In what order were the NT books written?

by GinnyTosken 18 Replies latest jw friends

  • GinnyTosken
    "Jude," she [Sue Bridehead] said brightly, when he had finished and come back to her; "will you let me make you a new New Testament, like the one I made for myself at Christminster?"

    "Oh yes. How was that made?"

    "I altered my old one by cutting up all the Epistles and Gospels into separate brochures, and rearranging them in chronological order as written, beginning the book with Thessalonians, following on with the Epistles, and putting the Gospels much further on. Then I had the volume rebound. My university friend Mr. ---- --but never mind his name, poor boy-- said it was an excellent idea. I know that reading it afterwards made it twice as interesting as before, and twice as understandable."

    "H'm!" said Jude, with a sense of sacrilege.

    from Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

    I wish Sue Bridehead would assemble a new New Testament for me. Growing up JW, I accepted the “Table of the Books of the Bible” in the back of the New World Translation (NWT) as gospel. Judging from what I’ve read lately, the NWT does not agree with current scholarship, neither regarding dates nor authors.

    According to the NWT, Matthew was written first in around 41. Then followed Thessalonians and Galatians in the early 50s; Luke around 56; then Corinthians, Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon in the mid-50s and early 60s; then Mark somewhere between 60-65. Acts and Paul’s other epistles came next, and the John books and Revelation came last, around 98.

    As a side note, I noticed that in my green NWT copyrighted in 1961, second printing, the dates given for the time covered by Genesis are 46,026–1657 B.C.E. This reflects the old understanding of the Society that each creative day was 7,000 years long. In my newer reference NWT, last copyrighted in 1984, this dating has been changed to from “In the beginning” to 1657 B.C.E. Alas, I digress.

    Piecing together the story from books I have here at home, it appears that nothing began to be written about Jesus until about 20 years after his death. Until then, his sayings and the stories about him were probably passed around orally. Considering the 2000 years that separates us from Jesus’ life, 20 years doesn’t sound like much. Still, I can’t help but wonder how much was garbled during those 20 years. I think of my closest friends in 1981, or the most vivid personality I knew then. I can’t remember exactly what any of them said. I think back to assemblies I attended in 1981. I can’t remember exactly what was said. If the JW information had not been written down, I would probably distrust my own vague memories and would believe that what they are teaching now has always been so.

    The scholarly consensus seems to be that Paul began writing first in the early 50s. 1 Thessalonians was written c. 50-51, Galatians from 52-54, and 1 Corinthians from 54-56. Acts was probably not written until 40-50 years later. The gospels probably came about 20 years after Paul began to write.

    Some of the books attributed to Paul may not have been written by him. Among those whose authorship are disputed are 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, Hebrews, Timothy, and Titus.

    Much has been written lately about the gospels themselves, especially about what is called “the synoptic problem.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called “synoptic” gospels because they present a “common view” of Jesus. Theoretically, you should be able to take the three apart and piece them back together into a cohesive whole. However, the synoptic gospels aren’t always in agreement as to order of events, detail, or exactly what Jesus said.

    Most scholars have concluded that Matthew and Luke utilized Mark as the basis of their gospels, to which they added other materials. They have also found that Matthew and Luke have striking verbal agreements in passages where Mark offers nothing. A German scholar hypothesized that there once existed a source document, which he referred to as a Quelle, which in German means “source,” from which Matthew and Luke drew material. The abbreviation “Q” is now commonly used to designate this source.

    To add to the fun, in 1945 a Coptic translation of the Gospel of Thomas was found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Thomas contains one hundred and fourteen sayings and parables ascribed to Jesus; it has no narrative framework; no account of Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection; no birth or childhood stories; and no narrated account of his public ministry in Galilee and Judea. Because of this, it is termed a "Sayings Gospel," the same sort of gospel Q is theorized to be. Thomas has forty-seven parallels to Mark, forty parallels to Q, seventeen to Matthew, four to Luke, and five to John. It was probably written about the same time as Q, while Paul was doing his writing. Mark came next, then Matthew and Luke.

    I recently bought The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus by Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar. There are five gospels because they see no reason to exclude the Gospel of Thomas. I have found this book fascinating, and there is much from it I’d like to share. If others are interested in this topic, I will add some of my favorite parts to this thread.


  • Thirdson

    Hi Ginny,

    I am interested in any further things you want to say on this subject. Like you I grew with the WTS version of the dating and authors of the gospels but I can't find anything that agrees with their ideas. I have read the gospel of Thomas and a version of the Book of "Q". The modern theories on how the gospels came to be written make a lot sense.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts so far.


