Were the apostles too old to author the Gospels?

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.


RossN said…
This is similar to a discussion (talk page) on www.wikipedia.org recently. I think it was on the Jesus article. We currently have one editor there who keeps claiming that there is little or no evidence that Jesus ever existed! He calls this a minority view that must be mentioned. I would call it a fringe view.
J. C. Samuelson said…

Your post would've been better had you left out the second-to-last paragraph. Your argument already had a certain strength to it (though I admit I don't know much about ancient life-expectancy, and you may be wrong) and adding special pleading to divine intervention only weakens it.

I am a skeptic, but I'm willing to grant certain aspects of Biblical authorship, except divine intervention. The question isn't whether an omnipotent diety COULD have extended the life-span of these individuals. Of course, an omnipotent diety could do anything it wanted. However, since there is no indication anywhere in recorded history that God intentionally increased anyone's life-span (where in recorded history - other than in the Bible, which is the usual focal point of contention - are the intentions of God revealed at all?), this part of your argument is not persuasive.

Just a few off-the-cuff remarks from a passing skeptic. Have a nice day!
Kamagra said…
I can't remember very well the ages of the apostles when they die, the only one that I can remember is John, he was exiled to Patmos Island, and there he die, in this place he wrote the Book Of Revelations.
Anonymous said…
The first gospel written was written sometime after 70 a.d. But the gospel of John has been dated to around 100 ad so that would make him 67 years old, which was nearly unheard of at that time, If he was born the year Jesus died. The average life span today is close to 75 and yes people do live into their hundreds but it is rare for 8 people who know each other to all reach these old ages.
GregBillford said…
BK's hypothesis in his effort to make the disciples as young as possible so that the scholarly consensus of gospel dating at 70 a.d. still allows for them to be alive when these documents were first composed (i.e., that in 1st century Jerusalem you become a man at age 13) is dubious at best.

First, Paul in 1st Timothy 3:1 prohibits men from being church leaders unless they pass certain tests of knowledge and maturity. Read the first 12 verses, then you tell me whether the the Jesus who inspired Paul that way, takes his own advice.

Second, we don't know when Paul was born, and we have less of a clue when Timothy was born, so you cannot say Paul making Timothy a leader indicates he was making a young teen boy a leader. However, in 2nd Timothy 3:15, Paul's referring Timothy having know the holy sciptures "since childhood", when combined with the above-cited need to pass tests of maturity and knowledge, make it likely that the Timothy whom Paul appointed over the churches had a decade of experience in Paul's ministry beforehand, so if Paul yanked Timothy away from his parents at noon on Tim's 13th birthday (an absurd concession to fundies who will say and do anything to early-date the gospels), Timothy still wouldn't have been younger than 23 when he became leader of Paul's churches. What fool would argue that the first century technicality of men becoming legally adults at age 13, requires that these 13 year olds would surely have passed God's required tests in 1st Timothy 3:1 ff?

Third, in Matthew 17, Jesus has Peter fish up a coin necessary for Peter to pay tax, which Jewish law (Exodus 30;13) said was binding upon those age 20 and over. So Peter being at least 20 at his callingis non-negotiable. What is more likely? The fundie position that says the other 11 disciples were around still not older than 13? Or the theory that says the age of Peter at his calling is likely very near the age Jesus thought was old enough to be called to his ministry?

Fourth, most boys carried on their families' work even after reaching age 13, yet we hear nothing in the gospels about parents concerned that their 13 year old boy has run off with Jesus for three years. I say the gospels are silent on this because the disciples didn't run off with Jesus, until they were so old that their doing so would not have disrupted their parents' lives.

Fifth, if we assume that any of Jesus' brothers came into leadership positions after Jesus died (and they would be close to Jesus' own age of 33 at that time), then the fundie theory requires us to believe that these men, 10 years older than the other 13 year old disciples, looked to these younger disciples as spiritual and moral equals despite the decade difference in age. That is highly unlikely. The reason we never read about younger disciples being schooled by the older ones is more likely because there was not serious discrepancy in their ages, and so Peter's being 20 at his calling governs the basic age at which the others were called.

Sixth, and finally, we today do not prohibit a 13 year old boy from marrying a 12 year old girl merely because the law prohibits it, we also say sex at that age is traumatic to at least the prepubescent girl, whose pregnancy would be extremely risky given that her body is not done preparing itself to handle childbirth, and the girl is not finished with puberty and getting her pregnant at that age is not a good idea medically. So unless you wish to have Jesus approving of a 13 year old boy disciple having sex with his 12 year old wife (which puts you against most medical doctors today and has you say preteen sex is not wrong for any reason other than what our current culture says, when the wrongness has been proven to be a medical fact) then the disciples were most likely in their twenties when they were called by Christ, and therefore, Christ approving of them having sex with their wives would not be a case of him approving of prepubescent sexual activity.

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