Why Were The Gospels Written So Late? Part 2
I explained in Part 1 that in the 1st century, writing was a secondary form of communication. If what I said is true, then the question we need to ask is not “Why were the Gospels written down so late,” but “Why were they written down at all?”
Something must have been wrong with the primary means of communication.
Oral communication had a lot of advantages, however it was also an active process. In order to keep the stories alive, people had to keep telling and retelling them over, and over, and over again.
If something interrupted people’s ability to pass the stories on from person to person, it became dangerous to keep them only in oral form. There was a chance that the stories could get lost or their content damaged.
In 66 AD, the Jewish War began.
Less than 40 years after the death of Jesus, the Romans invaded Israel. For the next 7 years, Israel was engaged in a military conflict with the most powerful nation around. It did not go well for them.
Understandably, it could be difficult during war time to keep up regular communications. If those regular communications included making sure that certain important stories were passed along accurately from person to person, keeping them in oral form only was risky.
With normal lines of communication damaged, writing became more important.
At this point, the question changed from “How can we best communicate a message?” to “How can we best preserve a message?” Here, writing becomes invaluable, and it is not hard to see how writing a message down and keeping it safe could be preferable to oral communication (especially if a written copy of the message is far away from the fighting).
Once the fighting ended, people would no doubt resume their normal storytelling. However, once the stories had been put in writing, these writings forever became a part of the spread of the Gospel, and it is how we know the Gospel today (following a long copying process combined with modern translation efforts).
Modern people misunderstand the situation.
It wasn’t as if the Gospel authors didn’t have anything to do for 40 years and then just decided to write down some stories about Jesus later on. Rather, they were working hard to share the stories with as many people as possible, and the growth of early Christianity attests to that fact.
The important thing to realize is that when people criticize the late date of writing of the Gospels (which I don’t think really was that late at all), they neglect the fact that writing really wasn’t that important in the ancient world. They were written down, but it most likely was out of of an effort to accurately preserve the message in a time when the stories could have easily been damaged.