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Yet the relative fixity of the Pauline datings remains. If we ignore eccentric solutions and the penumbra of disputed epistles, one can say that there is a very general consensus on the dating of the central section of St Paul's ministry and literary career, with a margin of difference of scarcely more than two years either way. This is nowhere near the case with any other part of the New Testament - the gospels, the Acts, the other epistles, the Apocalypse. The Pauline epistles constitute therefore an important fixed point and yardstick, not only of absolute chronology but of relative span, against which to measure other developments.
Having said this, however, it is important to remember Lightfoot's other preliminary warning: 'It may be as well to premise at the outset that as regards the exact dates in St Paul's life absolute certainty is unattainable.'
is not only a margin of disagreement but a margin of error to be allowed for.
shall be giving a number of fairly precise-sounding dates, which on balance
seem to me the most probable.
But the reader should be warned that they are
always more specific than the evidence warrants.
A shift of a year or two in
either direction – and sometimes more - is entirely possible, without the
over-all position being affected.
Mention may be made in advance of a number of factors which cause uncertainty and allow room for genuine difference of judgment even when (as is rarely the case) the evidence itself is fairly hard.
1. The sources, Roman, Jewish and Christian, are largely unco-ordinated and share no common canon of chronology such as is presupposed by any modern historian. The evidence, for instance, from Tacitus, Josephus and Acts has to be set together from different systems of time measurement and then reduced to our (quite arbitrary) bc and ad.
2. The actual calendar years begin at a bewilderingly different number of points - e.g. (ignoring internal changes with periods and places) the Jewish in the spring, the Macedonian (which was spread to the Greek-speaking world by the conquests of Alexander the Great) in the autumn, the Julian (the official calendar of the Roman empire and still ours today) in midwinter. (The same applies to the time the day was reckoned to begin, but this is not so relevant to the epistles as to the gospels.)
3. Dates are designated not by the calendar but by the year of office of some king or official. This does not, of course, usually commence neatly with the calendar year. There is the additional uncertainty whether the 'first' year of, say a particular emperor is the residue of that year from the day of his accession (assuming, too, that that follows immediately on the demise of his predecessor) or whether it is counted from the next new year's day. For instance, is what we call ad 55 the second or the first year of Nero, who was proclaimed emperor on 13 October 54?
4. When we are dealing with intervals, there is the uncertainty whether the reckoning is inclusive (with parts of the day or year being counted as wholes) or exclusive. For instance, 'on the third day' (Matt.16.21; Luke 9.22; I Cor.15.4) in all probability means the same as 'after three days' (Mark 8.31), whereas we should say it was 'after two days'. The question arises which usage a particular New Testament writer (e.g. Paul or Luke) is following.
With such latitude it is obviously possible, by taking all the doubtful decisions one way, to interpret the same piece of evidence to yield a rather different date from that which would be obtained by taking them all the other way. And when the evidence itself is doubtful or patient of more than one meaning, the divergence can be still greater. Thus it is fairly easy to expand or contract intervals to suit the requirements of a particular theory. Ultimately dating is almost always a matter of assessing the balance of probabilities.
There is one further methodological decision which is of great importance in
namely, the credence to be given to the evidence of Acts in relation
to that of Paul.
There can be no dispute that Paul writing in his own name is
the primary witness,
and the author of Acts, whom for convenience we shall call
(the date and authorship of Acts will occupy us in the next chapter),
When they conflict we are bound to prefer Paul.
But most of
the time they do not conflict.
who does not think Acts could have
been written by a companion of Paul [INT, 184.],
says nevertheless that
the sequence of Paul's missionary activities that can be inferred from his letters is so remarkably compatible with the information from Acts that we have good grounds for deriving the relative chronology of Paul's activity from a critical combination of the information from Paul's letters with the account in Acts.
So we shall follow the procedure of trusting Acts until proved otherwise and allow this procedure to be tested by the results it yields.
must however recognize that Acts itself is very uneven in the chronological
details it supplies -
and it is not of course primarily interested in being a
chronicle but an account of the Spirit in action.
Thus there are some stages of
Paul's life that are treated very summarily.
The longest stay of his career in
one place, in Ephesus, which Acts itself says lasted three years (20.31),
occupies but a single chapter (19.2-20.1), whereas the period from Paul's final
arrival in Jerusalem to the end of his first court-hearing, which lasted just
over a fortnight and where the passage of time is detailed very precisely,
occupies three and a half chapters (21.17-24.23).
We should have no idea
from Acts that Paul visited Corinth three times (II Cor.13.1),
visit having to be fitted somewhere into the thinly covered Ephesian period.
This must make arguments from the silence of Acts very precarious,
since Acts never mentions Paul writing a single letter
and omits all reference
one of his most constant emissaries.
Furthermore, Luke intersperses
detailed datings with vague statements
such as 'in those days', 'about that
'after some (or many) days' or 'for a time'.
when he generalizes we know it and may treat the indications of time freely;
when he does not we may have the more confidence in him.
If he discriminates, so can we.
these preliminary observations, let us first try to get an outline framework
of Paul's life into which we can then fit his letters -
though naturally the letters also provide primary evidence for the framework.
most reliable fixed point from which we can work both backwards and forwards
is supplied by the inscription to which I have already referred.
us to date the proconsulship of Gallio in Achaia, before whom, according to Acts 18.12-17, Paul was summoned towards the end of his first visit to Corinth.
With increasing certainty we may say that Gallio entered upon his office in
the early summer of 51
and that Paul appeared before him soon afterwards, probably in May or June.
By that time Paul had been in Corinth for at least eighteen months (Acts 18.11) and probably longer - for this period appears to be reckoned from the time of Paul's full-time preaching (18.5) and his residence with Titus Justus (18.7). Prior to that he had lodged and earned a living with Aquila and Priscilla (18.1-4). So his arrival in Corinth is probably to be dated in the autumn of 49. This would fit well with the statement of 18.2 that Aquila 'had recently arrived from Italy because Claudius had issued an edict that all Jews should leave Rome', which is usually dated in 49. To allow for the visits of Acts 15.36-17.34, Paul and Barnabas must have set out from Antioch at least in the early spring of 49. This in turn probably puts the Council of Jerusalem late in 48, allowing for the vaguely defined but apparently quite extensive interval of 15.30-6.
backwards from this we find the chronology of Acts, as we might expect,
The incidents of 11.27-12.25, introduced by such
nebulous time-references as 'during this period' (11.27) and 'about this time'
(12.1), appear to be arranged topically rather than chronologically.
of 11.27-30 seems to correspond with that recorded by Josephus as
coming to its climax
in 46 (or perhaps a year earlier or later), as late as 48.]
whereas the death of Herod Agrippa I, which Luke relates after it (though he does not make Barnabas and Paul retuin to Antioch till after Herod's death), occurred in 44.
If then the famine-relief visit of Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem in Acts 11.30-12.25 is to be dated c. 46, then the first missionary journey described in Acts 13-14 would occupy 47-8,
with the controversy and council-meeting of Acts 15 coming later in 48. So far there are no serious problems.
It is when we come to tie up the Acts story with Paul's own statements in Gal. 1-2 that the difficulties begin. There Paul relates two visits to Jerusalem - and two only - to make contact with the apostles. At this point we must give absolute priority to Paul's own account, not merely because he is writing in the first person, whereas Luke is at this stage clearly dependent on sources (and can be shown to be chronologically unreliable), but because Paul is speaking on oath (Gal. 1.20) and any slip or dissimulation on his part would have played into the hands of his opponents. Indeed we may say that the statements of Gal. 1-2 are the most trustworthy historical statements in the entire New Testament.
After first describing his conversion, Paul goes on:
When that happened, without consulting any human being, without going up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, I went off at once to Arabia, and afterwards returned to Damascus.
Three years later (ἒπειτα μετὰ τρία ἒτη) I did go up to Jerusalem to get to know Cephas. I stayed with him a fortnight, without seeing any of the other apostles, except James the Lord's brother. What I write is plain truth; before God I am not lying.
Next (ἒπειτα) I went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and remained unknown by sight to Christ's congregations in Judaea. ...
Next, fourteen years later (ἒπειτα διὰ δεκατεσσάρων ἐτῶν), I went again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus with us (Gal. 1.17-2.1).
The first question is whether the fourteen years are to be counted from the first visit or from his conversion. There is no way of being certain, but the natural presumption is that Paul is detailing a sequence (ἒπειτα ... ἒπειτα ... ἒπειτα – exactly as in I Cor.15.5 – 8) and that the two intervals of three years and fourteen years are intended to follow on each other. Moreover, the 'again' of 2.1, if part of the true text (as it surely is), would naturally refer the reader back to the former visit, not to the conversion. No one, I believe, would begin by supposing otherwise, though once the other way of taking it is suggested there is no way of disproving it.
The second question is whether the reckoning is to be regarded as inclusive or exclusive. Again we cannot be sure, but Jewish usage would indicate the former. 'After eight days' in John 20.26 is evidently intended to refer to the following Sunday (not Monday), and is rightly rendered in the neb 'a week later'. When Paul says he stayed with Peter for fifteen days (Gal.1.18) the neb is again surely correct in rendering it 'a fortnight'. So we may begin by assuming that 'after three years' means in the third year following, or what we would call after two years. Similarly, 'with the lapse of (διά, cf. Acts 24.17) fourteen years' probably means thirteen years later.
The third question (and much the most difficult) is which visit of Acts it is to which the visit of Gal. 2.1 corresponds. If it is the second (that of Acts 11), then it must have occurred c. 46; if it is the third (that of Acts 15), then it would on our calculation have been in 48. On the assumption that the two intervals are sequential and the reckoning is inclusive, then 13+2 from 46 would bring us back to 31 for Paul's conversion; if from 48, then to 33. Though we cannot be absolutely certain, it looks as if the most likely date for the crucifixion is 30 - the only serious alternative astronomically and calendrically being 33. Even on the former dating, 31 would be almost impossibly early for Paul's conversion if all the developments of Acts 1-8 are to be accounted for. If then the equation of Gal. 2.1 with Acts 11.30 is preferred, the two intervals have to be run concurrently, bringing the date for the conversion to 33. This is the same date as is reached by equating the visits of Gal. 2.1 and Acts 15 if the intervals are non-concurrent. (Of course if the time-reckoning is not inclusive, or the famine was really before the death of Herod in 44, or the crucifixion was in 33, then the equation with the earlier visit is out of the question.) The initial chronological probability must therefore favour identifying the visit of Gal. 2 with the subsequent council visit of Acts 15.
However, before examining the points for and against this, we may pause to look at the equation of the first visits of all recorded in Gal.1.18-24 and Acts 9.26-30. There is no serious dispute that these must refer to the same occasion, yet it is worth bearing in mind how divergent the accounts are. Luke suggests that Paul went to Jerusalem direct from Damascus after no great interval (Acts 9.20-6), and indeed from Paul's subsequent account of the matter in Acts 22.17 we could gather that he returned to Jerusalem at once. There is no hint of his going off to Arabia or of a two- to three-year gap. Moreover in Gal.1 he is insistent that he saw only Peter and James and remained unknown by sight to the congregations in Judaea. In Acts 9 he is introduced by Barnabas (who is not mentioned in Gal.1) to the apostles, moves freely about Jerusalem, debating 'openly' with the Greek-speaking Jews; while in 26.20 he says that he turned 'first to the inhabitants of Damascus, and then to Jerusalem and all the country of Judaea' (though Paul himself agrees in Rom. 15.19 that he started his preaching 'from Jerusalem'). Subsequently, according to Acts 9.30 he went to Caesarea and thence direct to Tarsus. According to Gal.1.21 he went to 'the regions of Syria' - presumably including Antioch – 'and Cilicia'. Acts however says that it was much later (11.25f.) - we should gather a year before the famine visit in 46 - that he was fetched by Barnabas from Tarsus to Antioch. None of these discrepancies is fatal or sufficient ground for not identifying the first visit of Galatians with the first of Acts. As Kirsopp Lake, who holds no particular brief for the reliability of Acts, remarks, 'Their disagreement in descriptions is not really any proof that they do not refer to the same things.' But it is a warning against expecting too much coincidence in the accounts of the later visits or dismissing their equation if we do not find it.
then the details of Gal. 2 with Acts 11 and 15, what do we
With Acts 11 the correspondences are not in fact great.
