Beyond Tradition

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men." Colossians 2:8

Gospel Date: Amazing Tales of the Failed Post-Prophecy

Part III of VI (click here for Part I):


Vaticinium ex eventu (prophesy after the fact), a foundation built on sand

Though the
book of Acts fails to mention the destruction of the Temple during the Jewish-Roman war of 70 CE (discussed here: The Acts of Luke) of this article, the synoptic gospels (excluding John) do reference this event as a prediction proclaimed by Jesus. The prediction from Mark, Matthew, and Luke is as follows...

Mark 13:1-2 "As he was going out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!' And Jesus said to him, 'Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.'"
 

Matthew 24:1-2 "Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when his disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to him. And he said to them, 'Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.'"

Luke 21:5-6 "And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, he said, 'As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.'"

The Temple was utterly destroyed during the Roman siege of 70 CE, decades after Jesus made this prediction (at least according to what the gospel writers would have us believe), fulfilling it to a tee. It should be noted that the West Wall, the only thing standing today from that period, is not technically the Temple but a retaining outer wall around Jerusalem built by king Herod long after the Temple had been finished.[1] This would seem to imply the prophecy's legitimacy since Jesus' prophecy does not specifically mention the wall that was left, but this is much too minor to make a definitive case of the legitimacy of the prophecy one way or the other.  Josephus states of the Temple…

 

"…it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited."[2]

This of course is the smoking gun prediction that secular scholars use to nail the coffin shut on the gospel date issue, arguing that the gospels were composed by authors who knew this event took place since, in their view, it's obviously not possible for a person to see into the future and make such an accurate prediction, or once again, vaticinium ex eventu. No Jew, they argue, could have predicted such a thing about God's holy sanctuary more than three decades before the event, which was such an integral part of Judaism and the Jewish nation. Though Josephus does record various individuals who predicted its destruction beforehand, these predictions occurred during the culmination of the conflict or shortly before the actual total destruction, whereas Jesus' prediction would have occurred some thirty years or more before the fact and at least two decades before the actual physical conflict between Jews and Romans began to heighten.

First of all, making such an accurate prediction is not exactly an impossible naturalistic feat, and I'll cover this in a bit. Obviously, this comes down to blatant presupposition based on a biased naturalistic disposition, which is just begging the question. This naturalistic bias, however, falls into textual and historical difficulty, and it amazes me how some consider this a legitimate argument against any validity of the prophecy despite the conflicting evidence to the contrary. This seems to be exhibit B used by post-70 proponents, while the textual-dependency theory (discussed here: The Q Conundrum) is presented as exhibit A for the other gospels. In other words, the presupposition is that this had to have been written after the event since such a prediction is assumed impossible. Furthermore, since the textual-dependency theory suggests that the first gospel written (typically Mark) was copied by the other two, Matthew and Luke, with Acts and John following in their footsteps, post-70 proponents have conveniently killed five birds (Mark, Matthew, Luke, Acts, John) with one stone. It's actually a chain of presupposition.

The problem with this, however, is that if textual-dependency is in fact true this still doesn't prove that the works date post-70 because other factors obviously have to be established. In other words, it still doesn't prove the first gospel was written after 70 CE even if the others did copy it. Yet if textual-dependency is false, then the damage to the post-70 argument is much more severe because then we truly have three independent sources about this prediction instead of just one copied by the others, making collusion impossible and highly likely it was a legitimate tradition that had been circulating at a very early time, which made the tradition accessible to all three independent authors.

To simplify this: these presuppositions certainly could be true, but they could also be false. However, if the theory of textual-dependency is incorrect and Matthew and Luke did not copy Mark, and since it is relatively firm to suppose that Matthew and Luke never saw the work of the other, they obviously accumulated these traditions from independent sources outside of Mark, thus it is a certainty that this tradition, most likely oral, came from a much earlier source because it would need time to have circulated in the regions Mark, Matthew, and Luke had access to the tradition, which would undoubtedly date pre-70 CE and would also make it likely a legitimate Jesus-saying. On the other hand, if textual-dependency is correct, that Matthew and Luke did in fact copy Mark, this doesn't prove that Mark was a post-70 work, so it still has to be assumed it was. Thus the former scenario is much more damaging to a post-70 position than the latter scenario is to a pre-70 position. So, essentially the post-70 date is staked on two assumptions as its foundation:

 

  • A subjective bias -- no one can predict the future, so it therefore was written after the fact (70 CE).
  • That the textual-dependency hypothesis is true -- the first gospel writer made it up and the others copied it from his work.

