I am a 20 year old college student from Louisiana and I have been a Christian all my life. There came a time this past summer where I began to question my faith and why I believed what I did. I began searching and instead found a lot of atheist arguments which proceeded to shake the very foundation of my faith. This in turn drove me to a 2 month long depression where I really had to lean on the support of my friends and family while I pondered my position on faith. Finally I ended up looking up evidence for Christianity and it was not long until I was back to my old self. (I found sources ranging from webpages to books and apologetic sermons, Tim Keller in particular.) Not only was I a believer again, but my faith was stronger than ever before. This being said, I had a very small “relapse” in analyzing my faith and I still have some questions that have been eating at my conscious. I would be very appreciative if you could answer my short questions!
1. How do we know the apostles were the real authors of the New Testament texts? (I found one source that says no scholars really question the authorship of Paul’s writings specifically.)
2a. When are the NT books officially understood to be written today? (I understand they have been dated much earlier than previously thought.)
2b. Why did the apostles wait so many years to write the NT accounts? (Books’ dates range from around 10-50 years after the Crucifixion)
3. Why didn’t more people write about Christ in this time, seeing as his actions/teachings were so incredible to witnesses? (I understand literacy was limited to few people in this time period.)
4. How immediately after the Resurrection did the apostles begin preaching and where? (This is important because if they preached in Jerusalem immediately after Jesus’ resurrection/ascension because the 500 witnesses who saw Jesus ascend would have been there to approve of their claims instead of preaching to people from a foreign place who had no knowledge of the events surrounding Christ preceding his death. I also understand there were early Christian congregations such as in Corinth during the lifetime of the apostles such as in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.)
Thank you so much for any help and please take your time and do not feel rushed to give me a swift response. Do not be pressured, my faith is not in jeopardy by these questions, I am simply seeking closure on these questions in my conscience.
1. We cannot “prove” that the apostles wrote the New Testament. In fact, we cannot “prove” the authorship of any ancient literature at all if we want proof beyond all possible doubt. This is the case for obvious reasons, as none of the authors and none of those who knew them are still alive. What we can assume is that it is very likely that Tacitus and Josephus (important Roman and Jewish historians) wrote some or all of the works attributed to them because contemporaries referred to them, quoted them, and gave testimony that they were the authors. Given that such writings are from the distant past, this is the best we can hope for.
Well, this is the case with most of the New Testament writings. All scholars–including skeptics–agree that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians. The same can be said for Luke, Mark and Matthew. There is some doubt, at least among some, about whether the apostle John wrote the gospel of John and Revelation. Most of Paul’s letters are accepted by all or nearly all as being by Paul, but there is some doubt about 1 and 2 Timothy, as well as Ephesians. (The quote you found that no scholars doubt the authorship of Paul’s letters is not accurate, by the way. Some are unquestioned but others are questioned, at least by some scholars) As for Mark and Luke, they were not even apostles, so we know right there that not all the New Testament was written by apostles. As for Hebrews, we do not even know the author at all. Some New Testament writings we can be very confident about the author, some we can be fairly confident, but should leave at least some doubt, and as for Hebrews, we do not know. Here is the bottom line. In the late first century and early second century a body of writings we now call the New Testament came to be accepted as inspired and as having apostolic authority. By the end of the first century, these works were being quoted authoritatively in writings such as Clement of Rome, Epistle of Barnabus, Didache and so forth. Given these quotes, our confidence that John wrote John and that Paul wrote Romans is on at least as solid of ground as our acceptance that Julius Caesar wrote the works attributed to him and that Aristotle wrote the works attributed to him. We do not know the author of Hebrews, but, by consensus of the early church, we know that it was accepted as having apostolic authority and, by faith, we accept that it is inspired. By the way, I suggest you read Hebrews and you will see that it has every mark of inspiration!
2. There is no “official” understanding of the date of authorship of the New Testament books. Unlike Islam, which has official opinions about such things, Christians do not have a hierarchy telling people what to believe. Let me give you approximate dates for authorship for some of the NT books. Mark AD 45-60 Luke AD 62 John AD 80-96 Revelation AD 76-95 Matthew AD 50-68 1 Thessalonians AD 51 Romans 55-58 AD 1 Corinthians AD 53-54. As you can see, these dates are approximate. It is possible that Mark and Matthew were written even earlier than the dates I have given, but I am using conservative dates.
As for why they waited, I suppose no one is completely sure. It is likely that other things were written which are not found in our canon of scripture. Remember that twenty or thirty years is not a particularly long time. I can vividly remember where I was and what I saw thirty years ago. There was an oral tradition developed before the New Testament books were written. The important question is not why Matthew waited to write his gospel, but whether what he said is true and reliable. I believe that it is and that the early church very carefully protected the accuracy of the gospel accounts.
3. We really have no idea how many people wrote about Jesus. For all we know, thousands or tens of thousands of people wrote about Jesus. If we count personal letters between individuals I am sure it was at least this many. The fact is that in modern times we have a miniscule fraction of all the things written in the past. Generally, the only writings we have are those which were copied hundreds of times, and were copied again and again for many generations. Surely, the vast majority of things written about Jesus were lost. Probably the e-mail we are exchanging right now will not be around in two thousand years! What is remarkable is the (relatively) large amount of information we have about Jesus. We know more detail about Jesus than we know about Tiberius, the emperor who reigned when Jesus was killed. This fact is truly remarkable. There are only about half a dozen ancient documents that mention Tiberius and tell us something about him other than his name. There are about the same number of mentions of Jesus in ancient histories as of Tiberius (Tacitus, Josephus, Suetonius, etc.) and this is not even counting the dozens of mentions of Jesus by Christians in the first century. Skeptics like to discount Christian remembrance of Jesus, but this is the result of extreme bias. If we are to do this, then perhaps we should ignore all Roman mention of Julius Caesar. So, if you think it is surprising how few mentions of Jesus there are in ancient writings, you might want to rethink this idea.
4. Again, we cannot “prove” that the resurrection was proclaimed in Jerusalem at Pentecost, as described in Acts. I think what we can say with some confidence that Luke is not lying in his account. There were thousands baptized that day, and many more thousands baptized in the ensuing months. When Luke wrote, about thirty years later, perhaps as many as half the eye-witnesses who were there that day were still alive. It is tempting to overstate the time gap here. Thirty years ago I graduated with my PhD. Would anyone doubt my ability to remember this, even though it happened thirty years ago? It would have been literally impossible for Luke to have invented Peter’s first sermon as a fiction because there were many hundreds at least and more likely thousands still around who were there that day (or who would know that this was all a blatant lie). It is a huge stretch to propose that Luke would invent out of nothing such an important event and then for the church to have accepted such a lie as part of its canon. This idea is ludicrous, at least in my opinion.
Add to this the fact that historians have noted that the incredible growth and staying power of Christianity, in spite of all obstacles, simply cannot be explained unless we allow for the fact that the early church did in fact believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that this belief began in Jerusalem, where we know he was killed. I believe that it can be established beyond reasonable doubt that the resurrection of Jesus was taught in Jerusalem at nearly the same time of his death and of the disappearance of his body from his tomb.
I hope this helps.