There Paul and Barnabas go up from Antioch to Jerusalem, but they are alone, they meet none of the apostles, only the elders (Acts 11.30; contrast the repeated 'apostles and elders' of 15.2, 4, 6, 22f), and they are not recorded as having conversations or debate with anyone. Other possible points of convergence are (a) that Paul describes himself as having gone up by 'revelation' (Gal.2.2) and, on the assumption that this means by an inspired utterance (as in I Cor.14.6, 26), it could be a reference to the prophecy of Agabus (Acts 11.28) which gave rise to the visit; and (b) that Gal.2.10 could refer to the famine relief that occasioned it, if Paul's comment on the charge 'remember the poor' is interpreted to mean 'which was the very thing I had made, or was making, it my business to do'. But neither is the obvious translation of the aorist ἐστούδασα which would naturally refer to a resolve from that moment on.
Moreover, the only other reference to 'the poor' at Jerusalem in Paul's epistles is to the collection towards the close of his ministry (Rom.15.26). Since we know he wrote to the Galatians about that (I Cor.16.1), it is natural to take the reference to point forward to it.
Acts 15 on the other hand, as Lightfoot observed in his extended note on the
subject, the correspondences are considerable.
There is the same tension between Judaizing Christians and the church at Antioch over the same issue (the requirement of circumcision), with the same persons (Paul, Barnabas, and Titus in Galatians; Paul, Barnabas and 'some others' in Acts) going up from Antioch to Jerusalem, and back, to meet the same people (James, Peter and John in Galatians;
James, Peter with the apostles and elders in Acts) with the same essential result (recognition of the non-necessity of circumcision, with corollaries for mutual respect and support). The actual meetings described are indeed different; the one is a private consultation, the other a public council, and no attempt should be made to identify the two. Indeed, as Lightfoot pointed out, Paul's own form of expression in Gal.2.2, 'I laid it before them (αὐτοῖς), but privately to the men of repute', 'implies something beside the private conference'. It is simply that the occasion provided by the gathering of so many church leaders gives the opportunity for confirming previous missionary policy toward Gentiles and planning future division of labour.
The differences of emphasis between the two accounts, from inside and outside, are certainly no greater than the divergences between Paul's and Luke's accounts of the first, post-conversion visit, which have not prevented the vast majority of scholars from equating them. Indeed, as Knox, who is certainly not biased towards harmonizing Acts and the epistles, points out, there can be 'little doubt' that Acts 15 and Gal. 2 describe the same occasion, and 'it seems fair to say that no one would have thought of the possible identification' of the visit of Gal. 2 with that of Acts 11 were it not for other difficulties.
For Knox these other difficulties are with 'the usual Pauline chronology' - such as we are following. I am not in fact persuaded of them; but the greatest difficulty for Knox, and therefore the strongest argument for resorting to his reconstruction, turns on another point (the date of Festus' accession) to which we shall come later. Meanwhile there are, of course, very real difficulties for those who (unlike Knox but like myself) wish to fit the visits of Gal.1-2 into the framework of Acts.
The first is why Paul passes over in apparently damaging silence the second visit described by Acts 11.30-12.25. This has led many to excise this visit as unhistorical or as a doublet in Luke's sources of the visit of Acts 15. But this is an arbitrary way of cutting the knot, for which there is no evidence nor indeed other probability (the two visits are, as we have seen, very different in purpose and detail). The most likely reason for Paul's silence is surely that there was no occasion for him to mention this visit. As Lightfoot succinctly stated it years ago,
His object is not to enumerate his journeys to Jerusalem, but to define his relations with the Twelve; and on these relations it had no bearing.
it is said, Why does not Galatians refer to the decrees of Acts
One of the corollaries of equating Gal.2 with Acts 11 is that it is
possible to date Galatians before the council-visit of 48 and therefore
to explain Paul's lack of reference to it.
Yet this is not a necessary
corollary, and the date of Galatians must be determined, in due course, on its
Indeed, Caird goes so far as to say, 'This rider has done more to
discredit than to commend the theory to which it has been attached.'
[idB I,606.] For Paul had no reason to quote the decrees. The decrees presupposed in what they did not say (cf. Acts 15.19: 'no irksome restrictions ... but') the non-necessity of circumcision, on which Paul affirms the concurrence of the Jerusalem apostles (Gal.2.3). What the decrees did say was that when Gentiles and Jews eat together the former must be prepared to make certain concessions to the conscience of the latter. But this is not at issue in Galatians. As Lightfoot put it again,
The object of the decree was to relieve the Gentile Christians from the burden of Jewish observances. It said, 'Concede so much and we will protect you from any further exactions.' The Galatians sought no such protection. They were willing recipients of Judaic rights; and St Paul's object was to show them, not that they need not submit to these burdens against their will, but that they were wrong and sinful in submitting to them.
More explanation indeed is needed for why he does not mention the decrees in I Corinthians and Romans, where he not merely passes them over in silence but actually sets aside the prohibition of eating meat offered to idols (I Cor.10.25-29; Rom.14). The answer of course is that the decrees were devised for a local, predominantly Jewish-Christian church situation 'in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia' (Acts 15.23) - not even for Galatia. In a cosmopolitan city like Corinth or Rome, where the conditions in the markets were very different, they were simply no longer practicable. In Galatians the only reference to meals is not to conditions to be observed when Jews and Gentiles eat together, but to their refusal to do so (Gal.2.11-14). And that for Paul was a matter not of concession but of principle, to which the decrees were irrelevant - quite apart from the fact that, as Lightfoot says again,
by appealing to a decree of a Council held at Jerusalem for sanction on a point on which his own decision as an Apostle was final, he would have made the very concession which his enemies insisted upon.
To sum up, whatever the differences in the accounts - and there is no need to deny or minimize them - I find the case for equating the visits of Gal. 2 and Acts 15 more compelling than any alternative. It also enables us to take the two intervals, 'after three years' and 'after fourteen years', in sequence rather than concurrently. For 33 is certainly a possible date for Paul's conversion - though we are still free to run the intervals together and to put the date later if we wish.
have now sketched what is at least a credible and coherent chronology of Paul's
life up to the time of his appearance before Gallio in 51.
After that point it
is impossible to tell how long a period Luke intended by the 'some (or many)
days' (Acts 18.18) that Paul stayed on in Corinth.
But there seems no good
reason to stretch it to months.
It looks likely that he was back in Antioch by winter, before setting out once more for Asia Minor - after an unspecified delay (18.23) - when travelling again became possible in the spring.
At this point the Acts narrative enters a thin patch. As we have seen, it is not much help for filling in the three years in Ephesus that it itself requires, quite apart from placing the mass of experiences which Paul relates as having occurred to him by the time of writing II Cor. 11.23-27 (though these of course are not to be placed exclusively in the Ephesus period):
Are they servants of Christ? I am mad to speak like this, but I can outdo them. More overworked than they, scourged more severely, more often imprisoned, many a time face to face with death. Five times the Jews have given me the thirty-nine strokes; three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned;
three times I have been shipwrecked, and for twenty-four hours I was adrift on the open sea. I have been constantly on the road, I have met dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my fellow-countrymen, dangers from foreigners, dangers in towns, dangers in the country, dangers at sea, dangers from false friends. I have toiled and drudged, I have often gone without sleep; hungry and thirsty, I have often gone fasting; and I have suffered from cold and exposure.
Then there is the evidence of an additional visit to Corinth and probably to southern Illyricum (or Dalmatia, our Jugoslavia) (Rom.15.19) before Paul returns to Jerusalem for the last time. Since a chronological sequence of events is lacking, it will be best to see if we can set a terminus ad quern for this period and then work backwards.
the evidence is nowhere near so firm for the end of it as it is for the
The crucial date is when Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as procurator of Judaea (Acts 24.27). This is a fact of Roman history which one might think could be securely established. But unfortunately there is (as yet) no inscription to settle the matter and the testimony of the historians is conflicting and inconclusive. Since, however, much turns on it, it is necessary to examine it in some detail.
is general agreement that Felix himself had succeeded Cumanus in 52,
in saying that by then Felix had already shared the title of procurator with Cumanus for some time. It is not impossible to harmonize the accounts; but it is agreed that in this matter Josephus is more likely to be right, and this throws our first doubt on the accuracy of Tacitus. Josephus is also clear that Felix was recalled under Nero, who had confirmed him in office on his accession as emperor in 54. Later he records that the Jews of Caesarea sent complaints to Nero about him, and 'he would undoubtedly have paid the penalty for his misdeeds against the Jews had not Nero yielded to the urgent entreaty of Felix's brother Pallas, whom at that time he held in the highest honour'. Now according to Tacitus Pallas fell from office as chief of the imperial treasury at a date that it is possible to calculate as late 55 - though this depends on juggling with discrepancies between Tacitus and Suetonius and is very far from certain. So, it is argued, 55 would be the latest date for the recall of Felix if Pallas was to protect him.
Eusebius, in the Latin version of his Chronicle (the Greek original is lost) gives the date of Festus' succession as the second year of Nero, i.e., 56- though in the Armenian version it is put in the last year of Claudius (54), which is impossible if, as Eusebius himself agrees in his History, he also served under Nero.
Now, if Festus arrived as early as 55,
then the phrase in Acts 24.27, 'when two years
had passed' (διετίας δὲ πληρωθείσης),
must be referred not to Paul's
time in prison
but to Felix's term of office.
For it is agreed that
Paul could not possibly have arrived in Jerusalem as early as the summer of 53,
having only set out on his third journey, which included two to three years in Ephesus alone, in the spring of 52. But there are difficulties in taking it this way. Assuming the phrase to mean 'when his two years were up', we have to argue, with Haenchen, that Felix had only two years in office, and that therefore, though appointed in 52, he did not arrive till 53 and left again in 55. Certainly we should not get this impression from Josephus, who records a long list of events, which must have occupied a considerable time, while Felix was procurator, not only before but also after Nero's accession in 54. They include (and that not at the beginning of Nero's reign) the rising of the Egyptian, which according to Acts 21.38 already lay in the past (πρὸ τούτων τῶν ἡμέρων) when Paul was first arrested under Felix. Moreover, though the phrase in Acts 24.27 could refer to Felix's time in office, it is virtually certain that Luke did not intend it to do so, for he has already made Paul congratulate Felix on having administered justice in the province 'for many years' (24.10). In its context too it is much more natural to take it of Paul's stay in prison ('He had high hopes of a bribe from Paul, and for this reason he sent for him very often and talked with him. When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus'). Indeed those who want to interpret it the other way have to say that, while Luke thought it applied to Paul, 'this does not exclude the possibility that a source spoke of a two-year term of office for Felix.' Yet here we are in the midst of a very detailed section of Acts where Luke shows no sign of relying on second-hand material. The only other recourse, if one is committed to 55, is to say with Knox that Paul after all did arrive two years earlier in 53, and with that abandon the entire chronological framework of Acts (and the Gallic date) and start again without it. It is however somewhat ironical that the pressure to do this should be occasioned by a moment in Paul's career which is mentioned solely by Acts and whose dating is far less certain than the fixed point which Knox discards.
In fact the date 55 rests upon two fairly weak supports. The first is the conclusion that if Felix was saved by the intercession of Pallas it must have been before the latter was dismissed from the treasury, assuming that this was in 55.But it is far from certain that this was the decisive turning-point. As Caird says,
It is plain that Nero had always disliked Pallas and intended to dismiss him from the moment he became emperor, so that it is hard to see why Pallas' influence with Nero should have been greater before his dismissal than after it. For Pallas was not disgraced; he was able to make his own terms with Nero, was exempt from the scrutiny normally undergone by retiring Roman officials, and was allowed to keep the vast fortune he had accumulated as secretary of the treasury under Claudius.
