Category Archives: eschatology

Dating the New Testament

I was having a discussion on another message board about the trajectory of New Testament writings and the subtly changing “eschatology” that is tracable along that trajectory. In earlier works, Christians thought that the world was going to end soon and that they would be around to see it. As time went on and Jesus did not come (a “second time”) the immanent εσχατος (eschatos – end) was minimized and “internalized”. Using two endpoints in Christian writings, we can see this in effect. Sort of like using Photoshop to morph one image into another.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18

15 Spoken in the word of the Lord, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

John 18:36 (New International Version, ©2010)

 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Luke 17:21 

21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is inside you.” 
It’s hard to reconcile these two. Some might think I’m taking these two passages out of context, but these works were not all written in “one context” to begin with; at least not the “one context” that 2nd century – and up to the present day – Catholics (I include just about all modern Christianities as “Catholic”, since they are all descended from the universalists [catholicoi] who emerged as orthodoxy) have forced on us. I picked these two because, like I mentioned with the little Photoshop analogy, they represent the earliest and the latest “orthodox” Christian writings. So, without further ado, here is my timeline for the creation of Christian works:
1. Authentic Paul (50 – 60 CE)[*]:
  • 1 Thessalonians
  • 1 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Philipians
  • Romans
  • Philemon
2. Pseudo-Paul: (55 – 62 CE)[*]:
  • Ephesians
  • Colossians
  • 2 Thessalonians
3. Revelation of John (66 – 73 CE)
4. Gospel of Mark (c. 85 – 150 CE)[**]
5. Gospel of Matthew (Gospel of Mark – 150 CE)
6. Epistle of James (70 – 220 CE [Origen])
7. Epistle to the Hebrews (70 – 220 CE [Origen])
8. Epistles of John (Gospel of Mark – 180 CE [Irenaeus]) – These letters presuppose some Christians who were claiming that the Christ hadn’t come in the flesh. So the earliest that this letter could have been written would be the end of the first or beginning of the second century. This was when more non-Jewish, Platonist Christians (those who saw the Platonic world as “good” and its material equivalents as “bad”) were becoming widespread. Many of these “heretical” Christians used the descent of the Holy Spirit in Mark as their evidence that the Christ (as the Holy Spirit) was not flesh.
9. Gospel of John (100 – 140 CE [Valentinus]) – This gospel presupposes that Christians would be kicked out of synagoges for professing Jesus as the messiah. This doesn’t seem to have happened until well into the time period of Rabbinic Judaism.
10. 1 Peter (Jude – 180 CE [Irenaeus])
11. Epistle of Jude (1 Peter – 180 CE [Muratorian Canon])
12. Pastoral Epistles (120 – 180 CE [Irenaeus])
  • 1 & 2 Timothy
  • Titus
13. Gospel of Luke (120 [Marcion] – 150 CE)
14. Acts of the Apostles (120 [Marcion] – 180 CE [Irenaeus])
Justin Martyr is the first orthodox Christian to cite our canonical gospels, so he is the latest possible date for those works. He was writing sometime around 150 CE.
It’s my opinion (and that of some scholars) that our canonical Luke and Acts of the Apostles are anti-Marcion works. This is also evidenced by the plethora of “Acts of…” type literature that littered the 2nd century and beyond. Placing Acts of the Apostles in the first century divorces its production from the time period of its popularity as a genre by almost 100 years. In other words, Acts of the Apostles makes sense as a product of the environment that produced various other Praxes type of writings that Christians were writing in the 2nd century. There were no Christians writing Praxes type works in the 1st century, so its production in that century would make it an abberation.
So reading these works along their diachronological trajectory, we can see that the nature of the kingdom of god changes from immediate cataclysm to that of an internalized sort of spiritual kingdom. In authentic Paul and Mark, the earliest Christian writings, we see that Jesus was supposed to come within the lifetime of those who were still alive; that Jesus was the “firstfruits” of the general resurrection (the general resurrection being a sign of the end times). At his trial in Mark, for example, Jesus asserts that the high priest who tries him will see “the son of man sitting at the right hand of the mighty [one] and coming on the clouds of heaven”. The high priest obviously died before the Parousia of Jesus (or the son of man), so this should be seen as a false prophecy by Jesus.
Modern Christians get around this embarrassing Jesus by pointing out the later written Christian works. But that’s the point. These later Christians saw those same problems and that’s one of the reasons why they wrote their works. They too were embarrassed by the Jesus and Paul that said that the world was going to end just around the corner.
In its inception, Christianity was a death cult obsessed with the end of the world. The “social gospel” message was a side effect of that major premise. As in, we should be nice to each other because we are going to be judged. And judgement is going to come soon… very, very soon. The modern day Christians who are prophesying the end of the world any minute now are just being true to the original Christian message.
And, if you do insist on reading the New Testament as one whole (catholicos) to whitewash this particular evolution of eschatology, then you will be faced with other contradictions.
[*] The terminus ante quem (latest possible date) for these works would be Marcion’s canon, which he seems to have compiled and/or published around 130 – 140 CE.
[**] This is what the terminus post quem (earliest possible date) and terminus ante quem (first witness to said work, or latest possible date) that scholars should be using. But since NT scholarship is still a religionist enterprise, these sorts of wide margins are unacceptable for the lay (Christian) public.
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Posted by on February 28, 2011 in eschatology, new testament

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