Authorship and Date of NT Writings

The title of each writing is shown, along with its approximate date of composition.

Accounts of the Life of Jesus

BookEarly Date Usual DateAuthorship issues
Matthew40-50 CEc. 68-80 CEpossibly by Matthew the tribute taker
generally assumed to be based on sources known to Mark and Luke
Mark45-60 CEc. 45-70 CEanonymous, with no references to the author
tradition asserts John Mark as author
most assume to be the first of the four accounts
Luke63 CEc. 80 CE
Johnc.40 CE95-100 CEgenerally considered to be the memoirs of "the student whom Jesus loved"
existence of p52 dates the work no later than about 100

The term gospel used in reference to the four accounts of Jesus' life is first used in reference to the writings by Marcion (c. 140), who is generally regarded as a heretic. Among some Jews, Luke did not circulate (because he was a gentile), but generally all four accounts became known quickly throughout the Empire. As time passed, they began to circulate as a collection, and the order of the four settled down.

The first three gospels, those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are usually termed synoptic gospels because they appear to quote from common sources. The largest group of scholars believes that Mark was written first (using various sources), followed by Matthew and then Luke. Those who place the date after AD 70 hold the opinion that the prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem (e.g., Matthew 24-5) had already happened and that it took a relatively long time to compile the gospels from their various sources. The common source used by Matthew and Luke is often called "Q" (from the German word for "source").

Others take the view that Mark is based on Matthew and date the composition of Matthew first of the four accounts. This is usually referred to as the "Matthean Priority." Source documents like Q (above) are proposed by those who adhere to the Matthean view. To date, no copies of any Q document or other source have surfaced.

John A. T. Robinson began his review of the NT in the mid 1970's, culminating in his radical book, Redating the New Testament. There, he proposed that if Matthew was indeed the eyewitness (tribute taker), his account could have circulated quite early, complete with the prophecies that had not yet been fulfilled. With Mark borrowing from Matthew, and Luke using both Mark and John as sources, he proposed a Johannine Priority, claiming that John's account was written not by an aging John but by a youthful one not long after the death of Jesus. He gains support from the fact that the traditions that arose around the apostle's actions were simply speculations. In fact, one tradition has John being martyred at a relatively young age. Robinson's redating has gained popularity in recent years but is still by far a minority viewpoint.

Actions of the Envoys64 CEc. 75-80 CE By comparison to Paul's letters,
author believed to be Luke

Pauline Letters

Romans55 CE53-58 CEPaul
1 Corinthians50-56 CE50-56 CEPaul
2 Corinthians53-56 CE53-56 CEPaul, possibly in sections
Galatians CE47-56 CEPaul
Ephesians57-58 CE85-95 CEPaul (disputed)
Philippians58 CE62-63 CEPaul
Colosseans56 CE65-95 CEPaul (disputed)
1 Thessalonians48-51 CE48-51 CEPaul
2 Thessalonians48-51 CE48-51Paul (small dispute)
1 Timothy55 CEc. 64
or c. 120
authenticity doubted
2 Timothyc. 56 CEc. 64
or c. 120
as above
Titus55-57 CEc. 64
or c. 120
as above
Philemon57 CE60-61 CEPaul (small dispute)

Among the writings claiming to have been written by Paul, several are in dispute, while another (2 Corinthians) is alleged to have been compiled from parts of several letters. The ending of 1 Corinthians may have been formed the same way, and there is some degree of manuscript evidence to show that the ending of 1 Corinthians has been disturbed.

The majority scholarly view about the personal "pastoral" letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) is that they were written not by Paul but in the second century. This opinion is based on the observation that there appears to be a more well-defined church structure mentioned in the writings than was present in the first century. Others propose that Paul wrote the letters during a "Fourth Missionary Journey" after Acts ends. John A. T. Robinson has little trouble fitting the books into the framework of Acts and believes them to be genuine, with the so-called advanced development in the church being misunderstood.