Secondly there is the self-conflicting evidence of Eusebius, though it is highly doubtful if he had anything to go on at this point apart from his reading of Josephus.Caird also adopts an ingenious way of accounting for this. In the Armenian version of the Chronicle Eusebius puts Festus' arrival in the fourteenth year of Claudius and the tenth of Agrippa II. The former, as we have seen, must be wrong, since Eusebius himself was well aware that Felix was recalled by Nero. But, says Caird,
It is a mistake which becomes intelligible if we assume that the second figure was the only one that stood in Eusebius' source. Knowing that Agrippa I had died in 44, Eusebius assumed that 45 was the first year of his son, Agrippa II, and therefore identified the tenth year of Agrippa II with 54, the fourteenth of Claudius. Actually, as we know from Josephus (BJ 2.284), the beginning of Agrippa's reign was reckoned from Nisan I, ad 50, so that his tenth year began on Nisan I, ad 59. There is thus good reason for believing that, according to Eusebius' source, Festus became procurator in the summer of 59.
would allow him three years in office (59-62), which would match the relatively
small space which Josephus devotes to him compared with Felix.
59 is also the date favoured by a number of scholars on the grounds that a new issue of provincial coinage for Judaea in the fifth year of Nero may point to a change of procuratorship before October 59. Jewish Coins, Jerusalem 2I947, 27, supports this.] Yet this inference is very far from certain.
the external evidence the conclusion must be that no firm date
can be given.
59 seems as likely as any other, putting Paul's arrival in Jerusalem at 57. But the actual date must be decided, if we can, from what the New Testament story itself requires. What is methodologically unsound on the evidence before us is to fix an upper limit (as we can fix the lower with a reasonable degree of confidence) and then adjust the material to this Procrustean bed. So, with the ends open, let us then return to the longest and most important stretch of Paul's work represented by what Acts depicts as the third missionary journey.
We left him setting out again for Asia Minor in all probability in the spring of 52 (18.23). 19.1); say, in the late summer of 52. He based his teaching on the synagogue there for three months (19.8) before withdrawing his converts and starting daily discussions in the lecture-hall of Tyrannus, which went on for the next two years (19.10). This would bring us, on our chronology, nearly to the end of 54. There is then an undated incident (19.13-20), followed by a typically vague Lukan time-reference:Confining ourselves first to the Acts outline, we should conclude that he arrived at Ephesus (
When things had reached this stage (ὡς δὲ ἐπληρώθη) Paul made up his mind to visit Macedonia and Achaia and then go on to Jerusalem; and he said, 'After I have been there, I must see Rome also'. So he sent two of his assistants, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed some time longer (χρόνον) in the province of Asia (19. 21f.).
This is followed by the story of the silversmiths' riot (19.23-41), introduced by the words 'about that time'. This is the same formula used in 12.1 of Herod's action against James and Peter, which we have already had reason to think is misplaced in relation to the famine visit. All we can say therefore is that the riot probably took place towards the end of Paul's stay in Ephesus, perhaps in the first half of 55. In any case further time must be allowed for the dispatch (with the coming of spring ?) of Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia and for Paul's continued stay in Asia, which would bring us naturally to the early summer of 55. This would fit very well with Paul's assertion to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (20.31) that 'for three years, night and day' he had not ceased to have the most intimate contact with them.
Then, to round off the Acts story as far as Jerusalem, we will follow him from Ephesus:
When the disturbance had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-bye, and set out on his journey to Macedonia. He travelled through those parts of the country, often speaking words of encouragement to the Christians there, and so came into Greece. When he had spent three months there a
nd was on the point of embarking for Syria, a plot was laid against him by the Jews, so he decided to return by way of Macedonia (20.1-4).
He set sail from Philippi after the Passover season (20.6), making all speed so as 'to be in Jerusalem, if he possibly could, on the day of Pentecost' (20.16) - and there is no reason to suppose that he did not achieve his object.
For the journey from Philippi onwards we are in a narrative recounted by Luke in the first person plural (20.6-21.18) and the notes of time are characteristically precise. But prior to that there is no indication of time apart from the three months' stay in Greece (i.e., Achaia). From Acts alone there would be nothing to suggest that if Paul left Ephesus for Macedonia in the summer of 55 he should not have reached Corinth by the end of that same year, left the following March, and arrived in Jerusalem in May 56.
But at this point we must turn to the evidence of Paul himself, and in particular that of the Corinthian correspondence which covers much of this period.
First it is important to notice how it confirms as well as supplements (and stretches) the Acts framework. In II Cor.1.19 Paul speaks to the Corinthians of the gospel which he had originally proclaimed to them, adding 'by Silvanus and Timothy, I mean, as well as myself. This strikingly confirms Acts 18.5 when Silas (Silvanus) and Timothy join Paul in preaching at Corinth for eighteen months on his first visit to the city. It is significant too that Paul does not mention Apollos in this connection, who according to Acts 18.20-19.1 arrived in Corinth only after Paul's first visit. II Cor.11.7-9 taken with I Thess.2.2; II Thess.3.1, 6; and Phil.4.15f. also confirm the sequence of Acts 16.12-18, viz. Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth. L, 74,82f.]
Paul himself also speaks of his intention to revisit Corinth via Macedonia, having already sent Timothy ahead to prepare the way; and the details and timing again fit well with the plan outlined in Acts 19.21f. In I Cor. 16.5-11 he says:
I shall come to Corinth after passing through Macedonia - for I am travelling by way of Macedonia - and I may stay with you, perhaps even for the whole winter, and then you can help me on my way wherever I go next. I do not want this to be a flying visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I shall remain at Ephesus until Whitsuntide, for a great opportunity has opened for effective work, and there is much opposition.
If Timothy comes, see that you put him at his ease; for it is the Lord's work that he is engaged upon, as I am myself; so no one must slight him. Send him happily on his way to join me, since I am waiting for him with our friends.
Earlier Paul had made it clear that he had planned for Timothy to go as far as Corinth, and he promised: 'I shall come very soon, if the Lord will' (4.17-19). At this stage he had evidently not finally decided whether to accompany the bearers of the collection to Jerusalem himself: 'If it should seem worth while for me to go as well, they shall go with me' (16.3f.); and he leaves his further destination open: 'You can help me on my way wherever I go next' (16.6). Indeed there is a tentativeness about his plans ('If the Lord permits', 'if the Lord will') which suggests that in Acts 19.21f. Luke is summarizing in the light of subsequent events. Nevertheless there can be little doubt that I Corinthians was written in the spring of Paul's last year in Ephesus, round about Easter-time, which the references to Passover in 5.7f. would support:
The old leaven of corruption is working among you. Purge it out, and then you will be bread of a new baking, as it were unleavened Passover bread. For indeed our Passover has begun; the sacrifice is offered - Christ himself. So we who observe the festival must not use the old leaven, the leaven of corruption and wickedness, but only the unleavened bread which is sincerity and truth.
Paul plans to stay on in Ephesus till Pentecost in the early summer, by which time Timothy should be back to report on the situation he has found. So far all is straightforward.
the upsets begin.
For some reason or other (perhaps because of Timothy's
report) Paul apparently changed his original plan, and then
later went back on the second - though the details are far from certain.
In II Cor.1.15f. he says,
I had intended to come first of all to you and give you the benefit of a double visit. I meant to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and after leaving Macedonia, to return to you, and you would then send me on my way to Judaea.
words, instead of going to Corinth via Macedonia (as proposed in I Cor.16.5) he had decided to go to Corinth direct (by sea), then do his work in
Macedonia, and return to Corinth (by land) en route for Jerusalem, which
was by that stage fixed in his mind as his next destination.
It is fairly clear
that he did pay the first of these two visits (his second in all), since in II
Cor.12.14 and 13.1f. he speaks of his second visit and says that his next will
be his third.
It is also clear that he abandoned the plan to come straight back
to Corinth after his work in Macedonia.
'It was out of consideration to you',
he says in II Cor.1.23, 'that I did not come again to Corinth';
[οὐκέτι. The neb's 'after all' suggests that he never paid the visit at all, which is contradicted by II Cor.13.2.] for, he explains later, 'I made up my mind that my next visit to you must not be another painful one' (2.1). In place of the visit he wrote them a letter, 'out of great distress and anxiety' (II Cor.2.3), which, he says, he does not now regret, even though he may have done so (7.8). It is not clear from where he wrote the letter, but evidently it had been sent via Titus, whose report on its effect Paul awaited anxiously (2.13). By that time he was in the Troad (τὴν Τρωάδα, not simply Troas), in north-west Asia minor (2.12). How he got there -via Macedonia, as planned, or from Ephesus – we do not know. He went there to preach the gospel, and a considerable opening beckoned him, but because he could find no relief of mind he 'took leave of the people there and went off to Macedonia' (2.13). This appears to be the departure, however spun out, that Acts refers to in 20.1, though of course Acts records no intermediate visit to Corinth. By that time it must have been autumn at least, and it has been convincingly suggested that Paul waited at Troas for as long as there was hope that Titus might still arrive there by boat from Corinth.
When winter put an end to shipping across the Aegean it was clear that he would be coming by land. So Paul set out to meet him. Yet, he says,
Even when we reached Macedonia there was still no relief for this poor body of ours: instead, there was trouble at every turn, quarrels all round us, forebodings in our heart (7.5).
Eventually, however, Titus did arrive, and with joyful news (7.6f.), which made Paul write off to Corinth again from Macedonia (9.2). He sent Titus back (8.6, 17), presumably with the letter and certainly with two other 'brothers' (8.18-24), to complete the collection which earlier he had initiated (8.6) and which Paul had told the Macedonians was ready (as it should have been) 'last year' (8.10; 9.2). Clearly by now we are in the year following the instructions which Paul had given concerning this in I Cor.16.1-3 - and there seems little point in seeking to argue (with Barrett) that, since the new year (in all probability on Paul's calendar) began in the autumn, II Corinthians could have been written in the October of what to us is the same year (55). Rather, Paul appears to be writing in the first part of 56. And he promises to come again himself when time has been given for the collection to be prepared (9.4f.).
It remains to ask whether he fulfilled this promise at once or after yet further delay. This depends on the relation we believe II Cor.10-13 to bear to II Cor.1-9. Many have felt that its tone is so different that the two sections cannot form continuous parts of the same letter. It has often indeed been suggested with much plausibility that chs.10-13 are a part of the severe or sorrowful letter which Paul sent earlier. Yet in 12.14 and 13.1 he says in no uncertain terms that he is intending to visit the Corinthians, whereas the earlier letter had explained why he was not coming (2.3). Moreover, it looks as if the reference in 12.17, 'I begged Titus to visit you and I sent our brother with him', must be to the same mission mentioned in 8.17-24. The only question is whether in each case the aorist is an epistolatory aorist (meaning 'I am sending') or whether (as the neb takes it) in the second passage Paul is now looking back, in a separate and subsequent letter, on this previous mission. In this case we have to assume, with Barrett, that there was further trouble and that Paul writes yet again, threatening this time to come and deal with the situation unsparingly (13.2, 10). There is no need for us here to decide this question. But if we do posit an interval between the two sections of II Corinthians, then the second part must come from yet later in 56. It becomes the more incredible that everything can be fitted into the previous year, if Paul is to have three months in Achaia before leaving for Jerusalem in March. It appears far more likely that most of 56 was spent in Macedonia and 'those parts' (Acts 20.1) and that this was also the occasion when, as he reports in Romans, Paul 'completed the preaching of the gospel ... as far round as Illyricum' (Rom.15.19). For 'now', he says, he has no further scope in these parts (Rom.15.23) and can thus press on beyond, as previously he had hoped to do (II Cor.10.15f.). But first he must go to Corinth to 'finish the business' of the collection before delivering it under his own seal to Jerusalem (Rom.15.28). Even then he was prevented by a plot of his Jewish opponents from sailing direct (Acts 20.3), but accompanied by the delegates of the congregations (Acts 20.4; cf. II Cor.8.18-24) he set off once more through Macedonia.