 

So, we have two premises that the post-70 date argument relies on: a bias naturalistic prejudice against prophecy that can neither be proved true or false, while the other is a textual-dependency hypothetical that, though certainly can be true and might even be probable, has also not been emphatically proved or disproved outside of just (supposed) consensus. See how the potential house of cards works here? Moreover, in order to accept this argument further, obviously we must assume that someone deliberately invented this prediction post-70 with the intent to make Jesus a prognosticator of uncanny accuracy if he never actually made the prediction himself. Assuming these hypothetical premises to be true and accurate -- textual-dependency and that the first gospel was written after this event -- we basically have two options in this case:

 

  1. Matthew and Luke copied it directly from Mark's gospel (based on Markan priority), thus Mark invented it.
  2. Mark and Luke copied it from Matthew (based on Matthean priority), thus Matthew invented it.

 

Since Markan priority seems to be the predominant view, this is what we'll go with. So, we now have presupposed that Mark invented it and the others copied it from him. Now we must then be certain that there is no other external conflicting evidence against our argument that Mark and Matthew were written post-70. The problem is, there is in fact external evidence to the contrary. Naturally, we must play down the church father Irenaeus' argument that Matthew's gospel was written first, and especially that it was written while Peter and Paul were still in Rome "laying the foundations of the Church," which would have been pre-70.[3] No problem, all we have to do is ignore it or simply denounce Irenaeus' statement as unreliable for whatever reason and emphasize the fact that our modern day Markan priority scholars, who insist Mark came first and was written after the prophecy, overrides Irenaeus' second century claim.

However, we have yet another second century church father annoyance, something I discussed in more detail in another article (here: Post-70 View: 7Key Points, The fathers know best). If we disregard Irenaeus, we must contend with Clement of Alexandria who likely had an independent source and who not only emphatically states that Mark wrote his gospel when Peter was still alive, stating that Peter "neither approved nor forbade his work" (possibly contradicting Irenaeus who implied that Mark's gospel was written when Peter had "departed") which would have been post-70 and possibly even in the late 50s or earlier, but who also affirms that the gospel of Matthew was written prior to Mark's gospel, thus placing both gospels before 70 CE.[4]

To simplify this, we now have two external sources asserting that Matthew came before Mark, yet that possibly diverge on their opinions of when Mark was written -- either before or after Peter "departed" from Rome -- suggesting they are completely independent external sources. It's one thing to denounce one church historian for whatever reason but it becomes a stretch to denounce more than one.

So, what have we established here so far? Not only does the post-70 premise here rest on naturalistic presuppositions and consensus hypotheticals beforehand, but must then override external data to the contrary. But since a miracle simply cannot occur because no one can predict the future this accurately, we have a right to nullify anything to the contrary based on the authority of that fact alone!

Okay, so we disregard the potential for prophecy being true, accept a consensus hypothetical that textual-dependency is true and dismiss external evidence to the contrary. The next problem is the passage itself. As you can see in the passages above, all three gospels basically have written this prediction almost verbatim with nothing added, no embellishment, or any confirmation of the event itself, thus we must figure out why this prophecy presumably was not the most interesting or predicative prediction to them. Even more puzzling is the fact that passing up golden opportunities to make Jesus shine by highlighting a particular prediction simply wasn't their style. Moreover, the view that Mark invented this prediction for that specific purpose makes this even more of a puzzling factor. Luke also displayed this particular tendency of verifying the validity of past prophecies ad nauseam in the first few chapters of Acts during Peter's famous post-resurrection speech to the public masses, where Peter looks back in retrospective sequence of Jesus' life and explains the messianic significance of all those events (Acts 2:14-47). Moreover, the authors also pointed out prior predictions that were fulfilled within the same time frame of Jesus' life, such as:

 

  • Matthew (26:75) -- where he records Peter remembering Jesus' prediction that he would deny Jesus three times right after it had happened.
  • The gospel of John records the disciples remembering all the prophecies about Jesus (2:19-22, 12:16), in addition to recording Jesus telling his disciples to remember the things he is telling them so that when they happen they will not lose hope (John 16:1-4).
  • Luke (24:5-8) records the angel at the empty tomb reminding the disciples of Jesus' prior prediction about his resurrection on the third day, and Jesus himself reminding them that he had predicted his resurrection and the purpose it would serve (24:44).
  • Luke also recorded prophecies in retrospect such as in Acts (20:35) where Paul recalls Jesus' words about alms; Peter recalls other the teachings of Jesus (Acts 11:16); he also records a prophecy made about a famine and then verifies its fulfillment to his readers during the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:28).