    'To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing'

  • Flowerpetal

    Hi Ginny. I have a cyber friend who is interested in the gospel of Thomas and sent me a link to it, which I read. Then I got on the web and found some other links with the Gospel of Thomas on them; one written in Greek I believe. Now I will have to search again, to find the addresses.

  • slipnslidemaster

    Try this link:

    . o O (slipnslidemaster)

  • Moxy

    i found it intersting to learn on what a flimsy basis the dating of matthew at AD41 is based on. it came across when i read it sounding like an isolated reference from a 10th century translation, disputed by scholars. thats how i remember it. correct me if im wrong


  • ISP

    Letters of Paul c50
    Marks Gospel 70-110
    Matt and Luke 90-135
    John c120
    Acts 150-177
    Letters of the Apostles 177-220


  • wasasister

    Ginny: I'd love to hear whatever you care to post on this subject. I did some extensive reading of Gospel research materials before I got sidetracked with other things. (Bathing, sleeping, eating....) Most of what I read agrees with your post.

    I think it is important to know what fundamentalists, such as JW's are founding their entire belief system upon - the words of the Son of God (or God Himself, depending on their view), or a bunch of collected sayings written much later to explain emerging Christian docterine.

    When you're done with the book, can I bum it off you?

    Wasasister/who never buys books when she can borrow them

  • GinnyTosken


    I looked in Aid to Bible Understanding under "Matthew, Good News According to." Here is the Society's explanation for dating Matthew at 41 C.E.:

    Subscriptions, appearing at the end of Matthew's Gospel in numerous manuscripts (all being later than the tenth century C.E.), say that the account was written about the eighth year after Christ's ascension (c. 41 C.E.). This would not be at variance with internal evidence.

    I searched on the net for different combinations of "gospel of Matthew," "subscriptions," and "41 C.E." I could find no mention of these subscriptions. The only references I found that connected 41 C.E. to Matthew were JW documents. I wish we knew to what manuscripts and subscriptions they are referring.


    Where do your dates come from?


    I'll ship this book off to you once I've finished posting from it.


  • GinnyTosken

    The Five Gospels uses as its basis a new translation of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Thomas. The translation is nearly as intriguing as the commentary. What follows is a rather long excerpt answering the question “Why a new translation?” along with a few comments of my own.

    The translators of the Scholars Version—SV for short—have taken as their motto this dictum: a translation is artful to the extent that one can forget, while reading it, that it is a translation at all. Accordingly, rather than attempt to make SV a thinly disguised guide to the original language, or a superficially modernized edition of the King James Version, the translators worked diligently to produce in the American reader an experience comparable to that of the first readers—or listeners—of the original. It should be recalled that those who first encountered the gospels did so as listeners rather than as readers.

    Why a new translation?

    Foremost among the reasons for a fresh translation is the discovery of the Gospel of Thomas. The scholars responsible for the Scholars Version determined that Thomas had to be included in any primary collection of gospels. Early translations of Thomas were tentative and wooden; the SV panel has produced an accurate version in readable English.

    Traditional English translations make the gospels sound like one another. The gospels are leveled out, presumably for liturgical reasons. In contrast, the Greek originals differ markedly from one another. The SV translators attempt to give voice to the individual evangelists by reproducing the Greek style of each in English.

    The translators agreed to employ colloquialisms in English for colloquialisms in Greek. When the leper comes up to Jesus and says, “If you want to, you can make me clean,” Jesus replies, “Okay—you’re clean!” (Mark 1:40-41). They wanted to make aphorisms and proverbs sound like such. The SV panelists decided that “Since when do the able-bodied need a doctor? It’s the sick who do” (Mark 2:17) sounds more like a proverb than “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” They shunned pious terms and selected English equivalents for rough language. Matt 23:13 reads:

    "You scholars and Pharisees, you imposters! Damn you! You slam the door of Heaven’s domain in people’s faces. You yourselves don’t enter, and you block the way of those trying to enter."

    Contrast the New Revised Standard Version:

    "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them."

    “Woe” is not a part of the average American’s working vocabulary. If a person wants to curse someone, that person would not say “woe to you,” but “damn you.” Moreover, the diction of New Revised Standard Version strikes the ear as faintly Victorian. In sum, the translators abandoned the context of polite religious discourse suitable for a Puritan parlor and reinstated the common street language of the original.

    Modern translations, especially those made by academics and endorsed by church boards, tend to reproduce the Greek text, more or less word-for-word. English words are taken from an English-Greek dictionary—always the same English word for the same Greek word—and set down in their Greek order where possible.

