Friday, June 16, 2017

Placement, order, and dating of Pauline epistles

I recently wrote up my own opinions (though not uninformed opinions) on the placement of Paul's epistles within Acts and on their approximate calendar dates. I wrote it up for someone whom I am meeting to discuss the topic, but after doing all that work, I figured it would make a good blog post. I ask readers to excuse the varying amounts of argument represented here and the terse style. "Hemer" of course is Colin Hemer in Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, discussed in the previous post. "HIPV" is my own book, Hidden in Plain View. Each entry begins by placing the book in relation to Acts, which is usually much easier to do than placing it in relation to the calendar. Next I make educated guesses about calendar dating. The order is chronological, according to my own present views. Readers who are into New Testament issues will notice that I don't try to write treatises on the much-discussed issues of the destination and placement of Galatians and the authorship of Hebrews, but I do give my own present opinions. Until I went back to Hemer this last time, I had forgotten about the earthquake in the Lycus Valley and its possible impact upon the dating of Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon. Enjoy!

--I Thessalonians, just after Acts 18:5, compare I Thess 3:6.

Approximate calendar date, some time around 50-51. Gallio’s proconsulship can be pretty precisely dated to 51-52, approximately 18 months, by external evidence. (See Acts 18:12-17 and Hemer on Gallio.)

--II Thessalonians, some time during stay in Corinth in Acts 18. Notice that he is still with Timothy and Silvanus, just as in the salutation to I Thess. Silvanus may be Silas.

Approx. calendar date 51-52, via Gallio connection and probable writing during this stay in Corinth. However, could be as late as 53, since we don’t know exactly when Paul left Corinth, and Acts 18:18 says Paul remained “many days longer,” a vague note of time.

--I Corinthians, during Paul’s time remaining in Ephesus, Acts 19:22. This would have been toward the end of his time in Ephesus. Numerous arguments. See HIPV. This is very firmly fixed to Acts 19:22. Probably in the spring between Passover and Pentecost (I Cor. 16:8). He expressed an intention to spend the winter in Corinth (I Cor. 16:1-8); compare the “three months” in Greece in Acts 20:3. Hence I Corinthians was written less than a year before Acts 20:3.

Calendar date somewhat less firm, depending on vague notes of time in Acts 18:18 and a journey of unspecified length in Acts 18:23. He spent 2-3 years in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-9). Hemer also places I Corinthians in Ephesus somewhere in Acts 19 (though not quite as precisely as I do). He dates I Corinthians around 55 A.D. and lengthens Paul’s journey through the Macedonian regions in Acts 20:2 so that it includes over a year, but this loses the coincidence with the three months in Acts 20:3. I would be inclined to make that journey through Macedonia much shorter so that the 3 months in Acts 20:3 does correspond to the next winter mentioned in I Corinthians 16. If Hemer is also right to date the arrest in Jerusalem in Acts 21 to 57, which is somewhat conjectural, then I would be placing I Corinthians in the spring of 56.

--II Corinthians was written from Macedonia during the collection journey. The collection is explained in the epistles. The collection journey was through Macedonia and into Achaia at the beginning of Acts 20. See II Cor. 8:1, 9:2-4. Very firmly fixed in relation to Acts and the collection (though the collection is never mentioned in Acts). See HIPV.

Calendar date, again depends on how long you make the Macedonian journey and whether one is trying to fix Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem in Acts 21 in 57. I would put II Corinthians around late fall of 56.

--Romans, clearly completed around Acts 20:3, just before he is about to set off for Jerusalem with the collection. See Romans 15:25-27. Compare also the lists of his companions in Acts 20:4 and Romans 16:21-23.

Calendar date, if Hemer is right that the arrival in Jerusalem was 57, would be late winter or very early spring of 57. Some commentators have put the arrival/arrest in Jerusalem in 58, which would shift all of this to a year later. Hemer’s arguments concern the notes of time in Acts 20:5-6 and the beginning of Passover in the year 57. I think this is not extremely strong, because (among other things) Acts merely says (Acts 20:6) that they sailed away from Philippi “after” the days of Unleavened Bread with no statement of how long after. If it were even a few days, it would throw off the calculation Hemer is making.

--Galatians, extremely controversial. I have my own opinions but will not attempt to summarize all the arguments. Contrary to most conservative commentators now, I would place Galatians during the winter of Acts 20:2, right around the same time as Romans. I am inclined to think that the journey to Jerusalem in Galatians 2 is indeed the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, despite the well-known difficulties of this view. In that case, Paul simply doesn’t mention the Acts 11 journey in Galatians, which may be because it was merely for purposes of carrying money or may even mean that he did not see the apostles on that journey. Again this is all highly controversial. I am ambivalent on the North-South Galatian destination, but placing the epistle in Acts 20 does not require one to take the North Galatian view, though it has been associated with it historically. Hemer, in contrast, places Galatians very early as the earliest epistle, back in Acts 14 or, at latest, Acts 15:1, just before the Jerusalem council.