It looks therefore as if we should allow a further year for Paul's final preparations than the bare summary of Acts 20.2 would suggest.He writes to the Romans in 15.22 that he has been 'prevented all this time' from coming to them, and certainly he would appear to have run up against frustrating delays and changes of plan of which Acts gives no hint. Only when the Acts narrative once again supplies a detailed timetable, as it does from 20.6 to the end, may we safely assume that there are no substantial gaps.
then we may conclude that Paul probably arrived in Jerusalem for the last time
at the end of May 57,
the next period of his career is fairly certain.
came rapidly to a head.
Within twelve days (Acts 24.11), or a little longer,
Indeed 'even (καὶ) the Fast' (i.e. the Day of Atonement) had passed - or the Fast 'as well' as the equinox (September 23 or 24), which was reckoned to be the last safe day for shipping.
It has convincingly been argued that this may also afford some confirmation of the year. For there would have been no point in this further time-reference if the Day of Atonement was not late that year or at any rate later than the equinox. Of the years in question only 59 really fits, when it fell on October 5.
Moreover unless they did not leave Crete till well into October, taking something over a fortnight (27.13-28.1) to reach Malta in November, a three months' stay in Malta (?November, December, January) would not have been sufficient to see the winter out. Even so it is difficult to stretch it to March 10, when Vegetius says the seas opened rei milit. 4. 39.], though Pliny allows that sailing could start from February 8.
In any case 'after three months' (28.11) must be taken to mean what it means for us and not 'after two months' - and this may provide a key to Luke's usage in similar statements of interval when we are in no position to check him (e.g. 24.1; 25.1; 28.13, 17). A further two to three weeks were to see them in Rome. There, from the spring of 60 to the spring of 62, Paul spent two full years (28.30) under open arrest. Beyond that we cannot go with any certainty, though we shall return to the discussion later. top
|35||First visit to Jerusalem|
|46||Second (famine-relief) visit to Jerusalem|
|47-8||First missionary journey|
|48||Council of Jerusalem|
|49-51||Second missionary journey|
|52-7||Third missionary journey|
|57||Arrival in Jerusalem|
|57-9||Imprisonment in Caesarea|
|60-2||Imprisonment in Rome.|
this framework let us now try to fit his letters.
According to I Thess.3.6 Paul is writing just after Timothy arrived from
Thessalonica, whither Paul had sent him when he was in Athens (3.1f.).
According to Acts 18.5 Timothy and Silas rejoined Paul in Corinth.
presumption therefore is that the letter was written by Paul, with the other
two (1.1), from Corinth towards the beginning of the eighteen-month period that
ended in the summer of 51 (Acts 18.11).
Acts however elides two journeys of
He and Silas had been left behind in Beroea with instructions to join
Paul with all speed at Athens, where he waited for them (17.15f.).
they (or Timothy at least) did do this, but were then sent back to
By the time they returned Paul had moved on to Corinth and set up
Once again Acts appears to summarize more complex travels, but the
overall situation is not in doubt.
Precisely how long an interval is required
after Paul's original visit to Thessalonica in the summer of 49 is disputed;
To go into the challenges that have
been made to the authenticity and integrity of this epistle and to its order in
relation to I Thessalonians would take us far afield.
The arguments are set out
in all the commentaries.
Suffice it here to say again that, after full
examination of all the theories, both Kummel
There is no sound reason for not accepting the usual dating. come down decisively in favour of the traditional view that Paul wrote II Thessalonians, with Silas and Timothy (1.1), from Corinth within a short time of I Thessalonians, either late in 50 or early in 51. The hypothesis of pseudonymity, despite the authentication of the personal signature in 3.17, would require a date at the end of the first century. Yet, as Kummel says, 2.4 ('he ... even takes his seat in the temple of God') 'was obviously written while the temple was still standing'. top
We have already argued that this was written from Ephesus about Passover-time
(March-April) when Paul had been nearly three years in Ephesus and was
beginning to make plans to move on.
There is wide agreement that this must, as
we have reckoned, have been in 55.
It is surprising therefore that Barrett makes it 54 or even 53. The reason becomes clear when we realize that he is one of those who is convinced that everything must be adjusted to allow Paul to appear before Festus in 55. (He cannot of course have arrived in Jerusalem by 53, so the 'two years' of Acts 24.27 have, as we have seen, on this view to be referred to Felix.) Barrett agrees that Paul came to Ephesus in the late summer of 52, but he has to make him leave again by the early summer of 54. He argues that the 'three years' of Acts 20.31 is not inconsistent with the two years and three months of 19.8 and 10. But it is difficult to see how it can be consistent with less than two years - quite apart from the fact that the two dated spells in Acts do not claim to cover all Paul's time at Ephesus (cf. 19.22). It seems much easier to take the space of 'three years, night and day' to mean what it says and put I Corinthians in the spring of 55. Barrett has subsequently to compress all the further journeys and letters of Titus and Paul to Corinth and the work in the Troad and Macedonia (let alone Illyricum) into the remaining months of the same year - and this despite the fact that he believes that II Cor.10-13 reflects yet further trouble and a fifth letter in all. It is more natural to reckon that his dealings with the church there dragged on well into 56 and the early part of 57.
The first part of this epistle at any
rate (i.e. chs.1-9) is written from Macedonia,
in all probability in the early
part of 56.
If chs.10-13 belong to a subsequent letter,
then they must come
that same year,
shortly before Paul descends upon Corinth for the last time to
winter there (13.1-10).
In any case we can safely place the whole of II
Corinthians in 56.
Paul is writing shortly before setting off for Jerusalem (15.25),
while staying with Gaius in Corinth (16.23; cf. I Cor. 1.14) and completing the
work on the collection (15.26-8).
It can confidently be dated during the three
months spent in Achaia (Acts 20.3), early in 57.
The only issue is whether the final ch.16 is part of the letter sent to Rome or, as many have argued, a covering letter for dispatching a version of it at the same time to Ephesus. As this does not affect the date, it is not directly our concern. But since the destination of the chapter determines the use of its material elsewhere, I simply register my conviction, with that of most recent commentators, that, despite the evidence of textual dislocation, it belongs to Rome with the rest of the Epistle.
Galatians presents much more uncertainty.
The view that we have taken that
the visit to Jerusalem in Gal.2 corresponds to the council visit of 48 means
that it cannot be written before that date.
There would in any case be no
initial reason to think that it was, since the closest contacts of the epistle
are with II Corinthians and still more with Romans.
It is however difficult to
be more precise.
We do not even know for certain the location of the
recipients, whether in the Roman province of Galatia, which included the
churches in Pisidia and Lycaonia founded on Paul's first missionary journey
(Acts 13-14) and revisited on the second (16.1-5), or the territory of Galatia
further north (which could be referred to in 16.6 and 18.23.)
The weight of scholarly opinion appears to favour the former, with which on balance I would side, though Kummel
and J. A. Fitzmyer
still argue for the latter view, championed by Lightfoot.
Fortunately we do not have to decide this issue for the purposes of dating, since both options remain open unless we wish to put Galatians before the council of Jerusalem and therefore before the second missionary journey. If in Gal. 4.13, as is probably the contrast intended in II Cor.1.15, τὸ πρότερον means 'on the first of my two visits' (rather than simply 'formerly' or 'originally', as it certainly could mean), then the epistle must be written at least after the visit of Acts 16.6 (in 49), if not after that of 18.23 (in 52).
The reference in Gal. 1.6 to the Galatians having turned 'so quickly' (ταχέυς) from the true gospel is sometimes taken as an argument in favour of an earlier rather than a later date. But such an expression, even if it has a temporal sense and does not mean 'hastily' or 'suddenly' (cf. II Peter 2.1), is highly relative.
undoubted affinities with II Corinthians and Romans,
though certainly not decisive for dating, have inclined the majority of scholars who do not wish for other reasons to put Galatians back in 48 to place it either during Paul's time in Ephesus (52-5) or between II Corinthians and Romans, perhaps on his travels in northern Greece, in 56.
The greeting in 1.2, 'I and the group of friends now with me', perhaps suggests that Paul is not writing from an established Christian congregation like Ephesus or Corinth, and there are no personal messages at the end (contrast I Cor. 16.191. and Rom.16). It is more like what we find in II Corinthians (written in Macedonia), where he simply sends greetings from 'all God's people' (13.13). Again, though he longs to be with the Galatians (Gal. 4.20), he appears to be in no position even to propose a visit - and this would, on balance, count against a place so accessible as Ephesus. A further possible pointer may be found in I Cor.16.1: 'About the collection in aid of God's people: you should follow my directions to our congregations in Galatia.' Clearly our epistle to the Galatians contains no such directions and it must either have been written before the project (i.e., well prior to I Corinthians) or later on. In favour of the latter there is one of the parallels between Galatians and II Corinthians. In II Cor. 9.6 Paul says, in relation to the collection,
Remember, sparse sowing, sparse reaping; sow bountifully, and you will reap bountifully.
In Gal. 6.7-10 he writes:
Make no mistake about this: God is not to be fooled; a man reaps what he sows. ... So let us never tire of doing good, for if we do not slacken our efforts we shall in due time reap our harvest. Therefore, as opportunity offers, let us work for the good of all, especially members of the household of the faith.
It is possible (though no more than possible) that Paul is here reproving the Galatians for their lack of liberality in the same cause.
would conclude therefore, with Lightfoot and others, that
Galatians most probably comes from the period between II Corinthians and
Romans, which we have already argued covers most of 56.
This brings us to the so-called captivity epistles, and we may start with Philippians, which, it is generally agreed, stands apart from the other three, Colossians, Philemon and (assuming its authenticity) Ephesians. The dating of all these is almost entirely dependent on the judgment made about their place of writing. Three locations have been canvassed, Ephesus (52-5), Caesarea (57-9) and Rome (60-2), and none has finally prevailed over the others. Rome has been the traditional one for all four, but many scholars have wished to discriminate and allocate different letters to different places. It will be well to say at the beginning of the discussion that complete certainty cannot be established on the evidence available and that it is a matter of assessing probabilities. Whatever conclusions we finally reach, other alternatives cannot be ruled out.
regard, then, to Philippians, we may note that of all the captivity epistles
this is the one for which the hypothesis of an Ephesian
origin has won greatest support.
Indeed it can at first sight be fitted neatly into the Acts narrative at this point. In Phil. 2.19-24 Paul says that he hopes to send Timothy soon, confident that he himself will come before long. In Acts 19.22 he sends Timothy and Erastus ahead of him to Macedonia, of which Philippi was 'a city of the first rank' (Acts 16.12), while he stays on for a time in Asia. Referring apparently to the same situation, Paul speaks in I Cor.16.5-11 of Timothy having gone before him to Corinth. And he will wait in Ephesus for his return, just as in Phil.2.19 he hopes that Timothy will bring him news of the church at Philippi.
On the other hand, there is not the slightest hint in Acts or I Corinthians that Paul is or has been in prison. On the contrary, he is a free agent planning his future travels (Acts 19.21; I Cor.16.6-8) and fully stretched by his evangelistic opportunities (I Cor.16.9). He sends greetings from the churches of Asia and from Aquila and Prisca and the congregation at their house (I Cor.16.19). The cri de coeur of Phil.2.20, that, apart from Timothy,
there is no one else here who sees things as I do and takes a genuine interest in your concerns; they are all bent on their own ends, not on the cause of Christ Jesus,
fits neither Acts 19.22, 'he sent two of his assistants, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia', nor I Cor.16.11f., 'I am waiting for him with our friends' (who include Apollos).
Of course, it is always possible to say that the imprisonment of Paul and the sending of Timothy occurred independently, before or after the events of which we have record. But this merely exposes the main weakness of the hypothesis of an Ephesian captivity, that it rests on no direct evidence whatsoever - merely unspecified references to φυλακαί in II Cor.6.5; 11.23 and Rom.16.7 (cf. I Clem.5.6, which mentions seven imprisonments of Paul). No description of Paul's many troubles and dangers in Ephesus or Asia (Acts 19.23-20.1; I Cor.15.32; 16.9; II Cor.1.8f.; and [perhaps] Rom.16.3f.) includes imprisonment. Moreover, the imprisonment referred to in Phiiippians must have been an extended one (1.13f.) (and based on a capital charge, 2.17) - having lasted long enough even by the time of writing for the Christians in Philippi to have heard about it and sent Epaphroditus with relief, and then for Epaphroditus to have recovered from a near fatal illness, of which they had also had time to get news (2.25-30).
