as set out by Jesus, does ut not?

          • John: “I am of the opinion Adam’s sin brought death into the whole world and not just the human race.”

            Personally, I believe truth-seekers (countless scientists) believe dinosaurs (for example) existed and routinely died, from 240 million to 65 million years before hominids like us even existed.

            I realise you will have your own reasons for believing what you do, but when I think of all the young people I have taught and nursed over 25 years, can you see and understand why that kind of claim gets in the way of them taking the gospel seriously.

            While you will say, the gospel is a different matter, when Christians defy reasonable science held by so many people, there is a real danger that young people (and others) will conflate such anti-science with anything else Christians have to say, and just switch off.

          • Totally agree with you Anton.

            Having worked in many hospitals, and seen infants dying… try telling a mother the little ones died because of their sin, and they will switch off from anything else the Christian has to say.

            The babies die because of illness, or frailty, but most certainly not because of their own sin. That’s scientifically ridiculous. It’s also incredibly cruel.

            What about little ones who die in miscarriage? Did they sin too? It’s insanity.

          • try telling a mother the little ones died because of their sin

            I think you’re confused between ‘sin’ (the corruption of their nature due to being oriented against God, which very much is why they died, as in an unfallen world — a world uncorrupted by sin —they wouldn’t have died) and ‘sins’ (wrong things they may have done, said or thought, which of course they didn’t have time to do so can’t be why they died).

            So the baby did die because of their sin but they didn’t die because of their sins.

            Remember to reject the poisonous Rousseauean idea that children are born ‘pure’ and ‘corrupted’ by the world!

          • S, I think babies are born pretty pure until they poop their first nappy!

            Joking aside, people can possess both degrees of purity and selfishness. We are born (and we see it in little children) with some of the loveliness of the God in whose image we are made.

            I think Jesus himself loved that attribute of children. (You will ask me to produce the evidence – I can’t. ‘Let them come to me’ is my best stab! I just think Jesus loved children.)

            There is a purity we see often see in children. They can also be selfish little survivors, throwing tantrums. I don’t see it as all black and white. Frankly, I also see beauty in adults… the beauty of the divine shining through. Obviously not all the time!

          • I just think Jesus loved children.

            Tell me, is there anything you love that you don’t think Jesus loved too? Or anything that you think Jesus hated that you don’t also hate? Is there anything, anything at all, that you disagree with Jesus on?

            Or is your conception of Jesus really just… you, but in sandals and a beard?

      • “We die because Adam is our federal head.”

        My father died because of pancreatic cancer.

        I’m confused by your suggestion, John, that death is somehow our lot because of some distant ancestor’s sin. Even if it was true, rather than a created religious framework of ideology, how would it be just?

        All that said, I don’t believe that Adam was an actual, real person anyway.

        His creation without sex, his lack of ancestors, his existence in the world when it was perfect (it wasn’t very perfect for the dinosaurs)… these are constructed myths, aren’t they.

        People die for a whole range of reasons, many of them tragic and not their fault.

        • My father died because of pancreatic cancer.

          In an unfallen world, cells would always divide properly and only at the correct times. They would never slip their bounds and become cancerous.

          So yes, pancreatic cancer is the result of sin’s corruption of the natural world.

          • John (et al),

            Just to clarify my post (which I concede has caused a diversion somewhat from the article) —I do believe we all (including babies) inherit death from Adam—he took us out of the garden and away from the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-23).

            But I do not believe we inherit either Adam’s sin or the guilt of his sin. I think history demonstrates that this was a post-apostolic invention. We die becuase, as Paul says, we all sin (Romans 5:12).

            Adam took us to death, Jesus takes us to life (Romans 5:12-19) —not from Adam. This latter teaching is based on a false logic and never articulated in Scripture (but is another building block of our systematic friends).

          • Colin

            I am inclined to read Romans 5 as a federal headship where the act of the one carries implications for the many or more precisely where the act of the one is conferred upon the many. I think the parallel with Jesus demands imputed guilt. ‘Adam took us to death and Jesus took us to life’ seems to me to be too weak and vague. From Ch 5 Paul is teaching that all we have is because we are ‘in Christ’. We are no longer ‘in Adam’ but in the second man. To be ‘in Christ’ is some form of federalism. It is more than ‘Jesus took us to life’ in my view.

            It is guilt that causes death. Whose guilt or sin causes the death of babies? They must die because of someone’s sin. When Paul in Corinthians says ‘as in Adam all die’ is he not also saying ‘as in Adam all sin?’

            Romans has established the twin themes of universal condemnation or sin in the race and righteousness as a gift in Christ. He now goes on to show that these are tied into two men whose two acts led to two outcomes and two humanities.

            He explains the first humanity marked by sin and death like this.

            Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.

            For sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

            Paul seems to be saying that all have sinned is that Adam’s sin and the sin of those under law were examples of breaking a specific command promising death upon disobedience. Those between Adam and the law had no such command yet they died. For Paul this appears to be proof they died because of Adam’s sin.

            However, to repeat it is the parallel with Christ worked out throughout the chapter that seems to argue for some form of imputation. The sinful act of one constituted all in him guilty. The righteous act of one constituted all in him righteous.

          • PS


            I meant to say these are not easy questions to decide and I understand that other views are possible.

          • Egregious nonsense. Death, disease and corruption existed long before the first humans arrived to sin and f*** things up.

          • Egregious nonsense. Death, disease and corruption existed long before the first humans arrived to sin and f*** things up.

            Two-dimensional thinking. The Fall (just like the crucifixion) transcends space and time. The invitation of sin into the world corrupted it back to its very beginning.

          • Time you read some good theology. Christopher Southgate or Bethany Sollederer would help you overcome this nonsense.

          • Time you read some good theology. Christopher Southgate or Bethany Sollederer would help you overcome this nonsense.

            I’ve read a lot of good theology. I haven’t read either of those but then I don’t put much weight on the recommendation of someone who can’t understand that Judith Bulter writes meaningless nonsense (you gave up on trying to explain how insights can inaugurate something, didn’t you?).

            So I’m terribly afraid that if I looked into someone you recommended I’d end up wasting my time on meanginless Butlerian word soup, totally devoid of any logical argument or intellectual content or rigour, and instead all about spurious word-games and the feels.

          • I explained many times how insights can inaugurate. That you are too dense or refuse to understand it is really not my problem.
            Not that I have much faith in the theological understanding of someone who dismisses the great tradition of Christian mysticism – from Paul and the desert fathers and mothers, through the high Middle Ages to more recent mystics.
            Professor Southgate is a first rate scholar – theologian, scientist, poet. You are not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.

          • I explained many times how insights can inaugurate.

            You never did, though, because the thing is that ‘inaugurate’ is an activity and ‘insights’ is an abstract noun, and abstract nouns can’t do activities.

            People wishing to laugh at your attempts to explain the incomprehensible can see them here: https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/can-the-c-of-e-ever-bridge-its-differences-on-sexuality/#comment-403685

            Professor Southgate is a first rate scholar – theologian, scientist, poet. You are not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.

            Good thing I wasn’t going to go near his sandals then.

        • Is salvation the achievement of one man? Is saving righteousness the work of one man?

          Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous

        • Susannah

          You’ll be aware I don’t consider the Genesis creation stories ‘constructed myths’. I believe they are historical narrative. The NT treats Adam as a historical person signalling how we are to treat the creation stories.

          • I understand your view, John, and I respect you as a Christian of grace and goodness in Christ. I really do.

            I share the underlying principle: that in this life we all sin, we can all be selfish, and most certainly we all die… in contrast, in Christ we come to union with God, we are made whole, and we live in eternity.

            However, I regard ‘Adam’ as a generic representation of all humanity, not as a specific individual person. I’m aware that some of the bible authors may have treated Adam as an actual person, who had no human parents. However I regard Adam as a mythical figure used to explain humanity’s situation. I don’t believe he was a single man, who actually committed the first sin which then spread like a contagion to all of us.

            I think we just sin. Each individual needs to take responsibility for their own sin and selfishness, not blame it on ‘Adam’. And each individual needs to find God, and be saved by God, to receive eternal life. I don’t think ‘Adam’ has to have been an actual individual for God to save us.

            It’s like what I say about the dinosaurs dying before Adam. Trying to insist myths are facts is anti-scientific and is hard (and unnecessary) for truth-seekers today to believe. I just believe we risk making stumbling blocks.

            But I respect that your view can be substantiated from scripture, and remains theologically honest.

        • I agree that the direct cause of death is always tragic and usually not their fault, assuming that they didn’t jump out of a 20th storey window or wilfully drink or smoke themselves to death. But Christians live in a world where sickness and death is real and at the same time, for them, a good God is the ultimate reality, so there has to be some way of reconciling these two things.
          Some Christians defend the status quo, the way the world is – e.g.; in regard to sexuality and gender by arguing that “God does not make mistakes!” Taken at face value that should mean acceptance of disease and disability and a rejection of medicine, but should also mean acceptance of everyone as they actually are, whether gay or straight, male, female or trans, black or white, etc., since that is the way God made them. But the people who use the phrase to attack others don’t apply it consistently, they don’t apply it to themselves when it comes to disease or financial circumstances.
          Now, I do not think “God makes mistakes” but I do believe that we exist in a world which is not as God wants it to be. Even if you see Genesis 1-3 as myth, it is a myth that describes God’s intentions for humanity caring for the world. I do not believe that belief in a Good God means we must accept sickness, death or disability, as it seems to fly in the face of the Gospel message and Biblical hope. In the Gospel Jesus always shows compassion to the poor and the sick and dying. If illness were God’s will, then Jesus would be sinning by healing people – but the Gospels claim that Jesus acted according to the will of God. The Gospels also reject the idea of an obvious direct correlation between personal sin and sickness in the story of the man born blind. However, Jesus also tells a man whom He healed to sin no more, so that nothing worse happen to him. We are not told what is going on here, Jesus doesn’t violate the man’s privacy, but it may be that Jesus recognised that some “physical” sicknesses have non-physical causes, what we would call pyscho-somatic illness. Certainly, the healing of the paralytic (lowered through the roof) shows that healing accompanied and followed forgiveness. This does not mean that God is vindictively smiting every sinner with illnesses, but merely affirms that we are made as a whole and we cannot separate out our physical, mental and spiritual selves from one another. It is telling that the Bible never gives a detailed and sustained explanation of evil, sickness and death, but it does consistently say that God’s will is for our good. As such, I prefer to look forward towards the goal, rather than speculating about the past.
          The Bible ends with a vision of a new creation without crying, sickness pain or death. Admittedly, this vision occurs in a very specific kind of literature, the Revelation, but this does not mean that the writer thought or intended us to think that this vision, this hope, is merely metaphorical. The promise is that Jesus rose from the dead and while we cannot grasp what that means we are told that we shall be like him.

    • It is interesting how different we all are. Christopher and others find issues like dating interesting and keenly pursue them. Many others do too. I confess they leave me cold. They involve a great deal of sifting and weighing evidence about which it is often hard I would think to be sure.

      I am not belittling this effort. It is worthwhile. I think it takes much brighter minds than mine to engage in it. I know it is worthwhile but I wonder if there is anything to feed the soul in it. This is a question not an indirect criticism. Even if it doesn’t feed the soul it is necessary work.

      For me, I’m less concerned with questions of whether Paul write Ephesians and when. I want to know what he wrote in Ephesians and what it means. Of course, for many it needn’t be an either/or.

