The Need for a New Testament
The Babylonian Talmud lists the first sign as being that in which “the lot ‘for the Lord’ did not come up in the right hand” (Yoma 39b). What was meant by this? The Holy Scriptures speak about this ceremony (Leviticus 6:5–34). On the Day of Atonement two identical goats were brought before the High Priest and lots were cast over them. 1 The priest would put his right hand into a receptacle containing the two stones and without looking down, select a stone with his right hand and place it over the right hand goat. The Babylonian Talmud says that in the previous two hundred years the stone would be sometimes white and sometimes black as most people would have expected, that is, a random selection each year would bring up the black stone as often as the white. But beginning in 30 C.E. — the very year in which Jesus prophesied the coming destruction of the Temple, and the very year of his death and resurrection — the right hand of the High Priest selected the black stone every time for forty straight years!
The odds of a black stone coming up forty times in a row are almost astronomical in scope. And, according to Pascal’s Table of Binominal Coefficients, 2 the numerical chances of this happening under normal circumstances would be one chance in 1,099,511,627,776.
But the Jewish records show this rare phenomenon occurred with regular consistency for forty straight years!
The apostles would have been well aware of this occurrence and with each year passing with the same consistency of the black stone coming up in the High Priest’s hand, they would have been amazed with this phenomenon. Some Jewish authorities at the time (and certainly later) were also impressed.
That still does not conclude the matter. Both Talmuds also report another sign from eyewitness accounts that boggles the imagination. Beginning in 30 C.E., the very year of Jesus’ crucifixion, the western light of the Menorah, which is the Hebrew name for the seven-branched lampstand in the Holy Place, went out for the same period of forty years. This Menorah was positioned with its seven lamps facing north.
The western lamp was that which was next to the Holy of Holies and it was the most important for that reason. In fact, we are told in the Talmud that at dusk the lamps that were unlit in the daytime (the middle four lamps remained unlit, while the two eastern lamps normally stayed lit during the day) were to be reignited from the flames of the western lamp (which was a lamp that was supposed to stay lit all the time — it was like the “eternal” flame that we see today in some national monuments). Josephus, citing an earlier historian, said that on the Temple Menorah there was a flame that was supposed to be kept lit night and day. 3
This “western lamp” was to be kept lit at all times. For that reason, the priests kept extra reservoirs of olive oil and other implements in ready supply to make sure that the western lamp — under all circumstances — would stay lit. But what happened in the forty years from the very year Christ said the physical Temple would be destroyed, and in the very year that Christ became a new, resurrected “temple” for the Jewish people and for the entire world? Every night for forty years the western lamp went out — and this was in spite of the priests each evening preparing in a special way the western lamp so that it would remain constantly burning all night!
Now, using the chances, according to Pascal’s Table of Binominal Coefficients (which shows only one chance in 1,099,511,627,776 for a black stone to come up in the right hand for forty occasions), imagine what the odds would be for the western lamp (that was supposed to be the “eternal” flame for the nation) to go out each of the 365 days of a year for forty years? The odds of that happening are so astronomical that even mathematicians would stagger at trying to show a normal decimal answer like that given in Pascal’s pyramidical illustration.
But that is still not all. For forty straight years (during that single generation following Christ’s crucifixion) the crimson strap never changed its color to white as it had often done in the previous two hundred years. This is a ceremony not mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, but it was associated with the Day of Atonement from at least the time of Simon the Righteous, an honorable and upright High Priest who lived in the 3rd century B.C.E. It was noticed that on the Day of Atonement, when Simon would go into the Holy of Holies, that a crimson-colored thread that he had in association with his person miraculously turned white for the forty years he was priest and that the ‘lot of the Lord’ always came up in his right hand (Yoma 39b). It appears that this positive indication in both ceremonies (with the “white” constantly in evidence in the time of Simon the Righteous) became a pattern for future signs to the Jewish people in showing God’s appraisal of the Temple and its rituals. They came to believe these signs showed God’s pleasure or displeasure with their activities. This is because of a special sign given in the year of Simon the Righteous’ death that showed what the “white” and the “black” indications were intended to mean. Note how the Jewish rabbis came to understand these things.
“Our Rabbis taught: in the year in which Simon the Righteous died, he foretold them that he would die. They said: ‘Whence do you know that?’ He replied: ‘On every Day of Atonement an old man, dressed in white, wrapped in white, would join me, entering the Holy of Holies and leaving it with me, but today [on that final Day of Atonement that Simon performed his high priestly duties] I was joined by an old man, dressed in black, wrapped in black, who entered, but did not leave, with me.’ After the festival of Tabernacles he [Simon the Righteous] was sick for seven days and then died.”
