Category Archives: Delay in writing

CAN WE TRUST THE NEW TESTAMENT: LESSON 3: DELAY IN WRITING

Jesus died around 30 A.D.- 33 A.D. The first gospel account/epistle wasn’t written until the late 40s/50s. Therefore, you have around 20 years from the time Jesus died until the time these men even began to write about Him. Why was there such a delay? Can we trust what they wrote? Why did they not write down anything until some 20 years later?

First, it is an assumption to claim that these men didn’t write down what happened to them prior to the gospel accounts they recorded. There is no reason to believe they couldn’t have taken notes and documented the events as they happened and then later written their official gospel accounts.

From a practical standpoint, this is very possible. Many authors of biographies will spend years taking notes before they write the official biography. Therefore, to claim that these men didn’t write anything down until they wrote their gospel account is a presupposition that cannot be sustained.

Second, the mission of the early church and the disciples was spoken proclamation (not written). The apostles and leaders of the church were preoccupied with spreading the gospel through the spoken word. They established their authority through miracles as they were speaking so that when they would eventually begin writing, the readers would take it seriously.

The disciples/apostles of Jesus had been commissioned by Jesus to take the gospel to the world through the spoken word first and foremost (Mt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 13:49; 16:5; 17:6; 19:20; 28:31).

Third, the books and letters that make up the New Testament were originally written for specific audiences and for specific purposes. For example, Mark was written for the Gentiles. Yet, the Gentiles were not being accepted into Christianity until several years after the establishment of the church (Acts 10). The epistles that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth could not have been written until there was a church at Corinth. If the church at Corinth was not established until the apostle Paul’s second missionary journey (AD. 49-52), then Paul obviously wrote to the Christians in Corinth after this time.

Fourth, a written record of the eyewitnesses’ testimony would have not been deemed important until some of those eyewitnesses began to die through both natural means and martyrdom.  Only after some of the apostles and other eyewitnesses were no longer alive to be consulted did a practical need arise for a written source of their testimony.

In other words, if I am speaking about an event that everyone would have been familiar with, then there would be no need to document it. However, once eye witness testimony began to get older and/or die off, then there becomes a natural need for written documentation.

Can We Trust Their Memory?

First, in order to be able to understand how trustworthy these writings really are, we must understand the importance of the memory in 1st century culture.

We live in a society where one can “tweet,” “text” or e-mail words in a mere matter of seconds. We cannot look at the 1st century through 21st century glasses. It is hard for us to understand spoken proclamation and memorization today since it no longer serves the same kind of importance that it once did.

“In the tradition of western culture it is only in our own day that the memory has been effectively unloaded into books. Not until our own day have we learned to accept a form of education which to a great extent consists of being able to find the material which is required in the right books, without needing to carry it all in the memory. Not until our day has the revolution taken place which has been called “the dethronement of memory” (Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript, p. 123).

Below is an example that demonstrates memorization during those days:

“The man who repeats his chapter…one hundred times is not to be compared with the man who repeats it one hundred and one times. And when the question of the Rabbis’ repetition for their pupils is taken up, it is the tireless Rabbi who is praised…he used to repeat every passage “four hundred times” for a dull pupil, and once when the pupil in question had still not absorbed the passage….{he} proceeded to repeat it “four hundred times” more. (Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript, pp. 134-135).

The apostles and other eyewitnesses were verbally proclaiming the good news wherever they went (Acts 8:3-4). It was proclaimed in both public and private settings (Acts 20:20). The stories about Jesus and His teaching would have been repeated multiple times to multiple people in multiple locations with multiple eyewitnesses before the first gospel account was ever penned.

There would have been hundreds, if not thousands, of eye witnesses still living to debunk what these men were writing about had it not been true. You have group or community memory and not just individual memory.

Let’s put this in perspective. Imagine if in another 4 years or so people began writing books denying the events of 911. There would be so many eye witnesses to the event of 911 itself or at least witnesses to the evidence of 911 that nobody would dare take any writing(s) seriously that denied the events of 911 taking place.

In the same way, these eye witnesses would have served as checks and balances to ensure what the disciples were writing was indeed accurate. If the apostles and disciples were making up stories or fabricating them, one would expect at least two things: (1) Nobody would take their writings seriously. (2) There would be other writings debunking the apostles’ writings. However, neither of these exists.

Instead, you have the opposite: (1) The rapid spread of Christianity throughout the time of heavy persecution and (2) eye witness testimony affirming the things these men wrote about (1 Cor. 15:1-6).

Finally, this doesn’t even take into account the “God” factor. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would lead these men and bring to remembrance the things they would write (2 Pet. 1:19-21; Jn. 14:26). God was able to inspire the writers of the New Testament to be able to recall the events properly. Furthermore, God could certainly put various individuals in the writers’ paths who would have information that could then be verified and recorded…and guess what? That is exactly (historically) what we have!

– Kevin Pendergrass