      • Im the opposite, Im interested in such questions. It seems to me there is a general tendency to date the Gospels specifically quite ‘late’, ie after AD 70. Most would argue the later a text is written, the less likely it is to be accurate about the events it describes. I think that is a reasonable position, especially if it means those who could testify about the events are long dead.

        I agree with the author that Acts was likely written in the early 60s before Paul’s death. I think it is highly unlikely that Luke would have not recorded Paul’s, and for that matter Peter’s, martyrdoms. He does James. It may be an argument from silence, but it is a reasonable argument.

        That would mean Luke’s Gospel was written in the early 60s or earlier, and therefore Mark in the 50s or earlier. Matthew and John are more debatable. John may very well have been written in the 80s or 90s, but is there really a persuasive argument for that?


      • Hi, I think that the detective work of dating and similar issues can appear very dry and dusty, but I also feel that it can feed the soul to know that we are not “running in vain” as Paul put it. The vast trend is towards scepticism and a negative view of the Bible. While personal faith shouldn’t rest on or be tossed about by the winds and waves of scholarly fashion, it can be reassuring to realise that the tide is not all one way and that there is good evidence for the reliability of the story we believe. So, while my faith is in Jesus and not in some academic opinion about him, I do find my soul fed by books that affirm the Gospels, such as “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” by Richard Bauckham (although it is quite heavy at times) or a book like “The Jesus Legend” by Paul Eddy and Greg Boyd – not entirely a light read, but encouraging. Just as not everyone is called to preach, so not everyone is called to scholarship or even reading these texts, but you can feel encouraged that we are not merely whistling into the wind, I think. There are also places where scholarship can help us to understand the Biblical text at a personal level as well as technically. Kenneth Bailey spent years looking at the reliability of the Gospels as well as studying the parables, esp. the parables in Luke 15. He tells a moving story of how an elderly shepherd understood the parable of the lost sheep – that is was the responsibility of an honest shepherd to recover a lost lamb, even from the mouth of a bear or lion. Culturally, it meant the shepherd could show he had not stolen the lamb for his own pot, but spiritually it speaks volumes of how God’s grace does not depend on us, since the shepherd could, if necessary, rescue even a dead lamb. Now, Jesus never says the lamb in his parable is dead or even harmed, but Bailey’s explanation spoke to me of a shepherd willing to enter the jaws of death for his sheep – if that doesn’t feed the soul . . .

  5. I found John Robinson’s book intriguing, and I think it influenced me more than I realized over the years. Though I didn’t come down hard on his side, I found much of his thinking intriguing, and still to this day, I am still mostly convinced he had some good insights.

  6. I read the book yesterday. Many thanks, Jonathan.

    The better parts of the book (like the introduction) are very helpful, as is the up to date bibliography.

    The issues are many, and I found a lot of the discussion (a) sketchy and (b) focused on only 1-2 main factors, when so many more could have been cited. Endorsements gave a different impression here. Robinson was strong on 1 Peter, and detailed (if sometimes questionable) on Clement, Jude/2 Peter, the Pastorals; and some of the Paulines, and what we have here is less detail not more.

    With Mark, for example, it is possible that none of the top 10 factors I would primarily consider in dating Mark got a mention.

    With Acts, the idea that most authors don’t quite manage to get up to date in writing their histories was not given due consideration.

    Sometimes people date Acts in 62 and then do very little discussion of internal factors in the four gospels. All 5 documents need to be closely considered.

    John 5.2 got a good discussion. Also, Jonathan Bernier is an expert on the birkat ha-minim and ‘aposynagogos’.

    A lot of ink has been spilt on the dating of Revelation – and rightly; but the discussion is not advanced here. There are oodles of factors unmentioned.

    The most questionable aspect of the book was that it classed authors as early *on everything* or medium *on everything* or late *on everything*. It is hard to express how questionable that is and how encouraging of ideology. Whatever happened to nuance and fine tuning? ‘Early’ and ‘late’ do not even attain the dignity of being dates at all. It is far more likely that people will come up with a chronological mix, isn’t it? Not just in theory, but (I have found) in practice.

  7. On a lighter note, I was a student at Nottingham University when JATRobinson gave a (well-publicized) talk to the Theological Faculty entitled “New Testament Dating”. An earnest non-theologian friend attended hoping for advice for his love life. He came back disappointed. “It was all about the fall of Jerusalem and when stuff was written! – Nothing about sex at all!”

    • Interesting paradox that a man who was a theological radical was a dating conservative, though his early dating was itself radical. Is there a personality type driving?

      • John, you are so so wrong. You are actually encouraging people to follow their psychological bent rather than the evidence. You are even assuming that people generally are bound to do that. That is ideology. It is the opposite and enemy of scholarship, and of honesty.

        • The point being, if people follow the *evidence*, which is nonnegotiable, then of course they may well sometimes reach radical conclusions on matter A and conventional conclusions on matter B. That is in the nature of evidence. If people are expected to reach the same style of conclusions on everything, they must be in thrall to their own psychology so much that they would not recognise evidence if it bit them. I make this point interminably, but once anyone understands that it will hopefully be a breakthrough in their understanding.

          • When it comes to the dating of the Gospels, the problem is the evidence is rather scant.

            And cant evidence be interpreted in different ways?

            For example, you date Luke at AD 95 and Acts 98, long after Peter’s and Paul’s deaths. You presumably dismiss the evidence of Luke’s non-mentioning of Peter or Paul’s deaths/martyrdoms despite including James’. I find that odd, especially in Paul’s case, given much of Acts is about him.

          • Nothing odd about it at all. Why would he mention year-68 events in a portion of narrative that concluded in year-62? The presupposition is that they would *not* be mentioned in any such narrative. Either way it is an odd thing to spill ink over.

          • When histories are written, the vast majority do not bring events up to the minute but conclude at an earlier point.
            And even when the intention is to bring things up to the minute (a) that is easier said than done, (b) the said minute swiftly becomes out of date.
            Writing histories adequately is not easy; nothing important should be left out. Many think Luke did his best to bring things to a conclusion by penning the Pastorals, a less taxing task than a full history of 62-68 would have been. The 60s were super eventful for Christians, not least those based (like Luke) in Rome.

          • As for the evidence for gospel-dating being scant, it is so much the reverse (on absolute dating issues) that most treatments leave out several pieces of data. To make an assertion like yours, one would first have to be aware of what that data was.
            To which we add relative dating. Here we are particularly blessed because of the close interrelationships.
            Can evidence be interpreted in different ways? That is a statement of extreme generality, obviously. The answer is a sliding scale from Yes, Absolutely to No, Absolutely, incorporating everything in between, depending on which specifics one is talking about.
            It makes little difference whether Luke wrote in his 30s or his 60s. (But 60s are a more normal time to write authoritative literature.) He will give the same data and memories either way. Amazingly, this is being treated as a major issue, and I am not sure why.

      • John I think if you were to read Eric James’ biography of John Robinson you would discover a man who was not only a precise scholar but also had a passion for communicating the good news of Jesus Christ. The theological radical label is something of a stereotype.

        • But his scholarship was in NT. Not only is speculative theology not much of a science, but he was not writing at a very technical level in it, only popular paperbacks which mirrored the mood of the times. He was a populariser of the work of primary thinkers like Bonhoeffer, Bultmann, Tillich.

          • Your reply seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with my comment Christopher. Who said his scholarship was in anything other than NT studies? Read what I actually wrote and not what you think I wrote. First rule of scholarship really.
            Have you read Eric James’ biography?

          • You were saying he was not a theological radical. I thought your ‘precise scholar’ thing was meant as evidence in favour of that, which in context it seemed to be. If it was, then you would mean he was not an NT radical. But he was, regarding dating anyway.

            His dating book was partly an experiment deriving from a throwaway remark of his father (or uncle Armitage?). According to D Nineham.

          • Yes, I have read it. Also the Hawarden archive is full of fascinating stuff, including his copy of his thesis and a letter that again makes much (rightly, but for the wrong reason) of the Php-2Tim sequence.

          • Christopher do read the comment again. Nothing of what you suggest is even implied in what I wrote.
            JAT Robinson was a Precise NT scholar – that was his field. I agree that elements of his scholarship in that field were radical. But radical and precise are nowhere in opposition per se.
            He had a passion for communicating the good news of Jesus Christ, and the biography I refer to attests to that.
            He has been labelled a theological radical, but I – and many others – think that is something of a stereotype. That, of course, is opinion.

            Clear now?

          • I think he was a theological radical, but that means only that he voiced extreme things within an unscientific area of study. He wanted to lower the age of consent. He spread the message of depth good, height bad – it mystifies me why one is better than the other. He was somewhat captive to the fashions of a transient age. His acceptance of Bultmann’s work (Bultmann’s main theories – as opposed to perspectives – are all now held to be very unlikely) is an example. He treated secularisation as a foregone conclusion, despite the fact that the selfcontradictions and dangerous fruit of secularism are everywhere apparent, and also despite the fact that we are reagents who affect history not just at history’s mercy (and of course he had a much better story to tell which is strongly opposed to secularism, so he should not just have been accepting its spread in a blase manner. To Brewitt-Taylor he was among those personally responsible for its rapid spread.).

          • John – forgive me – but as you are clear you have not studied any specific aspects of theology, including NT studies, I don’t find it necessary to give any weight to your opinion in this matter at all.

        • In case anyone is wondering how much weight to give Andrew Godsall’s recommendation, I think people should be aware in case they missed it (as it was buried nearly five hundred comments deep) that Andrew Godsall thinks that it is not a true fact that God exists; and he also does not think that scripture claims that Jesus was raised from the dead.

          (He was also quite specific that he doesn’t believe that men have walked on the moon, which has less direct theological relevance but does I think help to understand the sort of person you are dealing with)

          • For the sake of precision – and people are welcome to read all of the original comments – I am absolutely clear that men walked on the moon, and much evidence exists for it. It is a clear fact.

            I also and absolutely believe that God exists and that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that scripture attests to these things.

            Where S has found any evidence to the contrary suggests that S has not read what was written.

          • For the sake of precision – and people are welcome to read all of the original comments

            They absolutely should. The discussion begins at https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/spoiling-the-beautiful-difference/comment-page-1/#comment-410584

            – I am absolutely clear that men walked on the moon, and much evidence exists for it. It is a clear fact.

            You were also absolutely clear that you don’t believe that men walked on the moon, weren’t you?

            Would you like to retract that and say that you do believe men walked on the moon?

            Or are you going to keep trying to explain that you ‘are absolutely clear that men walked on the moon’ but that you don’t actually believe that men walked on the moon?

            I also and absolutely believe that God exists and that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that scripture attests to these things.

            But do you think that it is an objectively true fact that God exists, or that scripture claims that it is a true fact that Jesus was raised from the dead?

            You see, you keep hiding behind this word weasel-word ‘believe’, which anyone who reads the discussion linked to will discover you use in a way totally alien to its normal meaning and utterly unknown to, say, the OED.

            You seem to use the word ‘believe’ not to mean, as most people would use it to mean, something like ‘think it is true that’, but instead to use it to mean something like ‘choose to participate in a community where one of our distinguishing marks is that we all agree to say this form of words, regardless of whether or not we think it actually accurately describes the true factual state of things’ .

            (I’m sorry to keep banging on about this but it seems like the Church of England has given a license to someone who claims to be able to say the creeds ‘without crossing my fingers’ but who can only do so by totally redefining what they mean by the word ‘believe’, and I can’t understand why nobody seems to think this is a scandal).

