Our modern New Testaments are not arranged chronologically, which sometimes causes misunderstandings. While the Gospels discuss the events of Jesus’ life (the crucifixion took place in 30 or 33 A.D.), the earliest Gospel probably was not written down until the 60s. The Apostle Paul wrote many of his letters before the Gospels. This historical perspective is helpful when assessing arguments over material that some scholars may deem a “later theological development” in the early church. For example the “kenotic hymn” of Philippians 2 exhibits a very high view of Christ, despite Paul most likely writing Philippians before the Gospel writers completed their writings. Note the exalted status afforded to Christ in Philippians 2:5-8:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8 NAU)
Some scholars believe these verse were a pre-existing hymn that Paul incorporated into his letter. If this theory is correct, then the high view of Christ can be traced to an even earlier time. Arguments, therefore, that assume a high view of Christ (i.e. his divinity) always reflects a later church development contain an invalid presupposition.
The table below arranges the NT books by their likely date of composition. Most NT books are difficult to date with precision, which is why discussions about dating can often be lengthy and still not definitive. The dating of the various writings depends on views of authorship, so I have included two columns of dates. The books are listed chronologically, according to their earlier, more conservative dating, but the right hand column provides dates from a more skeptical view. Of course, these dates are further debated within their respective “conservative” and “skeptical” camps, but I have tried to give the most common views from my own subjective survey of the data. For the most part, I have disregarded the “outliers” of either camp. I hope readers find the following table helpful.
|Earlier, more conservative dating
|Later, more skeptical dating
|Early 50s||1 Thessalonians||Early 50s|
|Early 50s||2 Thessalonians||Early 50s (later if forged)|
|Early 50s||Galatians||Mid 50s|
|55-57||1 Corinthians||Mid 50s|
|55-57||2 Corinthians||Mid 50s|
|Approximately 57||Romans||Approximately 57|
|Approximately 60||James||70s or later|
|Early 60s||Colossians||Early 60s (70-90 if forged)|
|Early 60s||1 Timothy||90-110|
|60s||Gospel of Mark||Late 60s|
|Mid 60s||2 Timothy||90-110|
|Mid 60s||1 Peter||80s|
|Late 60s||2 Peter||80-110|
|Approximately 70||Gospel of Matthew||80-95|
|70s-80s||Gospel of Luke||85-95|
|Approximately 80||Jude||Approximately 80?|
|Approximately 90||Gospel of John||Approximately 100|
|Early 90s||1 John||100-125|
|Early 90s||2 John||100-125|
|Early 90s||3 John||100-125|
2 thoughts on “A table arranging the New Testament books according to the date of composition.”
Which NT is published with the chronological dates
I don’t know of any New Testament where the books are arranged in chronological order. A couple reasons for that are: 1) The earliest codex manuscripts grouped the gospels, Paul’s letters, and the general epistles together. Church tradition has continued this arrangement. This arrangement makes sense. We start with the accounts of Jesus’ life because those events happened prior to Paul planting the church in Galatia, even if the actual writing of Galatians took place before the writing of the Gospels. 2) The dating of the NT writings is disputed, so there would be various arrangements depending on the publisher.
This is why a study bible is helpful. Each biblical book is introduced with a discussion of the date of composition, author, etc.