Early Christian Writings page one



Overview of Early Texts compiled by LEE CANTELON
A chronological summary of early Christian texts that provides dates and a brief description of the most important Christian writings from AD 30 to Origin (203-250). Of the canonical texts, Paul's letter to the Phillipians is the first, written in AD 50 - 60.

AD 30 - 60  The Passion Narrative
The idea of a pre-Markan passion narrative continues to seem probable to a majority of scholars. One recent study is presented by Gerd Theissen in his book, The Gospels in Context.

AD 40 - 80  The Lost Sayings, Gospel Q
Many Christian scholars work under the hypothesis that the authors of Matthew and Luke derived much of their material from two written sources -- the gospel of Mark and a sayings collection of unknown title that modern scholars conventionally call "Q." Mahlon H. Smith writes of Q: "The question of whether Q belongs in the canon of Christian scripture is not a minor issue. If Matthew, Mark and Luke are "canonical" texts, and
if by definition "Q" indicates the source of the material common to Matthew and Luke that is not based on Mark, then Q is, also by definition, already essentially in the canon. The only way now to exclude Q from the New Testament canon would be to expurgate the gospels of Matthew and Luke of all parallel passages that have no equivalent in Mark. This, in effect, would eliminate from the church’s scriptures more than half of the lines ascribed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, including 54 of the 90 sayings."

AD 50 - 60  Paul's letter to the Phillipians
The writer, as Paul, declares his thankfulness to God for the fidelity of his readers to the gospel, and his earnest yearning after them all and their continued spiritual growth (1:3-11). He refers to the misfortunes that have recently happened to him and to that which in all probability lies before him, Pointing out how his bonds have served to promote the cause of Christ both amongst unbelievers and amongst the brethren, and how Christ to his great joy is being preached, whatever be the reasons and however diverse be the ways; how he is in a strait between his desire to be released and his desire to go on with life, whilst in any case hoping to be able to glorify Christ in his body (1:12-26).

He exhorts his readers, whether he be present or absent, and especially in the latter case, to let their manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, after the example of him who, being in the form of God, had humbled himself by taking the form of a bondservant, being found in fashion as a man, and becoming oliedient even to to the death of the cross (1:27-1:18).

AD 50 - 60  Paul's letter to the Galatians
The Galatians to whom the letter is addressed were Paul's converts, most likely among the descendants of Celts who had invaded western and central Asia Minor in the third century B.C. and had settled in the territory around Ancyra (modern Ankara, Turkey). Paul had passed through this area on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6) and again on his third (Acts 18:23). It is less likely that the recipients of this letter were Paul's churches in the southern regions of Pisidia, Lycaonia, and Pamphylia where he had preached earlier in the Hellenized cities of Perge, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, and Derbe (Acts 13:13-14:27); this area was part of the Roman province of Galatia, and some scholars think that South Galatia was the destination of this letter.

The new Christians whom Paul is addressing were converts from paganism (Gal 4:8-9) who were now being enticed by other missionaries to add the observances of the Jewish law, including the rite of circumcision, to the cross of Christ as a means of salvation. For, since Paul's visit, some other interpretation of Christianity had been brought to these neophytes, probably by converts from Judaism (the name "Judaizers" is sometimes applied to them); it has specifically been suggested that they were Jewish Christians who had come from the austere Essene sect.

AD 50 - 60  Paul's fist and second letters to the Thesallonians
Thessalonica was the largest city of Macedonia. It has been estimated that during Paul’s time its population may have been as high as 200,000. The majority of the inhabitants were Greeks, but there was also a mixture of other ethnic groups, including Jews. It is most likely that 1 Thessalonians was written shortly after Paul’s arrival in Corinth, for he would be eager to correspond with the new church as soon as possible (for details of the specific catalyst behind the writing of this letter, see “occasion”). In our chronological scheme, this would be spring of 50 CE. Thus, 1 Thessalonians is the second canonical book penned by the apostle Paul, written within two years after Galatians.

Paul's epistle to the church in Thessalonica contains essentially a fourfold purpose: (1) to express Paul’s joy that the church is growing and doing well; (2) to vindicate Paul’s ministry and the Thessalonians’ conversion; (3) to correct some misunderstanding about eschatology both because Paul’s message on that topic was “cut short” and, in the meantime, some of the Thessalonians had died (leaving nagging questions as to when they would be reunited with living believers); and (4) to correct some other, moral and practical, matters (which were not unrelated either to the vindication of Paul’s ministry or to eschatological issues).

