Short Shot: Dating of Matthew and Mark- Some Interesting Historical Facts
The “skeptics” and liberal theologians commonly date the writing of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark in the very late first century, or, more commonly, in the second century. (Skeptics place all of the NT books extremely late in the first century and into the second. But we are focused here on Matthew and Mark). The claim is also made that Matthew and Mark did not actually write the books that bear their names. Rather, some unknown writers, to give their productions some kind of credibility, used the names of Matthew and Mark.
Needless to say, such claims have to be proven, not merely asserted. The reader needs to know why the skeptics posit the NT books as written in the second century. It is denied that any of them were written by the actual apostles, or those who knew them, or those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry. The reason for this is because in the NT we find predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem. If one were to allow that Jesus and the NT writers were writing well before that horrific event, indeed at times when the Pax Roma was evident even in Israel, this would mean that there was such a thing as actual prophecy in these books. And one of the things that “higher critics” deny is the existence of true prophecy! This ideological bias is exemplified by the following quote, which was offered to explain away the book of Daniel:
We need to assume that the vision [of Daniel 8] as a whole is a prophecy after the fact. Why? Because human beings are unable accurately to predict future events centuries in advance and to say that Daniel could do so, even on the basic of a symbolic revelation vouchsafed to him by God and interpreted by an angel, is to fly in the face of the certainties of human nature. So what we have here is in fact not a road map of the future laid down in the sixth century B.C. but an interpretation of the events of the author’s own time, 167-164 B.C…” [Towner, Daniel, Interpreter’s Bible, John Knox:1984, p. 115, cited in [DLIOT:332].
So, the way we know that Daniel – and thus, by extension – any Bible book, could not have been written before the events described and predicted in their works is:
Because human beings are unable accurately to predict future events centuries in advance and to say that Daniel could do so, even on the basic of a symbolic revelation vouchsafed to him by God and interpreted by an angel, is to fly in the face of the certainties of human nature.
To say that this is a highly prejudicial, biased approach is an understatement! This is what I personally call Theological Uniformitarianism. Scientist like to argue that “As things are, so they always were.” They argue that the processes that we see in nature today, are the same identical (Uniform) processes that have always been. The Theological Uniformitarianist likewise “reasons” no man today can tell the future, or, no man today can perform miracles, or no man today can raise himself from the dead. Thus, this means that there could never have been a true prophecy. There could never have been a true miracle. There never could have been a man that raised himself from the dead! Of course, if there is no god, then all of this would be true, but the assumption that there is no god has to be proven – and it cannot be proven!
Others, those who say that Jesus never existed, claim that all of the NT books were frauds, literary works produced by “the church” at much later times, created to address issues that were pressing at their time. But under no circumstances, we are told, are any of the books the production of eyewitnesses of Jesus, or his apostles. They were all written very, very late in the first century, or even as late as AD 120 or so!
The entire question of whether any of the NT books were frauds, produced at much later times by unknown authors, raises tons of serious questions. And make no mistake, these are serious – extremely serious – questions that are not easily answered by the skeptics!
Would the early church have so eagerly and unanimously accepted the Gospels, for instance, if they believed– and especially if they knew- that they were not written by the apostles or the eyewitnesses as they claim to be? Just read 1 John 1:1-3, or Luke 1:1-3 for instance. To suggest that all of the Gospels were known by the early church to be fraudulent productions, and yet were accepted as the authoritative source for knowledge of Christ and his life, death and resurrection, is, to be blunt, totally ridiculous.
Consider what Bart Erhman, one of the leading skeptics of the day, has to say about this entire issue of the New Testament books being frauds:
People in the ancient world did not appreciate forgeries any more than people today. There are numerous discussions of forgery in ancient Greek and Latin sources. In virtually every case the practice is denounced as deceitful and ill-spirited, sometimes even in documents that are themselves forged.”
Tertullian reports that a church tribunal convicted a presbyter (a church elder) from Asia Minor for forging fictional stories about Paul. He confessed to committing the crime ‘out of love for Paul,’ But the court was unimpressed and found him guilty. They reprimanded the presbyter and removed him from office. But unfortunately, in many if not most cases, forgers were able to get away with it. The criteria for determining forged scripture in the 2nd and 3rd centuries too often boiled down to whether you agreed with what it had to say.” (From Erhman, Lost Christianities, Oxford Press, 2003).