Hemer’s argument would make the calendar date around 49. Mine would make it some time around the winter of 56-57.

--Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were all written around the same time and despatched by the same messenger(s)—Tychicus and Onesimus. Col. 4:7-9, Eph. 6:21-22. Col. 4:9 shows that Onesimus and Tychicus traveled together. Many links between the persons mentioned in Colossians and Philemon—Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, for example. And Archippus is greeted in both. “Ephesians” appears to be the “lost” letter to the Laodiceans mentioned in Col. 4:16. (See argument in HIPV, taken from Paley.) These three are all prison epistles, see references to Paul’s imprisonment throughout them and the argument in HIPV concerning the “chain” in Ephesians 6:20. They fit extremely well in the two-year Roman imprisonment in Acts 28:30, but there are few indications as to whether they are early or late in that imprisonment.

Hemer argues that they were early because of a mention in Tacitus of an earthquake in AD 60-61 that completely destroyed Laodicea. Eusebius says that an earthquake destroyed both Laodicea and Colosse, though Eusebius dates the earthquake to 64. One assumes that these allude to the same earthquake but place it in different years, since that is more economical than assuming that Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake twice within four years. Obviously, Paul wouldn’t have written telling Philemon (as he does) to prepare a guest chamber for him in a house that Paul knew had just been destroyed by an earthquake. So either the earthquake hadn’t happened yet or Paul hadn’t heard about it yet when he sent these three letters. This places pressure to put the letters fairly early in the 2-year Roman imprisonment, though if we accept Eusebius’s date there is no such issue. Tacitus was writing closer to the time, but Eusebius might have had access to other sources.

--Philippians, again, is a prison epistle and fits well during the 2-year Roman imprisonment in Acts 28. Hemer rightly points out that there apparently had been time for various journeys back and forth. Epaphroditus had known where to find Paul and had brought him money from Philippi. Word had gotten back to the Philippians that Epaphroditus was sick. So this is some argument that it was somewhat later in the imprisonment. (Phil 2:25-27) Also, Phil. 1:12-17 shows that Paul’s imprisonment has had various effects on the preaching of the gospel, Paul has had word of these effects and is making an assessment of them. Again, this argues for a somewhat later date in the imprisonment. Compare also Phil. 2:23-24 and Philemon 22. Both indicate hope of release. Hemer sees somewhat more anxiety in Philippians 1:23-24 where Paul is trying to guess whether he will live or die, but this is conjectural.

Suffice it to say that there is some evidence pushing Philippians to around 62, later in the Roman imprisonment, and some evidence pushing the three other prison epistles of Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians to 60 or early 61, but it is impossible to be dogmatic.

The calendar dating of the imprisonment to approximately 60-62 comes from the notes of time of two years’ imprisonment in Caesarea (Acts 25:26-27) and the length of the voyage to Rome, including shipwreck, winter, change of ships, etc., from Acts 27-28. If one scoots everything down a year, the imprisonment would be 61-63, but that really would probably require taking Eusebius’s date for the Colossian earthquake, since Paul would likely not have written those three letters in that way to the Laodicea/Colosse region after he knew about the earthquake.

--Hebrews: Obviously, whether or not Hebrews is in any sense an epistle by the Apostle Paul is hugly controversial, and I’m not intending to give all the arguments on various sides. My own present working theory is that it was co-written by Paul and Luke and that the last verses of the last chapter (perhaps from verse 16 or 17 on) were an entirely Pauline “cover note,” written to its initial recipients (wherever they were) and known to be by Paul, with the intention that they would circulate just the treatise itself to a wider Jewish-Christian audience. This is obviously speculative. If Hebrews is Pauline, where does it fit? Here I see a plausible connection with Philippians. In Philippians 2:19-24 Paul says that he hopes to send Timothy to them as soon as he sees how it will go with him, presumably at some sort of hearing or in some other legal sense. In Hebrews 13:23 the author says that Timothy has been “released” and that he hopes to see them along with Timothy soon. This need not mean that Timothy has been actually in prison but could just mean that Timothy has been released from some other duty. One possible picture, then, is that there was enough good news (legally) that Paul sent Timothy to the Philippians but that there were still legal loose ends to be tied up in Rome before he himself was released. Hebrews, then, could be placed at the very tail end of the Roman imprisonment mentioned in Acts, after the other prison epistles and shortly before Paul’s release, either due to the default of his accusers or to a favorable hearing.

