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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

20 July 2005

Dating the New Testament

Q: When was the King James Bible completed as opposed to the New Jerusalem (Catholic) Bible? I’d always thought that the Old and New Testaments were complete by 96 AD. Later I was told it wasn’t done until around 350-400 AD. Is this correct?

A: The King James and the New Jerusalem Bibles both have the same New Testament books, so if we are talking about the original documents, then they are the same age. However, translators often pick and choose among available manuscripts in deciding which to translate. Normally, this is not a major problem, since the differences among these hand-copied manuscripts are, by-and-large, minor. If we are talking translation, then the KJV is from the early 1600s and the NJB from the late 1900s.

Now for the real question: Was the New Testament written by the people that the books claim to be written by? If so, then the early 100s is the latest that Apostolic authorship could take place. Those who doubt that Scripture is the Word of God or see it as a human reaction to divine action consider the Scriptures as evolving inventions of the early Church and argue for later dating.

Some deny predictive prophecy and question texts where Jesus warns of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. They won’t admit that Jesus could prophesy the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of Judea before they happened (circa AD 70). Tied to almost all the various reasons for rejecting early authorship of the texts is a doubt that God verbally inspired individual authors to create the texts according to his Word.

However, many of the earliest Christian writers were already quoting from different parts of Scripture before AD 200. By the late 200s, we have evidence of everything now included in the canon. The other numbers are merely tossed out by people who won’t let God be God, Jesus be Savior, or the Bible be God’s Spirit-inspired Word. Thus, I opt for an early completion date.

This still leaves one date up in the air: When was the New Testament compiled and accepted in its current form? After all the books listed in the Bible (and many others) were written, debate went on for some time about which were truly divinely inspired and of apostolic origin. The Council of Nicea seemingly accepted all the books now in the New Testament while excluding those not contained in in. In AD 367, Bishop Athanasius issued his Easter letter. It included a list of the books of Holy Scripture, noting the New Testament as we have it today. He did not develop a new list; he used his authority as bishop to endorse long-standing practice. In some areas, some people still object to Revelation because they feel it could be used by heretics such as those condemned at Nicea.

Only a few years later, in AD 382, a Church council in Rome affirmed Athanasius’ list and vindicated Revelation as part of Scripture. All later Church actions agreed with this ruling. Thus we see that both your date and the one used by your daughter are correct, depending upon how you ask the question.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


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