So, per Erhman, literary forgeries were universally condemned and rejected. Even prominent Christians could and did lose their positions for producing forgeries. Yet, we are to believe that the early church unanimously accepted as absolutely authoritative, the Gospels that they knew, or suspected, of being fraudulent. Which raises the question, if, as Erhman suggests, fraudulent works were nonetheless accepted because some folks “agreed with what it had to say,” why did the church defrock the fellow that Tertullian tells us about, since he was writing “out of love for Paul,” and ostensibly saying things that the church tribunal would have agreed with? Erhman’s comments are, it seems to me, self contradictory.
With all of this said, (much, much more could be said) I want to share an interesting historical “tidbit” that I think should be considered about the dating of the first two Gospels, Matthew and Mark. Consider the following:
(Much of the information given here is taken from a helpful article at: https://www.bibleodyssey.org/places/main-articles/caesarea-philippi/). I have edited the article for brevity.
They both use the name of Caesarea Philippi (Matt 16:13; Mark 8:27):
Consider the history of the name of the city. For centuries the city was known as Balinas, Panias. It was then, for a brief time, called Caesarea Philippi. It was then named Neronian, but then, after the ignoble death of Nero, it reverted to once again bear the name of Panias and Banias. Consider that in its long history it was only known as Caesarea Philippi for a brief period of time! And yet, while the city was only called Caesarea Philippi for such a brief time both Matthew and Mark refer to that city as Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:13, Mk 8:27).
Originally named Balinas, this was a pagan holy city (at the headwater of the Jordan River in a
spectacular mountain/ grotto setting) for the worship of Baal. After the Greeks conquered the area in c. 330 BC the name was changed to Panias in honor of “the Greek god Pan.” Rome conquered the area in 63 BC and later (prior to 14 AD) the name was changed to Caesarea “because it was the city where Caesar was worshiped.” That is, Augustus Caesar.
The city was gifted to Herod by Augustus Caesar “in 20 BC” and “Herod the Great…built a great white temple of gleaming marble with the bust of Caesar in it for the worship of Caesar.”
“Herod’s son, Philip (Circa. AD 4- 33), inherited the area and the city”, upon the death of Herod the Great, variously dated between 1 and 3 BC. “Philip in the same emperor’s reign (i.e., Augustus, therefore) further adorned the town, later renaming it, (under Tiberius who reigned from AD 14-37, DKP), Caesarea in the emperor’s honor.” “He changed the name from Panias to Caesarea; ‘the City of Caesar’, and to the name of Caesarea he added his own name, Philippi, ‘Philip’s city of Caesar’.” Later Herod Agrippa II (great grandson of Herod the Great), ruled the region beginning in AD 50.
Then, “When Nero (54-68) succeeded Claudius he increased Agrippa’s kingdom. Agrippa’s capital was called Caesarea Philippi. However, “As a mark of gratitude for this imperial bounty Agrippa renamed his capital Neronias” about 54, shortly after Nero’s gift was made, as was common practice.
Shortly after the suicidal death of Nero in c. 68, the name Neronias was changed and, understandably, “was soon forgotten.” It never again reverted to the name of Caesarea Philippi. Rather, after Neronias the name reverted to its “ancient name Panias”. Later, after Muslim conquest, Panias became “Banias, since Arabic does not have the sound of letter ‘p’.”
The fact that after Nero, the city was never called Caesarea Philippi again is highly significant, is it not? If Matthew and Mark were writing in the second century, why would they hearken back to a name that had passed out of usage many years before? Why not say something like, “When Jesus came to Banias, which at the time was called Caesarea Philippi…”? On any reading of Matthew and Mark, they give no clue that they knew the city by any other name than Caesarea Philippi.
So, here is a time line of the names of the city that both Matthew and Mark call Caesarea Philippi.
Balinas — ancient era to c. 330 BC.
Panias — from c. 330 BC to the reign of Augustus c.14 AD.
Caesarea Philippi -given this name during the time of Tiberius, or perhaps very early in the reign of Nero, in AD 51.
However, the city was renamed Neronias in approximately 54, when Nero increased Agrippa II’s kingdom.
After the suicide of Nero, the city was quickly renamed Panias / Banias again, but it never reverted to Caesarea Philippi.
