In this relatively fixed firmament the only 'wandering stars' are Ephesians, I Peter, Hebrews and James (and occasionally the Pastorals and Jude), which conservatives wish to put earlier, and Colossians and II Thessalonians, which radicals wish to put later. So once more the span (with one exception) is back to little more than fifty years.
But before closing this survey I would draw attention to the latest assessment of all, Norman Perrin's The New Testament: An Introduction [N. Perrin, The New Testament: An Introduction, New York 1974.], since it could suggest a return to a wider spread. His approximate datings are:
I Thessalonians, Galatians, I and II 50-60 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon,
II Thessalonians, Colossians,
70-90 Ephesians, Mark, Matthew, Luke-Acts, Hebrews
80-100 John, I-III John
I Peter, James, Pastoral Epistles, Jude, II Peter [The order of this last 90-140 group is only a guess. No dates are given, except that I Peter is about the end of the first century and II Peter c. 140.]
Perrin represents the standpoint of redaction criticism, which goes on from source criticism (dealing with documentary origins) and form criticism (analysing the formative processes of the oral tradition) to emphasize the theological contribution of the evangelists as editors. There is no necessary reason why its perspective should lead to later datings. Indeed other representatives of the same viewpoint who have written New Testament introductions, Marxsen and Fuller, have taken over their precursors' datings. Moreover, the gospels, with which the redaction critics have been most concerned, all remain, including the fourth, within what Perrin calls 'the middle period of New Testament Christianity', 'the twenty-five years or so that followed the fall of Jerusalem'. Yet subsequent to this period he sees a further stage, extending into the middle of the second century, in which the New Testament church is 'on the way to becoming an institution'. If we ask why it is only then becoming an institution, the answer is bound up with his 'theological history of New Testament Christianity' [Op. cit, 39-63.]. The course of this he traces from 'Palestinian Jewish Christianity', through 'Hellenistic Jewish Mission Christianity', 'Gentile Christianity' and the apostle Paul', to the middle period', and finally into 'emergent Catholicism'. Yet these categories, taken over from Rudolf Bultmann and his successors, have of late come in for some stringent criticism not only from England [I. H. Marshall, 'Palestinian and Hellenistic Christianity: Some Critical Comments', NTS 19, 1972-3, 271-87; 'Early Catholicism' in R. N. Longenecker and M. C. Tenney (edd.), New Dimensions in New Testament Study, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1974, a 17-31.] but from Germany itself [M. Hengel, 'Christologie and neutestamentliche Chronologic' in H. Baltens-weiler and B. Reicke (edd.), Neues Testament und Geschichte: Oscar Cullmann zum 70. [Geburtstag, Zurich and Tubingen 1972, 43-67; Judaism and Hellenism, ET 1974.], none of which Perrin acknowledges. The entire developmental schema (closely parallel to the 'diffusionist framework' in archaeology), together with the time it is assumed to require, begins to look as if it may be imposed upon the material as arbitrarily as the earlier one of the Tiibingen school. It is premature to judge. But certainly it cannot itself be used to determine the datings which are inferred from it. It must first be submitted to a more rigorous scrutiny in the light of the independent data.
Indeed what one looks for in vain in much recent scholarship is any serious wrestling with the external or internal evidence for the daring of individual books (such as marked the writings of men like Lightfoot and Harnack and Zahn), rather than an a priori pattern of theological development into which they are then made to fit. [Perrin's particular schema is in itself fairly arbitrary. It is hard to see by what criteria of doctrine or discipline I and II Peter are both subsumed under the heading of 'emergent Catholicism'; in fact in the analysis of the marks of this phenomenon (op. cit., 268-73) I Peter is scarcely mentioned. Moreover, while he acknowledges his deep indebtedness to E. Kasemann for his estimate of II Peter ('An Apologia for Primitive Christian Eschatology', Essays on New Testament Themes, ET (SBT 41) 1964, 169-95), he ignores Kasemann's equally strong contention ('Ketzer und Zeuge', ZTK 48, 1951, 292-311) that III John reflects a second-century transition to Ignatian monepiscopacy. (Of the Johannine epistles he merely says, 249: 'We are now in the middle period of New Testament Christianity.') He does not explain why I Clement's concern for apostolic succession and Ignatius' plea for unity around the monarchical bishop (quintessential interests, one would have thought, of 'emergent Catholicism') receive no mention in New Testament documents supposedly later than they are.] In fact ever since the form critics assumed the basic solutions of the source critics (particularly with regard to the synoptic problem) and the redaction critics assumed the work of the form critics, the chronology of the New Testament documents has scarcely been subjected to fresh examination. No one since Harnack has really gone back to look at it for its own sake or to examine the presuppositions on which the current consensus rests. It is only when one pauses to do this that one realizes how thin is the foundation for some of the textbook answers and how circular the arguments for many of the relative datings. Disturb the position of one major piece and the pattern starts disconcertingly to dissolve.