 

Numerous prophetic scriptures foretold in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah proudly touted by the gospel authors as fulfillments in Jesus was also a familiar characterization of the writers. Matthew was exceptional with this approach, meticulously verifying each and every messianic prophecy purportedly fulfilled in Jesus' life, as well as John. The point to this is that we find a stark inconsistency in how they treated these recollections and revelatory prophecies, both its utterance and its fulfillment, and the Temple prediction that they all recorded essentially verbatim with no fulfillment or spectacle underscore.

The gospel of John doesn't even mention this prediction at all. Why is this? From a pre-70 perspective, we would argue that the authors were writing down this tradition before it happened, thus such a prediction was not only hard to believe but a bitter pill for a pre-70 Judeo-Christian to swallow at the time. The Temple was still a very integral part of their lives, yet, even though the Temple's destruction seemed improbable and even highly scandalous at the time, they preserved the tradition anyway as is and unrevised since it was part of something Jesus had in fact said. This would explain why they didn't aggrandize it like the other prophecies of Jesus, while John chose to opt out of the prophecy all together.

However, from a post-70 perspective, the explanation for this becomes problematic, especially since most post-70 proponents assume that the gospel authors were freely redacting the traditions with their own textual changes, embellishments, and spectacle additions to spruce it up, correct flaws, or just reshape the traditions according to their whims or the communities they specifically composed these works for. I've actually heard the argument that they purposely left this prediction subtle so that it looked authentic. All three shared this same intent? Why does this contradict the consistent patterns in how they treated other prophecies? What about John? What about the silence in Acts?

Note that I'm not making a case for a pre-70 date with just this information thus far. I'm dissecting the argument in context of a post-70 date and giving you a feel for the methodology used by post-70 proponents in their analysis of this particular prophecy. Using Jesus' supposed prophecy about the Temple to support a late date clearly comes with quite a bit of presupposition, dismissal of external information and some inconsistency.

The Olivet Discourse

We might get away with religious zealots inventing accurate predictions about events that already happened, but they certainly would not invent things that never happened or would cause unnecessary ambiguity about the prediction they invented. The three gospels add another dimension to the oddity of the Temple prediction in a subsequent sequence of predictions Jesus makes, which is located in the same context as the Temple destruction prediction.

In all three gospels, immediately after Jesus' prediction of the Temple's destruction, his disciples ask when this will occur and what signs to look for. Jesus then proceeds with what is called the Olivet Discourse, which is a long series of events about a future tumultuous time in Judea that supposedly leads up to the Temple destruction and the war in Jerusalem. We'll focus on the most significant passages (you can click the links to get the full discourse of each one)…

Matthew chap. 24 "Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place; let the reader understand; then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains."

Mark chap. 13 "But when you see the Abomination of Desolation standing where it should not be; let the reader understand; then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains."

Luke 21:5-38 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled."

The first thing we notice about the passages above is how similar Mark and Matthew's version is, yet Luke seems to clearly deviate. In a post-70 context we would normally consider this as an open and shut case, at least in Luke's case, he had prior knowledge about the 70 CE war that ended with the Roman legions surrounding Jerusalem before they sieged the walls. Furthermore, this would appear to be more than just bias against an ability to accurately predict such an event, because it looks as though Luke uniquely redacted it and included another separate prophecy just as accurate about the war in another area of his gospel, which is excluded from the other two gospels (Luke 19:43-44).

Unfortunately, however, it isn't as cut and dry as it seems at first glance. First of all, this is obviously much more under the mercy of the textual-dependency theory, which automatically presupposes that Luke copied it from Mark or Matthew and changed it himself, as opposed to getting it from an independent external source. I think by now we know how shaky and inconclusive using a textual-dependency theory to support a premise is. It's a house of cards, because if the textual-dependency theory that is presupposed is not true, then we must come up with another reason why Luke's version is different than just his own supposed redaction.

However, assuming the theory to be correct, once we look underneath the surface, there's no doubt that these were totally separate predictions not just apart from the war, but from the previous prediction Jesus made about the Temple's destruction, even though they are in the same context (which I'll discuss in a bit). In a post-70 context, this raises a dilemma since Jesus gave the distinct impression that the Temple destruction is directly tied into the series of events within the Olivet Discourse, thus we must accept that the assumed inventor not only made up this additional discourse, or at least greatly embellished it, but invented it to specifically fit the war, as well as events leading up to and about the war and its conclusion.

The problem with this assumption is multifold when we dissect the discourse. It is especially a problem for those who assume the writers were freely redacting the traditions on their own. The first problem is that neither Matthew nor Mark show any real redaction tendencies here. Both Mark and Matthew's "abomination of desolation" is an allusion to a prophecy in the Old Testament book of Daniel where the phrase "abomination of desolation" comes from (see Daniel 9:26-27, 11:31, 12:11). These passages in Daniel were written before the turn of the Common Era well before the 70 CE war, and after the first Temple, Solomon's Temple, had been destroyed, thus were prophecies about an event involving a subsequent Temple (presumably the second Temple).