            Where S has found any evidence to the contrary suggests that S has not read what was written.

            I can only suggest people read the discussion and make up their own minds whether I have correctly understood you.

          • It is a clear fact.

            Oh, it occurs to me that that could be construed as being off-topic, so let me bring it back to the topic of this article.

            Do you think that ‘Luke’s gospel was written before 70AD’ is a truth-claim about an objective fact?

            I only ask because — it being impossible now, at this distance, for us ever to prove conclusively one way or the other, then if you say it is a truth-claim about an objective fact you contradict your own argument that ‘God exists’ is not a truth-claim about an objective fact because something can only be a fact if it is proved beyond doubt.

            But if you say it isn’t a truth-claim about an objective fact then you look silly.

            So, is ‘Luke’s gospel was written before 70AD’ a truth-claim about an objective fact? Or not?

      • My research supervisor (in theoretical astrophysics) once remarked that he was always struck by the weaknesses in the ‘current orthodoxy’. In the physical sciences this awareness is often the way that progress is made as it is these points of weakness which show the way to refine, revise or reject the current orthodoxy. An example of this general attitude is the disappointment that the Large Hadron Collider has yet to reveal anything which is not predicted by the Standard Model [sic] of particles and their interactions.

        There is a gap of 13 years between “Honest to God” and “Redating the New Testament.” The former is an expression in a more popular form of ideas that had been around for some time, from Bultman and Tillich, with added Bonhoeffer. So, perhaps it was only radical in making known to a wider audience what was accepted by many. The latter does seem more radical. Indeed, it strikes me that in saying that much of the NT was written before 64AD.

        Wikipedia quotes from a letter C.H. Dodd wrote to him, following the publication of ‘Redating’:

        “I should agree with you that much of the late dating is quite arbitrary, even wanton[;] the offspring not of any argument that can be presented, but rather of the critic’s prejudice that, if he appears to assent to the traditional position of the early church, he will be thought no better than a stick-in-the-mud.”

        So, perhaps he was an honest academic who appears a radical to those whose views he challenges, whether ‘traditional’ or ‘progressive’.

        • Nobody should ever use stupid words like traditional and progressive if by that they mean a preferred ideology. Present company would not take them seriously, but they are much in vogue among those who do not understand the issues.

          ‘Progressive’ is an insulting word and parades at being virtuous while having nothing to commend it.

          ‘Radical’ just means a quite different new proposal, and as David says, Redating The NT was that while Honest To God was a rehashing of the old.

          But the devil tries to whisper to some people, sans evidence, that new equals sophisticated and against the fuddy duddies (this is similar to one of the points Dodd made). Hence this nonsense about the right side of history etc..

          Scholarship is only about people who follow the evidence; others are excluded. Those who do not see this waste much of their lives in endlessly repeated conversations like this which for some reason take ideology (of all things) seriously.

          This letter is a postscript to Robinson’s book.

          • Regarding your comment above re Luke’s Acts, but that is the point. ‘Why’ does Luke end his narrative in AD 62 if he wrote it decades later by your counting despite presumably knowing about Peter’s and Paul’s later missions and deaths. It is at least possible it ends in 62 precisely because that’s when he finished writing, or shortly thereafter. That is the evidence you speak of.

          • Tuppence worth
            The way Acts ends makes me think it was either the end of a roll or was unfinished. Perhaps it was being written in 70 when news came of the destruction of Jerusalem. The work simply stopped amid the tumult. Flights of fancy are forbidden I suppose?

          • He didn’t.
            (1) He just wrote the most that can possibly be contained on one scroll. Matt, Luke and Acts hold the record here in the ancient world. On this point I imagine you agree – that (a) there had to be some limit to his wordcount and (b) his contemporary authors divided their works into different ‘books’.
            (2) The end of Luke is peremptory (expecting more to follow) – ditto the ending of Acts. Neither reads like a grand ending. I expect you agree on that too.
            (3) You will further agree that in the nature of things there could not be any grand ending because the Church by its very nature continues to have a history throughout and long after Luke’s life.
            (4) This means that you will also agree that wherever Luke got up to in his history before he died, he will not have got up to the present.
            (5) That also means that we cannot dictate to Luke where in fact he got up to. If he got up to 36 years earlier, we should be grateful to him; likewise if he got up to 1 year earlier.

          • PC1 writes ‘It is at least possible…’. Thousands of things are always at least possible. (a) We begin our discussion with the probable or most probable. (b) If one selects one particular ‘at least possible’ thing to the exclusion of all the others, that is cherry picking and therefore is bias and not scholarship.

  8. Christopher

    1. What evidence do you have that Luke wrote as many words as he could? I understand scrolls in the ancient world varied in length between 20 and 30 feet, so obviously the number of words would vary considerably depending on scroll length used. The Isaiah Scroll found in Qumran is 24 feet long and contains about 25,500 words. Luke’s Gospel is 19,500 words and Acts 18,500. So there doesnt seem to me to be any logical reason why Luke could not have written more words in Acts.

    2 & 3. Acts starts with the beginning of the early church but most of it relates to Paul and his travels. If Luke wrote long after Paul left his house arrest and eventual death, I still find it odd that Luke chose to end his narrative with Paul’s house arrest. Luke’s final words are not about the church, but about Paul.

    4. No, not necessarily given my points above.

    5. Agreed. Im not dictating, Im asking the legitimate question why did Luke end his Acts narrative when he did. Depending on the answer, that may have implications for the date of writing.

    Regarding your last comment, the ending of Luke is part of the evidence, which may be explained by Luke writing in the early 60s just after Paul’s house arrest ended. Whether or not such a conclusion is probable is debatable, as you clearly disagree. But I have seen little to no evidence that Luke was written as late as AD 95 as you conclude. Do you believe Luke, a travelling companion of Paul, actually wrote Luke and Acts?

    • ….. also, I was under the impression that they had moved onto the codex – instead of the scroll – by then. Wikipedia tells me that codices were described in some works by the Latin poet Martial (born approx AD 40 died approx AD 102) – and I seem to remember Martin Hengel suggesting that the gospels were written as codices – so the length of a scroll would be neither here nor there.

      I very much doubt that the Luke was forced to finish Acts before reaching his intended punchline because he ran out of space in his scroll.

      • I read a little about party invitations in Roman times. Nothing was written down. They sent servants out to make the announcements. Anything less, ie a written note, would have been insulting. Thus, the Gospel would always have been heralded in person by an angelos. …or whatever the correct Roman word was.

        • Steve – yes, but we’re talking here about the information to be conveyed. Of course, the angelos is necessary, but if the angelos is inviting you to a party, he needs to know the time and location and the mode of dress. This is the information that the written gospels give, so that the angelos knows the good news that he should proclaim.

          • Of course, the angelos is necessary, but if the angelos is inviting you to a party, he needs to know the time and location and the mode of dress. This is the information that the written gospels give, so that the angelos knows the good news that he should proclaim.

            But as it would have taken weeks — possibly months — to make every single copy of a gospel, there’s no way every messenger could have one. The vast majority would have been taught verbally by those who had accompanied Jesus, and then sent out with their memory. So why bother writing it down, until it became necessary to do so in order to preserve the memories of those who had actually witnessed the events for posterity?

          • S – hmmmm – look at the previous thread and see all the difficulties-of-life involved in translating a text that exists and is real – and where people accept the text, but they dispute the meaning.

            Just think how much worse all this would be if people had slightly different recall about the details of a message that was only transmitted verbally committed to memory.

            The mind boggles ……

          • So, S, An interesting point that an expert can answer:
            What did the elders in Jerusalem keep written down? Minutes of meetings? Agreed policy? Anecdotes?
            Did they send Paul and Barnabas out with written authority? was this authority accompanied by a summary of or statement of mission?
            It all seems rather vague to me. Even when Paul pulled the “I’m a citizen of Rome” stunt, was there a record to verify? How did he prove his pedigree?
            The Gospels seem to have been the tips of an iceburg of written scraps.
            Obviously it seems that the oral transmition was so powerful and transformative early on it only seemed appropriate to gather up all the scraps from the trail way after the event.

          • Just think how much worse all this would be if people had slightly different recall about the details of a message that was only transmitted verbally committed to memory.

            Well yes (but remember the Holy Spirit was involved, helping to keep things straight).

            But the fact* is that making a single copy of a gospel would have taken weeks or months. There just isn’t any way that each messenger going out could have had their own copy. There just isn’t.

            * real meaning of the word ‘fact’, not Andrew Godsell meaning

          • So, S, An interesting point that an expert can answer:
            What did the elders in Jerusalem keep written down? Minutes of meetings? Agreed policy? Anecdotes?
            Did they send Paul and Barnabas out with written authority? was this authority accompanied by a summary of or statement of mission?
            It all seems rather vague to me. Even when Paul pulled the “I’m a citizen of Rome” stunt, was there a record to verify? How did he prove his pedigree?

            That is an interesting question and I would be fascinated to learn the answer. For example I doubt that they had birth records like we do, so presumably Paul’s claim to citizenship would have entailed finding someone whose citizenship was not in doubt to vouch for him before the court? But I don’t know. I think the earliest written records we have are actually Babylonian court filings based on disputes about substandard merchandise (which is actually quite comforting as it proves that basically humans haven’t changed much in the last seven or eight thousand years) but the thing about such things, or minutes of meetings, is that there was no need to copy or distribute them. Writing, as I say, was about archiving information not distributing it (or possibly about transmitting it from one place to one other place, perhaps enciphered using a scytale).

            So I suppose the question about ‘when would they have written the gospels?’ partly comes down to ‘when did they realise that it was necessary to archive the memories of those who had actually met Jesus’?

            Now that could have been early or it could have been late. I’m not arguing for any particular date (except that I think it’s clear the gospels were written within the lifetime of eye-witnesses to the events described, but that still gives a span of a few decades).

            All I’m saying is that any argument based on the premise that writing a record would have helped to spread the word is fatally flawed because it seems to imagine that the ancient world was like today, where writing something down is the fastest way to get it out to a wide audience because once it has been written it can be copied many many times and spread far and wide. But that has only been true since the invention of the printing press. Before that, writing something down would have actively delayed its wide distribution.

          • I will not be entering any further discussions with S but let me state for the record that I don’t use any definition of ‘fact’ other than dictionary definitions. Here are two:

            something that is known to have happened or to exist, especially something for which proof exists, or about which there is information

            a thing that is known or proved to be true.

            And in law:
            the truth about events as opposed to interpretation.

            Jock: differences exist in different versions of biblical records of events because the books of the bible seek to interpret the significance of the events rather than present a primarily historical record.

          • ‘The books of the Bible seek to interpret the significance of the events rather than present a primarily historical record.’
            (1) The level of generalisation about disparate books, authors and eras is much too high. The statement is presumably confined to books written in historical genres.
            (2) How could they interpret the significance of events whose identity they did not know in the first place? The poor reader will be forced to read interpretations without knowing what it is that is being interpreted.
            (3) If you can speak of the events and speak of their significance, it is obvious that both are important, so why not speak of both?
            (4) Not only are both important, but the former is foundational to the latter, so whereas you can have the former without the latter you cannot very well have the latter without the former.

          • Yes Christopher it is a generalisation and I have said many times that the bible is a library about which it is not really possible to generalise.