Another difficulty is that in Phiiippians there is no reference whatever to the collection for the poor, in which Macedonia was so prominent (II Cor.8.1-5; 9.1-4; Rom.15.26f.). On the contrary, stress is laid upon the Phiiippians' collection for Paul's personal needs (Phil. 2.25, 30; 4.10-19), which he is especially sensitive to dissociate from the other collection (II Cor.8.i6-24; 12.13-18; Acts 20.33-35). It looks then as if Phiiippians must come from a period well before or well after the project that occupied so much of Paul's time and thought in the two years (at least) prior to 57. And if it came before it must be well prior to the spring of 55, when the Corinthians are already assumed to know about the collection (I Cor.16.1-4). This scarcely fits the impression which we get from Phiiippians that Paul's relations with that church have by then extended over many years (1.5; 4.10f., 15f.). Nor does it comport with his expressed desire for death (1.20-26), which is very different from what he is looking forward to even in Romans. It seems altogether easier to place it later.
The only advantages indeed of an Ephesian locale for Phiiippians would seem to be: (a) the affinity of language with the other epistles in the central section of Paul's ministry. But the parallels are spread amongst all the Pauline epistles;and, as with Galatians, this is a fairly uncertain criterion. (b) The shorter distance required for the journeys described to and from Philippi (Phil. 2.19-30). But it is generally conceded that this latter cannot be decisive. For the rest, the references to the praetorium in 1.13 and the servants of the imperial establishment ('Caesar's household') in 4.22, though not impossible in Ephesus, point more obviously to Rome or Caesarea.
Certainly these latter two references would seem to favour Rome, though again it is agreed even by the advocates of this hypothesis that they cannot be decisive. Indeed, if it is in Rome, then the phrase ἐν ὃλω τῶ πραιτωρίω must be taken, with Lightfoot, to refer to the members of the Praetorian guard, whom Paul it is supposed influenced by rota, and not a building - since according to Acts 28.30 he is in his own hired lodging. This is not however how it is used anywhere else in the New Testament (Matt.27.27; Mark 15.16; John 18.28, 33; 19.9; Acts 23.35). An alternative is to say that it refers to a later stage in Paul's Roman captivity when he has been moved into the praetorium to stand trial - though Lightfoot insisted that 'in Rome itself a "praetorium" would not have been tolerated'. But then we lose all contact with the evidence and can invent any circumstance that suits us (as at Ephesus).
on the other hand, Paul is specifically said to be in the praetorium of Herod's palace, the headquarters of the procurator of Judaea (Acts 23.55). Moreover, the sense of Phil. 1.16f. is correctly rendered in the neb by 'as I lie in prison'. He is in jail. And yet, according to Acts 24.23, Felix 'gave orders to the centurion to keep Paul under open arrest ἂωεσις (cf. Josephus, Ant. 18.235) 'apparently means leave to communicate with friends and receive food' (Lake and Cadbury, Beginnings IV, 304).] and not to prevent any of his friends from making themselves useful to him' - a statement which fully fits the description of his conditions in Phil. 2.25-30; 4.10-19. Furthermore a hearing has already taken place (1.7), which suits the situation at Caesarea following the appearance before Felix; but by the time Acts ends there has been no hearing in Rome. It has been objected that at Caesarea Paul was not facing the possibility of death, since he could always appeal to Caesar. Yet it is constantly made clear that his life is in danger from the Jews (Acts 21.31, 36; 22.22; 23.30; 25.3, 24; 26.21), a fate from which he is protected only by Roman custody. If he had really brought a Greek into the temple, then, even as a Roman citizen, he would under Jewish law have been liable to death. In fact he says to Festus, 'If I am guilty of any capital crime, I do not ask to escape the death penalty' (25.11). Yet he knows, like the authorities, that he is innocent of this (23.29; 25.10, 25; 26.31; 28.18) and therefore has every ground for expecting discharge (26.32) - which, it is suggested, he could have bought at any time (24.26). His appeal to the emperor is only a last desperate recourse when it looks as if Festus is going to hand him back as a sop to the Jews (25.11). At the time of writing to the Philippians his confidence was that he would be alive and free to visit them once more (Phil. 1.24-26; 2.24) on his projected journey back west (Rom. 1.13; 15.23-29; Acts 19.21; 23.11). That he had any plans for returning east from Rome is entirely hypothetical - though of course we can never prove that he did not change his mind. The only evidence is for journeys further west still, whether planned or accomplished.
support for Caesarea as the place of writing is the bitter polemic in Phil.
3.1-11 against the Jews, who are much more fiercely attacked even than
fellow-Christians who betray the gospel (1.15-18; 3.18f.).
This fits the fanatical and unrelenting Jewish opposition Paul encountered in Jerusalem and Caesarea (Acts 21.37-26.32; cf. 28.19). There may have been such bitterness later in Rome, but the only evidence we have is of Jews who are conspicuously fair to Paul, even if sceptical and obtuse (28.21-28).
would agree therefore with Kummel
He urges, rightly, that on grounds of personalia it does not belong with the rest. Yet I believe the best hypothesis may turn out to be that all these epistles come from the same place but at different times. But before deciding on a date for Philippians, we should turn to the other letters.
At once we are up against the problem of authenticity, not for the last time. There is virtually no one now who denies the genuineness of Philemon.There are those, especially in Germany, who question Colossians on stylistic and theological grounds. But the close and complex interrelationship of names with Philemon points strongly to the fact that the two epistles were dictated by the same man at the same time and sent to Colossae by Tychicus, in company with Onesimus (Col. 4.7-9; Philem.12). Reicke summarizes the connections thus:
Greetings were conveyed from and to nearly the same persons in both letters, but their names were by no means given in the same order so that any hypothesis of dependence cannot be plausible (Philem.1f., 23f.; Col.1.7; 4.7-19). In particular, the fact that Epaphras of Colossae appears in both writings, though in different contexts (Philem.23; Col.1.7; 4.9), is a remarkable evidence of a common background. ... This complex of relations cannot be understood as the result of artificial imitation.
After a careful weighing of the pros and cons Kummel ends by saying 'all the evidence points to the conclusion that Colossians ... is to be regarded as Pauline',and I would agree.
presents a difficult problem to handle here.
To argue in any detail the
question of Pauline authorship would take us far from our primary purpose,
which is to establish a chronology.
If it is not Pauline, then there are two
alternatives: either it is by an amanuensis or agent writing on the apostle's
behalf at the same date; or it is strictly pseudonymous, claiming to be Pauline
but coming (probably) from towards the end of the first century.
alternative has commanded little support
(though it has recently been argued by Gunther, who believes that the author was Timothy)
and it does not affect the date anyway. It is really a straight issue between attributing it to Paul and to a second-generation Paulinist imitating and expounding his theology.
The pros and cons are summarily set out by Sanders and Nineham and assessed by Guthrie (who comes down in favour of Paul), Kummel (who comes down against), and H. Chadwick (who regards the issue as evenly balanced).
of going over the whole evidence afresh, I can only express my own considered
In contrast with most of the other judgments in this book, which
have been modified, often radically, in the
process of writing it, I have never really doubted the Pauline authorship of
It has always struck me as noteworthy that in what has remained a classic English commentary on Ephesians,
Armitage Robinson, who was in close touch with Harnack and contemporary German scholarship and certainly not conservative for his day (and whose very late dating of the Didache I shall subsequently disagree with completely), never even raised the question of authorship. Features of style and theology which have struck others as impossible for Paul apparently to him, with as extensive a knowledge of the early Christian literature as any Englishman since Lightfoot, seemed entirely at home. In a nicely balanced article Cadbury asks the question:
Which is more likely, that an imitator of Paul in the first century composed a writing ninety or ninety-five per cent in accordance with Paul's style or that Paul himself wrote a letter diverging five or ten per cent from his usual style?
there is the question of what sort of imitator.
If he were a scissors-and-paste
copyist and conflator, it would be relatively simple.
Yet everyone agrees that
his relationship to the genuine Paul is more subtle than that.
He is so near
(especially to Colossians) and yet apparently so far.
The only thing he does
reproduce virtually verbatim from Colossians is the note in 6.21f. (=
Col.4.7f.) about the sending of Tychicus to convey Paul's news.
Why this, and
no other personalia, should have been inserted to add verisimilitude is
Moreover, as Dodd says, 'Does one find such faithful dependence
and such daring originality in one and the same person?'
For he is a spiritual and theological giant, and these men do not appear and disappear without leaving any other trace, especially in that singularly flat sub-apostolic age from which the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas are typical samples. Even if, with the majority of scholars, we regard the Pastoral Epistles and II Peter as pseudonymous, we are not in these cases dealing with original and creative productions. The only comparable unknown author is the writer to the Hebrews. But he is not imitating anyone, and in any case, I believe, belongs firmly within the apostolic age.
Here as so often the case is cumulative and to some extent circular. If on other grounds half the literature of the New Testament is to be located in the last quarter of the first century, then the epistle to the Ephesians will seem to stand in good company. If on the other hand it is isolated there, it will look very exposed.
I propose therefore to proceed as though Ephesians comes from Paul, and to see how it fits in if it does. There is not in fact much that turns on it for chronology, since its dating (if genuine) is derivative from Colossians and Philemon rather than vice versa. If, therefore, anyone prefers to regard it as an exception and set it outside the series altogether, the consequences for the rest are not decisive.
If then all three epistles are by Paul, there can be no doubt that they were written closely together and sent by Tychicus on the same journey, with Ephesians being composed in all probability shortly after Philemon and Colossians, almost certainly as a general homily to the Asian churches. This is strongly supported by the absence of 'in Ephesus' from the best manuscripts of Eph.1.1 and the lack of local details or personal messages. Where, and therefore when, may we say that they were written?
Again the same three options are open. Only, of course, if Ephesians was not sent to Ephesus (and the inclusion of that church in the general circulation is difficult to deny) is Ephesus itself a credible source of origin. Indeed all the previous objections and more arise to this hypothesis. Mark and Luke are with Paul (Col.4.10, 15; Philem.24). Yet according to Acts (15.37-39) Mark had not accompanied Paul to Ephesus, and the absence of any 'we' passage for the Ephesus period, let alone any account of an imprisonment, tells strongly against Luke's presence there (assuming for the moment the Lukan authorship of Acts). Indeed the only real argument for Ephesus is again its geographical proximity,which considerably eases Paul's request to Philemon to have a room ready for him should he be released (Philem.22) and, according to some, the arrival there of the runaway slave Onesimus. But that Onesimus would have been most likely to flee to Ephesus, a mere hundred miles away, to escape detection seems to others less credible. As Dodd says,
If we are to surmise, then it is as likely that the fugitive slave, his pockets lined at his master's expense, made for Rome because it was distant, as that he went to Ephesus because it was near.
We cannot tell. Moreover, though arguments from theological development are notoriously dangerous, there are strong grounds for thinking that the elaboration of the doctrine of the church as the body of Christ, with Christ as its head, found in Colossians and Ephesians follows rather than precedes its much more tentative formulation in I Corinthians and Romans (written on or after Paul's departure from Ephesus). It has not seemed to anyone to come earlier: the only question is whether it is so much later as to require an author other than Paul.
We are back then with Caesarea or Rome. The latter has been the traditional location, and the only argument has been whether these epistles precede or follow the somewhat different situation pre-supposed by Philippians. There is nothing finally against Rome, and from the 'we' passages Luke can certainly be presumed to have been there. But the lack of obstacles again is largely due to the fact that we know so little about Paul's prospects there that we can create what conditions we like - for instance, that he is expecting release and plans to travel east (though the idea of asking from Rome for a guest-room to be prepared in Colossae has always stretched credibility).
case for Caesarea has recently been stated again by Reicke with much
Meanwhile Epaphras has joined Paul from Colossae (Col.1.7; 4.12) and has apparently also been arrested (Philem.23). Reicke argues that there is no reason why he should have been arrested in the mild conditions of the Roman detention but that in Caesarea he could well have shared the danger to the other Hellenistic companions of Paul, who once more laments how little support or comfort he has had from the Jewish Christians (Col.4.11).