    In Mark 4:9 and often elsewhere, this admonition appears in the King James Version: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In addition to being sexist, that is the rendition of a beginning Greek student who wants to impress the instructor by reproducing the underlying Greek text in English.

    I found the section above particularly interesting because a year or so ago Jason BeDuhn, then an assistant professor at Indiana University, was quoted in one of the WTS publications in praise of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (KIT). BeDuhn used the KIT with his beginning Greek students and praised it for the very qualities the translators of the SV wish to avoid—a literal, word-for-word translation with little change in syntax. I understand now how this would be helpful to students of Greek who do want to wrestle with the meaning behind the literal words. Not being a student of Greek, I would rather rely on scholars who are knowledgeable of idioms, colloquialisms, and proverbs, and who are alert to spot puns and plays on words.

    There are many humorous examples on the net of what happens when someone translates literally word-for-word. A few of my favorites:

    Outside a Hong Kong tailor shop: Ladies may have a fit upstairs.
    In a Bangkok dry cleaner's: Drop your trousers here for best results.
    In a Copenhagen airline ticket office: We take your bags and send them in all directions.

    More at:
    Naughty heiroglyphics:

    Back to our text . . .

    In Mark 4:9 and often elsewhere, this admonition appears in the King James Version: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In addition to being sexist, that is the rendition of a beginning Greek student who wants to impress the instructor by reproducing the underlying Greek text in English. One scholar among the SV translators proposed to make this substitution: “A wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse.” The panel agreed that this English proverb was an excellent way to represent the sense of the Greek text. However, the translators did not want to substitute an English expression for one in Greek. They decided, rather, to represent not only the words, phrases, and expressions of the Greek text, but also to capture, if possible, the tone and tenor of the original expression. As a consequence, SV translates the admonition: “Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!” “Two good ears” is precisely what “ears to hear” means, except that it is said in English, and “had better listen” replaces the awkward English “let him hear.” “Had better listen” sounds like something parents might say to inattentive children; “let him hear” would strike the youngster like permission to eavesdrop. . . .

    In addition, SV has attempted to reproduce the assonance of the Greek text. The term “here” is a homophone of “hear”: because the two words are pronounced alike, one reminds the English ear of the other. “Anyone here with two good ears” has the succession sounds -ere, ear, which suggests the assonance of the Greek text, which may be transliterated as ota akouein akoueto (the succession of akou-, akou-, and of ota, -eto, with a shift in vowels). The panelists were not always this successful, but it does illustrate what they were trying to achieve.

    Style is another significant aspect of translation. The style of the Gospel of Mark, for example, is colloquial and oral; it approximates street language. Mark strings sentences together by means of simple conjunctions and hurry-up adverbs, which gives his prose a breathless quality. Both sentences and events follow each other in rapid succession. His account of Peter’s mother-in-law is typical (Mark 1:29-31):

    "They left the synagogue right away and went into the house of Simon and Andrew accompanied by James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her right away. He went up to her, took hold of her hand, raised her up, and the fever disappeared. Then she started looking after them."

    The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, will sound more literary to the English ear than Mark, because Luke writes in a more elevated Greek style.

    Mark often narrates in the present tense rather than in the simple past. He also frequently switches back and forth. Mark makes use of what is called the imperfect tense in Greek, which is used to introduce the typical or customary. By turning Mark’s present and imperfect tenses into simple past tenses, translators in the King James tradition misrepresent and mislead: Mark’s typical scenes are turned into singular events and the oral quality of his style is lost. In contrast, Mark 4:1-2 is translated in SV as:

    "Once again he started to teach beside the sea. An enormous crowd gathers around him, so he climbs into a boat and sits there on the water facing the huge crowd on the shore.

    He would then teach them many things in parables. In the course of his teaching he would tell them. . . ."

    This translation faithfully reproduces Mark’s present tenses. The imperfect is represented by “would teach” and “would tell,” which in English connotes the usual, the customary. This is a typical scene for Mark, one that happened on more than one occasion. On such occasions, Jesus would teach in parables. Among the parables he uttered on those occasions was the parable of the sower.

    At the conclusion of the parable, Mark adds: “And as usual he said, ‘Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!’” According to Mark, Jesus habitually appended this admonition to his parables.

    In another posting, I will share a few of the translations and commentaries that I found particularly interesting.


  • Thirdson


    Wow! I guess I going to have buy the book myself.

    Thanks again,


    'To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing'

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