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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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).
50 - 60 Paul's letter to
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.
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).
CONTINUE OVERVIEW of EARLY TEXTS
Collosians, Mark, Thessalonians, Matthew, Luke, Acts of the Apostles...
back to the
Murry Reading Room