Matthew's "standing in the holy place" and Mark's "standing where it should not be" seems to allude to the Temple but is obviously vague (see passages above). We can assume for the moment that Matthew and Mark were implying the Temple since it was correlated with Daniel's prophecy that clearly involved a prophecy about the second Temple, and since they were crystal clear about Jesus' prior prophecy about the destruction of the present Temple ("not one stone left on another"), we might wonder why they were so ambiguous in this case. Mark's Gentile readers would have been especially confused whether "standing where it should not be" was referring to the Temple, a future Temple, Jerusalem, or something else all together. If they both had just witnessed Titus and the Roman legions march through the city and demolish it, why is the inventor not specific if his intent was to make Jesus an uncanny prognosticator, and why is Mark and Matthew so vague about the event they are freely redacting and revising?

This is admittedly not as strong of an argument against foreknowledge as is the second issue I'll discuss next. Since the Daniel prophecy clearly predicts events about the second Temple, Jesus advises them to "flee to the mountains" once they see this happen to the Temple (if you notice the passage above, Matthew actually implies that he is already inside the Temple). The war actually began in 66 CE throughout scattered cities of Judea, which spread to Jerusalem afterwards and ended in a two year standoff starting in 68 CE with the Jewish armies trapped inside the walls of the city before Titus, commander of the Roman legions, breached the walls and gained access into Jerusalem and the Temple. It would have been much too late at that point to flee.

Thus, their versions actually make Jesus' warning when to flee noticeably inaccurate. Matthew (24:20) and Mark (13:18) also have Jesus advise them to pray that this does not occur in the winter or on the Sabbath. Not only does this imply that the inventor did not know the specific time this was to occur himself (it actually occurred in the summer), but gave the unfavorable impression that Jesus himself was not sure when it would occur. So, if either Matthew or Mark and/or the assumed inventor was looking back at an event that had already transpired and invented or embellished it as a prediction, not only is it strangely vague, but it's not at all accurate and certainly doesn't reflect an extraordinarily adept feat by Jesus even though it was presumably created after the fact for this reason.

Luke, on the other hand, excludes the reference to Daniel, as I previously noted, and writes that Jerusalem is "surrounded by armies." In another passage, separate from the Olivet Discourse (Luke 19:43-44), he has Jesus lament their rejection of him, declaring that their enemies would set up a "barricade" or rampart (Greek word charax) around the city as the future judgment of their rejection. Low and behold, Titus and the Roman legions literally built a wall adjacent to the outer walls around Jerusalem during the siege. Bingo!

However, when we too examine it closely, things in Luke's rendition are also off the mark. I'll discuss this in a bit, but it should be noted here that Luke's version of the prophecy about Jerusalem clearly echoes other similar Old Testament depictions about desolation and armies surrounding Israel and Jerusalem...

 
Isaiah 64:10-11 "The city of thy holiness has become desolate, Sion has become as a wilderness, Jerusalem a curse. The house, our sanctuary [the Temple], and the glory which our fathers blessed, has been burnt with fire: and all our glorious things have gone to ruin."

Jeremiah 1:15 "… For, behold, I call together all the kingdoms of the earth from the north, saith the Lord; and they shall come, and shall set each one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls round about her, and against all the cities of Juda."

Jeremiah 6:1-4 "Strengthen yourselves, ye children of Benjamin, to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem, and sound an alarm with the trumpet in Thecue, and set up a signal over Baethacharma: for evil threatens from the north, and a great destruction is coming. And thy pride, O daughter of Sion [Israel], shall be taken away. The shepherds and their flocks shall come to her; and they shall pitch their tents against her round about, and shall feed their flocks each with his hand. Prepare yourselves for war against her; rise up, and let us go up against her at noon."

Jeremiah 52:4 "And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the ninth month, on the tenth day of the month, that Nabuchodonosor [Nebuchadnezzar] king of Babylon came, and all his host, against Jerusalem, and they made a rampart round it, and built a wall round about it with large stones."

Ezekiel 4:1-2 "And thou, son of man, take thee a brick, and thou shalt set it before thy face, and shalt portray on it the city, even Jerusalem. And thou shalt besiege it, and build works against it, and throw up a mound round about it, and pitch camps against it, and set up engines round about."

Daniel 9:16-17 "… thy wrath turn away, and thine anger from thy city Jerusalem, even thy holy mountain: for we have sinned, and because of our iniquities, and those of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach among all that are round about us. And now, O lord our God, hearken to the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine on thy desolate sanctuary [the Temple]…"

 
Zechariah 14:2 "And I will gather all the Gentiles to Jerusalem to war, and the city shall be taken, and the houses plundered, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity..."