The fact that Tychicus rather than Epaphras is taking the letters and news (Col.4.7; Eph.6.21) may reflect the fact that the latter was not free to leave. Yet it would be natural by then for Tychicus to go back, since he came from those parts (Acts 20.4).
Onesimus would also return with him (Col. 4.9), far less of an undertaking in either direction than the journey from Rome. Paul, too, as we have seen, could reasonably have been expecting release from Caesarea and would naturally hope to revisit Colossae, as well as Philippi, on his way west.
also makes the interesting suggestion that the political
situation at that time in Jerusalem and Caesarea throws light on the language
of Ephesians. (τὸ
ἱερόν) of the temple.
On the wall which marked it off from the
court of the Gentiles were inscriptions, fragments of which survive to this
day, giving warning of the death-penalty for any foreigner transgressing this
Reicke draws attention to the particularly virulent animosity at this time between Jews and Gentiles in Caesarea, leading later to an appeal to the emperor, with each party denying the other the right of citizenship (ἰσοπολιτεία); and he observes how closely these themes are reflected in the language of Ephesians:
Paul speaks of (a) the ethnic dividing wall (Eph.2.14b), which has been removed in Christ, and the new temple (2.20); (b) the animosity between Jews and Gentiles (2.14c; 16b; cf. Col.1.21), which has been changed into peace through Christ (2.15b, 17); (c) the divine citizenship (2.19), which in Christ belongs also to the Gentiles (3.6), as well as the fact that every nationality (πατριά) on earth has its origin in God the Father (3.15;cf. Col.3.11).
one of course is to say that such language could not have been written in Rome,
but in the Caesarean context its appropriateness is striking.
As Reicke says,
'If the epistle is a forgery, then the author had unusually accurate
information to hand.'
It is also a strong argument, as with the epistle to the
Hebrews, against a date after 70.
For by then the situation had been
obliterated by events, and Paul's spiritual point could scarcely have been made
without reflecting the fact that the infamous dividing wall had quite literally
been 'broken down'.
his second article, 'The Historical Setting of Colossians', Reicke has extended
his argument by drawing attention to the links of personalia not only between
Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians but with II Timothy, venturing the
conclusion that this also was written (whether by Paul or on his behalf) about
the same time from Caesarea.
I confess that when I first read this I thought it incredible. For, unlike Ephesians, I had never believed the Pastoral Epistles to be Pauline, nor contemplated that if they did fall within his lifetime (as I was prepared to accept) they could be fitted into any other period but a presumed further stage of missionary activity after the close of the Acts story. Until halfway through the writing of this book I had planned to deal with them in a separate and subsequent chapter. I am persuaded however that here as elsewhere one must be prepared to suspend previous assumptions and be open to the evidence wherever it may point.
The issue of authorship is relevant for our purposes only in relation to chronology; and with regard to dating two questions may be isolated:
Is there anything that requires, or makes probable, a date for the Pastoral
Epistles outside the lifetime of the Apostle, whether or not genuine fragments
from an earlier period are incorporated in them?
(b) If there is not, how may they be fitted into his career, whether he composed them personally or not?
(a) For the former it would have to be established that the vocabulary, the church organization and the theology presupposed by the epistles could not come from the 50s or 60s of the first century but only from the end of the first century or the beginning of the second - if not later. Without going into the detail needed to determine this, I can only say that I do not regard the case as proven. There is nothing decisive to require us to say that the distinctive vocabulary of the Pastorals could only have come from the second century. On the contrary, it has been shown that nearly all the words in question are to be found in Greek literature by the middle of the first century and that half of them occur in the Septuagint, with which Paul was well acquainted.
regard to the organization of the church, the Pastorals do not presuppose
monarchical episcopacy (on the second-century Ignatian model), but rather the
equivalence of bishop and presbyter (cf. I Tim.3.if.; 5.17; Titus 1.5-7), and
they demand nothing more elaborate than the local ministry of 'bishops and
deacons' of Phil.1.1
Timothy and Titus themselves are travelling delegates of Paul, not residential archbishops with fixed territorial assignments. While therefore concern for orderly ministry and appointments in the church could argue a later date, there is nothing that requires a second-century setting - or indeed anything subsequent to the pastoral solicitude already shown by Paul, according to Luke, in his speech to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20.28-31). Parry concludes an extensive examination with the words:
There is no substantial reason in the character of the organisation implied in the Pastoral Epistles for assigning them to a date later than the lifetime of S. Paul.
regard to doctrine too, the type of gnosticizing Judaism attacked in the
Pastorals betrays no more elaboration than that refuted in Colossians (if
anything less) and certainly bears no comparison with the fully-blown gnostic
systems of the second century, which we now know so much better at first hand.
who believes that the way in which this false teaching is countered is uncharacteristic of Paul, is nevertheless emphatic that there is
not the slightest occasion, just because the false teachers who are being opposed are Gnostics, to link them up with the great Gnostic systems of the second century. ... The Jewish-Christian-Gnostic false teaching which is being combated in the Pastorals is ... thoroughly comprehensible in the life span of Paul.
preoccupation with purity of doctrine,
the quotation of hymns and teaching
and the stress on 'the faith' rather than 'faith',
more marked in these epistles,
represent but shifts in emphases already present
in other parts of Paul and the New Testament.
None of them rules out a first-century date; and unless a date well after the death not only of Paul but of Timothy and Titus is presupposed it is hard to imagine a situation in which the fiction would either have deceived or have been taken for granted. We may contrast the situation presupposed by II Thessalonians, where Paul warns of the effect of 'some letter purporting to come from us' (2.2) and is most insistent to add the authentication of his personal signature: 'In my own hand, signed in my name, PAUL;
this authenticates all my letters; this is how I write' (3.17; cf. I Cor.16.21;Gal.6.11;Col.4.18).
inherent difficulties of the alternative theories, whether of total fabrication
- with purely fictional messages, like 'I am hoping to come to you
before long' (I Tim. 3.14) - or the incorporation of genuine (but highly-fragmented)
fragments, do not directly concern us.
All one can say is that the case which makes a second-century composition necessary or even probable has very far from established itself. Indeed Reicke has pointedly argued that the call for 'petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings' for 'sovereigns and all in high office, that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in full observance of religion and high standards of morality' (I Tim.2.1f.; cf. Titus 3.1) betokens an attitude towards authority and its beneficent effects which would be inconceivable after the Neronian persecution (we may contrast the Apocalypse). Among the recent commentators it is interesting that J. N. D. Kelly, the patristic scholar, should judge that the Pastorals could not come from the second century, while, writing in the same year, Barrett, the Pauline scholar, should judge that they could not come from Paul.
Perhaps both may be right. At any rate there would seem to be a detectable swing back, if not to apostolic authorship, at any rate to taking seriously the second set of questions relating to dating.
(b) The presupposition here is that Timothy and Titus are the same real
persons who meet us in the rest of the New Testament and that they are being
addressed by Paul in genuine pastoral situations, whether directly at his
dictation or through someone writing on his behalf or by a combination of the
It is not necessary for our present purpose to come to a decision on the
purely literary issue.
But, whether the style is Paul's own or not,
this is the
position taken by such scholars as Jeremias,
and by the majority of Roman Catholics. I believe it to be open to fewer difficulties than any theory that requires the letters to be pseudonymous, whether in whole or part. Whether Paul penned them himself must remain questionable. There are very real differences from his usual style and theology (though also many more similarities); but I am not persuaded that there is anything he could not have written. provided we treat it as law.' But this is surely his position elsewhere. If we treat the law as a means of salvation, it is worse than useless; but as a dyke against the lawless and sinful (I Tim.i,9f.) it is admirable (cf. Rom. 7.12, 14; 13.1-6). Zahn, INT II, 121, ironically quotes I Tim.1.9 in support of Pauline authorship and comments, 'Nowhere in these Epistles do we find sentences that sound so "un-Pauline" as I Cor.7.19'!]
Yet the Pastorals were after all composed for a very distinctive purpose. Paul would not be the last church leader whose style (and indeed subject-matter) in an ad clerum differed markedly from his already highly diverse and adaptable manner of speaking and writing for wider audiences. He himself claims to 'have become everything in turn to men of every sort' (I Cor.9.22). But the issue of authorship for its own sake may here be left on one side. Our concern is with the occasions and circumstances which the letters might fit if they do belong to his period.
The consensus among those who wish to place the Pastorals within Paul's lifetime is that they cannot be made to fit any part of his career covered by Acts. They are therefore located in the gap between his (inferred) release from custody in Rome in 62+ and his execution there some years later. This view was first propounded, as far as we know, by Eusebiusand is based by him on nothing else than deductions from II Timothy. But the complexity of Paul's itinerary and the divergence between the proposed schemes vividly illustrate how totally hypothetical this construction is.
Guthrie, NTI, 598f.: 'The Pastorals tell us that Paul again visited Asia (Troas, II Tim. 4.13, and Miletus, II Tim. 4.20) although it is not necessary to suppose that he visited Ephesus on the strength of I Tim. 1.3. But he urged Timothy to stay there when he was en route for Macedonia. At some time he paid a visit to Crete, where he left Titus, but his main activity appears to have been in Macedonia and Greece. From the Captivity Epistles we may surmise that he visited the Lycus valley, no doubt on the same occasion as he urged Timothy to remain at Ephesus, and that he paid his promised visit to Philippi... . He may have been rearrested in the western districts of Macedonia or Epirus (which is mentioned in Titus 3.12) and taken to Rome.'
Denzer, JBC, 351: 'He might have gone to Crete first. When he left Crete, Titus might have remained there as his legate (Titus i .5). From Crete, Paul might have gone to Asia Minor. When he left Ephesus for Macedonia, Timothy remained as his legate (I Tim. 1.3). Possibly, Paul passed through Troas on his way to Macedonia (II Tim.4.13), and there wrote I Timothy and Titus. Paul then perhaps spent the winter at Nicopolis in Epirus (Titus 3.12). The following spring he might have returned to Ephesus, according to his plan (I Tim.3.14; 4.13). It would seem that he was then arrested in the region of Ephesus (II Tim.1.4). In the course of Paul's voyage to Rome as a prisoner, the ship might have stopped at Miletus and Corinth (II Tim.4.20). During his imprisonment in Rome, Paul wrote II Timothy. In this letter, Paul is without hope of being released; he expects to be condemned and to suffer martyrdom in the near future (II Tim.4.6-8).']
there are no controls, we can make Paul do anything, go anywhere, and the sole
evidence for any of the journeys (let alone for their dating) is that surmised
from the documents themselves - on the odd assumption, judging from his previous
experience, that all Paul's hopes and plans were fulfilled.
It is interesting
that those who suppose that the fragments represent genuine travel-plans do not
think of placing them here, but, by dint of judicious selection and drastic
dissection, slot them into the Acts framework - though even so they do not agree
But this is testimony to the fact that some external control is felt to be necessary for any plausibility. Those who believe that the travel plans are all part of the fiction do not explain why the inventor of them should not have aimed at greater verisimilitude. One would have expected him to quarry the details from existing sources (as the author of Ephesians is supposed to have drawn on Colossians for the journey of Tychicus), or at any rate to have seen that they matched. The very difficulty of squaring them with any itinerary deducible from Acts or the other Pauline epistles is a strong argument for their authenticity.
attempt was indeed made some time ago by Vernon Bartlet to fit
them, with the rest of the captivity epistles, into the first imprisonment of
Paul in Rome between 60 and 62.
But quite apart from the hypothetical nature of any journeys back east from Rome, Bartlet's reconstruction is open to at least three weaknesses: (1) He does not attempt to explain why, if I Timothy and Titus were written from prison, they contain no references to Paul's 'bonds', like all the other prison epistles. (2) He is hard put to it to account for Paul's referring back after some five years to his instruction to Timothy to stay on in Ephesus (I Tim.1.3 = Acts 20.1) when so much else has happened to both of them in the interval. (3) He can do nothing with II Tim.4.20 ('Erastus stayed behind at Corinth, and I left Trophimus ill at Miletus'), which he has to explain, rather tamely, as a misplaced fragment of a much earlier, and entirely hypothetical, letter.
