Timeline: When Was the New Testament Written?

HomeChristianity and the BibleTimeline: When Was the New Testament Written?

This article is in process. I appreciate your patience while I add to it.

Dating ancient documents is often very difficult. These dates are the best I have found so far, and should not be considered absolute. Conservative scholars tend to date books of the New Testament earlier (closer to the events they describe), while liberal scholars tend to date them later. None of the existing documents have dates on them, so some complicated detective work must be done using both internal evidence (what’s actually in the documents) and external evidence (historical events, what others have written, etc). I’ve tried to avoid bias in posting these dates. The purpose for creating this timeline is not to start an argument, but to give some perspective on the dates for non-scholarly readers. If you’d like to correct a date, feel free to contact me. Be prepared to provide good evidence for your position.

Jesus’ death

James

Galatians

Possibly Paul’s first letter. The assumption is that it was written prior to the Jerusalem Council of 50.

1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Corinthians

The Gospel of Mark

Papias, writing around 100, said that Mark wrote down what Peter shared with him. After being imprisoned in Rome, Peter was martyred around 64… so Mark, composed in Rome, was likely written while Peter was alive. Our earliest manuscript of Mark is P45, written around 225. A recent survey of scholarship revealed that about two-thirds of scholars place the dating of Mark before 70.

2 Corinthians and Romans

The Gospel of Luke

Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and Hebrews

These letters were likely written during Paul’s first imprisonment in 60-62.

Acts of the Apostles, 1 Timothy, Titus

Acts ends without recording Paul’s death, probably in 62.

The Gospel of John

John usually gets a late date because of the assumption that his theology is too well-developed to have been established early. However, there’s nothing in John that we don’t also find in Paul’s writings, which are generally acknowledged to be pretty early.

We don’t really know when John was written, but it’s almost certainly after Mark and Luke, which puts it later than 59-60. John is often considered one of the latest books in the New Testament, but there are signs that it was written early. A strong bit of evidence is the present-tense mention of the pool of Bethesda in 5:2, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. He’s is silent about the war that destroyed Jerusalem, which began in 66. He’s also silent about Nero’s persecution, which began in 64. Those are arguments from silence, clearly. John also mentions Jesus’ prediction about Peter’s death, which – in the Greek – is in the future tense. Peter was likely killed in the mid-60s, which suggests that as an upper limit to John’s dating. Because John doesn’t mention Nero’s garden parties, it may be that he wrote before 64. I’ve simply split the difference between 60 (Luke) and 64 (Nero).

The Gospel of Matthew, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, 1 Peter

Matthew borrowed from Mark’s gospel, and he recorded Jesus’ teaching about the destruction of the Jewish temple, which occurred in 70. Matthew must have written between Mark’s gospel and 70.

2 Peter

2 Timothy, Jude

Revelation

Revelation is often dated to 95. I prefer an early date because John never mentions the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred on August 30, 70. For John to not mention the most significant political and religious event in the lives of his audience is hard to believe, so it seems reasonable to conclude that it had not yet happened.

Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus


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2 responses to “Timeline: When Was the New Testament Written?”

  1. Tom Coke says:

    This timeline shows the gospel of John being written around 42 a.d. I’ve never heard that before. I’m interested to know what that is based on? (I’m not saying that is wrong. I’m just curious to know sources).

    • Tony says:

      Tom:

      A good question, and thanks for asking! You’ve caught a mistake, and I appreciate it. It should read that John was likely written around 62. I’ve corrected it, and recognize that even 62 is open to question.

      Historically speaking, the primary reason for a late date – promoted mostly since the mid-1800s – is that John’s theology is too well-developed to have been established early. I find this assumption faulty, as there’s nothing in John that we don’t also find in Paul’s writings, which are generally acknowledged to be pretty early.

      We don’t really know when John was written, but it’s almost certainly after Mark and Luke, which puts it later than 59-60. John is often considered one of the latest books in the New Testament, but there are signs that it was written early. A strong bit of evidence is the present-tense mention of the pool of Bethesda in 5:2, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. He’s silent about the war that destroyed Jerusalem, which began in 66. He’s also silent about Nero’s persecution, which began in 64. Those are arguments from silence, clearly. John also mentions Jesus’ prediction about Peter’s death, which – in the Greek – is in the future tense. Peter was likely killed in the mid-60s, which suggests that as an upper limit to John’s dating. Because John doesn’t mention Nero’s garden parties, it may be that he wrote before 64. I’ve simply split the difference between 60 (Luke) and 64 (Nero). It’s a guess based on vagueness and supposition, but it’s the best I can do with the evidence I’ve seen.

      What do you think?

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