In both Philemon v. 22 and Hebrews 13:18-19 the author says that he hopes to be released from imprisonment soon by means of the prayers of the recipients. If Hebrews is Pauline, this might place it at approximately the same time in the two-year Roman imprisonment as Philemon. However, that would place Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians much later in the Roman imprisonment and would require that the Lycus River valley earthquake took place according to Eusebius’s date, not Tacitus’s.

--I Timothy and Titus should not be dated within Acts, as the Pauline travel they allude to clearly occurred outside of the events in Acts. There are numerous arguments for this; just to begin with, there is no way to fit Paul’s leaving Timothy in Ephesus and going on to Macedonia (I Tim. 1:3) with any of the trips recorded in Acts.

If anything, the geographical notes in Titus are even more clearly about some later journey of Paul. In Titus Paul has been in Crete and has left Titus there (Titus 1:5), while at no time in Acts is there a good place for Paul to visit Crete. Paul is at liberty when he writes Titus and intends to spend the winter in Nicopolos (Titus 3:12), which is in the north of Greece. Paul doesn’t appear to have wintered there at any time in Acts except possibly during the very early years in Acts after his conversion that are covered more sketchily. Yet I and II Timothy and Titus all appear to be much later in Paul’s life.

Given all of this and more related to 2 Timothy, the best conclusion seems to be that Paul was released at the end of the imprisonment in Acts, as his notes in Philippians and Philemon indicate that he hoped for, and had an unspecified time of ministry after that before he was again imprisoned, with the second imprisonment represented by 2 Timothy.

This would put the dating of I Timothy and Titus somewhere between 62 and 64.

--2 Timothy definitely refers to a second imprisonment, not to the imprisonment described in Acts or referred to in the other prison epistles. Again, there are numerous arguments for this, not all of which I will try to list. Among them, perhaps the most knock-down of all: 2 Timothy 4:20 says that Trophimus was left sick at Miletus in the time shortly before this imprisonment, but in Acts Trophimus was not left behind but traveled all the way to Jerusalem with Paul and is conjectured by Luke to have been the cause of the riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21:29). Also, again, in Acts Paul’s last visit to Miletus was years before he was in Rome, given the Caesarean imprisonment. He would never have referred in this way to having left Trophimus at Miletus sick, with no indication of the outcome, if it had happened several years before. Numerous indications show that this imprisonment was much shorter than the imprisonment referred to in Philippians. (By the way, an argument for the authenticity of the pastoral epistles can be made from the very fact of their being so independent of Acts and implying a later and separate ministry. Perhaps I will spell this out more in a later post.)

This epistle can’t be dated with certainty but was very likely written in a relatively short second imprisonment, ending in Paul's death, during the Neronian persecution, 64-68.


John said...

I skimmed to Hebrews, and hope to read the remainder carefully soon. Regarding Hebrews, I give the nod to Silas/Sylvanus. 2:3 could hardly have been written by Paul (Gal. 1:11-12). Silas penned for both Paul and Peter, giving him unique credentials and positioning in 1st century fellowship. Interesting correspondences both in vocabulary and theological thought glow when Hebrews is read closely next to the Petrine epistles.

In Galatians we will find the real challenge!

Great work, Lydia.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, I'm not super-committed to Pauline authorship of Hebrews, but I wanted to fit it in for completeness' sake and because I was interested in the possible correspondence between the note about Timothy and what Paul said about Timothy in Philippians. Your point about 2:3 is interesting, but I would compare I Corinthians 15:3, where Paul says that he did receive the gospel from others, which he is about to recount. I think it would be overly rigid to argue because of Galatians that he must in I Corinthians be saying that he got a direct divine revelation that Jesus appeared to James, Cephas, the twelve, etc., and in what order, *rather than* learning it from someone else. He did have contact with the apostles, and presumably they talked about these things. Evidently (based on I Corinthians) his emphasis in Galatians doesn't mean that he didn't receive any attestation from the apostles. It presumably has more to do with authority, commissioning, etc.

The connection with 2 Peter is interesting; I had just recently noticed the "strangers and sojourners" similarity between Hebrews 12 and 2 Peter 2:11.

Anyway, to my mind the more important thing is being able to locate so many epistles uncontroversially within Acts. It's easy to take that for granted, but the details of it actually make it a remarkable confirmation of Acts, especially given the evident independence of Acts from the epistles.