Without the personal letters, the Pauline "corpus" (collection) was collected together and circulated very early. If Young Kyu Kim's paleographic redating of the Chester Beatty manuscript p46 is correct, the corpus began to circulate together prior to 85 CE, within 20 years of Paul's execution. This collection, like many early collections, includes Hebrews, which is anonymous but was believed to have been written by Paul.

The eventual order of the Pauline letters is interesting. At first, the letters circulated in various orders, but the settled-upon order is not chronological. Instead, the letters are arranged in order of size, from largest to smallest, with all of the letters to each group placed together.

General Letters

To the Hebrewsc.50-67 CEc. 60-100once attributed to Paul;
author unknown
Letter of Jacobc.47-8 CEc. 75-125 CEJohn's brother
or Jesus' brother
or another Jacob (James)
Peter's Firstc.65 CEc.65-120 CE Peter (disputed)
Peter's Secondc.61-2 CEc. 60-90ascribed to Peter
by Judah?
authorship disputed
Johannes' Firstc.40 CEc. 60-65
or c. 95-100
prob. by the author of "John"
Johannes' Secondc.60-5 CEc. 100attributed to John
Johannes' Thirdc.60-5 CEc. 100attributed to John
Letter of Judahc.61-2 CEc. 60-90author unknown

The letter to the Hebrews may have been written by any prominent Jewish Christian and was once thought to have been composed by Paul. Names proposed include Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, and various apostles. The date of composition is fairly early, since the letter seems to predate the fall of the temple.

James (properly, Jacob) is somewhat mysterious because several Jacobs are mentioned in the NT. James "the Greater," John's brother, was suggested as the author by Robinson. The letter does appear to be early--at least to predate Romans--and gentile Christianity appears to not exist at the time of writing. However, others have suggested Jesus' brother Jacob, or perhaps another Jacob. They date the letter to various periods.

The letters ascribed to Peter are in wide dispute, and the second letter in particular shares more with Judah than it does with 1st Peter (prompting some to think that Judah wrote it together with Peter). Whatever the case, the two "Peter" letters and the letter of Judah were probably written close to one another, and some people date them all quite late. It is possible (given the information in the Muratorian canon list, c. 180) that 2 Peter and Judah were written quite late, although neither letter refers to the fall of Jerusalem.

The first Johannine letter was certainly written by the author of the fourth gospel, although many believe that all of the Johannines were penned by an "elder John" late in the first century or very early in the second. Tradition unanimously attributes all three letters and the gospel to the same man, John the son of Zebedee.

A Prophecy

Revelationc.66 CEc. 100unknown;
author calls himself "John"
written in parts?

The Anchor Bible commentary cites the author as John the Baptist and theorizes that the book was supplimented later by Christians. However, no manuscripts without the "additions" have surfaced to support this view. Most Christians suppose that the book was written very late (c. 100) by an aging John the son of Zebedee. John A. T. Robinson, followed by Kenneth Gentry, proposed that the entire book in its present form was complete by c. 66 CE. Gentry identifies the "beast" of Revelation with Nero and the elements of most of the prophecy with events relating to the fall of the Jewish state (see Before Jerusalem Fell). Still, his view is not the majority opinion. Most Christians consider the work to be late and cite the long time it took for the book to gain acceptance as support for their view. Indeed, some disputed Revelation as late as the 8th century, and when Revelation did circulate early on, it normally circulated alone.

The traditional order of the books was established as follows:
The four accounts of Jesus' life were collected together. Sometimes, these circulated together with the Actions of the Envoys. The Letters of Paulus were collected together, eventually organized from largest to smallest. The anonymous letter to the Hebrews was often considered to be Pauline and therefore circulated with the Letters of Paulus. The universal letters were collected and arranged by author, followed only by Revelation. The above rearrangement is approximately chronological, although the Letters of Paulus and the accounts of Jesus' life (together with the Actions) remain collected.

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