Saturday, August 5, 2017

Evolution of the Word: the New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written

1 Thessalonians
"The first document in this chronological New Testament is Paul's letter to a Christ-community in Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia, a province in northern Greece. It was written around the year 50, possibly a year or two earlier. Somewhat surprisingly, given the movement's origin among Jews in the Jewish homeland, the earliest Christian document is written to a community in Europe, which was largely Gentile."

"Whether this letter should be second in a chronological New Testament is a toss-up. The other serious candidate is Paul's first letter to Corinth, customarily dated around 54. Because some scholars date Galatians as early as 50 and many other in the first half of the 50's. I have decided to put it before 1 Corinthians."

1 Corinthians
"First Corinthians is the second longest of Paul's letters. Only Romans is longer, and thus this letter comes right after Romans in the canonical New Testament. But in this chronological New Testament, it comes after 1 Thessalonians and Galatians. According to Acts, Paul created a Christ-community in Corinth in Southern Greece around the year 50."

"In the canonical New Testament, Philemon is the last of the 13 letters attributed to Paul because it is the shortest, only 25 versus long, so brief it is not even divided into chapters. But in the chronological New Testament, it come early, in the middle of the seven letters universally accepted as by Paul himself. Philemon is one of Paul's 'prison letters. From details in the letter, we know that it was a Roman prison. Some scholars think it was in the city of Rome and thus date Philemon to Paul's imprisonment there in the early 60's. But there were Roman prisons throughout the empire, especially in provincial capitals such as Ephesus in Asia Minor. A majority think these two letters were written during an imprisonment in Ephesus in the mid 50's. Because they were written near each other in time, it is arbitrary to place one ahead of the other. For didactic rather than historical reasons, I have placed Philemon before Philippians."

Philippians is the most consistently affectionate of Paul's letters. Philippi was the capital of ancient Macedonia, in northern Greece. According to Acts 16, it was the first city in Europe in which Paul founded a Christ-community after leaving Asia Minor in the last 40's. We do not know if he had visited in the years since, though it seems likely, given his visits to Macedonia. In any case, his relationship to the community seems to have uncomplicated. The tone of the letter is not only affectionate, but filled with gratitude. It also contains important and extraordinary passages. Like Philemon, Philippians was written from a Roman prison, probably from the same imprisonment in Ephesus in the mid-50's. Unlike in the closing of Philemon, in which Paul writes that he hopes to be freed, in his letter he is uncertain about whether his imprisonment might end in execution.

(more to come)

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