Witness of the Early Church Fathers
Early Christian writers often quoted from the New Testament. In fact, there are more than 36,000 New Testament quotations present in writings of early church fathers who wrote prior to the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Obviously, if a writing quotes from a book in the New Testament, that gives evidence that the New Testament book was written prior to the writing that quotes from it. Some of the earliest of these writings can be brought to bear on the subject of when the New Testament was written. The writings of the Early Church Fathers are available at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
The early church writings are in some ways similar to some New Testament books, and in a few cases, were once considered as candidates for the New Testament canon. However, there is one consistent difference between these writings and the New Testament books which is striking. While both quote freely from the Old Testament, the early church writings frequently include quotes from apocryphal Old Testament books (Wisdom, Tobit, Judith, Maccabees, etc.), while the New Testament books never do this. The reason is clear. The New Testament writers, with the exception of Luke, were all Jews. The Jewish Bible used in synagogues, written in Hebrew, did not include these apocryphal books. The Jews did not consider them canonical and thus did not quote from them in the New Testament. On the other hand, the Bible of the early Christian church was the Septuagint, a Greek language translation of the Old Testament which did include the apocryphal books. After the apostolic age, early church leaders (who were usually gentiles in any case) used the Septuagint as their Bible, and therefore include quotes from all of it, including the apocrypha. In addition to this fact drawing a distinction between New Testament books and other Christian writings, it also points to an earlier time of origin for the New Testament, a time when most Christians were Jews.
Here we will discuss just a few of the early church fathers - the ones who were themselves very close to the apostolic age and who left writings that can themselves be dated early. When these church fathers quote from the New Testament, it gives evidence for an early date for the books they quote. These are not the only early Christian writings - the Didache, for example, may be the earliest of all. However, it is difficult to date it with confidence so we are stting it aside in this exercise. Here we will limit our discussion to Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome.
Ignatius of Antioch (35-107 A.D.) was a student of the Apostle John. He was martyred, killed by Lions in the arena in Rome. After his arrest and during his transportation to Rome, he wrote seven letters (later, some obviously spurious additional letters were attributed to him these are ignored here). The letters of Ignatius, written very close to 107 A.D., quote from several New Testament books. Ignatius uses no Israeli geography, as he is from Antioch in Syria. He uses the Septuagint and quotes often from the Old Testament, including the apocrypha. Below are some New Testament quotations of Ignatius. For each letter, the chapter is given, followed by the New Testament reference. This is not at all an exhaustive list, just representative of books Ignatius uses.
Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians
Letter of Ignatius to the Magnesians
Letter of Ignatius to the Trallians
Letter of Ignatius to the Romans
Letter of Ignatius to the Philadelphians
Letter of Ignatius to the Smyrnans
Among New Testament writings, Ignatius quotes from the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, John, and most of the letters of Paul, including 2 Timothy, which is sometimes considered a late book. He also uses Acts, Hebrews, James and 1 Peter. He may not have cited anything from Mark, 2 Peter, Thessalonians, Collossians or 1-3 John. This doesn't mean he wasn't familiar with those books; he could have known them but not found reason to quote from them. He may have known the book of Revelation, as he makes a reference in Smyrnans 3 to Revelation 1:7, and warns in two letters about the obscure "Nicolaitanes", as in Rev 2:6 and 2:15.
Clement of Rome is recognized by the Catholic Church as being Bishop of Rome from 88 to 99 A.D., though some writers believe he may have led the Roman Church during the persecution under Nero shortly after 64 A.D. He may be the Clement mentioned in Philippians 4:3. For the purposes of this book, it is only necessary to identify the date of writing of the book called 1 Clement. Clement may be the author of a second book, 2 Clement, though not all scholars accept his authorship of 2 Clement.
1 Clement was written from the Church in Rome to the Church in Corinth. The Roman church had received correspondence from Corinth with some questions. The author begins the book by explaining that their delay in responding was due to calamitous events that had recently taken place in Rome. Chapter 5 indicates that Peter and Paul had been executed. Although most scholars believe 1 Clement was written toward the end of the first century A.D., I believe this setting points instead to the earlier period, where Nero blamed the great Roman fire of 64 A.D. on the Christians and initiated a major persecution, which was likely responsible for the death of Peter and Paul. Therefore, I would favor a date for 1 Clement between 65-70 A.D. Below are some New Testament references in 1 Clement, ordered by chapter number: