Terminus ad quem (latest possible date) for the Greek NT?

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,877
#2
Last possible date and most likely date are two different things. Also, the NT was written by multiple authors, so the answer depends on which books of the NT you are referring to.

The canonical Gospels are attested to by Iraneus in 180 AD, but from his attitude of how authoritative he regards them, they must have been in existence sometime before that date. The existence of a variety of gospel manuscripts dated to the late.and early 3rd century century tends to supports this.terminus date. There is, of course , a lot of disagreement about the dating of these fragments and some scholars prefer a later date. Given the fragility of papyrus and the fact that each copy had to be painstakenly made by hand, and the poverty and generally lower level of education of the early Christians , it is surprising that we have any copies from so early a date, and the gap insurance time between when the text was first composed and our earliest copy is smaller than almost every secular ancient work. I don't know.of any secular ancient text where the gap in time between composition of the text and the oldest copy found is as small as for the Gospels. Even if we assume the later date proposed by critics, the time gap would still be better than almost all secular ancient texts.

Then there is the internal evidence of the NT works themselves. Much of Paul's writing is devoted to concerns that would have of major concern to the 1st century Christians but not later ones. For example, the issue of whether Christians had to follow Jewish rituals, which had been decided by the end of the first century, and was a non issue by the 2nd. It would be hard to see why so much effort was spent on writing on these non issues if these letters of Paul had been fabricated at a later date. The Gospels and Acts show a knowledge of obscure minor officials that later writers would be unliekly to know, and one would be hard press to come up with a good reason why these particular obscure officials were chosen if the writers were writing a century or later as some critics propose.
 
May 2011
2,656
Rural Australia
#3
Last possible date and most likely date are two different things.
Yes of course they are by definition.

The OP is interested expressly in the latest possible date.

Issues related to the earliest possible date, or the most likely possible date are generally differently evaluated.


Also, the NT was written by multiple authors, so the answer depends on which books of the NT you are referring to.

The OP refers to the canonical books of the NT.


The canonical Gospels are attested to by Iraneus in 180 AD, but from his attitude of how authoritative he regards them, they must have been in existence sometime before that date.
If one were to accept Irenaeus as an authoritative source on the existence of these books one could conceivably conclude that the latest possible date for the NT was c.180 CE. How sound is such a conclusion? More importantly what quantitative degree of certainty would one associate with this conclusion?

Here is a kind of spectrum matching certainty with probability in common terms:

Certain (100%)
Almost Certain (87-99%)
Probable (61-86%)
Chances about EVEN (40-60%)
Probably not (13-39%)
Almost certainly not (1-12%)
Impossible (0%)


The existence of a variety of gospel manuscripts dated to the late.and early 3rd century century tends to supports this.terminus date. There is, of course , a lot of disagreement about the dating of these fragments and some scholars prefer a later date. Given the fragility of papyrus and the fact that each copy had to be painstakenly made by hand, and the poverty and generally lower level of education of the early Christians , it is surprising that we have any copies from so early a date, and the gap insurance time between when the text was first composed and our earliest copy is smaller than almost every secular ancient work. I don't know.of any secular ancient text where the gap in time between composition of the text and the oldest copy found is as small as for the Gospels. Even if we assume the later date proposed by critics, the time gap would still be better than almost all secular ancient texts.
It would appear that a latest possible date provided by the papyri fragments discovered at the rubbish dumps of Oxyrynchus and other places is the 4th century. This appears to be the upper bound on all of these datings, all of which are by means of handwriting analysis - palaeography.


Then there is the internal evidence of the NT works themselves. Much of Paul's writing is devoted to concerns that would have of major concern to the 1st century Christians but not later ones. For example, the issue of whether Christians had to follow Jewish rituals, which had been decided by the end of the first century, and was a non issue by the 2nd. It would be hard to see why so much effort was spent on writing on these non issues if these letters of Paul had been fabricated at a later date. The Gospels and Acts show a knowledge of obscure minor officials that later writers would be unliekly to know, and one would be hard press to come up with a good reason why these particular obscure officials were chosen if the writers were writing a century or later as some critics propose.
Asking for the latest possible date allows for the fact that the books of the NT may have been fabricated, and that as a result the internal evidence may be called into question as itself a fabrication of some later time period.