Chronological Publication

The books of the New Testament are grouped into the 4 basic categories described above, not published chronologically in the order in which they were written. As with the study of the Old Testament, understanding the context–the times, the original audience, the inspiration of the Spirit through the writer for his present time–is essential.

”So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’”
– Acts 1:6-8

If you document the sequence of events of the early church’s ministry as documented in Acts, you will discover that the Gospel spread just as Jesus stated in Acts 1:8. It started with Pentecost, in Jerusalem, instantly adding 3,000 converts. For a time the ministry continued, centered in Jerusalem before being extended first to Judea, then Samaria, and finally to all Gentiles and therefore “…even to the remotest part of the earth.” This serves as one of the basic foundations of “context” for the New Testament.

The apostles’ writings come at different points along this timeline of Jerusalem to Samaria to all nations and it helps us to understand the original audience and intent of the message.

James – probably the earliest of the apostles’ writings – is written at a time when the Gospel may have still been in the early stage, mainly conveyed to Jews (Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria). This context helps us understand one of the greater values of this book as a transitional device providing a bridge between the life devoted to God through the Old Covenant but now also submitting to Him through the New Covenant.

Galatians – the earliest surviving letter of Paul – was written at a time when the Gospel was spreading to all the nations but many of the early Jewish converts were uncertain to what extent non-Jewish Christian converts should adhere to the traditions of the Old Covenant. Within this context we are provided important lessons on how God is reconciling all groups to Him while still maintaining a special role for Jews that does not contradict the “freedom” Gentiles experience in not being accountable in the same way as Jews to the Old Covenant.

We can begin developing this context by reconstructing a rough timeline for each of the categories of the books of the New Testament:

NT Basic Timeline

Next we can develop a timeline showing when each book of the New Testament was written. (As best we can, that is. All dates are estimates – “educated” estimates but estimates nonetheless.)

New Testament Canon
Year
Book
47
Galatians
49
James
51/52
1 & 2 Thessalonians
55
1 & 2 Corinthians
57
Romans
58/60
Mark
60
Colossians, Ephesians, & Philemon
61
Philippians
61/64
Matthew
61/64
Luke
64
1 Timothy
64
Titus
64/65
1 Peter
65
Jude
66/68
Acts
66/68
2 Peter
66/67
2 Timothy
68/70
Hebrews
85
John
85/90
1, 2, & 3 John
95
Revelation

Just taking a look at the order in which Paul’s letters came out and the different social and religious times in which they were published provides a lot of insight as to their proper context.

The web site provides this timeline in parallel with the timelines of the same period for the Roman Empire and the nation Israel, providing a basic context for the early church as well as the books of the New Testament.

Return to Organization • Continue to Correct Context