That major piece was for me the gospel of John. I have long been convinced that John contains primitive and reliable historical tradition, and that conviction has been reinforced by numerous studies in recent years. But in reinforcing it these same studies have the more insistently provoked the question in my mind whether the traditional dating of the gospel, alike by conservatives and (now) by radicals, towards the end of the first century, is either credible or necessary. Need it have been written anything like so late? As the arguments requiring it to be set at a considerable distance both in place and time from the events it records began one by one to be knocked away (by growing recognition of its independence of the synoptists and, since 1947 by linguistic parallels from the Dead Sea Scrolls), I have wondered more and more whether it does not belong much nearer to the Palestinian scene prior to the Jewish revolt of 66-70.
But one cannot redate John without raising the whole question of its place in the development of New Testament Christianity. If this is early, what about the other gospels? Is it necessarily the last in time? Indeed does it actually become the first? - or are they earlier too? And, if so, how then do the gospels stand in relation to the epistles? Were all the Pauline letters penned, as has been supposed, before any of the gospels? Moreover, if John no longer belongs to the end of the century, what of the Johannine epistles and the other so-called Catholic Epistles which have tended to be dated with them? And what about the book of Revelation, which, whatever its connection with the other Johannine writings, everyone seems nowadays to set in the same decade as the gospel?
It was at this point that I began to ask myself just why any of the books of the New Testament needed to be put after the fall of Jerusalem in 70. As one began to look at them, and in particular the epistle to the Hebrews, Acts and the Apocalypse, was it not strange that this cataclysmic event was never once mentioned or apparently hinted at? And what about those predictions of it in the gospels - were they really the prophecies after the event that our critical education had taught us to believe? So, as little more than a theological joke, I thought I would see how far one could get with the hypothesis that the whole of the New Testament was written before 70. And the only way to try out such a hypothesis was to push it to its limits, and beyond, to discover what these limits were. Naturally, there were bound to be exceptions - II Peter was an obvious starter, and presumably the Pastorals - but it would be an interesting exercise.
But what began as a joke became in the process a serious preoccupation, and I convinced myself that the hypothesis must be tested in greater detail than the seminar-paper with which it started would allow. The result is that I have found myself driven to look again at the evidence for all the accepted New Testament datings. But so far from forcing it to a new Procrustean bed of my own making, I have tried to keep an open mind. I deliberately left the treatment of the fourth gospel to the last (though increasingly persuaded that it should never be treated in isolation from the other three, or they from it) so as not to let my initial judgment on it mould the rest of the pattern to it. Moreover, I have changed my mind many times in the course of the work, and come through to datings which were not at all what I expected when I began. Indeed I would wish to claim nothing fixed or final about the results. Once one starts on an investigation like this one could go on for years. Problems that one supposed in one's own mind were more or less settled (e.g. the synoptic problem) become opened up again; and almost all the books or articles that have been written on the New Testament (and many too on ancient history) threaten to become relevant. But one has to stop somewhere. I am much more aware of what I have not read. But this will have to do as a stone to drop into the pond, to see what happens.
Naturally if one presumes to challenge the scientific establishment in any field one must be prepared to substantiate one's case in some detail. So I have tried to give the evidence and provide the references for those who wish to follow them up. However, short of making it one's life's work (and frankly chronology is not mine), one must delimit the task. I have not attempted to go into the theoretical basis of chronology itself or to get involved in astronomical calculations or the complex correlation of ancient dating systems. [Cf.J. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Princeton 1964, for the single most useful survey; also T. Lewin, Fasti Sacri: A Key to the Chronology of the New Testament, 1865; J. van Goudoeuver, Biblical Calendars, Leiden 21961; A. K. Michels, The Calendar of the Roman Republic, Princeton, NJ, 1967; E. J. Bickermann, Chronology of the Ancient World, 1968; A. E. Samuel, Greek and Roman Chronology, Munich 1972; E. Schiirer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, revised ET, Edinburgh 1973, vol.1. Appendix III ('The Jewish Calendar').] These things are too high for one who finds himself confused even when changing to summer time or crossing time zones! Nor have I entered the contentious area of the chronology of the birth, ministry and death of Jesus, since it does not seriously affect the dating of the books of the New Testament.
Nor have I found it necessary to be drawn into the history of the canon of the New Testament, since, unless one has reason to suppose that the books were written very late, how long an interval elapsed before they became collected or acknowledged as scripture is but marginally relevant. Above all, I have not ventured into the vast field of the non-canonical literature of the sub-apostolic age, except to the extent that this is directly relevant to the dating of the New Testament books themselves. Without attempting to survey this literature, both Jewish and Christian, for its own sake (which would have taken me far beyond my competence), I have simply devoted a postscript to it, in so far as by comparison and contrast it can help to check or confirm the conclusions arrived at from the study of the New Testament.
Finally, in a closing chapter I have sketched some of the conclusions and corollaries to be drawn - and not to be drawn - from such a study. My position will probably seem surprisingly conservative - especially to those who judge me radical on other issues. But I trust it will give no comfort to those who would view with suspicion the application of critical tools to biblical study - for it is reached by the application of those tools. I claim no great originality - almost every individual conclusion will be found to have been argued previously by someone, often indeed by great and forgotten men - though I think the overall pattern is new and I trust coherent. Least of all do I wish to close any discussion. Indeed I am happy to prefix to my work the words with which Niels Bohr is said to have begun his lecture-courses: 'Every sentence I utter should be taken by you not as a statement but as a question.' [Quoted by J. Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, 1973, 334.]
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