With the other alternatives so unsatisfactory, it is at least worth exploring one more, and I do so by taking up the suggestive hint dropped by Reicke in the second of the two articles to which I referred (n. 101 above).
draws attention to the names in common between Colossians and Philemon (which
he has already argued were written from Caesarea) and II Timothy.
Demas, Luke and Mark reappear in different contexts (Col.4.10, 14; Philem.24; II Tim.4.10f.). Moreover, in II Tim.4.12 the sending of Tychicus to Ephesus (Eph.6.21f.; cf. Col.4.7-9) is again mentioned, but this time in the past tense. Timothy, associated with the writing of Colossians and Philemon, but not of Ephesians, is by now away on Paul's behalf apparently somewhere near Troas in Mysia, north-west of Ephesus (II Tim.4.13). Mark, for a possible visit from whom Paul had previously prepared the Colossians (Col.4.10), is to be collected from the same parts (II Tim. 4.11). Reicke's suggestion is that it is Mark who is to take II Timothy, which, he argues, is an open pastoral letter for reading aloud in the various churches visited. The names and places mentioned in it reflect his itinerary:
A reference to the belief found in Timothy's mother and grandmother was inserted (II Tim. 1.5), for they lived in the city of Derbe (Acts 16.1), through which Mark had to pass on his way from Caesarea to Colossae (Col.4.10). For the same reason the Christians, to whom Mark would come in other cities of Lycaonia, were reminded of Paul's earlier troubles in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra (II Tim. 3.11). After the visit to Colossae (Col.4.10), Mark was expected to make the Christians of Ephesus familiar with the epistle of Timothy. He should especially let the house of Onesiphorus know about Paul's appreciation of this man (II Tim. 1.16-18; 4.19) and make sure that people in Asia realised the danger of the new heresy (1.15; 2.16-3.9).
After this it was planned that Mark should meet Timothy in Mysia (4.11) and go back with him via Troas (4,13). Paul needed their help since his only collaborator was presently Luke (4.11).
Reicke adds, 'It is questionable whether any member of the early church would have found it worthwhile to restore or construct such antiquities in a later situation.'
such a reconstruction is hypothetical (and I shall question
its detail), but at least it is not grounded on air.
And once we make it, other
connections open up.
Above all, 'my first defence' (τῆ πρώτη μου ἀπολοωία) in II Tim.4.16 will now refer not to some
entirely undocumented court appearance in Rome but, like the ἀπολοωία mentioned in Phil.1.7 and 16, to the hearings in Jerusalem and Caesarea,
which in Acts 22.1 Paul specifically introduces as μου
τῆς νυνὶ ἀπολοωίας and which Felix adjourns in 24.22.
As soon as this identification is made, other
correspondences are recognizable.
II Tim.4.17a, 'But the Lord stood by me and
lent me strength, so that I might be his instrument in making the full
proclamation of the Gospel
for the whole pagan world to hear,' reflects with considerable precision Acts 23.11, 'The following night the Lord appeared to him and said, "Keep up your courage: you have affirmed the truth about me in Jerusalem, and you must do the same in Rome"', while II Tim.4.17b, 'And thus I was rescued out of the lion's jaw', will refer to Paul's narrow escape from ambush the following day (Acts 23.12-35).
Even the phrase in II Tim.1.3, 'God, whom I, like my forefathers, worship with a pure conscience' echoes the speech Paul made before Felix in Acts 24.14 and 16: 'I worship the God of our fathers ... and keep at all times a clear conscience.' Either the correspondences arise from the facts, or the author of the Pastorals is using Acts. But in that case why did he not draw on Acts for the travel-notes - or at least not make them so hard to harmonize?
then we equate the captivity in II Timothy with that at Caesarea, Onesiphorus'
services on Paul's behalf (II Tim.1.16f.) will fall into line with those of Epaphroditus (Phil. 2.25-30) and of Onesimus (Philem.11-13), who were among the
friends permitted to 'make themselves
useful to him' (Acts 24.23).
But here we meet the first of two
objections to the whole reconstruction.
For apparently, according to II Tim.1.17, Paul was not in Caesarea but in Rome, where Onesiphorus 'took pains to
search me out when he came to Rome'.
So fatal to his theory of an Ephesian
imprisonment did Duncan find this verse that he was reduced to the desperate
expedient of emending the text to ἐν Πριήνη or ἐν Λαοδιλία.
But though it has regularly been taken to mean that Paul was in Rome when Onesiphorus came to see him, I am indebted to Reicke for an interpretation which I believe in the context makes better (though admittedly less obvious) sense.
Onesiphorus was evidently a man of some substance, whose household in Ephesus was the centre of notable church work (II Tim.1.16, 18; 4.19). In the last of these passages his name is linked with those of Prisca and Aquila, who, as we know, were in business (Acts 18.3) and are to be found at short intervals in a succession of places. Though hailing originally from Pontus, Aquila with his wife were, prior to 49, living in Rome (18.2). From 49 to 51 they were in Corinth (18.2-11), in 52 (18.26) and again in 55 (I Cor.16.19) in Ephesus, in 57 in Rome, where they had a house (Rom.16.3-5), and finally back once more in Ephesus (II Tim.4.19). It is not unreasonable to suppose that Onesiphorus was also an itinerant Jewish businessman, of the sort so vividly described by James, who say to themselves: 'Today or to-morrow we will go off to such and such a town and spend a year there trading and making money' (James 4.13). It was on some such business trip that we may guess that Onesiphorus found himself in Rome (μενόμενος ἐν Ῥώμη). As was his wont, for Paul said he had 'often' relieved his needs (II Tim.1.16), he looked out for Paul, expecting him to be there, since the apostle had made no secret of his intention to go on to Rome after visiting Jerusalem (Acts 19.21; Rom.1.15; 16.22-9). He failed to find him; but hearing he was in prison, he determined to search him out. He was 'not ashamed', says Paul, (though his business interests might have prompted otherwise?) to visit one who was 'shut up like a common criminal' (II Tim.1.16; 2.9). He made strenuous efforts to track him down (σπουδαίως ἐζήτησεν), and eventually found him. If Paul had been in a Roman jail, it is hard to believe that with his well-placed Christian contacts Onesiphorus would have had difficulty in being directed to him. Paul's extravagant gratitude (II Tim.1.16, 18) seems to demand something more, and this would indeed be explained if Onesiphorus had made it his business to go out of his way to Caesarea to visit him before returning to Ephesus. At any rate the reference to Onesiphorus being in Rome cannot of itself be allowed to settle the question of Paul's being there, if the evidence points in another direction. We must judge the location of the epistle on its own merits.
The second difficulty is occasioned by II Tim.4.20, 'I left Trophimus ill at Miletus'. For if this refers to Paul's brief stay at Miletus on the way to Jerusalem (Acts 20.15-38), Trophimus had not been left behind, for he was subsequently seen with Paul in the city (21.29). The easiest (perhaps too easy) solution would be to say that in a highly confused situation, of which there were garbled reports and rumours (21.27-40), Luke has simply mixed up the twin delegates from Asia (20.4) and confused Tychicus with Trophimus. It would be a pardonable error.
But Paul may not be referring to the journey up to Jerusalem. It is assumed both here and in Titus 1.5 that 'I left' (ἀπέλιπον) must imply that Paul himself was present. In Titus, as we shall see, there is no reason to suppose this to be implied. When speaking of his own personal possessions, as in II Tim.4.13 ('the cloak I left with Carpus at Troas'), this of course is so. But Paul is also speaking in these letters very much as the director of operations, with 'the responsibility', as he puts it in II Cor.11.28, 'that weighs on me every day, my anxious concern for all our congregations'. He is like a general reporting on the movements of his commanders in the field (cf. the metaphor of II Tim. 2.4: 'A soldier on active service ... must be wholly at his commanding officer's disposal') or the head of a missionary society giving news of his staff.
Demas has deserted and gone to Thessalonica: Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is here with me. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Erastus has stayed in Corinth.
Trophimus I have had to leave ill at Miletus.
Perhaps Trophimus was on his way back to
Ephesus with his fellow-delegate Tychicus:
we do not know. ἀπέλιπον in 4.19f. to mean 'they left' (for the history of this interpretation, cf. Zahn, WT II, 26) and refer it, with Johnson, ExpT68, 25, to Onesiphorus and his family, who after visiting Paul (1.17) were taking Trophimus back home with them to Ephesus, while Tychicus was sent independently on Paul's work. Yet there is no reason to think that Onesiphorus' family was with him at the time and the subject for the plural verb is both remote and difficult.]
Reicke suggests that Timothy is notified so that he may call in on him at Miletus, after Troas and Ephesus, on his way home (cf. the sequence in 4.13, 19, 20).
one thing of which we can be reasonably sure is that Paul is reporting on
not only for Timothy's benefit
(who would have known of the
first hearing of Paul's case from being at Jerusalem and Caesarea),
but for the leaders of the congregations, to whom the letter would be read out - for all the Pastoral Epistles end with greetings to the church as well as to the individual (I Tim.6.21; II Tim.4.22; Titus 3.15). This brings us back to our main question, the date of II Timothy, which, if our hypothesis is right, must be considered in close conjunction with that of the other letters from the Caesarean jail.
We may begin again with Philippians, which as we saw stands apart from the rest not only in style and content but in personalia. If it comes from the same place, it must be either before or after the rest. I had originally thought it came last, and indeed most scholars who see them written from the same imprisonment (Lightfoot was an exception ιans in Rome), which reads if anything does like a last will and testament.) have put it after Colossians and Ephesians, because it speaks of Paul looking forward to death. Yet it is not at all natural to put it after II Timothy (as Reicke has to, since he locates Philipp
especially after reading Johnson's article already
By the time Paul feels he must send him back (Phil.2.25-30), with the letter, we may judge that winter has passed and that we are in the spring of 58. Timothy is associated with the writing of it (1.1) and Paul hopes shortly to send him too, so soon as ever he can see how things are going with him (2.19, 23). Timothy is still with Paul when he writes Colossians and Philemon but not, apparently, Ephesians (even though the three letters are taken together by Tychicus). However he writes to Timothy to inform him of Tychicus' dispatch to Ephesus (II Tim. 4.12) and asks him to collect the cloak which he had left with Carpus at Troas, together with his books and note-books (4.13), and to bring them before winter (4.21). Paul had doubtless deliberately deposited them there as he set out on foot for Assos in the warmth of late spring (Acts 20.131.), fully expecting to pick them up on his way back after delivering the collection. Now he faces the prospect of a second winter without them in prison and is understandably pressing to have them in time. Reicke assumes that Timothy is in Mysia near Troas, but there is nothing actually to suggest this, nor anything to say that Mark should meet him there. It seems more natural to suppose that Paul writes to Timothy in Philippi (where he has sent him) and asks him to call in at Troas, and later at Miletus and Ephesus, on the route back to Caesarea that both of them had followed before (Acts 20.6-21.8). He is to pick up Mark, perhaps from Colossae, where Timothy, as joint-author of the letter to that church, would not need to be told he was due to be (Col.4.10). top
|Spring:||Philippians written and dispatched via Epaphroditus to Philippi.|
|Summer:||Philemon and Colossians written.|
|Timothy sent to Philippi.|
|Ephesians written and dispatched with the other two letters via Tychicus to Asia Minor.|
|Mark sent to Colossae.|
|Autumn:||II Timothy written and dispatched to Philippi.|
argues that Paul's appeal in Philem.9 as 'an ambassador of Christ
Jesus and now his prisoner' indicates that this betokens a new situation
and that Paul had therefore 'quite recently' been arrested.
For Onesimus has already had time to become Paul's spiritual child in prison (Philem.10f.) and indeed to begin, like Timothy, to 'be at his side in the service of the Gospel like a son working under his father' (Phil.2.22; cf. I Tim.1.2; II Tim.1.2). Moreover time must be allowed for Epaphras to have come from Colossae bringing news of the state of that church, to which, after some thought and prayer, Paul responds (Col.1.7-9). I believe that 58 is the earliest likely date. It is also probably the latest. For, like the rest of the news in II Timothy, the sending of Tychicus would appear to be quite recent. Anyhow by the following year Paul was already in late summer awaiting shipment to Rome: the request to have his cloak before winter would have been too late.