 

Note that these quotes are from the Septuagint,[6] the Hebrew Old Testament that was translated into Greek around the third century BCE, because this is the bible that the first century Christians who spoke Greek were using, and is the Old Testament Luke unquestionably used and quoted in his gospel (see Luke 3:4-6, 4:17-19). Notice how eerily similar some of these descriptions are to Luke's description, yet the fact these Old Testament passages were written prior to the 70 CE event is without dispute. Though some of these ancient passages are based on what happened to the first Temple (which ended in a similar destruction), some of the depictions are thought of as arguable predictions about the second, particularly Zechariah and Daniel, written after the first Temple had been destroyed and without a doubt written long before the second Temple was destroyed.

This was clearly a common apocalyptic theme in ancient scripture about God's judgement of his people, the Jews. Again, all of these passages that sound eerily similar to the 70 CE war were indisputably written pre-70 CE, hundreds of years prior. Despite the fact they all similarly reflect what took place during the 70 CE war in the same way Luke's passages do, they would be argued by any secular scholar as mere coincidences. Point being, if we are to discard the idea that Jesus' predictions were authentic and truly inspired, it certainly is far from an impossibility in Luke's case that either he used an external oral tradition that was influenced by this apocalyptic language, or Luke simply got his ideas of Jerusalem's judgement from these ancient depictions himself.

I'm showing this merely because it isn't far from impossible to explain the accuracy in Luke's version from a purely naturalistic view even if we assume it predates 70 CE. It's simply an incorrect dichotomy to assume that the only choice is either knowledge after the event or supernatural cognition prior to the event. Later on in this article, I'll go into this a bit more in depth.

The nail in the coffin

Mark 13:30 "I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place."

Luke 21:32 "I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place."

Matthew 24:34 "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place."


These passages are a quote from Jesus that immediately follows his "coming in the clouds" prediction
that is the grand finale to the Olivet Discourse known as the parousia (return of Christ). The implication we get from Jesus here is that he should have returned when this generation during these events was still alive, and of course this did not happen. Skeptics argue that it was a false prophecy. Christians instead present two apologetics for this:

 

  1. Christians of the preterist view hold that the reference was not about Jesus returning, but was actually allegorical of the judgment of God on the Jewish nation for ultimately rejecting Christ, which was manifested with the war.
  2. Christians of the dispensational view hold that it is either a future prophecy or a two-part prophecy, or even bi-lateral prophecy; meaning that the prophecy was either partially fulfilled or the events will happen again in the future when a third Jewish Temple is built in Jerusalem. Thus, the generation in the first century wasn't the "this generation" Jesus was referring to.

 

Ironically, while many critics and skeptics dismiss the Temple destruction prediction made by Jesus, they also disregard those two apologetics above and gladly contribute this claim as a genuine claim Jesus made himself in order to prove him a false prophet. However, they can't have it both ways. Either Jesus made these claims, thus was accurate with the prediction about the Temple, or the inventor himself invented it. Such a bold prediction about Jesus' return not only would have been grossly presumptuous, even bordering on blasphemy, but a huge gamble that could have been a sinking ship to Jesus' authority, and thus the ultimate credibility of the church as a whole. Assuming a Christian adherent had the hubris to invent it, a date of 70-100 CE for the gospels also becomes profoundly problematic here because it pushes it out of the realm of sensible invention. In the scope of a late date, the gospel authors would have been writing some 40 or more years after Jesus lived.

More importantly, we need to get our perceptions away from a modern understanding of generation and how they understood it specifically in association to this event. The Jews, and even Jesus spoke and understood historical timelines as specific ages, thus "generation" would have been viewed not the way we view it as in human ages, but in apocalyptic ages or divine dispensations (examples: Matthew 13:37-43; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 24:34-36).

When Jesus' disciples asked him about the signs of the Temple destruction, we find that the Olivet Discourse was specifically an entire outline of the "end of an age" (Matthew 24:3). The fall of the Temple in 70 CE, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the nation of Israel and the Jewish people would have easily been viewed as a final termination of "that generation" or "that age," and 70 CE would have been the culmination of that event.

Thus, looking at the declaration of Christ's return even just a decade in that aftermath would have been greatly problematic as an invention or even in light of revisions. Post-70 proponents argue that Mark, the first gospel written, dates to around 70 CE, some 40 years after Jesus spoke to that generation. They argue the other gospels came after, some 50-70 years after that generation. So, not only is it bad enough supposing it was invented 40 years or more after Jesus, and left unedited some 50-70 years after, but is even worse when we consider what they viewed as an actual "generation."