            Secondly, as I have indicated many times before, the books in that library seek to present history as well as interpretation. This is why we have the term Heilsgeschichte, which I am sure you are familiar with.

            Thanks for your assistance with clarifications. They do not detract from my substantive point about what the word ‘fact’ means.

          • Andrew – For most of the Holy Writ I think I’d probably agree with you. For the gospels (and Acts) I’m not prepared to agree, because the onus was to provide testimony – in a way that remote posterity could accept – that this really was the once-for-all event.

            Therefore – yes – it’s OK if the authors do some interpretation for us – in fact very, very good. But it is not OK if this interpretation gets in the way, or obscures, the testimony to the once-for-all event – by (for example) putting words on the lips of Jesus, which scholars 2000 years later can see through – thus making me wonder what else they said about Jesus which was wrong.

            At that stage, I’m not so sure how much of the interpretive skills were necessary. After all, the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8 had already (more or less) understood the theology – based on Isaiah. His question was `who is this man?’ (the text does not seem to be suggesting that he is totally bamboozled by the theology). Philip answered the Ethiopian Eunuch; we need the precise testimony of the gospels to answer the question for us.

            The teaching of Jesus is (of course) very important, as is the interpretive aspect of the gospel writings. But this is all secondary to establishing the once-for-all event, born of the virgin Mary, crucified, resurrected and ascended – and the authors of the gospels and Acts were well aware that the primary function of their work was testimony to this.

          • let me state for the record that I don’t use any definition of ‘fact’ other than dictionary definitions. Here are two:

            Where are you getting your definitions? Here’s the OED’s:

            ‘That which is known (or firmly believed) to be real or true; what has actually happened or is the case; truth attested by direct observation or authentic testimony; reality.’

            Note: ‘what has actually happened or is the case […] reality’

            This is exactly the definition of ‘fact’ that you refuse to accept when you claim that ‘God exists’ is not a claim about a fact. Because clearly it either is the case that God exists or it is not the case that God exists. So ‘God exists’ is a truth-claim about an objective fact, by the dictionary definition, which you deny.

            And indeed the third definition you yourself give ages with the OED:

            And in law:
            the truth about events as opposed to interpretation.

            The truth about events. Events like the resurrection. So again, ‘Jesus was raised from the dead’ is, according to this definition — a definition you gave — a claim about a fact, because it is a claim about the truth about events.

            More importantly, I note you haven’t even attempted to provide a definition for ‘believe’. Is that because you were unable to find a dictionary definition that, even with your disingenuousness, you could twist into acting like what you mean when you say ‘I believe’?

          • Jock: thanks for your reply.
            The issue is that as soon as the gospels start they differ pretty widely. For example: The genealogies are very different. Why? Because they are interpreting as well as trying to record what happened.
            The gospel of John is totally different in style to the other three. Why? Because it came out of and was intended for a rather different culture. It’s interpreting.
            The gospels were written so that others would believe. And yes, believe those central facts that you state. But in order to help people understand and believe this quite extraordinary story of Jesus, there has to be interpretation.

          • The gospels were written so that others would believe. And yes, believe those central facts that you state.

            Woah there Nellie. Let’s remind ourselves what those ‘central facts’ were:

            ‘But this is all secondary to establishing the once-for-all event, born of the virgin Mary, crucified, resurrected and ascended’

            So you’re now saying that the resurrection is a fact. But in discussions with me you have always claimed that whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead cannot be a matter of fact, because it can’t be proved beyond doubt one way or the other.

            Can you just confirm that you are now saying that the resurrection is a matter of objective fact, and then explain why you’re changing your story faster than a Downing Street press officer?

          • And yes, believe those central facts that you state.

            Also, could you be explicit about what you mean by ‘believe’? Because we’ve already established that you use of the does not accord with the standard dictionary definition, here for references from the OED:

            ‘To give intellectual assent to, accept the truth or accuracy of (a statement, doctrine, etc.), give credence to.’

    • Hi Peter

      1 We saw the Isaiah scroll on our honeymoon. If it does have 25000 words that is the same as Luke. Acts has 24000 and Matt 23000. I think the numbers you gave are not right.

      2-3-4-5 Point 1 disposes of points 2-3-4-5. And anyway there are no terminations in history, just an ongoing story. Any ending point will be peculiar and artificial. But when there is power to add, then that does not matter.

      On point 5, the NT is so much scrutinised that things of no importance like the ending point of Acts also get much scrutinised. In truth (to misquote Spike Milligan) every book has to end somewhere. And every ending of a history book is artificial, leaving loose ends and therefore (in a general history) to that extent unsatisfactory.

      On codices, the Christians did indeed publicise the codex. We are talking about the original unpublished manuscripts not about the eventual most popular format for mass production.

      The evidence for Luke being written at that date is intertextual, involving simultaneously
      several other texts: Mark, Matthew, Clement, Josephus (Antiquities and/or Contra Apionem). So it is impossible to rehearse the argument outside a study of their interrelationships.

      What is problematic about your position is that Luke had (shall we say) 50 years left of his life (he traditionally died at 84) in which he wrote nothing despite having made such a promising start in his 30s. And in so doing passed up on the chance of writing about Nero’s persecution, the deaths of the apostles, and the fall of Jerusalem. That makes your position much much more problematic than mine – I am simply saying that he wrote what he wrote when he was past 60, the time when these were stories of value rather than common knowledge, and there was a limit to how much he could write.

      Do I believe Luke, a travelling companion of Paul, actually wrote Luke and Acts? First we dispose of the ‘actually’. Did he write Luke and Acts? This is actually 2 questions not 1. First, was Luke the author? Yes. Second, was he a travelling companion of Paul? Yes – but no need to ask because that is what he himself says. Also, your question is odd since throughout this exchange I have been saying things like ‘Luke wrote in his 60s not his 30s.’.

      • What is problematic about your position is that Luke had (shall we say) 50 years left of his life (he traditionally died at 84) in which he wrote nothing despite having made such a promising start in his 30s

        That’s not a very strong argument though. Perhaps he intended to write more, but then he realised — or the spirit guided him — that he had already written all that was necessary, so he didn’t, and went back to his day job at the medical practice instead.

        • Yes, though that was not my point. My point was:
          (1) His ending at such an anticlimactic point does not support that view.
          (2) Major events happened in the 60s (deaths and trials of apostles, Rome and Christians burned, Jerusalem fell, the flight to Pella, apostles travelling westward). So he ends on something inconsequential and says nothing of things so consequential?
          (3) There are pros and cons on both sides – I mean only that there are considerably *more* pros and fewer cons on mine because Luke’s actions are inexplicable – he writes a history incredibly speedily and is (oddly) bang up to date in his chronology, and then suddenly goes from 100mph to zero for the next 50 years. Whereas my theory has nothing strange to explain. Luke filled a scroll. He was old at the time. So he never got to fill the next one.


          • (1) His ending at such an anticlimactic point does not support that view.

            It doesn’t count against it either. It doesn’t really provide compelling evidence either way.

            (2) Major events happened in the 60s (deaths and trials of apostles, Rome and Christians burned, Jerusalem fell, the flight to Pella, apostles travelling westward). So he ends on something inconsequential and says nothing of things so consequential?

            Clearly those things weren’t that consequential, or God would have made sure that they were recorded in His Word. Or are you second-guessing what God thought His Word needed to contain?

            (3) There are pros and cons on both sides – I mean only that there are considerably *more* pros and fewer cons on mine because Luke’s actions are inexplicable – he writes a history incredibly speedily and is (oddly) bang up to date in his chronology, and then suddenly goes from 100mph to zero for the next 50 years.

            But as I say — he had a day job.

            And even people whose day job is writing histories sometimes end at odd points, for reasons other than dying. Have you read Tim Shipman’s books All Out War and Fall Out? The first, published in 2016, is an account of how the EU membership referendum came about, and the campaigns, and ends on the result of that referendum. The second, published in 2017, continues the story through to the aftermath of the 2017 general election.

            Since then, Shipman, though, so far as I can tell, not dead. has published no other books; though the hears since could be said to have been not un-packed with incident. And his job is to report on politics.

            So can you imagine someone in a thousand years’ time arguing that All Out War and Fall Out must have been written several decades after the events they describe, near the end of Shipman’s life, because otherwise why would he have produced two volumes of detailed history and then just stopped, when there was so much else to recount?

            So that’s my problem with this argument: there’s any number of plausible reasons Luke — who wasn’t even a professional historian! — might have gone from ‘100mph to zero’.

            (They’re good books, by the way, worth a read).

          • Would you say that all of your plausible reasons are of precisely equal probability?
            Or of similar probability?
            Or of widely divergent probability?
            Because we agree here, not disagree. We agree that many things are possible. That is what ‘possible’ means. And we also agree that some things are likelier than others, which is something established by argument and seeing which scenarii create fewer problems, are more coherent, etc..
            But none of that matters. Luke’s date is established primarily by charting his interrelationships with other writings not by making theoretical autobiographical points about someone’s life 2000 years ago none of which we observed. Without the interrelationships discussion this cannot get off the ground. Or else we listen to those who have studied the interrelationships previously.

          • Would you say that all of your plausible reasons are of precisely equal probability?

            I’d say their probabilities aren’t so widely divergent that one can be described as ‘much more problematic’ than the other.

            But none of that matters. Luke’s date is established primarily by charting his interrelationships with other writings not by making theoretical autobiographical points about someone’s life 2000 years ago none of which we observed.

            That’s fair enough. I don’t know enough about the interrelationships to comment on that. I was just pointing out that the autobiographical argument doesn’t work.

      • Christopher

        I used this site for word numbers – https://overviewbible.com/word-counts-books-of-bible/
        Perhaps it’s wrong.

        I agree part of the argument for a particular dating relies on interdependence on other texts. Just about everyone agrees that Luke used Mark, and therefore Mark was written before Luke. But that in itself doesnt help with dating unless you know when Mark was written. As Ive said in other comments, Mark could very well have been written in the 50s (or earlier) thus making Luke written in the early 60s as quite plausible. If Luke thought Mark was lacking in some respects (he most likely refers to Mark in his introduction), is it likely he left the writing of his version for so many years? Speculation I know. But then I see you like to speculate too, per your comments on Luke’s lack of writing later.

        Other scholars would disagree that Luke used Matthew as well as Mark in composing his own Gospel. And I understand the evidence for Josephus’ writings being reflected in Luke/Acts is rather weak.

        And I just wanted to double-check your view of authorship given the late dating.


        • To say Mark could have been written in the 50s is worth no more than to *say* it was written in the 1870s. What matters is to *argue* for a date, which means citing the maximal (least of all the minimal) number of available factors.

          ‘And I just wanted to double-check your view of authorship given the late dating.’ Give me strength! How emphatic was I last time, and the time before that? Have I ever said anything else?
          Are you actually saying that someone’s yes is not their yes?
          Nor is somebody writing something in their sixties ‘late’. Josephus’s peak period was his late 50s, and he is the most comparable historian we have.
          Why is it that you think someone’s sixties are late to write? The main people we seek out for memories are old people in their 70s to 90s. Those are precisely the memories that are most valued.
          ‘Late’ is also a very vague word, and almost binary, as though the only two (polar!) options were something called late and something called early. The very opposite of numerical precision, and consequently also the opposite of scholarship.

