Archaeology and the New Testament (IV)

By Mike Willis

Archaeology in General Corroboration of Background and in Dating Books

The assortments of names used in the New Testament were names common to that period of history. Through diggings which have excavated the ossuaries of the first century, scholars are able to find the common names of that time period. “The names of the deceased were invariably carved upon the ossuaries in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, and these inscriptions have contributed materially to an understanding of contemporary family and social organization. Such names as Jesus (Jeshua), son of Joseph, Simon or Simeon, Judas, Ananias, Saphira, Elizabeth and many others indicate that the names in the New Testament were in fact the common names of the day.”1

Also, the format of the letters in the New Testament was the format generally used in the letters of that day. Compare Pauls introduction to that of contemporary letters:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus…” 2

“Theon to Heraclides his brother, many greetings and wishes for good health.

“Tays to the lord Apollonius, many greetings.” 3

Thus, I have shown that the general background in the New Testament is accurately depicted as confirmed by the spade of the archaeologists.

Dating of Books

Textual critics harangued at one another regarding the dates which should be assigned for the writings of most of the books of the New Testament for years. The battle raged during the last part of the 19th century with many books being “definitely” assigned to the second century. The consensus of liberal scholarship was that the gospels were written in this order: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. John was definitely assigned a second century date and the rest of the gospels, at the most, a late first Century date.

“.. . in 1935 a fragment of the gospel of John was discovered and deciphered in the John Rylands Library of England which contained five verses of John (18:31-32 and 37, 38). This fragment dates from the first quarter of the second century, and since it was found in Egypt, it means that the original gospel of John would have been composed some time before 125 A.D. in order for it to have circulated that far. Sir Frederick Kenyon says concerning the traditional date of Johns gospel: There is no longer any reason to question the traditional date of the book.” 4

The effect of this find completely revamped liberal scholars thinking regarding the dates for the writings of the gospels. If John were written last and it was written in the first century, then all the gospels were written years earlier than originally suspected. Most scholars now date all die gospels before 70 A.D.

Other books of the New Testament have also been re-dated since new finds in archaeology show that the vocabularies used were common to that period and that apostasies similar to those described actually did exist at that time. Particularly, do these facts bear true for the writings of Paul.

Thus, archaeology has done much to establish approximate dates for the writings of the New Testament.


1. R. K. Harrison, Archaeology of the New Testament. New York: Association Press. 19641, p. 6.

2. Eph. 1:1.

3. Op. Cit. Harrison, p. 12.

4. Arlie. J. Hoover, External Evidences of Christianity, la mimeographed booklet published in Tampa, p. 132.

September 14, 1972