A look at the first century.
In the year 525, Pope John 1 asked Dionysius Exiguus, a Russian monk to determine the dates for Easter for the next century. Dionysius used the Julian calendar as basis and calculated that Jesus had been born 753 years after the founding ofRome. He took that calculated year of Jesus’ birth as the year 0. But he made a calculation mistake which meant that Jesus was rather born about 4 B.C. According to Flavius Josephus, a historian of the first century A.D., Herod the Great would have died in 4 B.C. In Mat.2:16 we read that Herod killed all the baby boys two years and younger inBethlehem. Therefore Jesus should have been about two years old while Herod was still alive. He was most probably born 7 or 6 B.C. When we look at the appearance of the star ofBethlehemthat was seen and followed by the Magi (or wise men) from the East (Mat.2:2,9), we have some interesting facts concerning the conjunction of Jupiter (the star of Kings) and Saturn (the star of the Jews). This occurred during April, and again during October and December of the year 7 B.C.
Our conclusion is that Jesus most probably was born during 7 or 6 B.C., and was crucified in 30-33 A.D. After the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit was poured out. (±30-33 A.D.) The first followers of Jesus Christ expected his return very soon, even during their own lifetime. (John 21:22, Acts 4:32, 1Cor.15:51-52, Rev.3:11, 22:7,20.) The Holy Spirit equipped the apostles to go out into the whole world to make disciples of Jesus and to organize them in churches or congregations. (Acts 8:4, 28, 11:19) After the conversion of Paul, (±34 A.D.) he was exceedingly eager in establishing churches. (Acts 14:23, 20:28, 1Cor.4:17) Time and time again Paul hurried to the next city and left the recently established church in the hands of a new convert as church leader. Bear in mind that such an elder or the church would most probably have almost no part of the Scripture of that time, viz. the Old Testament!
Questions, troubles and uncertainties concerning the faith as well as the Christian principles were conveyed personally or per letter, or via a deputation to the apostles. (1Cor.7:1, 8:1) Paul mentions in 1Cor.1:11 that he received visit by some from Chloe’s household who have informed him that there were quarrels among them. In 1Cor.11:18 Paul mentions that he heard of division among them during worship services, and in 1Cor.16:17 he mentions that three men had visited him. Matters that came to his attention in this way, were also answered. These questions were then answered, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by Paul in the epistles we know so well. In the same way James, Peter and John wrote their epistles. (±50-64 A.D.) In these epistles the doctrine and convictions of the Christian faith were explained and laid down in writing. Furthermore uncertainties concerning the practical rules and organization of the church were set forth. These epistles were not only read in the church to which it was directed, but also in other churches. (Col.4:16)
Naturally the leader of every church would like to have a copy of every epistle. After all, it explains the essence of the Christian faith. Therefore the epistles were compiled in one volume and copied. These volumes of epistles in fact became the first part of the New Testament. Although these writers were filled with the Holy Spirit, and wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they were most probably not aware of the importance of what they were in fact busy with; writing down the will of God as the first part of the New Testament. To them the “Scriptures” were the Old Testament. When Paul wrote to Timothy (2Tim.3:16) “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” he was referring to the Old Testament. They saw their own work merely as an explanations and applications of the Old Testament within the Christian life and churches.
Later on, when the first eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus were arrested, or executed, or have died of natural causes, people started to write down the accounts of those apostles still alive. They wanted to have a trustworthy record of the life and teachings of Jesus. In this way Mark was first written. There are clear indications that both Matthew and Luke used the gospel of Mark, but that they also had another source to their disposal, now called “Q” where there are some similarities but does not appear in Mark. Lastly both Matthew and Luke also have some unique material of their own. In the beginning of his gospel, Luke mentions that: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke1:1-4) These three gospels are called the synoptic (seen together) gospels, and were written about 70-75 A.D. The gospel of John differs to a great extent from the others, both concerning content and approach.
Around 80 A.D. Luke wrote the history of the expansion of the Christian faith in the Acts of the Apostles. (Acta1:1)
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews compiled a theology of the Christian Faith. (±85 A.D.) He studies the magnificence of Jesus Christ in the light of the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest and king and the superiority of Jesus above all in the Old Testament. Christ is the fulfilment of the Old Testament.
The Gospel of John, as well as the epistles of John were written around 95 A.D.
Lastly, around 95-96 A.D. John received the Revelation and sent it to the seven churches ofAsia Minor.
Although the Holy Spirit worked through all these writers and inspired them, they were most probably not aware of it. Their own style, technique as well as word choice and grammatical ability are clearly laid down in their writings. It is so obvious that a careful study by a learned expert can enable him to determine on grounds of language and style whether a specific pericope was indeed written by the writer of the rest of the book in which it is included.
Two distinct examples are Mark 16:9-20 and John 8:1-11. Although these portions were taken up into the specific gospel, there are clear indications that they were not written by the specific evangelist himself. (Each pericope will be studied in detail later.)
Concerning the direct involvement of the Holy Spirit with the writer, the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, is different. He mentions that he received a specific vision on theislandofPatmos. (Rev.1: 1-2, 10) John is the only writer who mentions that he had been commissioned to write down the Revelation. (Rev.1:11, 2:1, etc.) The whole book is compiled of visions that John received anew, or it could be elaborations of the original vision received.
It is important to bear in mind that the first churches were founded in the Greek speaking areas of theRoman Empire. Therefore all the documents of the New Testament were originally written in koine Greek, the lingua franca at the beginning of the Christian era. Therefore much greater merit is given to Greek manuscripts than any other translation, even the Latin translations which have been the Bible of the Roman Catholic Church since the first centuries.
The first century.
±6-7 B.C. Birth of Jesus Christ
±27-30 A.D. Jesus’ public ministry
±30/33 A.D. Crucifixion, resurrection, ascension
±34 A.D. Conversion of Paul
±50-64 A.D. Epistles of Paul and catholic epistles
±70-75 A.D. The gospels Mark, Matthew and Luke
±80 A.D. The Acts of the Apostles
±85 A.D. The epistle to the Hebrews
±90 A.D. Gospel and epistles of John
±95/96 A.D. Revelation of Jesus Christ to John
In Less than 50 years the New Testament had been given to us. Praise be to God who guarded over the writing, safe keeping, transporting and translation of His word through the ages.