Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Some Points To Remember About The Dating Of The Gospels

- The author of the third gospel and Acts tells us the scope of his two-volume work in Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1. He's addressing "the things accomplished among us" (Luke 1:1), which he recharacterizes as what Jesus did and taught in the world (Acts 1:1). So, the best explanation for the ending of the book of Acts is that the events there are the last significant events of Christian history that occurred before the author published his work. It apparently was published, then, in the early to mid 60s. It would be unreasonable to suggest that the author was writing significantly later, but didn't want to include anything after what's narrated in Acts 28, since those later events weren't important enough. Many highly significant things happened after the conclusion of Acts 28, including shortly afterward and including things the author himself had suggested would be noteworthy (Paul's martyrdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, etc.). The interpretation of the opening verses of Luke and Acts I've just outlined is a far better explanation of the scope of the books than the popular appeal to Acts 1:8 to explain why Acts ends where it does. See here and here for discussions of the many problems with that appeal to Acts 1:8.

- The earliest external source to comment on the dating of Luke/Acts is 1 Timothy 5:18. It refers to Luke's gospel as circulating during Paul's lifetime. See here for more about that passage. Notice that its value as the earliest external evidence doesn't depend on Pauline authorship. We should accept and defend Paul's authorship of the document, but a critic of the early dating of Luke/Acts can't just object to Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy. He has to do more than that. Whoever wrote 1 Timothy and whoever the initial audience was, the document reflects an early belief in the early dating of Luke (and, by implication, Acts). As my post linked above explains, there's a way in which denying Pauline authorship of the document even increases its evidential significance in this context, since such a denial implies a larger initial audience for the letter. (And any sort of group authorship proposal would have a potential similar implication on the authorship side.)

- The later dates typically put forward for the gospels have much less of a negative implication for Christianity than is often suggested. Mark is usually dated roughly five years after Paul's death. And it's commonly suggested that Paul is a significantly early source, that there would be substantially more evidential value in a claim about Jesus if it appeared in Paul's writings, and so on. But five years doesn't have much significance in this context. There are many ways of illustrating that. One way is to think of the timespan involved in Paul's most widely accepted letters. They're typically dated anywhere from the late 40s to the mid 60s. If somebody dated Philemon five years after Romans, would anybody think those five years make Philemon much less historically credible than Romans when addressing events that happened before both documents were written? I doubt that anybody holds such a view. I doubt that the thought ever even entered the mind of most of the people who object to the alleged lateness of Mark's gospel. Does the person who dates 1 Thessalonians fifteen years earlier than Philippians consider 1 Thessalonians a far earlier source, as if those fifteen years justify placing the two documents in highly different categories? I doubt it. Or think of the time between Jesus' death and Paul's letters. Why assign so much more significance to something Paul wrote twenty-five or thirty-five years after Jesus' death than you assign to something written around forty years after his death? It should be noted that I'm not denying that people take factors other than dating into account when judging the credibility of a source (e.g., how Paul's value as a source is increased by his interactions with individuals like James and Peter). But the dating issue is often singled out, as if Paul's dating is much better or much less problematic than the dating of Mark and other sources. My point is that the significance of differences in dating is often exaggerated, regardless of what you make of other issues involved.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Productivity Amid Suffering

Jerome wrote about a time of many illnesses in his life:

"The Lord 'who looks upon the earth and makes it tremble, who touches the mountains and they will smoke' [Ps 104:32], who says in the song of Deuteronomy, 'I shall kill and I shall make alive, I shall strike and I shall heal' [Deut 32:39], makes my earth tremble mightily as well by means of frequent sicknesses. It was said to it, 'Earth you are, and unto the earth you shall go' [Gen 3:19], and often forgetting my human condition, he reminds me to be aware that I am a man, and old, and at any time now I shall be dead. Of this it is written, 'Why do earth and ashes boast?' [Sir 10:9]. This is why the one who had struck me suddenly with an illness healed me with unbelievable speed, to frighten rather than crush, and to reform rather than to flog. And so, knowing that my whole life belongs to him, and that perhaps the reason my sleep is being postponed is so that I may complete the work I have begun on the prophets, I hand myself over completely to this pursuit. And stationed as it were in a watchtower, I survey the storms and shipwrecks of this world, not without groaning and pain. I do not think about the present but the future, nor about my reputation among men and their gossip, but I greatly tremble at the prospect of God's judgment [cf. Phil 2:12]. And you, Eustochium, virgin of Christ, who have aided this sick man by your prayers, pray also for the grace of Christ to be upon him now that he has been healed, so that by the same Spirit with which the prophets sang of the future, I may be able to enter into the cloud and the gloom [cf. Exod 20:21] and know God's words, which are heard not with ears of flesh but with those of the heart. May I say with the prophet, 'The Lord gives me a tongue of instruction, to know when it is fitting for me to speak' [Isa 50:4]." (Thomas Scheck, trans., St. Jerome: Commentary On Isaiah [Mahwah, New Jersey: The Newman Press, 2015], p. 631, section 14:1 in the commentary)