Dating the New Testament Books

Dating the New Testament books.


Over the last 2 centuries, since the rise of  Christian Scholasticism, the accepted dates for the original appearance of each of the New Testament books has continually been researched and revised. The trend in the last 50 years has been to move the dates earlier. There was a time when even Christians accepted that few or none of the New Testament books were written in the lifetime of the authors identified in the text, or by the earliest post-apostolic Christians authors. In the 1980’s in America, even the most conservative seminaries were teaching ‘Q’ as the only acceptable theory for the origin of the Gospels, meaning that there are no eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life and death. That is changing rapidly now. There are many internet pages dedicated to the dating of the New Testament writings, and support for the completion of the canon by AD 70  is growing. Evidence that some of the books were originally in Aramaic, not Greek, is being discussed. The testimony of the post-apostolic writers concerning John and the date for Revelation has been shown to be more diverse than was thought. One of the major early church ‘fathers’ even has Revelation as early as the first days of Claudius, in the AD 40’s.


When it comes to dating the original writings, which matters most, the external documents referring to the New Testament texts, or the internal evidence of the Biblical texts themselves?  For a long time, the external and manuscript evidence was all that mattered. It was common to overlook or downplay internal evidence. Believers who were aware of this lived in constant tension between trusting the Bible or the religious and secular scholars who denied the existence of any such thing as prophecy or miracles. The first battleground was Book of Daniel. Today, in 2024, the Wikipedia page for Book of Daniel dates Daniel after everything it foretold had happened. This is a rejection of its internal evidence and is justified by the assumption the real prophecy cannot exist. The same argument is used to date the Book of Revelation to 95 AD. And acceptance of that date is almost universal among Christians. This is also based on the belief that prophecy and miracles never existed. Because there is a lot of post-apostolic support for the AD 95 date, writings that support earlier dates are usually ignored or discounted.


For Believers this has become increasingly difficult to accept. If we believe that Jesus’ death was prophesied in the Old Testament, as in Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and Daniel 9, how can we accept Daniel being written 400 years later than the book itself says? And if Revelation was about Domitian in AD 95, then there is no reason to expect Jesus to return in the future. The effect of the consensus of Biblical scholarship was to remove from the Bible it’s primary sources of authority: prophecy and miracles.


Was Jesus a prophet? Did He foretell the destruction of Jerusalem and Herod’s temple about 40 years before it happened? If prophecy is not real, and the Bible has no authority, then all the gospels were written long after 70 AD, and not by anyone who had seen Jesus. And there is no basis for believing in His resurrection. Why would anyone believe that Jesus said or did anything recorded in the Bible? The small trickle of scholars who were brave enough to buck this secular/atheist view of the Bible has grown since the birth of Israel in 1948. The Internet has opened up the debate so that what was previously kept inside academic settings is now public and subject to cross-examination. The results have been fascinating. Those who believe the internal evidence should be primary have shown that the historical evidence fits. The role of prophecy in both Old and New testaments are increasingly being supported by archaeology.


The old distrust between Believers and scholars still exists, more exposed than ever. There is one major difference: those who consider the internal evidence to be real and decisive now have unlimited possibilities for communication and support, and they are less afraid of academic rejection. They have been unmuzzled. Much of their writing is of poor quality, and they are still arguing over the details and conclusions among themselves. But they are trying to do something that is almost impossible. Dating the New Testament books and understanding their chronological relationships to each other is like trying to unscramble an egg. When we believe that the prophecies in the Bible are from God, and are real, most academic Bible scholarship must be trashed. We will always respect those who have gone before us and did the best they could under their circumstances. But it is time for new scholarship, equal in quality and depth. But it must be faith based, and not secular.


Others have been saying things like this for one hundred-plus years. But they were like ‘voices crying out in the wilderness’. They were not heard or respected in the universities of the Western world. Today, there are numerous colleges that are based on faith that the prophesies in the Bible are real, and they are still struggling with the dates of the New Testament writings.


