Letters from the Missionary Field
1. Which is believed to the first written epistle?
2. Which city did Paul write his first letters to?
3. How many letters did Paul write to the Corinthians?
4. Which letters were carried by a runaway slave?
5. Where did Peter write his first letter from?
6. Why might we think 1&2 Timothy and Titus were written later than Paul’s other letters?
7. Why might Paul not have signed the letter to the Hebrews?
8. When did Peter write his second letter?
9. When did Jude write his letter?
10. When did John do his writing?
The epistle of James is generally considered to have been written first, probably before 50AD since it doesn’t mention circumcision which became such a major controversy in the early church. Paul would have visited Galatia around 51AD carrying Peter’s letter with the judgment about circumcision (Acts 16), moving on to Philippi and Thessalonica (Acts 16,17) via jails and riots and to Corinth (Acts 18) where he spent eighteen months. (Luke joined him around Philippi.) His letters to the Thessalonians were probably the next epistles, written while many believers still expected Jesus’ imminent return.
Paul returned to Jerusalem around 54AD after a brief visit to Ephesus, then headed to Galatia again. This time he spent three years in Ephesus,and probably wrote 1 Corinthians (not his first letter to them since he mentions a previous one) around Passover in 56AD. He probably visited Corinth by boat a few times during this period, writing 2 Corinthians (a 3rd, or possibly 4th letter) later in the journey. He stayed in Corinth again on his way back to Jerusalem in 58AD (Acts 20) and could have written his epistle to the Romans from there during the spring. In Jerusalem, Paul was captured and kept under house arrest, to protect him from death threats issued by extremists. Felix and Festus, the governors mentioned in the Bible, are recognizable historical figures.
Luke probably worked on the book of Acts while staying with Paul at this time. He travelled to Rome with Paul, arriving around 61AD. Paul was under house arres againt, preaching to believers who came to hear him. Luke’s account ends with the carpenter of Nazareth being proclaimed in the most important city of the world, but of course, the real story continues. Paul probably wrote to his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians and Collosians while at Rome. Ephesians doesn’t contain any personal greetings, despite the long time Paul spent there, so it’s often believed to be a “form letter” sent out to many churches at once. The runaway slave Onesimus carried letters to Philemon and the Colossians.
Many believe Philippians to be the latest of these letters, written perhaps in 63AD, since Paul seemed to be finding his imprisonment more onerous. There are more details of church structure, suggesting the church was becoming older and more organized. In fact, there’s even more structural information in Timothy and Titus; many scholars believe Paul was eventually released and wrote 1 Timothy around 63AD and Titus a few years later. He was arrested again, writing 2 Timothy, and possibly Hebrews, shortly before his death in 68AD. If Paul wrote Hebrews, he probably didn’t sign it to avoid the Jerusalem believers rejecting it.
Peter reached Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment and wrote 1 Peter, including references to Paul’s letters. Peter wrote a second letter during his own imprisonment around 68AD. Jude the brother of James (therefore maybe Jesus’ cousin or brother) wrote his letter at this time (just before the destruction of the Temple). But John’s letters are frequently dated later. One theory is John was exiled when Peter and Paul were martyred, and wrote his gospel and Revelation during the exile, writing his short letters later. Other evidence suggests he was exiled around 90AD during Domitian’s reign, since Domitian liked exiling people. Either way, John’s are probably the latest pieces of writing in the New Testament.