Two of the most intense debates about the New Testament have to do with who wrote the various New Testament books and when the books were written. Such is the stuff of textual criticism. It seems the first two centuries of the Church were captivated by the confidence of the apostolic message, while the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been obsessed with doubt. The subject matters revolve around whether the New Testament books had authentic authors that participated in what happened, along with how far scholars pushed the date of composition farther and farther apart from the actual events of the first century.
To be sophisticated and accepted, it seems scholars must be skeptics, which is surely a deadly path for professed Christians. That’s why we could summarize the situation with this aphorism: While “the just shall live by faith,” the successful academic “shall excel through doubt.” Make note: this author rejects the excessive critical attitude so prevalent among those who spurn the Bible’s history and its claims of God’s saving acts encompassed therein. Using the proper theological word, I speak of Heilsgeschestiche.
The gospels are often thought to have been written toward the end of the first generation of believers who lived during the time of Christ’s earthly life. Mark may have been written as early as 50 A.D. The other Synoptics were all likely written and in circulation by 70 A.D. before Rome seized Jerusalem from the Zealots and destroyed Herod’s Temple. We can easily guess the timing of the Acts of the Apostles since it did not include the death of Paul, the featured Apostle whose ministry was detailed by Luke, his trusted traveling companion. And since Paul was beheaded in Rome before the destruction of the Temple, the conventional view that he was martyred in the middle of the decade circa A.D. 65 has few challengers. Consequently, Luke’s gospel and Acts as well were completed sometime before then, likely about A.D. 63. Peter writes his first letter predicting suffering that will soon come upon the Church and seems to anticipate the conquest of Jerusalem in A.D 70. And it appears that Peter is aware of Paul’s martyrdom. Therefore, his epistle can be dated to 68 A.D. or thereabouts.
The apocalyptic books of 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation were likely written after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and during a fearful time when the Church was unsure of what the future would hold. John’s letters and his gospel were likely written late, near the end of the first century. John was the youngest Apostle, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” as he self-identifies himself with a humble pseudonym (Jesus loved all his disciples, but John, being the youngest, might have been Jesus’ favorite.) That he outlives the other apostles is not a surprise. Given that he was the only disciple who dared to stand at the feet of the cross when Jesus was crucified, his longevity was possibly a reward for his faithfulness and courage. He also was assigned the task by Jesus to look after Mary, his mother. The Lord didn’t want Mary’s trustee to disappear from the scene before she did.
The Book of Revelation was either written around 65 B.C. or 95 B.C. The timing is crucial for those that argue over whether Christ’s return comes before or after “the Great Tribulation” that Jesus mentions in Matthew 24; and whether or not there is a 1,000-year period when we have “heaven on earth” known as the Millennium. The early date satisfies the Preterist view, which believes all prophecies pertaining to “tribulation” and “second coming” were fulfilled before Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. However, if the Book of Revelation was written late (closer to Domitian’s persecution at the end of the first century rather than Nero’s persecution circa A.D. 68), then the prophesies and apocalyptic vision of the Revelation tells of future times – not the past. Hence the late-daters are known as “futurists,” and the early-daters are known as “preterists.”
I’ve always felt that the early date makes no sense since it would have been written and circulated only a few years before the Temple’s destruction. Assuming the first composition date of 65 A.D. Since we know the destruction of the Temple transpired in 70 A.D., the Revelation would have had a shelf life of only two or three years when we subtract the time for its distribution among the Asian Churches, for whom the book claims comprise its audience. However the reader chooses to regard the date of Revelation’s writing, the second advent of Christ constitutes an enormous aspect of New Testament faith. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God – and the reversal of fortunes. He was genuinely an apocalyptic preacher. As I have said elsewhere (see my book Blood Moon), Christianity remains an apocalyptic faith, with every generation treating each day as a day of decision and judgment – with the following day, the day of Christ’s return.
Modern theologians are generally skeptical about authorship, discounting tradition, believing that their analysis proves that Paul didn’t write to Timothy and Titus and likely didn’t write Ephesians and Colossians. Likewise, Peter didn’t write 2 Peter. John the Apostle didn’t write the gospel that bears his name, nor the Revelation, nor did he compose the three letters attributed to him. Lying behind academicians’ doubt looms the supposition that the Apostles were illiterate fishermen, barely able to express themselves in Greek. Of course, the opposite view I hold insists they were literate and educated. Scholars forget that the Jewish religion, which all the Jews were taught, demands that they could learn the Law of Moses and keep it. Along the same line, it would seem to be no accident that the first alphabet was likely invented by a Jew living in Egypt. This was a precursor to delivering the Law to Moses and from him to every Hebrew.
This alphabet remains the basis for our alphabet today in the Western world. Just consider the first few letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, and D in Roman letters. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta in Greek. And finally: Aleph, Beit, Gimmel, and Dalet in Hebrew. The similarity and sequence are telltale signs of a simple and shared beginning. Plus, the first four pictures in the proto-Sinaitic script were a bull’s head that became an “A,” a house with a front door that morphs into a “B,” a crooked shepherds hook that becomes a “C,” and a door that becomes a “D.” Even the pictures hearkening back to Egyptian hieroglyphs show Egypt as the birthplace of our alphabet.
Consequently, it doesn’t take much imagination for those of us living in the twenty-first century to see our alphabet originating from the creative vision of Joseph ben Jacob, living nearly 4,000 years ago. Remarkably, given the most recent discoveries we’ve covered here, we seem to be on the cusp of a breakthrough that can put the Bible on solid footing for the first time in 300 years. May the Lord bless the work of Douglas Petrovitch and Tim Mahoney.
What lesson do we learn? Sometimes, if we search long enough and hard enough, we uncover the most amazing and invaluable ideas coming from our ancestors – ideas that have persisted through the ravages of time and proved themselves real catalysts of human ingenuity. The proto-Hebrew alphabet constitutes one such enduring invention. We should celebrate this remarkable innovation in communication that links us to the Living God of the Bible – the only God who wills to reveal Himself to His children and has done so for thousands of years, continuing to do the same today.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)