Did you ever wonder whether the Bible was written close to the events it describes or much later? I’ve heard people dismiss the Bible as a later, legendary account composed many generations after the life of Jesus. The manuscript evidence gives us a hint.
The oldest piece of a manuscript that we have is a tiny little piece of paper that’s only about 3″ long and 2″ wide, which is now in a museum in England. It has text from John’s gospel on the front and on the back, and scholars who study ancient manuscripts say that the handwriting dates to between 100 and 150 AD. This piece was found in Egypt, which suggests an earlier original, allowing time for the story to have travelled over 400 miles.
However, Ignatius Theophorus of Antioch, who lived from around 35AD – 117AD, wrote seven letters in which he quotes from at least 17 of the 27 New Testament letters, suggesting that they were in circulation even earlier, in the first century. Clement of Rome, who died in 99AD, left behind a letter which quotes or refers to at least 9 letters of the New Testament, making their first century authorship undeniable. These include a quote from Jesus, making the gospel stories unquestionably first century. An early Christian document called the Didache, which scholars date to the end of the first century or beginning of the second, refers to Jesus’ teachings in the gospels, particularly Matthew.
Credible scholars now date the New Testament entirely to the first century. Since the date of Jesus’ death falls in the 30s, that means the whole of the New Testament was written within 60 years of his death, which means during the lifetime of his contemporaries.
Those who try to push the dates later must do so by controverting the obvious historical testimonies of both the biblical accounts and non-biblical witnesses. Their agenda-laden activism does little to confuse the open-minded and clear-sighted, but it tends to empower those who are looking for loopholes and who don’t want to do real research. The story of Jesus cannot be discredited as a later legend scripted by people of another generation. It was written in his day by people who knew him and his disciples.