(Edit: The reader will notice that some posit the renaming (to Caesarea Philippi) under Tiberius, others under Nero. One source says: “Having received the area from Caesar Augustus in 20 BC, Herod the Great constructed there a temple of white marble in honor of Caesar. Eighteen years later, Herod’s son Philip (who ruled from approximately BC 4-AD 34, DKP), inherited the site and named it Caesarea.” (https://waynestiles.com/blog/caesarea-philippi-banias-from-the-god-pan-to-the-god-man). I have not been able to nail this down more precisely, but the bottom line is that, as we will see, the city was no longer named Caesarea Philippi after the time of Nero.
This time line tells us that Caesarea Philippi was only called by that name for a very short time, from the time of Tiberius and Philip the Tetrarck – at the earliest, (BC 4-34 AD) – or perhaps AD 54 – under Nero, until AD 68 or so.
After the time of Nero, the city reverted to its ancient pagan name of Panias / Banias thereafter. It was seldom called Caesarea Philippi after that time.
Conclusion: The purpose of the above chronology of the ancient city of Balinas is to illuminate the dating of the gospels of Matthew and Mark. Since both gospels refer to the city as Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:13, Mk 8:27), this must have been the name in use when their gospels were written.
Therefore, it is probable that Matthew and Mark were written in similar time periods — and before 54.
Certainly they were written before 68, the date of Nero’s death. Thus supporting the evidence and
probability of the early dating of 41 and 45.
In AD 61, Agrippa renamed the city “Neronias” in honor of Emperor Nero. This name was rarely used, and, after Nero’s death, the city was known as “Caesarea Philippi” (briefly) or “Panias.” In the second and third centuries, the city was called “Caesarea Panias” and from the fourth century on, it was known simply as “Paneas” (Arabic changes the “p” to “b,” giving the modern name “Banias”). The city was never widely known as Caesarea Philippi again. Take careful note that in the second century, (when, we are told, Matthew and Mark were written) the city was NOT known as Caesarea Philippi, but rather “Caesarea Panias.”
DKP– Summary Thoughts
The question thus becomes – If Matthew and Mark wrote 30-50 years after AD 70, as suggested by the skeptics, why would the supposedly fraudulent writers use the name Caesarea Philippi, which had been changed back to Panias in AD 68? Why not use the name “Caesarea Panias” if they wrote in the second century? In fact, it might well be asked if a forger, writing in the second century, would have even remembered the name of Caesarea Philippi. If the books were written 30+ years after AD 70, the likelihood of them using the earlier name, instead of “Caesarea Panias” or even simply Panias, is very, very suspect!
Side bar: It is also legitimate to ask: If a Christian forger wrote any of the Gospels, why did they write about Jesus’ multiple predictions to come back in judgment in the lifetime of his first century audience? After all, to write about (to supposedly invent the story) such predictions that had patently failed (if, as the skeptics claim, he was predicting to come at the end of human history), would have been to immediately be a source of massive embarrassment to the early church and the readers of the Gospels!
And it is not enough to suggest that they wrote the Gospels with the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, to instill faith. They KNEW that Jesus tied the prediction of his coming to that destruction and judgment. Thus, to write of the judgment on Jerusalem was self defeating, because Jesus was supposed to have come at that very time – but didn’t– per the Skeptics. The very idea that a Christian forger would invent the predictions of Jesus, knowing full well that they had failed, is staggeringly illogical!
The importance of this point is emphasized by the “political” nature of the names of ancient cities. To use names long discontinued was to “disrespect” the figure or even the history and events for whom the city was currently named. Conversely, if they had used the appellation of Neronian, that would have been very socially and politically unacceptable, if they wrote long after Nero’s reign. Nero had been declared an enemy of the state which resulted in his suicide. Thus, for writers writing decades after the debacle of his last days would have been rejected outright! To use a name that had been discontinued for 30+ years, would have been socially and politically unacceptable. That is true of “Caesarea Philippi” or even Neronias.
All of this means that for Matthew and Mark to use the name of Caesarea Philippi, if in fact it had not been called by that name for 30+ years, would have been socially and politically unacceptable and disrespectful! Their use of that name is highly suggestive, though it is admitted that it is not independently definitive, that they both wrote their Gospels in the time period between 34-35 and AD 61.