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arrangement

First steps in reconstructing the story

There are a few basic steps to take in order to get started when attempting to reconstruct the first-century story. First off, take that uninspired arrangement of the New Testament you’re holding in your hands and chuck it out the window. God may have inspired the writing of those books, but He surely did not inspire the order in which some guy back in the second century decided to put them.

Now, since Paul’s letters make up most of the New Testament, and since his part in the story is the one given the most airplay by Luke in the book of Acts, knowing the proper order of his letters is most important. Peter’s letters can be nailed down pretty well as to when they were written, and we know the writings of John came sometime after all the rest. That leaves James, Jude, and Hebrews, each of which can only be given approximate dates as to the era in which they were written. But the overall order we can be fairly certain of.

For starters, though, let’s take a look at Paul’s letters. Here is their traditional arrangement:

Romans
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
Galatians
Ephesians
Philippians
Colossians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy
Titus
Philemon

Thirteen letters, all out of whack. Now take a look at the actual order in which they were written:

Galatians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
Romans
Philemon
Colossians
Ephesians
Philippians
1 Timothy (some may place this one a little earlier in the game)
Titus
2 Timothy

There you have it. No big deal, right? Maybe not at first glance. Merely placing the letters in their correct order doesn’t really change much, I agree. But set them in their proper historical context by reconstructing the story surrounding their development, thereby giving yourself an opportunity to see the actual circumstances which gave them birth, and you have yourself a whole new, New Testament.

That’s your first step, in my opinion. Once you’ve arranged the letters in their proper order you can begin to date them and find out where in the world each of them were written from. Discover how many of them were written within the time period covered in the book of Acts, and then place those letters within their historical setting. Read them not as stand-alones, but as part of the story. G.C.D. Howley had the following to say in this regard:

The arrangement of the letters of Paul in the New Testament is in general that of their length. When we rearrange them into their chronological order, fitting them as far as possible into their life-setting within the record of the Acts of the Apostles, they begin to yield up more of their treasure; they become self-explanatory, to a greater extent than when this background is ignored.

But don’t take my or his word for it. Try it for yourself. Start your own reconstruction project today and see what you discover. I guarantee you it’s more worthwhile than you might initially think.

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About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “First steps in reconstructing the story

  1. Hebrews was originally included in the Pauline corpus, and even Origen said that the letter was Paul’s, even though he is famously quoted as saying no one knew who “wrote” it. IF you included Hebrews with Paul’s other letters, where do you think you would put it?

    -Alan

    Posted by Alan Knox | September 22, 2011, 2:34 pm
  2. IF 1 Timothy is dated within the time span of Acts 20:1 and Acts 20:17, then it would show up just before Philemon in your list.

    -Alan

    Posted by Alan Knox | September 22, 2011, 2:37 pm
    • Thanks for the clarification, Alan. I’ll have to ponder it a bit more, as there are so many opinions on who wrote Hebrews. Even if Paul was the author I’d still have to place it late in the game, probably not many years before his death and of course the destruction of the temple.

      Posted by Josh | September 22, 2011, 3:09 pm
  3. Thanks for posting this list. I will look into it and study this out. I never understood why they thought it was a good Idea to put the books in order of size instead of time written.

    Posted by Duane Czaicki | September 22, 2011, 9:43 pm

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