One of the most interesting things that I find myself running into countless times when discussing the New Testament and the skepticism surrounding its authenticity is this “it was written 40 years after Christ” argument. Now, I suspect that they’re throwing around a number they read somewhere. I’d further be willing to bet that they probably have read someone– perhaps the infamous Jesus Seminar– that doesn’t believe that the Gospels were written by first hand eyewitnesses.
So, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that they’re right.
So, if our calendars have been calibrated even slightly correct, I believe that I’ve read that the birth of Christ happened right around 4 B.C. (B.C.E. for all the skeptics reading). If the account in the Gospels is correct (at least as far as the age of Jesus at various stages), then He began His earthly ministry around 26 A.D. (C.E.) and was crucified around 29 A.D..
So, then we have to fast forward 40 years. That would take us around 66 A.D. (C.E.). So what was going on around this time?
Well there was a Roman Emporer named of note that was in power from 54-68 that you might have heard of. His name was Nero. Yes, that Nero. The one that burned down Rome and blamed it on this new “cult” in town, the ones of “the Way”. Today we’d call these people Christians.
So, if we accept that the New Testament Gospels were written some 40 years after eyewitnesses were around, we are forced to conclude that either the writers were suicidal or they perhaps actually believed in what they were writing. I mean, how many people with a death threat from the most powerful person on Earth at the time go around writing documents claiming to be from eyewitnesses with the intent of converting huge people groups to their new religion?
And who in their right mind would join such a thing? And yet they did– they joined, they died in the most inhumane ways1 all for something that was false at its foundation. I mean, the writings of the New Testament all claim to be eyewitness accounts– Luke’s Gospel goes so far as to make the claim in the opening paragraph.
So, which is harder to believe: That the New Testament is genuine in its claims to be written by eyewitnesses or contemporaries of Christ (or interviews of contemporaries) or that it was written during a time of fierce persecution to convince people to join a “cult” when it would mean certain death– and it was successful in ways no one could imagine because it eventually changed the face of the Roman Empire?
- Human Torch, Lion Chow, Crucifixion, and Fighting to the Death being some of the more interesting ones [↩]