Yoma 39b, underlines and words in brackets are mine
From that moment on, the priests began to notice that the “lot for the Lord” which was the ceremony ordained in the Old Testament would come up randomly, one time white and one time black. But that was not all. The crimson thread would sometimes also turn white and at other times it would remain its crimson color. This procedure prompted the Jewish rabbis to interpret that if the crimson thread turned white, then God approved of the Day of Atonement rituals every year and Israel could then be assured that they were forgiven their sins as the Holy Scriptures stated. Thus, these traditional rites of the crimson colored thread and the biblical ceremony of the “black” and “white” stones were established as official signs of God’s pleasure or displeasure.
But note this. With the year 30 C.E., the crimson thread never turned white again and the white stone never came up in the right hand of the high priest (for the period of forty years) from the time of Christ’s crucifixion until the complete destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.
Yet there is even more to relate from the historical records of the early rabbis. During that same period of forty years, the doors of the Hekel 4 were found to be opening of their own accord at night during the time the Temple was off limits to the ordinary people. Both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds state that this opening of the Hekel doors was something that happened throughout the whole period of forty years! And recall that the fact of these signs was vouched for by no less than Yohanan ben Zakkai (the top rabbi after the fall of Jerusalem). He was an eyewitness to all the things that had happened in the Temple in those forty years before its destruction.
By reckoning all these four signs together (with their multiplied occurrences) as being mere coincidences and that they happened in a natural and normal way is entering the realm of patent absurdity. The odds of those things occurring by chance are so astronomical that to express the odds in a linear decimal fashion would stretch the limits of human terms to reckon it. But that these four signs were directly from God (and that their wonderful consistency of action was showing the coming destruction of the Temple that Jesus foretold) is something that made sense to the early rabbis who lived from the time of the Temple’s destruction and for almost four hundred years afterward. The apostles would also have been knowledgeable of these matters. In my estimation, those remarkable signs to the Jewish people came through the direct intervention of God. To believe they happened by chance is absurd.
The recognition of that 40 years’ period as playing a significant part in the thinking of the apostles is also most essential in understanding the background to the New Testament canonization. Those 40 years were partitioned prophetically into several distinct and critical periods. The main two periods were represented by a single 33 year span to accomplish the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world in accordance with the command in Matthew 28:19. This evangelization of the world was to be fulfilled before the Abomination of Desolation would be set up in the Temple at Jerusalem. The second period was that of 7 years, which dovetailed with Daniel’s last sabbatical period of 7 years’ duration which was to occur just before the Kingdom of God would come to earth.
And note this. With the generation of 40 years from Christ’s resurrection ending in 70 C.E., then 7 years before that date brings us once again to the crucial year of 63 C.E. for the beginning countdown to the end. By 63 C.E. the world was expected to be evangelized. And indeed, the apostles by 63 C.E. believed that they had completely given the Gospel message “to the world” as commanded by Christ in Matthew 28:19. The meaning of the word “world” has to be interpreted in the manner the apostles perceived it in the 1st century.
That “world” only included the parts of the globe to which they had been commissioned to preach. It should be noted that Paul in the Book of Colossians confidently stated that “all creation that is under heaven” had by then received the Gospel — and this was accomplished in the sixth decade of the 1st century (Colossians 1:23). He also told the Romans that the Gospel message had been manifested “to all the nations according to the command of the everlasting God” (Romans 16:26). In the concluding years of Paul’s ministry he acknowledged that the nations of the world had truly received the Gospel of Christ (1 Timothy 3:16).
To the apostle Paul, this preaching to all the nations assigned to the apostles back in the 1st century signified that Christ’s prophecy that “this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14) had been fulfilled. The apostles also thought that immediately on the heels of their final preaching assignments to people in the world, then the Abomination of Desolation would be set up in the Temple at Jerusalem to satisfy the teaching of Christ in Matthew 24:14 and 15.
Thus, the apostles looked on the single generation of 40 years that followed the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as the last generation before the Second Advent. And numerous signs were given in the Temple that apparently backed up the interpretation. The 40 years’ period was believed to represent a two-part time period: one a span of 33 years for evangelizing the world, then followed by 7 years for the last sabbatical period of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks to occur (Daniel 9:24ff).
