The earliest passages in the New Testament

Not many people realise – even Christians – that the earliest passages in the New Testament appear in letters written by the apostle Paul of Tarsus around 52 CE. They think the gospels came first, but they didn’t. Paul’s genuine letters predate the first gospel, ‘Mark’, by 15-20 years.

By the time the official gospels came to be written (between 70 CE and 105 CE) the fledgling Christian community had been heavily influenced by Paul’s letters. They are the only New Testament writings of a known individual describing his experiences first hand, which cannot be said of any of the other letters, the gospels or Acts of the Apostles.

Paul’s letters are arranged in the New Testament according to length, the longest (Romans) first and shortest (Philemon) last. This is not in the order in which they were written, nor does it reflect their authenticity, subject matter, literary quality or importance.

Thirteen letters in Paul’s name appear in the New Testament. Paul wrote, or more accurately, dictated, only seven of them; the other six were not written by him but, presumably, by Paul’s followers and successors. Some of the early letters reached their final form several decades after his death.

The seven definitely by him, all between 52-62 CE, are:

  • Thessalonians 1
  • Philippians
  • Philemon
  • Corinthians 1
  • Corinthians 2
  • Galatians
  • Romans

Four letters are so different in style, content and doctrine and written so late that they could not have been by the same man:

  • Ephesians (c80-100 CE)
  • Timothy 1 (c95-100 CE)
  • Timothy 2 (c95-100 CE)
  • Titus (c95-100 CE)

Colossians and Thessalonians 2 are also attributed to Paul, but scholars are divided about their authenticity. The consensus is they were probably written in the seventh or eighth decades. (See Kenneth Davis’s brilliant scholarly work,  ‘Don’t Know Much About The Bible.’)

Forgeries? Yes, but in those days it was considered perfectly acceptable to use the name of a respected deceased person, either to add authority to a document or express what the writer thought he would have said had he still been alive.

The irony is, most clergy know this to be true but make little mention of it from the pulpit. Why not?

©David Lawrence Preston, 20.1.2016

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Front cover 201 things

Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015

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