Thursday 28 June 2012

When Did John Write His Gospel?

A number of significant events occurred in the life of the church in the decade of the A.D. 60's. Among them was the great fire of Rome which broke out in A.D. 64, resulting in Nero cracking down on Christians, thus greatly exacerbating the perseuction of the early church. This intense persecution would would last centuries, before finally coming to a close with the edict of Milan in A.D. 313.

Regarding the great fire of Rome, Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, in his Annals, recounts that rumours arose that the fire was the result of an order from the Emperor Nero himself. Tacitus writes that Nero consequently "fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace." Indeed, many of the early followers and disciples of Jesus were martyred as a result of this crack-down. Even as early as the late first century, Clement of Rome writes of the martyrdom of the apostles Peter and Paul, saying (1 Clement 5),

"Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects."
The second major event was the war of the Jews from A.D. 66 to 70, culminating in the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the army of the future Roman emperor, Titus. Famously, the city of Jerusalem was sacked and the building of the second temple was completely raised to the ground.

What is surprising about the New Testament is that there is no indication that any of these major events had taken place at the time of their writing. It seems reasonable to suppose that, had the gospels or Acts been written after those events had taken place, there would be some indication. Indeed, the book of Acts ends with a cliffhanger whereby the apostle Paul is placed under house arrest. The persecution under Nero, and Paul's death in the mid to late 60's is not mentioned.

I have argued previously that the omission of these events from the book of Acts in particular suggests that Acts was written in the early 60's and that Luke's gospel precedes this date. But what if there was internal indication to suggest that the temple was still standing at the time the gospel narratives were penned?

It is generally thought among contemporary scholars that John's gospel was the last to be written, and that John likely wrote it at the close of the first century, possibly in the 90's AD. But is it possible that John wrote his gospel prior to this time? Take a look at John 5:2:
"Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades."
These collonades, along with the rest of the temple, were destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. Could this suggest that John's gospel was written considerably earlier than is often taken for granted? Something to ponder...

1 comment:

  1. There must be a reason why most conservative scholars such as FF Bruce, Metzger date the fourth gospel after ad 70? I am sure they're we're familiar with the above arguments but for some reason did not find them to be convincing and hence the late dating for John.


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