The only good reason for putting II Timothy later in Paul's career (unless we judge from 1.17 that it must come from Rome) is the sense it conveys that, as he sees it, the end is at hand - combined with our knowledge that it was not yet so. Yet already, according to Acts 20.24, he had said at Miletus in the spring of 57:
I set no store by life; I only want to finish the race and complete the task which the Lord Jesus has assigned to me, of bearing testimony to the Gospel of God's grace.
But things dragged on for him.
At first he had
every reason to assume that his case would last no longer than it took Lysias
to come down from
Jerusalem to Caesarea (Acts 24.22) and that he could expect early release.
Until then he had had, as far as we know, no experience of more extended
detention than being locked up on the order of local magistrates, which (if the
incident at Philippi in Acts 16.19-40 is any sample) would not have lasted more
than a night or so (16.35), even without the intervention of the earthquake.
The word describing these experiences, φυλακαί, custody (II Cor.6.5;
11.23), is never used in the captivity epistles, where it is always δέσμοι;
and the situation thus reflected is indeed different.
As the weeks and months
pass at the imperial headquarters, Paul's confidence ebbs.
though he cannot yet see the outcome, he is sure that he will live to be with
them again before long (1.25f; 2.24).
In Philemon he hopes, in answer to their
prayers, to be granted to them (22).
In Colossians and Ephesians he says merely
that Tychicus will tell them all the news, and prays that he may be given the
right words when the time comes (Col.4.7-9; Eph.6.19-22).
By the time of II
Timothy only the prospect of death appears to await him, hope of release
he is deserted, and men must come to him (1.12; 4.6-13).
was to explain later (Acts 28.19), he had 'no option' left -
except his last
appeal to the emperor.
To bear out the interconnections - and the mutual order - of Philippians and II Timothy, it is interesting to observe how he takes up the language of 'finishing the race' (τελειώσω τὸν δρόμον) which, according to Luke's report (Acts 20.24), had come into his speech at Miletus. (Earlier he had used the same metaphor but spoke of running rather than finishing: I Cor. 9.24-6; I Tim. 6.12.) We may set the phrases out in parallel columns:
|What I should like is to depart (ἀναλῦσαι) (1-23).||The hour for my departure (ἀναλύσεως) is upon me (4.6).|
|If my life-blood is to crown the sacrifice (εἰ καὶ σπένδομαι) (2.17).||Already my life-blood is being poured out on the altar (ἢδη σπένδομαι) (4.6).|
|I have not yet reached perfection (οὐκ ... ἢδη τετελείωμαι) but I press on (3-I2).||I have run the great race, I have finished the course (τὸν δρόμον τετέλεκα) (4-7).|
|I press toward the goal to win the prize (3.14).||Now the prize awaits me (4.8).|
It is hard to resist the conclusion that both epistles reflect the mind of the same man, at not too great an interval and in that sequence.
may put Philippians in the spring of 58,
Philemon, Colossians and (a little
later) Ephesians in the summer of 58,
and II Timothy in the autumn of
last heard of Titus in Corinth, whither he had been sent from Macedonia to
reorganize the collection (II Cor.8; 12.17f.).
By the time Paul writes Romans
early the next year, he is evidently no longer there - or he would certainly
have featured, like Timothy, in the greetings of Rom. 16.21-3.
finishing off the business of the collection himself (15.28).
It could well
have been at this stage that he had sent Titus to Crete, for which Cenchreae,
the port of Corinth (cf.16.1f.), was the natural point of embarkation.
sent, as Paul reminds him in Titus 1.5, to set right the shortcomings of the
(τὰ λείποντα : not what remained to be done
after some hypothetical visit of Paul's)
and to appoint local presbyters. Paul explains that he had deliberately left him behind, instead of taking him with the rest (as Titus of all people had surely earned the right to expect) as one of the delegates to Jerusalem. This is just the opposite of what he had done earlier when, he explains to the Thessalonians, 'we decided to be left in Athens alone and sent Timothy' (I Thess.3.1). So he writes Titus a charge, for public recitation, to reinforce his original instructions (1.5) and promises him a replacement (3.12).
is Paul writing?
There is no hint that he is in prison. ἐπίσκοποι (Acts 20.18, 28; Titus
against those who like wild beasts will ravage the flock from within
and by distortion of the truth break up the family of God (Acts 20.291.; Titus
and an insistence on the example of honest work (Acts 20.33f; Titus
Paul has with him Artemas as well as Tychicus (Titus 3.12),
whom (and the uncertainty argues strongly for authenticity) he promises to post
Presumably it was Artemas, of whom we hear nothing more,
since Tychicus was sent subsequently to Ephesus.
When the replacement arrives, Titus
is to hasten to join Paul in Nicopolis, where, he says, he has decided to spend
This would be the same winter of 57,
for Paul was fully intending
at this point, having delivered the collection,
to come back west to Italy and Spain
And there is no suggestion that he planned to go by sea, as
eventually he was forced to.
On the contrary, he would follow his usual
practice of going over the ground he had covered.
Naturally he would go via Asia Minor (Philem. 22), stopping at Troas to pick up his cloak and other
valuables (II Tim.4.12f.).
Then he would call in at Philippi (Phil.2.24),
before taking the Via Egnatia to consolidate the work in Illyricum and
the north-west begun the previous year.
He would winter with Titus on the
coast at Nicopolis in Epirus,
and thence cross the Adriatic, when the spring
weather allowed, for southern Italy and Rome.
But, alas, as it turned out,
Titus had to go to Dalmatia alone (II Tim.4.10)
and Paul was to spend the
winter languishing in a Palestinian jail.
What finally of / Timothy? With far fewer personal details than the other two, it is correspondingly difficult to locate. There is no more suggestion than in Titus that Paul is or has been in prison. The only clear clue is in 1.3, where he says to Timothy, 'When I was starting for Macedonia, I urged you to stay on at Ephesus.' It is natural to look to Acts 20.1, where Paul sets out for Macedonia from Ephesus after the silversmiths' riot, and natural, too, as we have said, to surmise that the Alexander mentioned in 1 .20 recalls the same incident. Unfortunately, as we have seen, Luke's notice in Acts 20. 1f. condenses a considerable amount of time and activity which it is impossible to reconstruct accurately. During the interval Paul probably went to Corinth and back and certainly spent some time in the neighbourhood of Troas. From where he would have written to Timothy we cannot know. Perhaps it was from Corinth, if he did travel there via Macedonia, as he originally planned (I Cor.16.5) - though probably he went direct (II Cor.1.16). More likely it was from the Troad, where he had gone for missionary work, which turned out to present many openings (II Cor.2.12). At the time of writing he is still hoping to come to Timothy before long, though he recognizes the possibility of delay (I Tim.3.i4f.). The next time in fact they meet, owing to Paul's restless determination to push on (instead of returning to Ephesus?) in order to make contact with Titus (II Cor. 2.13), is evidently in Macedonia, where Timothy joins Paul in the sending of II Corinthians (1.1). It looks therefore as if the autumn of 55 is the most likely space for I Timothy. Indeed the farewell exhortation for which Paul assembled the disciples in Acts 20.1 may be the occasion mentioned in I Tim.1.3, where the same word is used (παρακαλέσας, παρακάλεσα). The letter will then reinforce on paper as a pastoral charge the gist of this address, whose substance could indeed be incorporated in I Tim.2.1-3.13 (beginning παρακαλῶ οῦν). I Timothy more than any other epistle stresses the aspect παραγγελία or pastoral 'order' (1.3, 5, 18; 4.11; 5.7; 6.13, 17), which had been a distinctive feature of Paul's apostolic method from the beginning (I Thess.4.11; II Thess.3.4, 6, 10, 12; I Cor.7.10; 11.17). We should not therefore see anything un-Pauline or indeed novel here. If the dating seems surprisingly early we must not forget that at this stage Timothy is evidently still quite junior and is working closely under Paul's supervision. Earlier the same year he had felt it necessary to say to the Corinthians:
If Timothy comes, see that you put him at his ease; for it is the Lord's work that he is engaged upon, as I am myself; so no one must slight him. Send him happily on his way to join me, since I am waiting for him with our friends (I Cor.16.10f.).
Now he writes to his protege in very similar terms:
Let no one slight you because you are young, but make yourself an example to believers in speech and behaviour, in love, fidelity, and purity. Until I arrive ... make these matters your business and your absorbing interest, so that your progress may be plain to all (I Tim.4.11-15).
It is not difficult to believe that these words were written six months apart.
of these three epistles appears to embody directions for an immediate pastoral
We tend to assume that Paul is appointing Timothy and Titus to
extended supervision over designated areas.
But in fact the instructions relate
to specific short-term tours.
In II Timothy Timothy is to do his best to come
back as soon as possible (II Tim. 4.9);
Titus is to be relieved whenever Paul
can arrange for a replacement (Titus 3.12);
and I Timothy is written only for
the brief interval during which Timothy is to stay on at Ephesus
until Paul himself can come (I Tim.3.14; 4.13).
They do not presuppose, nor do they require, long gaps. They are more like the charges composed by a modern missionary bishop for an archidiaconal visitation lasting weeks or months rather than years. It is not unknown for a busy bishop to have these written for him. But in any case their style is determined much more by their form and content than by their date. If Paul had need for such specialized and formal communications there is no reason why he should not have put them together, or had them put together, probably out of material prepared (as Acts would suggest) for spoken exhortations to church leaders, in amongst, rather than after, his other correspondence. So it should not surprise us if they were not composed, as is usually assumed, in a bloc by themselves. Nor is there valid recourse to explain the change of style by the passage of years. For if our conclusions are right, the whole of Paul's extant correspondence (not forgetting that as early as II Thess.3.17 he spoke of 'all my letters') appears to fall within a period of nine years - indeed apart from his early letters to the Thessalonians within the astonishingly short span of four and a half years.
|50||(or early 51)||II Thessalonians|
It must be stressed again that the absolute datings could be a year or so out either way and that the schema is more tentative than it looks. But the importance of these conclusions, which, except for the Pastoral Epistles, are not particularly controversial, is threefold:
(a) They provide a reasonably fixed yardstick or time scale against which to set other evidence.
(b) If in fact the whole of Paul's extremely diverse literary career
occupied so brief a span, this gives us some objective criterion of how much
time needs to be allowed for developments in theology and practice.
may at first sight appear extraordinarily short, we should not forget two other
canons of measurement.
The whole of Jesus' teaching and ministry (which I
believe to have involved at least three fundamental shifts in the way he saw
his person and work)
Indeed Hengel, in his important article 'Christologie und neutestamentliche Chronologic',
argues strongly that the crucial stage in the church's basic understanding of Christ and his significance was represented by the four to five 'explosive' years between 30 and 35. These years included the tension between the groups in Jerusalem (c.31-2), the murder of Stephen and the dispersion of the church apart from the apostles (('.32-3), the conversion of Paul (c.32-4), and the first missionary work in Judaea and Samaria, Phoenicia, Damascus and Antioch (c.33-5). By the time of his first extant epistle (I Thessalonians) Paul's Christology, Hengel maintains, is in all fundamentals complete, having reached its essential shape in the years prior to any of his missionary journeys. Speaking of the period up to the council of Jerusalem in 48 (and his dates agree with ours), he says: 'Fundamentally more happened christologically in these few years than in the following 700 years of church history,
A priori arguments from Christology to chronology, and indeed from any 'development' to the time required for it, are almost wholly unreliable.
(c) The working assumption we made to trust Acts until proved otherwise has been very substantially vindicated. There is practically nothing in Luke's account that clashes with the Pauline evidence, and in the latter half of Acts the correspondences are remarkably close. Even in the speeches attributed to Paul, and especially those at which Luke can be presumed to have been present (Acts 20 and 22-5), there are parallels to suggest that they are far from purely free compositions. This conclusion must also be relevant as we turn now to consider how close in date Acts stands to the events which it records.