Light for the Last Days

The New Testament was written by people who were eyewitnesses of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth (or who got their information from eyewitnesses). Luke introduces his Gospel with the words: 

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

Luke 1.1-4

Peter writes:

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

2 Peter 1.16

If we follow the internal evidence of the New Testament, all its books, apart from the writings of John, were completed before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD, so within 40 years of the events taking place. As eyewitnesses or contemporaries who talked to eyewitnesses, they got the details of geography, history and customs of Israel in the first century right.

We can visit Israel today and see places mentioned in the Bible. They are in the right place, with archaeological and historical evidence to support this.  We can walk from the area where the Temple stood in Jerusalem, cross the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus did on the night He was betrayed.

Kidron Valley – Wikipedia

We can go to Bethany and the Mount of Olives and follow Jesus’ route on His triumphal entry and see the place where He wept over Jerusalem, from where you have a stunning view over the city as Jesus would have had on that day (Luke 19). We can visit sites of His trial before Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate and of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of the Lord. While there is debate about the exact location of these places, the general location backed by historical and archaeological evidence is all there. 

The Mount of Olives from where Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after the resurrection is just a short walk from Jerusalem as it says in Acts 1.12.

The Mount of Olives (jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

We can go through the tunnels in the City of David and see what is most likely the water shaft that David’s men climbed up to capture the city from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5.6-9), the tunnel that King Hezekiah had built to divert the waters of the Gihon stream to the Pool of Siloam (2 Chronicles 32.30) and the remnants of the wall that Nehemiah built to defend the city after the return from Babylon (Nehemiah 3). 

Ancient Jerusalem: The Village, the Town, the City – Biblical Archaeology Society

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem contains many artefacts testifying to the accuracy of the Biblical story.  None such can be found in Mecca.

Regarding history, the Bible mentions many figures who existed at the right time in the right place as confirmed by non-biblical historical records, either the Jewish historian Josephus, or Roman records. 

In the Gospel of Luke we read:

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.’

Luke 3.1-2

Details of all these people and their positions are accurate for a period around the year 27-28. In this case Jesus began His ministry a little while later, and continued for 3 ½ years.  This brings us to the crucifixion and resurrection which most likely happened in 31-32.

Chronology of Jesus’ Life and Ministry – UnderstandChristianity.com

In the Book of Acts, we read of the conversion of Paul, which probably took place around 35-6. This was followed by his time in Damascus, from where he escaped by being lowered over the wall in a basket at the time when Aretas was governor (2 Corinthians 11.32).  According to Josephus, Damascus had a governor called Aretas who left the post in around 39 (right man in the right place).

ARETAS – JewishEncyclopedia.com

It is known there was a famine in the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius in around 44-45. This corresponds to the time when Paul and Barnabas were warned of famine and went from Antioch to Jerusalem with aid (Acts 11.27-30). In Acts 18 we read that Paul was in Corinth and charged before a proconsul called Gallio.  The year would have been around 51, corresponding with the time when there was a proconsul called Gallio in Corinth. 

Acts 18.2 also informs us that Aquila and Priscilla had “recently” come from Italy “because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.” This expulsion took place between the years 49-51, the right time and the right place.

Acts 24-5 tells us of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and trials before the governors Felix and Festus. This should have happened around 58-59 according to the events recorded in Acts.  Josephus agrees with Acts that Festus succeeded Felix as governor in around 59 and died in 62.  According to Acts 27 Festus granted Paul’s request to be tried in Rome. Acts 27 records how Paul travelled by sea to Rome and was shipwrecked on Malta on the way.  All the geographic details of this journey are correct. Paul then arrived in Rome and stayed two years (Acts 28.30). This takes us to around 61-2 AD. 

blueletterbible.org

Then the Book of Acts ends rather abruptly, without giving any details of the trial of Paul in Rome, which had been the subject of the last four chapters of the book. The most likely reason for this is that Acts was written by Luke in 61-2 AD after Paul arrived in Rome, but before his trial took place.  We know that the trial did take place and that Paul was acquitted and continued his ministry until his eventual execution in around 65AD.

According to the opening verses of Acts, Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke before he wrote Acts. In the opening verses of Luke’s Gospel, he tells us that others wrote Gospels before him (Matthew and Mark?). Presumably Paul wrote his letters before he died (!) as did Peter and James. They all died before AD 70, which means we have all the New Testament books apart from John’s writings completed within 40 years of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. There are claims of a fragment of John’s Gospel existing which predates the year 70, so John’s Gospel may have been written before then also.

Rose Publishing

The geographical, historical and cultural details are all correct. The writers of the New Testament got the right people in the right places at the right time.  

Tony Pearce