This last 7 years was prophesied to be divided into two sections of 3 and 1/2 years each (“a time, times, and half a time”; 42 months, or 1260 days). During the middle of that period the Abomination of Desolation was expected to be set up (Daniel 9:27); and at the end of it Michael, the archangel, would stand up to defend Israel at the time of their greatest peril (Daniel 12:1). So it looked very possible that the year 63 C.E. (in the autumn of the year) would start the final scenario of prophetic events leading up to the second advent of Christ.
Thus, the year 63 C.E. became crucial to the apostles and early Christians in the interpretation of prophecy. Indeed, it looks like the Book of Revelation (as we will show later) was first written (its first draft) around 56 C.E. or shortly thereafter. That book centered on a seven-year period, which was divided into two divisions that those who read it thought, would no doubt commence with the autumn of 63 C.E. and that Christ would be back on earth by 70 C.E.
The only problem was: the prophecies the apostles and the Jewish people expected to be fulfilled did not happen at the time they thought. Indeed, here we are in the 20th century and they still have not occurred. The fact is, they are reserved for “the generation” that sees the essential prophecies begin to take place.
“When you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation [the one that sees the prophecies begin to take place] shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
Christ had told them that even the apostles of that time were not to know the times or the seasons that the Father had put in his own power (Acts 1:6–7).
Once the year 63 C.E. passed without the expected events starting to happen, the apostle Paul began to adjust his thinking on prophetic chronology. This fact can be clearly shown if one pays attention to the teaching in the books of Paul written after 63 C.E. While as late as 61 C.E. we can read in the Book of Hebrews the superlative statement that the second advent was to occur in “a very little while” (Hebrews 10:37), in Paul’s first letter to Timothy (written about 64 C.E.) he had changed his mind completely.
With the writing of First Timothy some prime alterations took place in the apostle Paul’s approach to the Second Advent. We find that he had abandoned all hopes that Christ would return in that generation. In First Timothy he even began to encourage widows to get married and hear children (1 Timothy 5:14). This is quite the reverse of what he recommended in 1 Corinthians 7:25–35 when he expected the soon appearing of the prophesied events to precede the Second Advent. In no way was he recommending marriage back at that time. But when he wrote his first letter to Timothy, times had changed. He was now informing Timothy that in later periods many people would depart from the faith and begin to prohibit marriage (1 Timothy 4:1–4). His former attitude to marriage was revoked after 63 C.E. because he was now encouraging it for younger widows.
He also instructed Timothy in a non-crisis way about the manner of selecting elders and deacons for future periods (1 Timothy 3:1). He commanded him to ordain no one suddenly (1 Timothy 5:22) but to take time to test any person wishing to be an elder (1 Timothy 3:10). He also gave specific commands regarding the method for the caring of widows in the congregation. All of these instructions clearly show that there was no longer any urgency concerning the Second Advent in Paul’s mind.
Timothy now expected to build up the organization of Christians by performing pastoral functions and instructing others in them. Paul also commanded that prayers be made for kings and rulers so that Christians might continue to lead a quite and peaceable life (1 Timothy 2:1–2). And though Paul seemed to hint that Timothy in the future might possibly live to witness Christ’s return (1 Timothy 6:14), he hastily pointed out that Christ would actually appear “in his own appointed times” (1 Timothy 6:15) — not at a date expected by individual Christians.
Paul continued this theme in his second letter to Timothy (about 66/67 C.E.). “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1) and in the future evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13). “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3). Paul was also assured that he would not be alive at the Second Advent. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous, will give me at that day” (2 Timothy 4:8).
Much the same is found in Paul’s letter to Titus (written near 63 C.E.). He instructed Titus to ordain elders in the cities of Crete so that the congregation might continue to grow and receive the true doctrines of Christ (Titus 1:5–9). There was no appeal to Titus, or the people of Crete, to prepare for the immediate end as was evident in most of the epistles of Paul up to 63 C.E.
We should also look at the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. These letters were written at a time when Paul was in prison (Ephesians 4:20; Colossians 4:3,18). In fact, Paul plainly taught the Ephesians that young Christian men of that time should plan to get married (Ephesians 5:31). This advice, of course, entailed having children and rearing them to adulthood. Paul even promised that if the children obeyed their parents they would then enjoy a long and natural life on earth (Ephesians 6:1–3). 5
It also ought to be mentioned that the information in the First and Second epistles of Peter display the same dichotomy of belief. In his first epistle he informs his readers that these are “the last times” (1 Peter 1:20) and that “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7). He spoke of “the fiery trial which is to try you” (1 Peter 4:12) and that “the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God” (verse 17). These latter two verses seem to indicate strongly that the great persecution which Christ prophesied to occur on Christians just before the Second Advent is what Peter had in mind.
