The Bible contains description of events that took place in history. In this it is
almost unique among religious documents, most of which present events without historical
context. The accuracy of writing doesn’t depend entirely on the date at which the
documents were written, but an early date is strongly supportive of accuracy.
Dating the New Testament
The two events that mark the end of the New Testament period are the fire of Rome
in 64AD and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Both of these are singularly absent
from the New Testament accounts, which indicates that they were written earlier.
There are loose citations of the Gospels and some of Paul’s letters in a letter written
by Clement of Rome before the end of the first century and exact quotations appear
in letters written by Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp in the early second century.
Dating Acts and the Epistles
Dating the events in the Acts of the Apostles is fairly straightforward. A small
number of events which are also described in the secular literature of the time provides
fixed points and it is relatively simple to fit the travels of the Apostles into
this framework. The result of this shows that the earliest of Paul’s letters is Galatians
(probably in 47or 48AD) while the latest is 2 Timothy near the end of 63AD. The letters
of Peter were written as Nero’s persecution arose in 64AD.
The action of Acts comes to an abrupt halt in 62AD, with no particular event described.
This is strongly suggestive of a date at around this time.
Dating the Gospels
The Gospels can be dated in part by the events they describe, and in part by quotations
in later documents. Luke’s Gospel is referenced in Acts and in 1 Timothy, and John’s
Gospel describes the pool of Bethesda as still standing, something that ended in
70AD. One can therefore place the Gospels well before the Romano-Jewish War of 66-70AD.
For a long time it was considered that the chronology of the Old Testament given
in the books of Kings and Chronicles could not be used to provide a consistent chronology
and that they conflicted with Assyrian chronologies. The work of E. R. Thiele showed
that a consistent chronology exists. The dates of some books of the Old Testament
are clear, but others are difficult to date accurately. The chart below shows an
The Silver Scroll
This fragment of silver foil is inscribed with the text of Numbers 6:24-26. It was
buried in a tomb near Jerusalem in about 700BC, probably in the reign of Hezekiah.
Before the fragment was discovered critics had confidently claimed that this particular
text was not written until after the Exile. Finding it in a tomb which is clearly
more than a century before the exile began shows that at least part of the Old Testament
was written earlier than the critics would like.