          Mark has numerous references to the period when Vespasian took over from Vitellius at the end of 69, but although this matters a lot, it would matter a lot less if this were not within a megaframework of Jesus being proposed as the true world king and the Cross as his enthronement, and the euaggelion as his proclamation (NT Wright). The references to Vespasian’s time of accession are at the juncture where Jesus is almost immediately to be dressed in kingly robes, referred to as King of the Jews, and taken out to the place where he is exalted with a kingly superscription.
          Thus, on the day when Vespasian (the emperor at the time of writing) took over from Vitellius, 20 Dec 69 – this is topical in Mark’s day – there was the cutting off of an ear of the servant of the High Priest (Pontifex Maximus) in Rome, and the desperate flight of a seminaked to naked man, namely Vitellius himself. At this time Vespasian had not yet reached the capital – he was around this time busy in Egypt where among his healings were a man with a withered hand and an blind man by use of spittle. Then Thomas Schmidt in New Testament Studies 1995 has shown convincingly that many of the Via Dolorosa and subsequent details correspond one to one with the ceremonial details of the 71 Triumph ceremony of Vespasian in Rome when he celebrated his overcoming of Judea. (Described in Josephus.) One example is the flanking of the king by his 2 senior assistants (the James and John dispute: Jesus gives status to the brigands inasmuch as they are situated either side of his position of glory, within the whole Cross-as-throne system; but this remarkable attribution of status to such men makes more sense when we consider the status of their counterparts Titus and Domitian). The splitting of the temple veil – it is very possible that it was understood that Titus slit it from top to bottom in order to enter the Holiest (he did enter it, but the details are speculative). In these details and in the temple’s destruction (carried out proleptically by Jesus in the cleansing and tree-cursing), the message is always the same – you may think that your emperor is the world king, but actually in all the details of his achievements and accession Vespasian (& family) was beaten to it by Jesus many years before, so Jesus must be the true king (this in a year where anyone could become emperor by acclamation only rather than succession). This message that Jesus/the Christians have the superior counterpart to Rome in many different matters (white horse, mark on forehead, splitting of city into 3, 40kg stone, etc etc etc) comes perhaps 50 times in Revelation too. So that shows that this presentation of Jesus as the superior king in a showdown was a central part of the way Christian writers were thinking around the year 70. Zeichmann has considered the importance of the vocab ‘census’ and ‘denarius’ in Mark 12 to the tax introduced in Judea in 71 (12.14-15; dispute with Pharisees and Herodians) and 12.9 also reminds us of the year 72 apportioning of the land out to other nationalities. This is all too great a clustering of matters of interest from years 69-72. But that is to leave out the main source material which is Mark 13 with the flight to Pella on the basis of the abomination oracle (both in tandem referred to in Eusebius). The reference to that flight in Rev 12 is among a host of references to 3 and a half years which Rev 11’s reference to Purim 68 enables us to date to a period of 3 and a half years ending Hanukkah 69 – the very time when Vespasian’s aforementioned accession took place (and note the Rev 16.15 allusion, very possibly a late addition to the text, to Vitellius’s (16.13) flight, a spectacle which can be seen to encapsulate an eschatological caution/warning later picked up by Mark 14. Revelation 17-19 therefore strikingly, uniquely and counterintuitively conjoins 3 ‘sabbaths’ from its 7fold system of festivals/ceremonies: namely those pertaining to Hanukkah-Funeral (fire in Rome at that date 20 Dec 69)-Wedding. This is to give tragic and climactic significance to Hanukkah 69. Because the end of the Danielic 3.5 years was to be the saints of the Most High coming into their own – in the shape of the Son of Man whose appearance was therefore expected imminently. Revelation (70) and Mark (72) carry some of the unique excitement of that very specific and shortlived era.

          • I hope you got your strength back.

            Jesus may very well be portrayed as the mocked triumphator, but that is because Mark has understood what was being played out in the last events of Jesus’ life. Rather than Mark designing such a portrayal, it was God’s design. Or is your view that Mark made up such details to make a parallel with the triumph of emperors, just to make a point to his readers?

            Schmidt himself refers to parallels with earlier Roman emperors, from the late 30s and early 40s, not just with Vespasian. Indeed he refers to Paul’s view of Jesus as a triumphator, written in the early 50s, so it was clearly an understood idea. So I dont think you can conclude Mark is using Vespasian specifically as the parallel.

            Regarding the ‘miracles’ ascribed to Vespasian, given he was regarded by some, such as Josephus, as the ‘Messiah’ it is hardly surprising that stories about Jesus’ miraculous powers, who the Romans knew was hailed as the Messiah given the continuance of followers of Christ, were subsequently ascribed to Vespasian. Indeed I wonder if Tacitus’ rather sarcastic reporting of the incident originated with Josephus. But I dont see that as evidence that therefore Mark wrote his Gospel then.

          • My approach is to seek out where we find clusters. We have a cluster of quite specific references which are closer to 69-72 than to any other time. Often these references are next to each other (12.9 with 12.14-15; severed ear with naked flight, with clothing of Jesus as king). Picking odd points here and there is never the point, because unless we look at the entire picture then we could always be selective. It is obvious that the more factors the better, so we are looking at arguments that cite many factors, are able to put these in a single picture, and sideline none of the evidence.

            There are bound to be parallels with different emperors (Nero causing the death of Romulus’s figtree in 59) but is the evidence evenly spread or does it bulge at certain points?

            The central point about Vespasian’s healings you passed over: that there is a blind man healed with spittle (together with a withered hand); that this is a rarity; and that the date of Vespasian doing this is very similar indeed to the most proposed date of Mark.

            Is my view that Mark made up such details? He had a message and an agenda to prove that Jesus was King. He is known from our earliest source Papias (a) to have been meticulous in not leaving out any events or sayings he had heard Peter preaching about or relating over the years, (b) not to have known the true sequence. He used the Isaianic Servant Songs as his structural template to help solve the sequence problem but also and mainly to reinforce the Messiah (the Lord reigns from a tree) message. He is obligated to tell a single smooth story not one with holes in, and that is difficult in his situation. He will inevitably end up giving non eyewitness details in so doing (the book is absolutely chockfull of ‘irrelevant’ eyewitness details not essential to the thrust of the narrative which details Matt and Luke almost always join in omitting whereas we now treasure them). Where does he get his noneyewitness details from? From the way he envisages things, which will inevitably be informed by his own world of Rome in the late 60s and early 70s. And being an author he wants patterns and internal structures within his narrative. This is universal – it is impossible to tell any historical narrative (or indeed to tell about our day) without being very selective indeed and leaving out 99%. That which we retain we typically weave into a purposive story. There are stories with significance and stories without. Mark sees his story as one with significance, from which a message, moral and conclusion can be deduced. He shapes the narrative accordingly. Non-shaped narratives do not exist.

          • Is my view that Mark made up such details?
            Where does he get his noneyewitness details from? From the way he envisages things, which will inevitably be informed by his own world of Rome
            Mark sees his story as one with significance, from which a message, moral and conclusion can be deduced. He shapes the narrative accordingly. Non-shaped narratives do not exist.

            Thank you Christopher for spelling out so clearly how the gospel writers worked. They write salvation history. Detail and interpretation mixed together. I hope the literalists who read and comment here take note.

          • Well if I spelt it out so clearly, how come you had more than one inaccurate understanding per line?

            (1) ‘The gospel writers’ cannot be generalised about. Each is different from the others, and none of the others does what Mark does here (closest is Luke in some of the minor gap-filling details in Acts).

            (2) I was speaking of his noneyewitness details. You quote that, and then make out that I was speaking of his entire text! Most of which is a priceless eyewitness-derived document.

            (3) Salvation history? Not a single detail of what I said had anything to do with salvation or anything theological.

            (4) One should be careful lest the ‘history’ in the term ‘salvation history’ is a misnomer. Is the term ‘SH’ coherent?

            (5) Since ‘non-shaped narratives do not exist’ then we have no particular insight here into how Mark works, since he is simply doing what everyone else does.

            (6) ‘Detail and interpretation mixed together’? But detail can be inaccurate or accurate, so detail per se is neutral.

            (7) And as for interpretation, there is interpretation that could be recognised by the protagonists as showing good understanding, and there is interpretation that could be recognised by the protagonists as showing poor understanding.

            (8) ‘Interpretation’ is also an extremely vague word, and vague words are not used by clear thinkers.

            (9) It is also a word that is very regularly wrongly used to cover unwarranted or ill-informed embellishment, whether that embellishment be in the form of theology, current affairs, or systematisation. Proper interpretation is unpacking of what is already there, together with associated theorising: not recreating the misunderstood past in one’s own image and the image of one’s culture.

            The one misunderstanding per line is not a striking feature of your response, but a recurring feature of your responses.

          • One should be careful lest the ‘history’ in the term ‘salvation history’ is a misnomer. Is the term ‘SH’ coherent?

            I have tried to get Andrew Godsall to explain what ‘salvation history’ means, but the farthest I got was a link to a web page that is not accessible without paying a subscription, which was hardly helpful.

            From context, my best guess is that Andrew Godsall uses the phrase to mean something like ‘the history of peoples ideas about salvation’. So he thinks the Bible gives us the history of what people thought about what happened, rather than the history of what happened.

            It’s rather as if someone were to write a history of conspiracy theories, teaching their development from the Protocols to Dreyfuss to JFK to jet fuel not melting buildings to nanobots in mRNA vaccines. This ‘conspiracy history’ would be fascinating, and quite possibly teach us a lot about human psychology, but it would be useless for working out what actually happened, because that wouldn’t be its aim.

            Anyway that seems to be what Andrew Godsall means when he writes ‘salvation history’: the history of people’s ideas about salvation, rather that the history of what actually happened.

            (If that’s not it it would be helpful to either get a definition or to be pointed to a definition somewhere that doesn’t require payment to access)

          • But (a) it is a lot easier to speak of recent events than about something so nebulous and convoluted as ‘salvation history’; and (b) if the salvation history is a setting of events in context, it makes very little sense indeed to set them in context if you have not first mentioned them. I think therefore by ‘detail and interpretation’ Andrew means ‘recounting events plus their wider significance as well’.

          • Christopher: I am certain you know the term Heilsgeschichte and if you don’t then I have no idea how you managed your education in NT studies without doing so, so please don’t be disingenuous.

            1, The gospel writers can certainly be generalised about in what they were trying to convey. If they can’t be, then the term gospel is meaningless.

            2. No, I don’t. You simply fail to read correctly, as is often the case. You read what you think was said, not what was actually said.

            3. Everything in the gospels has to do with salvation. What on earth do you think the good news is about?

            4. Do some further research on the matter. You ought to be very well aware of this area of study.

            5. Who said otherwise?

            6. Some detail, i.e. the non eye witness accounts have been inserted by Mark, as you rightly remind us. We can’t be sure if they are accurate or inaccurate. They are by no means neutral.

            7. Who said otherwise? It doesn’t detract from the fact that Mark is interpreting in ways that you confirm in your earlier post. Stop writing nonsense here.

            8. Nothing vague about the word interpretation. You interpret things the whole time.

            9. And it is also a word that is often rightly used.

            Your failure to read correctly is not a striking feature of your response but a consistent feature of your responses. As is your staggering generalisation.

            Yet nothing detracts from what you say earlier: Mark is inserting material to suit his ‘message and agenda’ ( your words).

          • I think therefore by ‘detail and interpretation’ Andrew means ‘recounting events plus their wider significance as well’.