But then notice the drastic change in Peter’s second epistle. As a matter of fact, the theme is so different that many scholars cannot believe the same man wrote both epistles. There is, however, no difficulty in accepting the letters as coming from the apostle Peter. After all, they record that both came from “Simon Peter” and he even mentioned he wrote the first epistle (2 Peter 3:1).
What happened was a change in prophetic understanding regarding the time when the Second Advent would actually come to pass. Peter then referred to “the last days” as being in the future and that there would be people complaining that Christ has delayed His coming. “Where is the promise of His coming,” they will be saying (2 Peter 3:4).
Peter even had to explain why the expected Second Advent in the 1st century did not materialize.
“Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his coming.”
2 Peter 3:8–9
In the non-biblical book of First Clement, written in the last decade of the 1st century, the author makes a reference to this portion of Second Peter:
“Let not the scripture refer to us which mentions how wretched are the double-minded, those who harbor doubts in their souls and say: ‘We have heard these things even in our father’s time, and yet we have grown old, and none of these things have happened to us.’”
1 Clement 23:3
This attitude was reminiscent of Christ’s own teaching that there would be people who will say: “My lord delays his coming” (Matthew 24:48). He followed up this statement with the parable of the Ten Virgins which taught that no one would know the precise time of Christ’s return (Matthew 25:1–13).
There is an important point to make in this teaching about the “delay.” It shows that many people were setting particular dates (even a year, a month, or a day) for the Second Advent. After all, no one could ever claim that Christ “delays his coming” unless he was persuaded that a certain time must have been selected by some authorities for the event, and the time passed without incident. Without doubt, even the apostles themselves were setting dates in the middle of the 1st century. The crucial year for the apostle Paul was at or near 63 C.E. The other apostles may have selected this year or perhaps by 67 C.E. when the middle of Daniel’s seventh sabbatical cycle would be reached. Of course, none of us can be absolutely sure of the exact date for their expectancy, but it can be known that up to 61 C.E. the apostle Paul anticipated the soon coming of Christ, and after 63 C.E. he abandoned the hope.
What did this do with the teachings of the first draft of the Book of Revelation if it were written just a few years be fore 63 C.E.? It would have brought the authority of John into question (and even that of Christianity itself because the Book of Revelation was purported to have been given by Christ Jesus himself). We will have more to say on this in future chapters.
But what did Peter do once the year 63 C.E. passed without the expected end-time events occurring? He made an about-face in his teaching concerning the time of the end and Christ’s return. This is when he began to talk about a day with the Lord is as a thousand years. He may then have realized that at least another 2000 years lay in front of him before that generation prior to the Second Advent could occur. The knowledge of this fact would have prompted him (as well as John and Paul) to begin a selection of important apostolic writings to comprise a canon of the New Testament. These official books were to be the standard guide for Christian teaching “until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your heads” (2 Peter 1:19).
We now need to ask ourselves what happened in 63 C.E. (and thereabouts) which caused the apostles to abandon their hope in the return of Christ in their generation? This question will be considered in the next chapter. Suffice it to say now that none of the apostles thought of producing a New Testament canon as a supplement to the Old while they were expecting the soon return of Christ. Why form a book of instruction for the future when Christ would be back on earth in all His glory in a few years, or even months?
Once it was recognized that a considerable lapse of time was going to intervene before the actual end-time could begin, there then began to be a stepped-up activity among the apostles to develop an authorized collection of books and letters which could officially maintain a standard text of Christian doctrine for all future generations.
1 One source says the lots were in the form of a white and black stone — the white stone was “for the Lord” and the black was “for the Scapegoat.”
2 This is a table of odds first devised by the French scientist Pascal who lived from 1623 to 1662 C.E. in which he showed odds in a pyramid style.
3 Josephus, Against Apion 1:22; and also see Tam. 3,9; 6,1; Sifra, Emor 13,7; Sif Num. 59; Yoma 33a; etc.)
4 These were doors behind the Temple curtain that tore in two at Christ’s precise time of death (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:46).
5 We will see later that the books of Ephesians and Colossians were written after 63 C.E.
Click here to order the print version of: Restoring the Original Bible
© 1976-2021 Associates for Scriptural Knowledge - ASK is supported by freewill contributions