About the date of composition of the Gospel according to Luke / Περί του χρόνου συγγραφής του Ευαγγελίου κατά τον Λουκά

We come now to the prediction of Jesus of the destruction of the Temple as it is found in Luke:

And as some spoke of the Temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said: “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Lk 21:5-6).

If the Gospel according to Luke had truly been composed in the Greek language sometime toward the end of the first century A.D., as practically all contemporary studies on the New Testament affirm, whether they are written in English, French, or German, then a text such as this one could not have been set down on paper without some remark or comment on this remarkable prophecy. By the end of the first century, Jerusalem had already been destroyed; it had occurred some thirty years earlier; the Temple had been burned and razed. It was simply not possible for an author or redactor to pass over this enormous fact in silence, without a single word or sign that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was a known and accomplished fact.

When anyone speaks to us today about the destruction of Berlin or the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, we can usually gather, if only through a word, a sign, or a turn of phrase, where that person stands in relation to those events. A writer who mentions or alludes to these cities betrays the fact that he is aware of the fate that befell them. In the case of this prophecy of our Lord, however, reported by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all three, we get not the slightest indication or hint anywhere in the gospel text that it could have been written after the cataclysmic event it prophesies. Yet there can be no doubt that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was a cataclysm of the first order, not merely for the Jewish communities, but also for the Christian communities that, after all, had originally issued from them. The objection can be made that, by the end of the first century, Christians were no longer interested in the fall of Jerusalem. By then most of the Christians were of pagan origin anyway. No mention was made of the events of A.D. 70, it can be argued, because Christians no longer had the slightest interest in these events.

This objection is a prime example of the logical fallacy called the petitio principii: begging the question. It assumes what it needs to prove, namely, that all the Gospels were written in the Greek language late in the first century. This, precisely, is what still remains to be proved, however. In any case, it is not legitimate to assume that the Christian communities were indifferent to the fate of Jerusalem and the Temple by the end of the century. Most of these Christian communities had originated within Jewish communities, splitting off from them in the way that a cell divides. It is also quite implausible to imagine any author or redactor reporting a prophecy by our Lord himself without going on to mention the spectacular way in which this particular prophecy had been fulfilled.

In Luke, however, just as we saw was the case in Matthew and Mark, there is no mention or comment whatsoever on this remarkable prophecy. This lack of any mention or allusion to the fate of Jerusalem is a real thorn in the side of those scholars holding the current majority opinion about the date of the composition of the Gospels. Nevertheless, they usually refrain from falling back on what they really think about the matter. If they did, they would show their true colors at last. What they really think is: this so-called prophecy of Jesus cannot really be a prophecy for the simple reason that there isn’t any such thing as prophecy; prophecy of any kind is an impossibility. Therefore, this passage in the Gospels has to be a late fabrication, an invention of the Christian community. The very fact that the destruction of Jerusalem could be reported as something that was going to come about means that the passage had to be written after Jerusalem had already been destroyed. If any prophecy at all is an impossibility, Jesus could obviously not have prophesied the destruction of the Temple: the passages to the effect that he did this had to have been written after the catastrophe.

This is the true logic of the situation we are dealing with here. Some scholars are more candid and frank about it than others; some are not candid and frank about it at all. But even if we were to accept their premise, in order to see if their conclusion indeed followed from it, we would still discover that their argument is grossly defective. For if this prophecy, reported in all three Synoptic Gospels were in fact written after the fact, then the lack of any explanation or comment about what would then be a pseudoprophecy would still be telling. Why attribute to Jesus a prophecy he never made, and then fail to exploit it to the full by pointing to its fulfillment? Why not mine the rich vein to the full?

As we have seen, however, there is not so much as a single word or comment in Matthew, Mark, or Luke about the spectacular fulfillment of this prophecy. The inventor of the pseudoprophecy who went to the trouble of fabricating it and placing it in the mouth of Jesus seems to have been totally unaware that the pseudoprophecy had in fact been fulfilled twenty or thirty years before he fabricated it! The supposed fabricator was thus totally incapable of exploiting his fabrication properly in order to reap the benefits from it for the sake of which he presumably authored the fabrication in the first place. All this evidences great caution and discretion for someone who was nevertheless supposedly bold enough to resort to fabrication.

Let us proceed now to examine some of the other sayings of our Lord bearing upon the future:

And they asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place? … Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom … But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons…” (Lk 21:7, 10, 12).

In this passage, Jesus envisioned the coming persecutions as being brought about by the high authorities of Jerusalem. Did the Christians have anything to fear from the Jerusalem authorities or from the synagogues at the end of the first century? Which synagogues? Certainly not those of Jerusalem or of Judea. Luke spoke of the Christians’ being delivered up to the synagogues and prisons, but nowhere did he speak about any persecutions coming from the Roman authorities. Yet the latter had already begun by A.D. 64 or 65. Luke seems never to have heard anything at all about these persecutions instigated by the Roman emperors. It is a curious fact indeed that an author writing as late as A.D. 100 would seem to be oblivious to the cataclysmic events that had occurred forty years earlier, engineered by the notorious Emperor Nero. This is an especially curious act when we consider that the author in question was Luke, who lived in Rome with Paul from A.D. 61 on. One thing is sure, though, and that is there was certainly no direct threat to the Christians from the synagogues at the end of the first century. By then the threat came from the Roman authorities.

Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 117-121.

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