A very quick overview for those unfamiliar with the New Testament. It’s divided into four sections:
- The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (Christ’s life & teachings);
- The Acts of the Apostles (a direct sequel to Luke; a history of the early church including the conversion of Paul);
- The Epistles (letters by various apostles to various churches & individuals on matters regarding Christian doctrine);
- Revelation (an apocalyptic vision of the end times).
The first portions written were the Epistles. From internal evidence we know they were written after Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension & the formation of the early church (circa 33-35 AD) and before the fall of Jerusalem in 72 AD, with 55-65 AD considered to be the period where most, if not all were written.
We know this because (a) if the Epistles were written after the fall of Jerusalem, they would be deliberate forgeries and hoaxes (b) a forger trying to pull off a hoax of this magnitude would try to insert details that would convince people (c) a false prophecy predicting the fall of Jerusalem would be an extremely convincing detail.
There is no mention of the fall of Jerusalem in the Epistles.
There are, however, copious references to Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Indeed, Paul and the other apostles consider that the whole raison d’etre for the Christian faith: If Christ had not resurrected there would be no point in following His teachings because He would clearly not be the Son of God.
This is a key point since it refutes critics who claim the idea of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God, and/or resurrected from the dead are additions by editors in later centuries.
The Epistles were written and circulated before 72 AD, addressed to churches throughout the Middle East, Greece, and Rome where the Christian faith was obviously taking root at that time.
Since the events of the Gospels occur between 30- 35 AD, the Epistles were clearly written during the lifetimes of people who were eyewitnesses to the events described in them.
This is a key point since it refutes those who claim Jesus never existed, or was never crucified; Christian, Jewish, and secular writers of the era all agreed on 3 things:
- Jesus claimed to be Divine
- Jesus was executed by the Romans
- Jesus' followers worshipped Him because they believed He returned from the dead
We know this not only through the Epistles themselves, but by other, non-canonical Christian writings, by letters and treatises written by Jewish theologians critical of Christianity, and by two references in secular histories written in the first century AD.
Further, internal evidence demonstrates the authors of the Epistles clearly believed what they were writing. This was not some get rich quick scheme. All the apostles led lived of deprivation and hardship, all but one of them dying a martyr’s death. Paul famously did not accept money from the churches where he taught but rather supported himself as a tent maker.