Since the year 2000, some previously obscure ideas have gained some traction. The ongoing archaeological efforts in Israel has demonstrated that much previously questioned  Bible content is acceptable as being historically accurate. The special ‘historical-critical’ method of the study of literature is losing some of its authority because of inconsistencies and over-reach. Was Matthew written in Hebrew? This debate is back. Was Matthew written before Mark? I haven’t heard anyone recently argue that Mark was composed in Latin, but that argument will return. There are arguments dating John’s writings before AD 70 and some even before AD 50. There is one argument that is new to me, the Aramaic New Testament theory. It says that we are only aware of the history of Western Christianity, but that there is much Christian history related to the work of those original disciples who went east from Jerusalem, taking the Gospels with them, in Aramaic.


Questions of chronology will arise in any effort to understand the New Testament.  Knowledge of the history of that subject is necessary if we are to avoid past mistakes. But even when we have mastered the subject, new mistakes will be inevitable.  I am as capable of making big mistakes as anyone else, maybe more so. But I see the need to jump in and get my feet wet anyway, not to prove a point, but just to satisfy my own curiosity. And that is what you are reading now. I have no intention of convincing anyone of anything, except myself.


It is my amateur translation efforts that has given me the confidence to proceed. Twice now I have abandoned a long-held belief as the result of translating a verse when I realized it would not allow my assumptions to stand. But there were two other cases where I believe that a Bible verse has never been correctly translated. One is an obscure verse with little hermeneutical consequence. The other negates the widely held belief that the Bible predicts a Third Jewish Temple to exist before Jesus’ Return. So, a considerable controversy awaits me! Whatever…


I am testing the following dates for the New Testament writings.


Matthew, composed in Hebrew, quickly translated into Aramaic and Greek, within one year of Pentecost. 30-31 AD


Several lost and unknown Gospels in various languages composed by other disciples and associates from AD40-60.  


Revelation recorded in the spring of AD 41, immediately after the death of Caligula. John’s gospel composed in Aramaic. His 3 letters written over the next few years.


James, written before AD 48, as early as AD 40. The similarities between James and John’s letters are interesting.


Paul’s early writings AD49-55.  Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians.


Mark was composed in Latin, and Luke & Acts composed in Greek, AD 58-61.


Paul’s later writings, including the Prison epistles, and the Book of Hebrews AD 58-61


Pauls’ last writings, the Pastoral epistles, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, Philemon AD 62


Based on the assumption that Paul wrote Hebrews, it dovetails with the accounts of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem in the book of Acts, helping to date both.


My assumption that 2 Corinthians 12:2 refers to the Revelation given to John is the initial basis for this ridiculously early AD 41 date. I was taught that Paul had to be talking about himself, since the AD 95 date for Revelation was considered indisputable. This is circular reasoning and I never accepted it as fact. This early date also implies that Jesus’ mother, Mary may have still been alive and near Ephesus when 2nd John was written.


There are only two arguments for the later date that concerned me. The testimony of so many Post-Apostolic authors is difficult to dismiss, but the recent acknowledgements that there was considerable diversity of opinion about this has almost cancelled that issue. The question of how the 7 churches of Revelation got into such a bad condition in such a short period of time does not concern me. I have watched as several modern churches went through dramatic changes in only a few months’ time.  The greatest weakness of the AD41 Revelation date is the early origin of the 7 churches, and how that relates to Paul’s later ministries in the same region. These churches could have been very small, comprised of groups of local Jews who returned from Pentecost, and had little or no apostolic guidance until John brought Mary to Ephesus to escape persecution. The need to keep Mary’s identity and location a secret would have greatly limited John’s missionary activity. I imagine that the reason the Holy Spirit prevented Paul from going to Ephesus earlier was to allow Mary to finish her days in peace. Ephesus was a big place, and Paul could have ministered there without encountering the remnants of the original congregation, if they were still there.


Does any of this really matter?  Unless the date and order of the New Testament writings has an effect on the translation of certain passages, then there should be no significant faith issues or doctrinal concerns. Eschatology is more likely to be an issue that any other subject. Paul and Peter demonstrated in their writings that they had access to the written text of the Revelation. That means the Revelation was recorded before AD 49. If you know of any published studies related to this, please let me know.  It may be that in a few years, these ideas will have been tested and perhaps demonstrated to have some positive aspects.