I'd like to lay the foundation for future discussions by establishing the early dating of the four gospels, so let's begin!
The New Testament fails to mention the destruction of the Temple which occurred in AD 70. Since Jesus had prophesied this event (cf. Mk 13:1-2), the authors of the NT books and letters would have highlighted His prediction prominently if it had been fulfilled. This silence suggests that the New Testament was written prior to AD 70
The New Testament fails to mention the siege of Jerusalem which lasted for three years and ended with the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. This silence suggests that the New Testament was written prior to AD 67.
Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles does not mention the martyrdoms of Peter or Paul which took place in AD 65 and AD 64 respectively. Moreover, the Book of Acts ends abruptly with Paul alive and under house arrest in Rome. This silence suggests that the Luke's accounts were written prior to AD 64
Luke, a trained physician and a skillful historian, recorded the martydoms of Stephen (cf. Acts 7:54-60) and James, the brother of John (cf. Acts 12:1-2), but he does not mention the death of James, the "brother" of Jesus, who was martyred in AD 62. This silence suggests that Luke wrote Acts prior to AD 62.
Luke's Gospel was written prior to the book of Acts as Luke himself records:
Acts 1:1-2This suggests that Luke's Gospel was written prior to AD 62.
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
In his first letter to Timothy (written ca. AD 63), Paul quotes a phrase from Luke’s gospel:
6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.
1 Timothy 5:17-18
17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,”[a] and “The worker deserves his wages.”
As we can see, Paul not only quotes the gospel written by his friend, Luke, but he refers to it as scripture! While not all scholars accept the Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy, there’s more to be found. Paul’s authorship of the First Letter to the Corinthians (dated from AD 56) is undisputed, and in it, Paul appears to be quoting another passage written by his friend, Luke.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
1 Corinthians 11:23-25
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Although all four gospels contain accounts of the Last Supper, only Luke’s gospel contains the words, “Do this in remembrance of me.” From these examples, we can conclude that Paul was quoting from Luke’s gospel repeatedly. The dating of Paul’s epistles is generally accepted by even skeptical scholars, and the fact that Paul states what he is writing is a reminder of that which he had taught them in person previously suggesting that Luke was written prior to AD 56
In his gospel, Luke quoted 250 verses from the gospel of Matthew and 350 verses from the gospel of Mark. This suggests that both of these gospels were known and accepted at the time Luke prior to AD 56.
In the book of Galatians (ca. AD 55), Paul reported that after his conversion (ca. AD 35-36), he traveled to Jerusalem briefly and then went to Arabia for three years. Upon his return, he went to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles on two occasions: the first trip occurred within three years of his conversion (ca. AD 38-39) (cf. Gal. 1:15-19) and the second trip was made 14 years later (ca. AD 52-53) (cf. Gal. 2:1).
Additionally, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 contains what many scholars believe to be an early creed of the Church based in part upon the apparent stylistic differences between this passage and other writings of Paul. These differences suggest that the passage contains a core statement of belief of the early Church which Paul – following standard Jewish rabbinic tradition – had memorized and passed along verbatim:
1 Corinthians 15:3-8
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Note that Paul reminds the Corinthians that he has given this basic message to them orally in the past and that he explicitly stated that what he is about to repeat in writing was received by him previously from others (presumably during one or both of his two trips to Jerusalem). This suggests that the account of the resurrection of Jesus was based upon eyewitness testimony of the apostles that can be dated possibly to within five years of the event itself and certainly no later than 23 years after the event! The bottom line
Given that as few as five years may have passed before Paul first heard the proto-creed of the Church proclaimed in 1 Corinthians 15 and that Paul encouraged his hearers to consult with eyewitnesses of the events surrounding Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection for corroboration of the message he preached, it is possible
- but highly improbable
- that the central facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth were skewed or altered by additions and embellishments.