The Origins of the New Testament, Part XXI: Introducing the Gospel of Matthew

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 29 April 2010 0 Comments
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Max Rippetoe from Dallas, Texas, writes:

I have a question about the timing of the writing of the epistles and gospels, most of them being done between 50-100 CE. The Temple was destroyed in 70, but this major event doesn't seem to appear in the writings. As important as this event must have been, why is it not mentioned?


Dear Max,

I do not believe you are correct in your suggestion that the fall of the Temple, which was part of the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 CE, is not mentioned in the New Testament. Indeed I see it all over that text, but we need to know what we are looking for in order to see it. Let me outline what I mean.

Paul is generally thought to have done his writing between 50 at the earliest and 64 at the latest. There would obviously be no reference to the fall of Jerusalem in his writing since it had not yet occurred.

The gospels, on the other hand, fall between 70 and 100 and I do think you will find reference to the fall of Jerusalem in all of them. It is more overt in Mark, Matthew and Luke. It is present in John, but John was written 25-30 years after Jerusalem's fall so it is not quite as vivid.

In Mark, I see references to the destruction of the Temple in two places. In chapter 13, I believe the fall of the Temple is the context and provides some of the data included in that apocalyptic "end of the world" chapter.

In Mark 9, the story of the Transfiguration in which the light of God comes on Jesus, not the Temple, is a clear indication that the Temple does not exist anymore and the followers of Jesus are offering Jesus as the "Human Temple," the new meeting place between God and human life. The theme of Jesus as a substitute for the Temple grows and becomes quite obvious in John's gospel where Jesus, referring to his own body, says at his trial, "Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up." It is because I am convinced that the fall of Jerusalem in that story that I date Mark after the fall of Jerusalem or between 70-72. The apocalyptic chapters of both Matthew (28) and Luke (21) also seem to draw their images and content from the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.

What amazes me about the New Testament record is not the absence of any content from the fall of Jerusalem in it, but rather why we have such a hard time seeing it, for it shaped dramatically the way the Christian story was understood.

John Shelby Spong



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