            I’d like to think so, but remember Andrew Godsall has specifically said, for example, that he doesn’t believe Jesus stilled a storm. He thinks that whole incident was made up (well, he thinks that they did spend time on boats, and that therefore they were probably caught in storms; but he thinks that the incident where they were scared, and Jesus awoke, and caused the storm to subside, is fiction).

            So that’s quite a long way from ‘recounting events plus their wider significance as well’. That’s deep into ‘making up stories to illustrate what people thought, with only a tenuous connection to what actually happened’ territory.

            Tell you what, see if you can get Andrew Godsall to say whether he thinks the resurrection, or the virgin birth, actually happened as historical events. Not whether he ‘believes’ them, whatever he means by that, but whether they actually occurred.

          • “I think therefore by ‘detail and interpretation’ Andrew means ‘recounting events plus their wider significance as well’. “

            Indeed so Christopher and that is of course obvious from the context. All part of Heilsgeschichte.

          • Indeed so Christopher and that is of course obvious from the context. All part of Heilsgeschichte.

            It’s vitally important to distinguish between details and interpretation, though, isn’t it?

            Otherwise how can we sure sure, for example, that Andrew Godsall doesn’t think that the details of what happened after Jesus died are that his disciples met up and ate some fish and felt really spiritually close to Jesus and decided that Jesus’ teachings did not go to the grave with their originator but should rise again; and that the whole thing about Jesus being physically there and eating with them is an interpretation of that, rendered as ‘salvation history’?

          • Hi Andrew

            (1) You cannot possibly think we class every word we know as unproblematic, to be accepted without question. Many words exist. Many words are in common parlance. Not all are self-explanatory or even necessarily coherent. You seem to think the issue is that I have never heard the word Heilsgeschichte (!) as opposed to being that I find it slightly unsatisfactory, and don’t just swallow it whole.

            (3) It is not true that everything in the Bible is about salvation, merely that salvation is an overarching theme. Some people concentrate on the historical bits. ‘Jesus stood in a boat’ says nothing about salvation. ‘I see men like trees walking’ says nothing about salvation.

            (4) I was not speaking of noneyewitness accounts in the first place, but of noneyewitness details within eyewitness material – what is sometimes called padding or polyfilla that enables a complete story to be told rather than a story with holes in.

            (8) You can’t possibly deny that interpretation is a broad term, nor that it is hard for broad terms to avoid being vague.

          • Christopher: I’m afraid you are just talking generalised nonsense again.

            1. If you don’t accept the concept of Heilsgeschichte, then please say what you find problematic. It rather appears as if you have never heard the term before.

            3. Yes, everything in the bible is about salvation. Seeing trees walking about is part of a story about salvation. So is Jesus being in a boat. Which bible are you reading?!

            4. You are getting as nonsensical as S now when S suggested that the genealogies are just ‘scene setting’. The details are significant. The devil is in the details.

            8. Interpretation only exists when one interprets something. It’s then anything but vague.

          • (1) There are 2 possibilities – either you think people should accept every concept that is thrown at them uncritically, or you think that anything they disagree with they must never have heard of. I disagree with fact cats. It follows, by your logic, that I have never heard of fat cats. (But in order to disagree with them, I would in fact first have to have heard of them, else it would be impossible to express disagreement.)

            (3) Not what I said. I was taking about the detail of Jesus being in a boat, and the detail of ‘trees walking’. These are observational details. It is only their broader context that has anything to do with salvation. Neither would figure in a study of what salvation is.

            (4) I agree that all details are important, and am certainly in good company when I say that the degree of their importance varies. Some are essential to a precis or summary, others can be excluded in a summary.

            (8) But you can see that my topic is ‘interpretation’ being vague, not interpretation being vague.

          • Christopher:

            1. The fact that you go on generalising doesn’t give any confidence that you have ever heard the term. The fact that you didn’t seem to understand what ‘salvation history’ might be suggests that you had never heard the term. The fact that you can’t say what your problem with the term is suggests you haven’t heard the term. I can only judge by the evidence you freely offer.

            3. They don’t exist as observational details outside of the narrative Mark is telling. They are all of a piece with it. The narrative is about salvation, as is the whole narrative of scripture.

            4. Then we agree so I have no idea what point you are trying to make here.

            8. ‘Interpretation’ is completely neutral until it is applied. It is neither vague nor specific. It only becomes one of those, or anywhere on the spectrum between the two, when it is applied.

          • The fact that you didn’t seem to understand what ‘salvation history’ might be suggests that you had never heard the term.

            Perhaps it would help if, rather than just claiming people don’t understand the term, you were to either offer a definition of it or give a reference to somewhere we can find a definition, that doesn’t require payment to access?

    • PC1 – yep – the `plain man’s educated guess’ for dating of Acts would be just after Paul’s house arrest and before his martyrdom (there is evidence to suggest that he was martyred).

      The ending of Acts is therefore perfect, because the focus is on Jesus and on proclaiming the good news of Jesus. A thought experiment: suppose that Acts had finished with the martyrdom of Paul – would that not have become the focus and the centre of attention of the book? If it had already happened, then I doubt very much that it would have occurred to Luke to leave it out and finish on the high note – of the word being proclaimed throughout Rome (following the house arrest of Paul) – and to omit this further information.

      Again – another `plain man’s educated guess’ (apologies to Christopher – without having studied the works of the scholars) would be that Luke’s gospel was either at the same time – or only shortly before this. I feel that Luke’s gospel is intended to accompany the teaching of the apostle Paul.

    • Just to add a little to this debate that it is the fairly obvious point that Hebrew words tend to be shorter. A better measure might be characters.

    • It has been argued that Luke avoided mentioning Paul’s death because he did not want Paul’s death to become the focus. The Gospel ends and Acts begins with the resurrected Jesus and although Paul is under house arrest, the Word of God is unfettered and continues to spread. Thus, it is suggested, there is a kind of symmetry in the freedom of Christ from death and the freedom of the Word from constraint. Continuing on with Paul’s fate would have distracted from this.

      On the other hand, if Luke were writing long after Paul’s death he would know that the death of the apostle did not mean the end of the proclamation, since the Word was being spread through his own writings. Thus, there would be no huge reason not to mention what happened to Paul – unless it were so well known, then, to be unnecessary. I think that it is also possible that Luke is early and that he finishes his work before Paul’s ultimate fate is decided.

      I am not an expert in Acts or the surrounding period, but as far as I am aware, from my own reading of commentaries, there is no solid internal evidence that points to a date in the 90s. Luke doesn’t mention the Jewish War or the fall of the Temple, nor even the death of James, the brother of Jesus, which may be as early as 62 according to Bernier. To my mind, the death of the Lord’s brother might be significant, simply because of how important the Jewish believers in Jerusalem were in Paul’s life and esp. the latter part of Acts. I don#t know all the arguments put forward for a later date – i.e.; towards the end of the 1st century and “later” than the earlier suggested dates. The older belief that the “high christology” of the NT requires late dates for almost all its documents seems completely busted by now – but this does not mean that more solid reasoning could not support a late date. I simply see little reason for it and I also disagree with the assumption that writing major works necessarily requires advanced age. Yes, some writers produce their best work later, but some produce great works early – it is dangerous to over-generalise. While not wishing to claim anything for myself, I would say that my preaching improved over time – as one might hope – and my best preaching was my latest, but that does not mean that I think all my earlier work was worthless. On the other hand, I used to write poetry and other pieces – primarily for myself I hasten to add – and while I would not claim it has any merit at all, I am absolutely sure that my best work is my earliest. Partly, this might be because energy that used to go into subjective poetry was diverted into preaching, nevertheless, I would argue that writing does not follow tramlines and in any case, we do not know enough about Luke to be able to say with confidence what he could or could not have written at any particular time. We have no way of knowing how old he was when he travelled and collected material for his Gospel nor how old he was when he finished Acts – an Acts written in the 60s could easily be the product of a mature or even elderly man.

  9. I’m only a pew-filler rather than a professional Christian so have to rely on experts in their field. Like with climate change, there are always a few nutters who don’t accept it, but the majority do.

    In the same way we have to rely on experts in this area. Of course there’s some nutters but as a ley person I would rather accept what the majority of experts think rather than let my feelings dictate what I want them to say.

    • as a ley person I would rather accept what the majority of experts think rather than let my feelings dictate what I want them to say.

      You’d be one of nature’s Roman Catholics rather than one of nature’s Protestants, then?

      • The need to let professionals say what’s what extends to ALL denominations.
        “ we have no intention of invading God’s mountain. You go and find out. Come back and tell us what to think, do, behave.”
        Whatever Protestantism won is mostly squandered don’t you think? It laid out a new set of beliefs to sign up to. But it found that after leading the horse to water it couldn’t make it drink. We Protestants have a better understanding, we’re right next to the water trough.

          • The accusation is that Catholics don’t think about what they believe, they just accept what they’re told. Implying that Protestants have a real faith. I have found that most Christians do not want to think, they simply want to be told that everything is okay as long as they believe whatever the church membership document states.

          • The accusation is that Catholics don’t think about what they believe, they just accept what they’re told. Implying that Protestants have a real faith.

            Dunno where you get ‘real faith’ from… the stereotype is just that Romans accept whatever they are told, but a Protestant won’t accept anything unless they’ve worked it out themselves from first principles.

            I have found that most Christians do not want to think, they simply want to be told that everything is okay as long as they believe whatever the church membership document states.

            Depends on the church I think. Some are like that, but some are full of bolshy individuals who will argue back about everything.

    • Well, Bernier is certainly an expert. And in his book he is pointing out that many ‘experts’ in this area assume things that are not well justified, and the discipline ends up repeating things either because people are lazy and don’t examine presupposition, or because they have a vested interest. If you were awarded your PhD for an argument based on an assumption about dating, you are naturally less inclined to change this, even in the fact of evidence.

      So this argument is worth paying attention to.

        • I’d prefer an operation done by an expert surgeon rather than some quack, but each to their own I guess.

          Well obviously we’d all rather be treated by an expert who can balance our humours properly rather than one of these new-fangled quacks who thinks that diseases are caused by tiny animals that live within us.

  10. I guess one issue that intrigues me, in tandem with date, is how much collective editing and collaboration between authors went into generating the ‘final copy’? I mean, if we were drafting scripture today, it makes sense that we would work as groups together and check what’s being drafted or considered for drafting, and maybe revise it, correct it, re-order it, and work in the important themes, remove the less important ones.

    Could the Holy Spirit not have shared in that kind of process, using minds working collectively?

    Did early church leaders have an agenda and message they were trying to control?

    Or was everything just scattered and individual and written/inspired spontaneously without involvement of others? (Of course, it may vary from text to text.)

    Do you think at the bringing together of canon there was editing then, to make the doctrine all coherent and create a collective narrative and platform for how believers thought the faith should be presented? Or do earlier documents show complete finished editions before overall canon was brought together, disproving the possibility of later editing?

    Obviously no expert in this, hence the questions?

    • Susannah

      I remember a prominent biblical scholar saying that there really was little need to debate what books were part of the canon. They seem to have been recognised in general circulation. It seems to have been a case of rubber stamping what was already understood.

      Whatever scrutiny was involved there must have ben little editing for harmonising – in the gospels some might have hoped for more obvious harmony. As a reader and not a scholar I don’t see conscious efforts to harmonise.

      However, I wouldn’t expect to see such signs because I believe these are words taught by the Spirit of God and ultimately without fault. Jesus clearly believed this of the OT. He expected the Spirit to guide his apostles into all truth.