We could also presume that the authors (or inventor) were tying this in with the great apocalyptic battle described in the Old Testament book of Zechariah (Zechariah 14:1-11), undoubtedly the case since this passage was also a future event Jews associated (and still do) with messianic apocalypticism...

 

Zechariah 14:1-4 "Behold, a day is coming for the Lord when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south."

 

As we see in the Zechariah prophecy, the appearance of the Lord comes at the great battle at Jerusalem, with the Lord himself intervening to deliver the Jews and annihilate their enemies before they are totally wiped out. Matthew seems to follow this prophetic formula, indicating that the destruction (desolation) and the parousia (coming of Christ) are in direct correlation, or one sequentially following "immediately after" the other (Matthew 24:29-30). John Robinson states that even Harnack, a post-70 proponent, was compelled to date Matthew before the fall just based on this problem alone.[7] 

 

Perhaps "some"?

Because of the previous
parousia problems I described, some post-70 proponents try and save themselves by pointing out another totally separate passage located in a different area of the three synoptic gospels in order to prove that someone revised it or invented it post-70, and possibly even to correct this issue…

 

Mark 9:1 "And Jesus was saying to them, 'Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power."

Matthew 16:8 "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

Luke 9:27 "But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God."

 

This is not in the Olivet Discourse, but notice how similar it is to the passages in that discourse above. The key word Jesus used in this particular case is "some," and from this, post-70 proponents argue that when the inventor of this quote (assuming Jesus also did not say it himself) saw that Jesus was not returning during "this" generation, the pre-70 generation that was beginning to fade away from the post-70 generation, he got worried and added this additional passage to trump Jesus' previous quote about his coming in the Olivet Discourse. In other words, it evolved from "this generation" to "some" of this generation, yet this argument is racked with even more problems. First of all, as I just covered, they would have viewed "generation" as an apocalyptic age, not necessarily a human generation. However, we'll put that aside for the moment.

Notice in the quotes above, Matthew is the only one who specifically states they will see the "Son of Man" (red text) coming in his kingdom, while Mark and Luke state the coming of the "kingdom of God." Kingdom of God is an extremely abstract view and could be referring to any myriad number of subjects, such as:

 

  • Jesus' earthly ministry
  • The resurrection
  • Salvation
  • The coming of the Holy Spirit (day of Pentecost)
  • Symbolic of the "Christian body" or church as a whole (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-25)
  • Any number of stages of the historical Christian church
  • A specific doctrine

 

In other words, there is no firm reason to believe this is specifically referring to his second coming or a physical kingdom. In fact, kingdom of God in Christian theology has many faces. It was temporal, it was permanent, it was heavenly or spiritual. It was something you enter into (Mat 21:31; Luke 13:29); it was something that was gradual (Mark 4:30-32); it was something yet to come (Mark 9:1; Luke 13:28). According to Mark, Jesus implies that the kingdom of God was something they would not only enter in, but something they had to presently receive "like a child" (Mark 10:15); that it was a simultaneous process, something that not only occurred presently but also over a period of time (Mark 4:30-32); something an individual could himself attain (Mark 12:32-34). In Matthew, Jesus implies that the kingdom of God is already among them (Matthew 12:28). In Luke, Jesus implicitly states that the kingdom of God is already "in their midst" (Luke 17:20-21).

If Markan priority is correct (Matthew and Luke copied it from Mark), "kingdom of God" was likely the original and Matthew presumably changed it to the "Son of Man" himself. However, to suppose Matthew made this intentional redaction himself somewhere in the 80-90s, 50-60 years after the generation Jesus spoke to is highly problematic.

If Matthean priority is correct (Mark and Luke copied it from Matthew), "Son of Man" was likely the original and Mark and Luke presumably changed it to the "kingdom of God." However, as was previously pointed out, we know the phrase has many facets of meaning and is thus unclear.

If textual-dependency all together is incorrect and all three wrote down an independent source or tradition, then who knows what the original contained, or if these are even the same quotes and not just a similar saying Jesus repeated at different times. Thus, in all of these cases, we not only have no way of knowing for sure who revised it, but why they revised it, why they didn't just leave it out all together if it presented a problem, or if they even revised it at all. So, since any argument is unfortunately speculatory at best, problematic at worst, neither scenario works in favor of a post-70 date anymore than a pre-70 date.

Furthermore, these are only the beginning problems with this passage. If textual-dependency is in fact correct, then the other two not only copied the Olivet Discourse from the first gospel (presumably Mark), but most likely copied this passage as well. Thus, it would be a pretty fair assumption that this quote, since it was also copied practically verbatim by all three was created by the same inventor (i.e. Mark). However, from here, we start running into absurd logic.

