Dating the Pauline epistles from scratch.

Chronological considerations.


Dating the epistles of Paul from scratch, without recourse to either the Acts of the Apostles or to patristic tradition, is an interesting exercise in its own right. Here are the main indications as I see them:

  • On the terminus post quem side of things, S. C. Carlson has pointed out that Corinth was razed to the ground some 146 years before Christ and was not refounded until 44 years before Christ. About 77 years before Christ Cicero wrote in Tusculan Disputations 3.53: ...magisque me moverant Corinthi subito aspectae parietinae quam ipsos Corinthios, quorum animis diuturna cogitatio callum vetustatis obduxerat (and the ruins of Corinth suddenly moved me more than [they moved] the Corinthians themselves, whose souls had become callous by frequent [and] longstanding reflection). This would seem to date the Corinthian epistles to after the refoundation of the city of Corinth. Andrew Criddle has added that the way in which Paul in his epistles to Corinth refers to Achaea and Macedonia as distinct regions, with Corinth a prominent place in Achaea (refer to 2 Corinthians 9.1-2, for example), is more likely if it is written after Augustus appears to have split southern Greece from Macedonian administrative control to establish (or re-establish) the province of Achaea with the refounded Corinth as its capital 27 years before Christ.
  • On the terminus ante quem side of things, some verses (1 Corinthians 10.18; 2 Thessalonians 2.4; Romans 9.4) appear to presume that the temple is still standing, its sacrificial system still running. Furthermore, Paul frequently mentions Jerusalem as a viable destination with a functioning church (Romans 15.19, 25-26, 31; 1 Corinthians 16.3; Galatians 1.17-18; 2.1); these mentions seem to fit in better with the situation in Judea before 70 than with the situation after the Jewish revolt. Similarly, Galatians 1.19 makes the author a contemporary of James (the just), whom Hegesippus, Josephus, and several other sources date to before the fall of the temple (in 70).
  • Only a bit more precisely, 2 Corinthians 11.32-33 would seem to date the autobiographical episode described in those verses, at least, to the reign of Aretas III (from about 9 years before Christ to 40 anno domini).

Mark Goodacre has written much on this topic on his NT Gateway Blog: