Can I trust the Bible? – The Gospels and AD 70 (Case Study 2)

One of the key arguments in favour of trusting the Bible, particularly the Gospels is that we are dealing with eye witness accounts and generally speaking, historians give significant weight to eye-witness reports.

Against this, it has sometimes been argued that the Gospels were not in fact eye witness accounts but were written down many years after the supposed life of Jesus, based on oral traditions and other sources.  If this is true, then it is possible that we are dealing with embellished and corrupted stories, the historical figure of Jesus has been transformed into a legend.[1]

So, dating the Gospels matters.  This is where Jesus’s prediction of the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem comes in.[2] The disciples were impressed by the wonder of the Temple but Jesus cut in and told them that a day was coming when the Temple would be obliterated.”

This prompts an intense discussion. This sounds like a World ending event.  Jesus warns the disciples not to be taken in by people claiming that the end has come and that they are the Messiah. He does however, give them a sign that will show when the specific events relating to the Temple’s destruction is coming. It includes the city being surrounded by armies and it alludes to Daniel’s cryptic prophecy which talks about “the sacrilegious object that causes desecration”[3]

The Gospel writers also indicate that readers will understand the allusion because it was to something so significant in the history of God’s people. In the 2nd Century BC, one of the Seleucid rulers, Antiochus Epiphanes had committed such an act, setting up a pagan altar and desecrating the Temple. Jesus is telling the disciples that there will be a similar level of offence and distress caused as the Temple sacrificial system ends.

In the years that followed Jesus’ prediction, a number of offensive acts took place in Jerusalem including Gaius Caligula ordering “that a statue of himself should be installed in temple at Jerusalem”[4] and the bringing of the Roman standard into the Temple during its destruction.[5] Now these events would have either been too early or too late to provide the required warning sign.[6]However, Josephus tells us that in 67-68AD, the Zealots took over the temple and set up their own mock sacrificial system complete with a high-priest. This provoked fighting and bloodshed in the temple.[7]

What the Gospel writers do not do is striking. They don’t include confirmation that the prophesy made by Jesus has been fulfilled. This is surprising because

  1. Matthew in particular is keen to show when Biblical prophecy has been fulfilled
  2. AD70 is within the lifetime of Jesus’s followers and so it would not be unreasonable to have Gospels dating from that time. Indeed, traditionally, John’s Revelation has been placed as late as AD 90, 20 years after the fall of Jerusalem.

As JAT Robinson comments,

“One of the oddest facts about the New Testament is that what on any showing would appear to be the single most datable and climatic event of the period – the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, and with it the collapse of institutional Judaism based on the Temple – is never once mentioned as a past fact.”[8]

In other words, a prediction is recorded and the evidence pushes us to conclude that the record was written and already in circulation well before the event took place.

This leads us to two conclusions. First of all, that the Gospels are indeed contemporary accounts of the life of Jesus written well within his lifetime and secondly that as with the book of Daniel, they include prophecies that are fulfilled.

 

[1] There are of course occasionally people who claim that Jesus did not exist at all and that the whole thing isa  myth but such claims are rare and gain minimal credibility with both historians and Biblical scholars.

[2] See especially Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.

[3] Daniel 11:31.

[4] RT France, The Gospel of Mark (NIGTC. Grand Rapids MI.: Eerdmans, 2002), 525.

[5]  France, Mark, 525.

[6]  Gaius’ statue was ordered in AD40.

[7] Josephus, War (4.150-157). NB France cites this as a likely fulfilment that fits the prophetic requirements. France, Mark, 525.

[8] JAT Robinson, Redating the New Testament (London: SCM, 1976), 15.

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