AD 50 - 60  Paul's first and second letters to the Corinthians
Paul had visited the Corinthians on his second missionary journey, and, because of the lack of troubles (Acts 18:10), he was able to stay there eighteen months (Acts 18:11). This was in 50-51 CE—i.e., up until some months after Gallio began his proconsulship.6 Most likely, Paul left Corinth in the fall of 51 CE. After concluding his second missionary journey, Paul returned again to Asia on his third journey (c. fall, 52 CE). This time he settled down in Ephesus for almost three years (Acts 19:10; 20:31)—i.e., from the fall of 52 until the spring of 55 CE. While in Ephesus there must have been contact between Corinth and Paul, for he speaks of the Corinthians misunderstanding his “previous letter” in 1 Cor. 5:9. The apostle had to clear up the misunderstanding, as well as address other issues—hence, “first” Corinthians was written.

Paul wrote this epistle from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8, 9, 19) while on his third missionary journey. It was probably written in the spring of 54 CE as is evident from the following data: (1) The letter was written some years after Paul’s first visit, since Apollos had ministered there (Acts 18:26-27; 1 Cor. 1:12) and Timothy had also been sent there (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor. 4:17). (2) This letter was written sometime after his first letter (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9) and probably not in the last year of his ministry in Ephesus. He mentions that he intends to spend the next winter with the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:6),

The letter was written to the relatively new converts at Corinth (1:2). The church at Corinth was composed of both Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:4), though it must have been predominantly Gentile since it was while Paul was in Corinth that he reiterated the proclamation which was to define his ministry, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6; cf. 13:46). Paul addresses the divisiveness in the church (1:10–4:21). The divisiveness had to do with loyalty to a personality rather than fidelity to a doctrine (1:10-17). Its root causes were due to seeing the Christian ministry through very Greek eyes (1:18–4:13).

AD 50 - 60  Paul's letter to the Romans
This epistle can be dated with relative certainty. It was written between 56 and 57 CE. Paul states in 15:26-28 that he has just completed the raising of funds for the poor believers in Jerusalem after visiting the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. This corresponds to Acts 20:1-2, identifying the time of composition as the year after Paul left Ephesus on his third missionary journey. Harrison states succinctly:

Fixed dates for the span of Paul’s labors are few, but one of them is the summer of A.D. 51, when Gallio arrived in Corinth to serve as proconsul of Achaia. After this the apostle stayed in the city “some time” (Acts 18:18). Possibly in the spring of 52 he went to Caesarea and Jerusalem, stopping at Antioch on the way back and probably spending the winter of 52 there. Presumably, his return to Ephesus was in the spring of 53, marking the beginning of a three-year ministry there (Acts 20:31). At the end of 56 he spent three months in Corinth (Acts 20:3), starting his final trip to Jerusalem in the spring of 57. When he wrote Romans the fund of the Jerusalem church seems to have been finally completed (Rom. 15:26ff.). This may indicate a date in early 57 rather than late 56 for the writing of the letter.

Paul’s occasion-purpose for writing Romans is threefold: (1) he was going west and needed to have a base of operations in a church that shared both his vision and his theology; (2) he knew that his life was in danger and wanted to give something of a more balanced, systematic presentation of his gospel, to leave as a memorial; and (3) he detected anti-Semitism arising in the Roman church through the influence of Claudius’ edict and wanted to give a theologically-based correction to this attitude.

AD 50 - 60  Paul's letter to Philemon
The letter is addressed to Philemon, the owner of the slave Onesimus, and a member of the church at Colossae. Apparently Philemon became a Christian through Paul’s ministry (v. 19). Onesimus apparently ran away from Philemon, his pockets lined with his owner’s money, and headed for Rome. He may have stumbled across Epaphroditus, who was also en route to Rome; if so, Epaphroditus may have urged him to seek out Paul in order to gain advice.10 While with Paul, Onesimus became a Christian (v. 10), and proved himself “useful” (a word-play on his name) to Paul. The apostle wrote this letter to Philemon, asking Philemon to reinstate Onesimus—this time as a “dear brother”•(v. 16), rather than as a slave. Although Paul could command Philemon to do so, he urges him instead, hoping that Philemon will be willing without coercion. Further, to show his sincerity, Paul vows to pay back whatever Onesimus owes (vv. 18-19).

Collosians, Mark, Thessalonians, Matthew, Luke, Acts of the Apostles...

back to the Murry Reading Room


An Easter Message
On the Lord's Prayer
by John Chyrsostom

Death's Duel

by John Donne

The Sun Also Dances
Gaelic Prayers