Why the inventor invented this quote about Jesus' return in contrast to the quote he invented within the Olivet Discourse, yet left the Olivet Discourse untouched doesn't make any sense and only creates even more problems than it solves. Compounding this problem is the fact that this quote actually precedes the Olivet Discourse in all three written works, so the problem here is obvious. Not only does it not make any sense why the first gospel author, the assumed inventor, didn't just revise the quote within the Olivet Discourse or simply exclude the quote all together if it presented a problem, but why he placed this other quote before the Olivet Discourse, and then why the others copied it verbatim with no redaction within their own works.

On closer examination, this quote does nothing to clear up the slew of inconsistencies, generalizations and ambiguities about the overall scope of the Olivet Discourse in order to dismiss it as an invention ex eventu.


But the passages in Luke seem so right on!

Since post-70 proponents suppose that Luke uniquely altered it himself and included the other separate passage about them setting up a rampart against the city
(Luke 19:43-44), this strongly implies ex eventu on Luke's part. However, this is once again based solely on the presupposition that Luke revised it himself. There is nothing against the suggestion that Luke was simply influenced by language from an independent traditional source, and passages in the book of Daniel (Daniel 9:26) and Zechariah (Zechariah 14:2), both of which reflect the Temple's destruction and both of which preceded the 70 CE war make this a firm possibility. I should point out that it is also unnecessary to assume supernatural cognition on the part of Jesus that allowed him to make such an accurate prediction, which I'll discuss later.

Most post-70 proponents, however, with an indelible presupposed view will insist that Luke's descriptions reflected the 70 CE war too accurately, and thus conclude that one gospel author (presumably Mark) made up this impending destruction either during or after the fact, and stand on the belief that as Luke copied it from this first source, he redacted it himself to make it fit the event more specifically. However, in light of this, the problems with what we discussed above is even more apparent in Luke's case than Mark and Matthew.

Since we are forced to conclude that Luke is indeed a revisionist after the fact, there are stark incongruities here to reckon with. Why didn't he also change the things that were inaccurate and unnecessary, or the passages that could have caused problems, such as: "this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place." Most post-70 proponents believe Luke was written in the 85-100s, 5-7 decades from the time the generation heard those words uttered? 50-70 years later means that the targeted generation would have been alarmingly fading away if not completely gone. There was also no point for Jesus to warn them to pray that they might avoid this event...

 

Luke 21:36: "But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

 

This passage is not found in either Mark or Matthew's gospel, thus, if we assume Luke was revising his work from either gospel, we must assume he added this warning himself. Why was this warning necessary if Luke was looking at the event and the aftermath in hindsight? 

The West Wall remains standing to this day, which could have created unnecessary misconceptions about Jesus' "not one stone left upon another" (Luke 21:5-6), thus why didn't Luke correct this or avoid it altogether instead of strangely copying it verbatim? These issues create a dilemma for those assuming Luke was revising his work to more specifically fit past circumstances after the fact.

Moreover, looking past these issues, the things Luke supposedly revised himself weren't exactly on the mark either. Yes, prior to 70 CE, Titus and the Roman legions built a secondary wall outside of the perimeter walls surrounding Jerusalem and had it surrounded. This resulted in a horrible two year stalemate where starvation and reports of cannibalism occurred within the walls of Jerusalem before the Roman legions were able to gain access inside.[8]

However, as was mentioned, Babylon did the same exact thing centuries prior in Jerusalem against the first Temple. In fact, this undoubtedly influenced Titus' war strategy. According to Josephus, the war began in 66 CE when scattered skirmishes ignited throughout the Judean region, including bloody civil wars that took place years before Jerusalem was surrounded. The Roman armies were sweeping through cities of Judea, crushing the resistance in the North, while the Jewish rebel leaders (zealots and sacarii) were raising hell in the South, raiding and destroying villages and killing anyone as traders or Roman sympathizers who advocated surrender. The Roman legions had Jerusalem surrounded in 68 CE, but it wouldn't be until two more years when they were actually able to siege Jerusalem and the Temple completely. 

