Last time I blogged, I wrote about an incredibly stupid contest by a group antithetically named "the Rational Response Squad." In an effort to flesh out their thinking, I started pushing them (under the name "beowulf's") on the idea that the Gospels were not written by contemporaries of Christ. In the course of the comments, I pushed one of the members of the Irrational Response Squad on the dates for the Gospels, and here is what he said:
I personally believe evidence points to about the year 70. But that 10 years is pointless considering you think the lifespan of someone back then was at least 60 years, which would be like someone living to 145 today.
Lifespan back then was about 32 years old. The writers of the new testament were not contemporaries of Jesus.
This is an example of the logical fallacy of "hasty generalization." Consider this: the average-size family in the United States has 1.89 children. Does that mean that no families in the United States has eight (or even more) children? After all, eight children would be more than four times the statistical average. But we all know that families with eight children do exist. So what's the problem?
The problem is that it is fallacious to assume that because the statistical average is a particular number that people cannot exceed that number by a rather large sum. Today's average lifespan is 74.1 years, but people commonly exceed that number living into their 90s and 100s. Some people even live to be in their 110's -- more than 35 years longer than the average. The statistical average is a number that gives an average -- it does not give a ceiling or even a basis for calculating the ceiling.
In the case of the Gospels, let's assume for the sake of argument that Jesus died about 33 A.D. If the Gospels were all written around 70 A.D. (as the member of the Irrational Rescue Squad admits in his post), and assuming the fact that the apostles were all in their mid 20s at the time that Jesus lived (making them middle-aged by the author's reckoning), then they would have been around 65 at the time that the Gospels were written. This is certainly not impossible. Credible evidence exists that John the Apostle died in the early 2nd Century -- approximately 70 years after the crucifixion. There is no question that Peter, another apostle, lived until he was executed around 65 A.D. If you want the evidence see the New Advent Encylopedia's article on Saint Peter the Apostle. If John lived to 100 A.D. (making him no less than 85) and if the Apostle Peter lived to 65 A.D. (his life ending on that date only because he was executed), then in what way is it possibly unreasonable that the other apostles lived long enough after the crucifixion to write their Gospels? To say that it was somehow impossible for the authors of the Gospels to have lived to 65 years of age is ludicrous.
Of course, if (as I have often heard claimed) men were considered adult at the age of sixteen, then there is no reason to believe that they weren't even younger than my assumption and the Gospels were written by the Apostles when they were still in their 50s. And, according to "Health as a crucial factor in the changes from hunting to developed farming in the eastern Mediterranean" by Lawrence J. Angel, the average lifespan for a person living from 320 B.C. to 120 A.D. would have actually been 41.9 years of age for men (38 years of age for women), meaning that living into seventies would certainly not have been as far outside the realm of possibilities as this argument assumes.
Finally, there is an aspect of this argument that skeptics never believe (because it involved divine intevention in human affairs--exactly what the skeptics are contending against), but which is equally important. Isn't it possible that God could have, if he wanted, kept people alive beyond their ordinary lifespans in order to complete the Gospels that He wanted them to write? Certainly seems like a reasonable possibility to me.
The idea that the Apostles could not have written the Gospels because the average lifespan in First Century Palestine was too short is, as this post shows, simply wrong.
Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.