Paul is explicit that he has preached the gospel fully in a circle from Jerusalem to Illyricum (15.19), and that he is on the way now to Jerusalem with the collection for the saints there, with a view to heading off next to Rome and then to Spain (Rom. Now the collection provides us with the most helpful basic piece of sequential dating material because it is mentioned, at different states of development, in three other epistles, all of which predate Romans.: Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia.2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.There is actually one more opportunity the material here provides, but it is an invitation often and surprisingly refused. The order of Paul's letters, then, goes something like this:1 Thessalonians1 Corinthians Galatians2 Corinthians? Philemon Romans Getting the relative dating of 1 Corinthians and Galatians right illustrates the value of dating questions in the study of Christian origins.The hints provided by Paul's biography for establishing that 1 Corinthians precedes Galatians correlate with other factors of interest in the study of Paul. Is it through human agency (1 Corinthians 15.1-11) or directly from God (Galatians 1.6-12)? Is it a coincidence that his earlier epistles, 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians, are rich in Jesus material but his later epistles are not? Is it significant that the earlier epistles, 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians, are light (to put it mildly) on the forensic language while the later epistles (Galatians, Romans, Philippians 3) feature it heavily?Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon, along with their wives, Jenny and Taylor, have written you several letters to guide you through this season of dating—each one is short, practical, and relevant, and contains discussion questions to help you apply it even more personally.Whether you are struggling with singleness, enduring a breakup, embarking on a new relationship, or even making the final step toward engagement, opening up these letters will help you to start some helpful, God-honoring conversations.
The gospel documents give us many details about Jesus’ ministry and teachings, but Paul’s letters corroborate the main events we know of Jesus: His birth and genealogy through His crucifixion and resurrection. One of the easy mistakes in the dating game is to shoot too quickly for absolute dates, to look in a given document for hints that might help us to pin it to a a specific date.Some of our documents, though, are not of the nature that will allow us to pin them to a particular decade, let alone a particular year, and in such circumstances, it is important to try to get them into the right relative order, to make sure that we are stacking them up in the right order with respect to one another. Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Duke University, in the Religious Studies Department.Visit my homepage, follow me on twitter, or contact me by email.