Early Christianity: The Writing of The New Testament
The New Testament consists of 27 books written by an assortment of different authors. There’s a lot of argument and speculation about who wrote a great many of the books, with some scholars even insisting that some of the Pauline letters were not written by Paul. There isn’t even any agreement about when the books were written.
The gospels could have been written as early as the 50s C.E. or as late as the second century. The debate for when and who wrote many books of the New Testament is important because it establishes the authenticity of the books. If the gospels were written within the Apostolic Age, then there is a good chance that they were written by eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.
If the date of authorship is later, then the gospels lose some of their clout as they are most certainly a written version of an earlier oral tradition. And we all know what happens when you play a game of Telephone.
The earliest church didn’t see a need for a New Testament. The Jewish scriptures were their scriptures. No need to reinvent the wheel. Also, early Christians were convinced that Jesus’ return was imminent. They wouldn’t have seen the importance of preserving church tradition or the stories of Jesus because they were convinced that Jesus was coming for them before they could have children to whom they might pass it on.
This might explain some of Paul’s views on celibacy and marriage, which would have been contrary to Jewish tradition. These views, in turn, undoubtedly influenced the monastic tradition.
Some extremely conservative evangelicals would argue that all four gospels were written by disciples or contemporaries of Jesus. But I would ask you to remember that these are the same people who like to say that Moses wrote the Torah, which requires him to have written of his own death. Seems unlikely to me. So, I think we have to at least be open to the possibility that the Gospels were written after the death of Jesus’ contemporaries.
Does this mean that we should automatically disregard the New Testament as nothing but propaganda for a fledgling religion, a sect of Jews who were concerned with communal living? Well, oral history isn’t such a bad thing when it comes to scripture. The myths that make up Greek and Roman mythology were originally transmitted this way. This is also probably true for much of the Old Testament as well.
One great argument for the accuracy of oral tradition is the commonality of the flood myth amongst various cultures. Given that it’s a story that circulated through numerous peoples in geographical areas that couldn’t have influenced one another, there seems to be at least one case for the relative accuracy of oral tradition.
Entry filed under: Books, Chrisitanity, Faith, History, Spirituality, The Holy Bible, Theology. Tags: Apostolic Age, Bible, Christianity, Gospel, Jesus, New Testament, Old Testament, Religion and Spirituality.