      • I remember a prominent biblical scholar saying that there really was little need to debate what books were part of the canon.

        Well, except the apocrypha. There was some debate there. But then that’s the exception that proves the rule: it shows that they really were considering the question, not just thoughtlessly rubber-stamping. It’s just that in sixty-six cases the answer was blatantly obvious.

        • Tell that to the Catholics. Oh, you already have. Tell that to the Ethiopians then – their Bible has 81 books!

    • J. A. T. Robinson addressed an aspect of this issue in his “Redating the New Testament” where he pointed out that some theories of Gospel creation/redaction etc, were a product of print culture – he lived and wrote in an era when “cut and paste” literally meant that, esp. in the newspaper industry. The production of texts in the first century was not “cut and paste” and Robinson makes some telling comments about scholars who assume that portraits of Jesus were the product of cobbling together of assorted and isolated bits and pieces. Of course, we live in an age where “cut and paste” is an outdated metaphor for something that can be done with a few clicks of a mouse; this gives computer literate people an even more distorted idea of how easily texts could be written, copied and edited. I wonder what Robinson would say about today’s media?

      While collaboration seems like a Christian virtue, I think it would be difficult to produce a text or texts collectively. Luke appears to have listened to various witnesses and bearers of the Jesus tradition (plus, presumably, those who participated in the events in Acts which were beyond his personal experience) but he then had to take those stories and memories and forge them into a singular whole. The telling/listening/gathering was collaborative, but the writing was almost certainly done by one person – notwithstanding the hypothetical possibility of later editing. Kenneth Bailey suggests that recalling and retelling stories of Jesus was part of what happened when Christians gathered – before the written canon – and so remembering Jesus was a collaborative effort. Nevertheless, as a matter of practicality, the physical act of writing presupposes a single author – although it is possible that scribes/secretaries did the actual writing and polished the finished work – some people suggest this in the case of Paul’s letters, but some of those epistles are so tightly argued that it suggests that either Paul kept a very tight rein or the scribe had a “really, really” good grasp of what Paul wanted to say!

  11. I’ve just finished reading Jonathan Bernier’s Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament and I think he makes a strong case for a pre AD 7O date for the majority of the New Testament books. I do think however he could strengthen his case by considering why the gospels were written down and circulated. My view here is biased by dealing with a number of British Iranians who having come to faith and who want their families back in inaccessible Iran to come to faith. What have they done? They’ve sent them copies of Scripture. Now I think this can be applied easily to the 1st Century. Imagine someone from Numidia or even Britannica coming to faith in Christ under the preaching of perhaps Peter in Rome. They want to share the good news with the family back home and they’ve got nearly 2000 years before the internet or the phone is invented. What’s the obvious solution? It’s to go to Peter or his aide John Mark and say ‘can I buy a written copy of the story of Jesus?’ I can imagine the Petrine team creating some master document, say under Mark’s supervision, from which copies are made to anybody who wants one in order to send it off to the ends of empire. Or the almost identical situation with someone like the Ethiopian eunuch heading back home asking for something to take with him.
    It’s not remarkable to imagine the early church producing written gospels as early as AD40: it would be remarkable if they hadn’t.

  12. I dont think it was as easy to make copies as you seem to imply. It was rather expensive and so copies ‘for anyone who wanted one’ is highly unlikely. But I agree Mark may have been written in the 40s or 50s.

    Mark seems to have left out the specific names of some individuals to whom he refers whilst John names them. For example the High Priest. This would seem to be because Mark knew those individuals may have been identifiable by the authorities and thus persecuted, when that could have been avoided. With the High Priest, it was more likely because he didnt want to draw attention to that specific one as he and his family (his sons became High Priest too) had ongoing power which could easily be used against individuals within the church. These are the sort of clues within the text that may point to a likely date, in the High Priest’s case written at a time when he or his family still held considerable power.


    • Copyists flourished and a wealthy individual could have surely had, say Marks gospel copied within a day. Not exactly photocopying speed but feasible.

      • a wealthy individual could have surely had, say Marks gospel copied within a day

        (a) nonsense, from obtaining and preparing the vellum and the quills through to doing the scribing it would have taken weeks

        ii. the fact that a wealthy individual could have a single copy made in a few weeks is so far from ‘a copy for anyone that wants one’ that you can’t see it with the Hubble telescope. A tiny number of people would have been that rich. And Christianity mainly did not spread among the rich.

        • S – I think that Chris Walley has better arguments than you do here for two reasons:
          a) the letters by Paul were being copied and circulated (so copying and circulating written Christian material wasn’t completely unknown – although Paul’s letter to the Romans is probably shorter than Mark’s gospel).
          b) We have to bear in mind that Christians were deeply conscious of the fact that this was the unique `once for all’ event – the importance of recording it for remote posterity, in such a way that remote posterity would understand that the message hadn’t been mucked about with and that it was straight eye-witness testimony.

          Considerations in b) would indicate that they would have an imperative to get the recollections, observations and theological understanding of Peter down on whatever (scroll, codex or something) before people started mis-remembering, regardless of whether or not they were copying the text and sending it out.

          But also – as Chris Walley points out, there is nothing better than a written gospel to send out the message to far flung places – and this certainly would not have been lost on the early Christians (who were indeed copying the Pauline epistles at that time). Say – send one copy of the gospel to a Christian community – it doesn’t have to be an expensive copy for one wealthy individual.

          This was the `once-for-all’ event and Christians at the time were fully aware of this, the importance of the event and the burden on them to record it accurately and to get the gospel message out. They were aware that this required super-human efforts on their part.

          • Considerations in b) would indicate that they would have an imperative to get the recollections, observations and theological understanding of Peter down on whatever (scroll, codex or something) before people started mis-remembering, regardless of whether or not they were copying the text and sending it out.

            Yes, I accept that. My point was only that arguments based on the idea that Christians would have wanted to write the gospel down in order to distribute it are based on not fully understanding the difference between now and a pre-printing-press society.

            I was I believe explicit above that they certainly would have (and indeed did) write recollections down for the purpose of archiving them for the future, and that this in itself doesn’t argue for any particular date except that I am sure they were written within the lifetimes of at least some of the eyewitnesses whose recollections they preserve.

            But as for whether they started the process of recording recollections in writing as soon as Jesus ascended to Heaven, or whether they waited until it was an urgent task as those who had met Him were starting to die … I don’t think this argument comes down on either side, I think you need other evidence for that.

          • Look at Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Bauckham. The “pressure” to get things down might only have become real towards the end of the apostle’s life (or even the apostles’ lives) since Peter, himself, would have been considered a far better witness than a book, even if the book had been written by Peter, himself. This is part of the culture that Bauckham addresses that applies to information in general, quite apart from the issue of how easy it was to make or obtain a written text. The Gospels and Acts obviously involve both the crucifixion of Jesus and of the persecution of the early church and the martyrdom of both named and unnamed believers – yet Luke focuses on the apostles preaching and teaching and says nothing about writing. Even though Israel had scriptures and a vast body of oral traditional material it is accepted that it circulated for decades and even centuries before eventually being written down as Mishnah and Talmud etc. Thus, it is no surprise that a group following Jesus would focus on oral memory, esp. since Jesus was not offering merely a legal opinion about the meaning of Torah, but was giving a new way of life. Secondly, of course, the early Church did not merely interpret sayings, but followed the living Jesus and the guidance of the Spirit – this did not mean the teaching did not matter, rather it mattered in the sense of needing to be internalised, so that spiritual guidance could be tested. This meant the instant accessibility of memory rather than trying to locate a book. (Indeed, the long persistence of the oral tradition of Judaism as purely oral may be because of a similar perceived need to have such knowledge in memory and not in a possibly inaccessible book. There are plenty of stories of how Rabbinic students sometimes had phenomenal memories and could reproduce the text from memory, even though they had the books readily to hand.)

        • S, you are right that producing something on vellum/parchment is an expensive and lengthy process. There are some interesting statistics on this in the Wikipedia article on the Codex Sinaiticus. You could not have just popped down to the local WH Smiths to get some.

          I then thought, perhaps they used papyrus. I presume that this was the material used for the original letters. However, a quick check (Wikipedia again) about the Dead Sea Scrolls reveals that the majority of these were parchment. I guess that there was a tension. If the document were deemed important, then it would be copied onto parchment. Certainly by the time you get to the 4th century and the great codices, their production was a lengthy process which was subject to some checks.

          From some reading a few years ago, I think I can recall that in some places, circa 2nd century, the role of the ‘lector’ included being responsible for the books, suggesting that a local congregation would have these, but not individuals.

          By the time of 2nd Peter [a dating question!], it seems that Paul’s letters were known, at least to the recipients of this letter, suggesting distribution. [Also, it says that they are hard to understand… ]

          I am inclined to suggest that:
          – there was distribution of the NT texts
          – that it was not easy, so that only congregations would have copies.

  13. This is an unrelated question. Can anyone suggest a good online site that will help people like me who have no Greek or Hebrew. I have dictionaries like bill Mounce which is also online. I tend to largely depend on commentaries. I don’t have an interlinear but I wonder how helpful it would be for me anyway. The problem as I see it is you have to have a thorough knowledge of Hebrew and Greek before you can speak with any authority.

    Any comments.

      • Another interesting source is the NET Bible: netbible.org. They give lots of notes on the translation and the choices which they have made.

    • Hello John,
      That would be Islam, to be read only in the original language, not Christianity, would it not John.
      For many years I’ve been wary that any one individual has a better translation and construct, than say a team of translators.
      And while I have lexicons and older tomes such as Strongs, I’ve come away from semantics and grammar, (which in themselves have detractors) to more of, what Ian Paul describes as “sense” of passage in context.
      And for many years I’ve wondered whether the authors of scripture had any real idea of grammar, even precision in word use, with which scholars seek to read back into the text to gain and understanding of authorial intent.
      I sometimes see that the Big Picture(s), panoramas of the Bible, are missed or overlooked when honing in on semantics and grammar: wood and trees.
      An example would be ps 119 and where verse 9 fits in, within wisdom, devotional literature, and the main purpose(s) of the psalm in total, the subject of a different article, that Oliver Harrison stimulated.
      Having said that, it probably depends on the Christian circles in which one moves; scholarship, pastorate, lay etc.
      So, that is no help at all. Or you could use the Amplified Bible and chose the meaning you like the best, in these days of reader, subjective interpretation.

      • Speaking with any authority, John?
        I suppose their is no need to have Bible translators into the various world languages? It would only be necessary to get everyone to. read Greek and Hebrew. And Pentecost never happened!
        And the Gospel, Good News, would not carry any quickening authority unless delivered in Greek, as opposed to every, tongue, tribe, nation.
        And why have an English to Russian Bible translation for our Ukrainian guests.
        Perhaps we all need to return to Rome and Latin to have any real Magisterium authority.

        • Hi Geoff

          I take your general point. I try to base anything that requires careful consideration on a consensus of a couple of good texts. I find the Darby translation good for a kind of literal accuracy.

      • Very well put Geoff.
        I think interpretation works best when it’s done by a group for a specific task. Like scouts range-finding a target and reporting their telemetry back to the guns. Not all the data will converge. The best fit will be interpreted as the target.
        As the body we should all work together. No one person should be elevated with the responsibility to set policy. People on the ground, engaging face to face in evangelism should have more weight than a holy hermit surrounded with tomes of greek books.