Luke's use of "the city" (Luke 21:21) was unmistakeably a direct reference to Jerusalem,[9] and the Greek word Luke used for "surrounded" is kykloo, explicitly denoting an "encircling." Thus, even worse than Matthew and Mark, it would have been much more accurate and less confusing for Luke to have indicated not only some other sign to flee the area before the armies surrounded the city, which was the very height of the war, but a different place to flee than the mountains. There apparently were untold masses of crucified Jews encircling the outer walls of Jerusalem by those caught trying to flee the walls of Jerusalem once it was surrounded,[10] and according to Josephus, they were crucifying sometimes 500 or more a day.[11]

Eusebius indicates the Christians didn't even flee to the mountains, but fled to Pella, the capital of Macedonia.[12] The only eventual mountainous place the Jews who chose to stay and fight to the end did in fact flee was the fortress of Masada (Fig. below) only to face their eventual demise in a mass suicide once the Romans breached the walls of that fortress.[13]

So, what we're led to believe here is that Luke copied a discourse -- supposedly already invented after the event about the event -- and revised it to fit the event more accurately, yet not only left things unchanged that were unnecessary and problematic from the original discourse, but revised it with even less accurate accounts of the event. Thus, not only did the supposed fabricated discourse created in hindsight Luke was copying miserably fail, but Luke's revisions to the discourse failed even more. As you can plainly see, once we analyze the idea of vaticinium ex eventu closely, it isn't as cut and dry as it at first seems. Unfortunately, this appears to be one of the key foundations of the post-70 argument. Since the proponents of this argument, driven by prejudice that prophecy is a miracle and thus cannot be considered a historical actuality, insist it as a post-prophecy, we can comfortably conclude this argument as essentially a bias and subjective view that falls contrary to analysis of the problems and issues we find about the prophecy in a post-70 context.

It's evident from everything we've discussed that the less absurd view here is that Luke's depiction of armies surrounding Jerusalem was either part of Jesus' dialogue that Luke got from another source, or perhaps Luke was influenced by the passages of the apocalyptic Jerusalem destruction portrayed in the Septuagint I showed earlier. The only other logical alternative is that Luke embellished it perhaps during the beginning stages of the siege (68 CE) and made estimated guesses about its outcome that were wrong. However, my analysis of Acts, which was written subsequent to Luke's gospel, pretty much dispels the latter conclusion (discussed here: The Acts of Luke), as Acts could not possibly date later than the mid-to-early 60s. Considering the dating of Acts and considering that the gospel of Luke would actually date much earlier than the event, the many issues that are presented against a post-70 argument with the Olivet Discourse are resolved. 

 

Predating the prophecy from a naturalistic perspective

Finally, supernaturalism need not even be a presuppositional approach to the prophecy about Jerusalem, thus assuming a pre-70 date from a strictly naturalistic point of view is still possible. It wouldn't have been much of a precognitive task for a person with insight about current events to know that Jerusalem's total destruction was an inevitable future event, especially if we consider the tension that was already culminating in the air with talks, rumors and threats of a Jewish rebellion taking shape and even manifesting as physical altercations on the ground. We know from Josephus that such anti-Roman tensions existed from the beginning of the first century up to the war that resulted in progressive stages of rising leaders with the intent of igniting rebellion throughout this period.

Jesus was considered by many, including those outside his close following, to be the Messiah, the coming Son of David that the Jews were anticipating at the time. We know from another article (discussed here:The first century Judean Messiah) that they anticipated this Messiah to be a militant one who would crush their Roman enemies and restore the Davidic throne. From this, we could also assume that Jesus would have been privy to all the secret talks and plots of a rebellion as an insider, undoubtedly offered a place in such a rebellion as the expected Messiah on numerous occasions throughout his ministry, which he turned down (John 6:14-15).

Jesus was already indignant that the Temple had been awash with greed and corruption (Mark 11:15-17), thus may have even gotten a bit of personal satisfaction at the shock of the crowds that heard him speak it. Jesus certainly knew what the prophecies in Daniel and Zechariah foretold, as I pointed out earlier, and was smart enough to consider that such a tragically unavoidable event as a Jerusalem siege would undoubtedly end up resembling the first siege by the Babylonians; that the Romans would employ the same military tactics to take Jerusalem because of its success. None of this requires any sort of supernatural cognition; just a person with bit of wisdom, insight and even experience with the current circumstances shaping around him.

 
Click here for Part IV, or here to go home

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Source References

1. See Western Wall.

2. Josephus, War of the Jews, book 7, chap. 1:1 (http://wesley.nnu.edu).

3. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3, chap. 1 (www.newadvent.org).

4. Clement, as quoted by Eusebius, Church History, book 6,  chap. 14:5-7 (www.newadvent.org).

5. See Gospel Location.

6. Septuagint, compiled from the translation by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton; 1851 (www.ecmarsh.com).

7. John A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament, p.24; 2000.

8. See First Jewish-Roman War: The Fall.

9. Robinson, ibid., p.28.

10. See First Jewish-Roman War: The Fall of Jerusalem

11. Josephus, ibid., book 5, chap. 11:1 (http://wesley.nnu.edu).

12. Eusebius, Church History, book 3, chap. 5:3 (www.newadvent.org). 

13. Robin Ngo, The Masada Siege; 2014 (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org).