      • Having knowledge of Greek or Hebrew does not equate to Islam! John was making a valid point that it is hard for the less knowledgeable to argue with the more knowledgeable and since the Bible was written in Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek, it is an important part of Biblical scholarship to understand these languages.

        (BTW at least once on this page someone’s opinion was dismissed because they had not done theological study – this may be valid critique or scholarly elitism, I don’t know, but it illustrates a problem – by definition a trained guild can become a closed shop to the untrained.)
        On the other hand, most of us would encourage Bible reading – although some, such as Hauerwas, warn against the dangers of popular reading. While some ministerial/clergy training expects a familiarity with the Biblical languages, it is not acquired by every student and some churches don’t even expect it. The solution, for most of us who don’t have much Hebrew or Greek, is to use good commentaries, to try to understand the issues and to look at the big picture and the details in the light of one another. Again, this is not Islam, where people recite the text of the Quran without expecting to understand it – if a Christian learns or wants to learn Hebrew or Greek it is with the intention of understanding it and thus being a better interpreter and also, as a bonus, to be able to join in discussions like this.

    • Hello John,

      I would recommend STEP Bible (https://www.stepbible.org/). The site allows you to look at different translations and languages side by side, and if you click on Hebrew and Greek vocabulary items you can see alternative translations and meanings, how often each word occurs, whereabouts the words occur, cognates, etc.

  14. S
    For fun I created a grid of squares 7×7 and wrote the first half of Revelation 1 into it. Then I did the same again and wrote the second half into that. It is surprising how regularly the phrases fit. It makes me wonder if the grid comes first and the words second. I imagine John starting with a clean wax grid and constructing his work to fit. Perhaps a lot of formal writing was created in this way. Anything that does not fit a pattern has been redacted or embellished. I have it as a pdf if interested. I expect it’s all been done before so I haven’t taken it any further. I’d love to know if anything similar has been done.

  15. S
    The Fall (just like the crucifixion) transcends space and time. The invitation of sin into the world corrupted it back to its very beginning.

    I think I want to agree with you here but your statement feels like something I might have written. Could you explain how sin corrupts backwards in time?

    • Could you explain how sin corrupts backwards in time?

      No. I could give you the reasons that I think it does, and I could give you metaphors, but describe the actual mechanism? Search me, mate.

      • I could no more explain to you how Jesus’ death on the cross saves us from that corruption, in a way that transcends space and time.

      • Metaphors will do. I’m not trying to trap you. I just think being a bit ‘analogue’, helps build understanding and elicits empathy. You tend to be too binary. Can not theology be a bit poetic?

        • Metaphors will do.

          Oh, well, in that case, you have to remember that the universe is God’s creation so God — who is outside time, of course, time being part of creation — stand in a relation to the universe analogous to that which an author stands to their novel or a playwright to their play or a composer to their symphony.

          But the universe of course, being the creation of God and not a mere human, is much more complex than any of those things, so the threads of meaning that are woven throughout it are so much more intricate and precise — and, like a novel or a play or a symphony, they don’t just go forward but resonate back and forth, foreshadowing and paying off.

          Sin, then, is the corruption of God’s opus: but again like a novel, symphony or play, corruption at one point necessarily spoils the whole effect. A duff pay-off means that an earlier foreshadowing no longer works. A bum note at the climax of a movement reduces the whole build-up to bathos. And so forth.

          Obviously that’s just a metaphor.

          You tend to be too binary.

          Only when it comes to predicates that are binary.

          • Steve, you have to recall that S only deals in black and white, and not colour or shades of grey. Binary is exactly the term to use, and thank you for doing so,

            S also only ever allows human attributes for God, without making any allowance for the apophatic tradition. It’s a category mistake of the highest order but it keeps being repeated.

          • Steve, you have to recall that S only deals in black and white, and not colour or shades of grey. Binary is exactly the term to use, and thank you for doing so,

            I’d be interested to know what ‘colours’ or ‘shades of grey’ there are in claims like ‘God exists’ or ‘Jesus was raised from the dead’. Those seem pretty binary to me: either God exists or He doesn’t, either Jesus was raised or He wasn’t (and St. Paul agrees with me on that last one).

            But if you can name a this possibility between God existing and God not excusing that adds ‘colour’ or a ‘shade of grey’ then I’m sure we’re all ears. Go on.

          • S – the God existing bit isn’t really the important bit; `the devils believe that – and shudder.’

            The important bit is faith – which is the certainty that, through the once-for-all event, the crucifixion and resurrection, I will see life; I am going to heaven when I pass from this life to the next.

          • the God existing bit isn’t really the important bit

            God existing isn’t sufficient, but it is necessary. And I think necessary things count as important. Do you not?

            But the point isn’t whether it is important, it’s whether it is binary. And unless you can come up with a third option that is neither ‘God exists’ nor ‘God doesn’t exist’ then you will have to admit that there are only two possibilities, and the word we use to describe when there are only two possibilities is ‘binary’.

          • The important bit is faith – which is the certainty that, through the once-for-all event, the crucifixion and resurrection, I will see life; I am going to heaven when I pass from this life to the next.

            Which certainty you can only have if Jesus really was raised. If Jesus was not raised, your faith odd in nothing and you are the most pathetic of human beings. St. Paul got that right.

            So your certainty depends on Jesus having been raised. And either Jesus was raised, or Jesus wasn’t raised. Again: only two possibilities. There’s no ‘Jesus was sort of half raised’ option.

            Two possibilities. Bi-nary.

            So your certainty rests, fundamentally, on which side of a binary is true. One way, and you have eternal life. The other, and you’re a pathetic loser wasting your life on a lie. That binary is the difference.

            So tell me again how ‘binary’ is a criticism.

          • well, I suppose you have the Schodinger’s cat option

            Do you actually understand the Copenhagan interpretation? Well enough to explain Schrödinger‘s objection? Where do you stand on non-locality and hidden variables? Would you leap over the quantum fence?

            Or are you just repeating something you read in some sci-fi book or heard on television because you think it makes you sound intelligent?

            If the former please explain exactly what you think the relationship is here to quantum mechanics and why you think it’s relevant.

            If the latter, realise that throwing about terms you don’t understand doesn’t make you seem intelligent. Quite the opposite, in fact.

          • S – with apologies – I was being facetious here – because I find the existence of God bit of the discussion a bit of a joke. It wasn’t clear to me if you were trying to wind Andrew up – or if Andrew was trying to wind you up – or if you were both simply trying to add some entertainment value to the thread.

            So I was taking a `Flann O’Brien’ take on quantum physics rather than anything serious.

            I learned most of the quantum mechanics I know from David Bohm’s wonderful treatise on the subject – but we’d probably best leave it there. This is – after all – a theology blog.

          • Jock I don’t know if you have studied some of the arguments for the existence of God – the ontological argument, the cosmological argument or the teleological argument. The ontological argument basically says that God is the greatest thing we can conceive of and therefore God must exist because if God didn’t exist then we could conceive of something greater – a God who did exist. The problem with this argument is that existence is a human term being used for God who is not human. One argument counter to the ontological one is that existence puts limits on God. For example, does God exist in space? Or time? If God exists, then what about a time before God existed?

            God just ‘is’. The first Chapter – such sublime writing it is hard to think of anything more sublime – of John’s Gospel wrestles with this of course. God doesn’t come into existence. It’s rather like asking, does love exist. And don’t forget the scriptures describe God as love. You simply don’t ask if love exists. It’s a category error. So asking if God exists or not is a category error. A basic error. A basic binary error. We don’t, when we say the Creed, say that we believe God exists. We say be believe *in* God. And nowhere do the scriptures say that God exists. They assume that because God doesn’t exist or not exist. God just *is*, from the very beginning – which is not any time or date but simply means there never was a time when there wasn’t God. Because if there were, it would put a limit on God. And God doesn’t have limits.

            So as you rightly note Jock, the binary approach just doesn’t work,

          • I learned most of the quantum mechanics I know from David Bohm’s wonderful treatise on the subject

            Saints preserve us from panpsychist woowoo.

          • God just ‘is’.

            Or maybe — and this is the point — God just ‘isn’t’. Right? That’s a possibility, yes? Maybe God is, but maybe God… isn’t.

            And what’s more it’s a binary possibility, isn’t it? Either God is or God isn’t. There’s no third option, is there?

            You simply don’t ask if love exists.

            Are you high? Of course you can ask whether love exists. Many people throughout history have asked whether love exists. Entire genres of popular song revolve around the question of whether love exists. Massive philosophical works have been written about the question of whether love exists, entire philosophical movements have based themselves either on the claim that love does exist or the claim that love doesn’t exist.

            There was a guy called Epicurus, he said that love doesn’t exist. Was quite convinced about it. You might have heard of him? Actually probably not, we know philosophy is all Greek to you.

            ‘Don’t ask if love exists’. Honestly. Of all the nonsense you spout, that’s up there.

            They assume that because God doesn’t exist or not exist. God just *is*,

            You do realise, right, that ‘God just is’ is another way of saying ‘God exists’? You’ve just said the same thing in slightly different words and you’re claiming it as some kind of earth-shattering revelation?

            God is, and exists — or God isn’t, and doesn’t exist. Back to the binary. You can twiddle the words around all you like but those are the only two possibilities. Binary. Bi-nary. Like Bi-cycle. D’you get it now?

          • S – well, I’m sorry you don’t like the De Broglie-Bohm theory – mathematically it is very satisfying (at least I found it so). Also – it doesn’t contradict the Copenhagen interpretation if that’s what you’re bothered about.

            If you consider the cat’s wave function, it can be decomposed into two parts – alive and dead – and, crucially, their supports are disjoint. Since the whole system requires both the wave function and the wave position, it’s completely clear that there is no contradiction with the Copenhagen interpretation.

            I first came across Bohmian mechanics at the International Congress of Mathematical Physics at Leipzig in 1991. I was a student back then. In a round table discussion, there was one person advocating the Bohm approach – and three others telling him that he was an idiot and that Bohm’s approach was rubbish. I couldn’t see why it was rubbish and in fact it seemed to make a lot of sense – and since I’m by nature usually supportive of the underdog, I’ve been attracted to it ever since.

            I don’t work in quantum physics and don’t keep up with the subject – it’s something I read long ago (and never looked at since).

          • Also – it doesn’t contradict the Copenhagen interpretation if that’s what you’re bothered about.

            That’s very much not what I’m bothered about. I’m with Schrödinger and Einstein: the cat is either alive or dead, and the fact that the Copenhagen interpretation has it as both at once shows that the Copenhagen interpretation is ridiculous nonsense.

            And adding more ridiculous panpsychist woowoo on top doesn’t make it less nonsense.

          • S – well, if you don’t like the deBroglie – Bohm approach, that is your loss, I suppose. By `panpsychic woowoo’ I presume you are referring to the mathematics ……

          • Andrew – for me, on this matter, I am absolutely unitary (not binary and not some sort of spectrum); God is. Furthermore, I am `in Him’ through the saving work that Christ did on the cross. This is a fact; I also know that I cannot prove this fact; this is faith.

            As far as arguments for existence of God go – yes – I agree with you one hundred percent here – there is something fundamentally wrong with this – for the reasons you give.

  16. S your funny answer about cats was like an AI answer. I’m not suggesting you are an AI! Or live a virtual binary existence. Makes now wonder if we will be trolled one day by a persistent theological entity!?


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