Chronology of Paul’s Epistles

Milton Dunavant

Paul’s Pre-Prison Epistles

We are able to establish very nearly when and from where each epistle was written with relative accuracy. This can be determined from the information revealed within the text of the epistles, themselves, and by correlating it with the corresponding history of Paul’s journeys of the same time frame found in the book of Acts. It is important to observe the progressive revelation of truth and to know which epistles were written prior to Paul’s imprisonment in order to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Paul’s writing of Ephesians and Colossians, revealed for the first time that the middle wall of partition between the Jews and the Gentiles had been broken down. During that time of the church age, the believing Jews (including Paul) continued to observe the law but the Gentiles were told to observe no such things (Acts 21:25). Therefore, believers were admonished to “give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.

To view a companion time line, click here.

To view a companion chart showing Paul's epistles in the contest of the Book of Acts, click here

First Thessalonians was written from Corinth, on Paul’s 2nd missionary journey [Corresponding to Acts 18:1-5]. Having ministered to the Thessalonians and having left Silas and timothy at Berea, Paul had gone to Athens and had sent some brethren from Athens to Berea to get Silas and Timothy. They caught-up to Paul after he had left Athens and had gone to Corinth. 1st Thessalonians was written after they had been in Thessalonica (2:1-14) and had been taken from them for a short time (2:17). Silas and Timothy were with Paul again (1:1) when he wrote the epistle, requiring it to be written from Corinth. Paul continued there in Corinth a year and six months, ministering the word of God.

Second Thessalonians was also written from Corinth, during their one year and six months stay [Corresponding to Acts 18:11-18]. The 2nd epistle was prompted by the messenger’s return from Thessalonica and their good report, causing Paul to thank God for their exceeding growth in faith (2 Thess. 1:3). The second epistle can be assigned to a time about one year after the first epistle, again having the names of Paul, Silas, and Timothy in the salutation. They were present with Paul at the writing of both the first and second letters and the prevailing conditions were very near the same at each time.

When Paul took his leave of the brethren and sailed into Syria, he took with him Priscilla and Aquila. He came to Ephesus and left them there. After reasoning with the Jews he did not tarry long, saying, he must by all means keep the feast in Jerusalem (Acts 18:21).

First Corinthians was written from Ephesus (16:8), during Paul’s third journey [Corresponding to Acts 19:1-41]. Paul began the 3rd journey from Antioch of Syria and at the first went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples (Acts 18:23). For three years, Paul ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears (Acts 20:31). Paul said he would tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost (1 Cor. 16:8); indicating his presence in Ephesus. Aq’ui-la and Pris-cil’a sent their salutation and also the church that was in their house (16:19). The record of Paul’s three year stay in Ephesus was also verified in Acts 20:31 and further detailed in Acts 19:1-41.

Galatians was most likely written from Ephesus, near the same time as 1 Corintians, before or after, but not later than the subsequent time spent in Macedonia and Corinth, during Paul’s third journey [Corresponding to Acts 19:1-41 or soon after]. Paul had toured Galatia on his 2nd journey (Acts 16:6) and again, his second tour of Galatia was in the first part of the 3rd journey (Acts 18:23). Leaving Galatia, Paul traveled to Ephesus, where he remained for the following three years.
Paul speaks of having preached the gospel (Gal. 4:13) unto them at the first, apparently, eluding to his travels throughout Galatia on his 2nd journey (Acts 16:6) which was followed by a later journey into Galatia on his 3rd journey (Acts 18:23).

Paul wrote them saying that he marveled that they were so soon removed from the Lord, who had called them into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel (Gal. 1:6). Paul thus indicated his writing of Galatians was soon after his most recent tour of Galatia.

Paul addressed the error of the Jews in imposing Jewish ordnances, such as circumcision upon the Galatian (Gentile) believers (Gal. 6:12-16). He extended the peace and mercy of God upon believing Gentiles who walked in the truth and upon believing Jews, the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). This term addressed the distinction of believing Jews, in contrast to believing Gentiles, and the church of God during the transition period. This is an important note, relating to rightly dividing the word of truth (1 Cor. 10:32-33). The above texts confirm this epistle to the time of Paul’s 3rd journey and before his imprisonment in Rome.

Second Corinthians was written from Macedonia, during Paul’s 3rd journey [Corresponding to Acts 20:1]. Leaving Ephesus, Paul had traveled westward, expecting to find Titus and not finding him at Troas (2 Cor. 2:13), Paul pressed on into Macedonia where their flesh had no rest, having trouble on every side, but was comforted by the coming of Titus and by the good report from Corinth (2 Cor. 7:5-7).

Romans was apparently written from Corinth near the end of Paul’s 3rd journey [Corresponding to Acts 20:3]. Obviously written during the three month’s stay in Achaia (Greece) and shortly before he departed from Corinth. Romans was delivered to Rome by Phe’be, a resident of Cen’chrea of Greece. And when the Jews laid wait for Paul as he was about to sail into Syria, he purposed (by change of plans) to return through Macedonia (Acts 20:3), having Luke with him. Apparently to conceal Paul’s departure, seven of the brethren boarded a ship and sailed to Troas and tarried for Paul and those with him (Acts 20:4-5), while Paul escaped, going through Macedonia and from Philippi to Troas (Acts 20:6). In the book of Romans, Paul said he was preparing to go to Jerusalem to minister to them a certain contribution for the poor saints at Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-26).

Paul commended Phe’be to the Roman believers in this epistle as a servant of the church at Cen’chrea, which was near to Corinth to the southeast. He admonished the Romans to receive her and assist her in whatsoever she had need of them, mentioning her care of himself and others (Rom. 16:1-2).

Paul sent greetings to Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3-5), who had returned to Rome from Ephesus, after Paul had written 1 Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19).

From Troas, Paul’s company journeyed on to Jerusalem, arriving in time for the feast of Pentecost which was 50 days after the feast of unleavened bread. While observing the days of purification associated with the feast of Pentecost, Paul was apprehended and was held as a prisoner. This event was the beginning of his years of imprisonment in Judea and also in Rome.

The Jewish Christians were walking according to their Jewish law and economy, from the time of Christ’s ministry on earth until a few years after Paul was imprisoned in Rome.

The Gentiles walked without the law during this same time, as they were instructed that they were to observe no such things (Acts 21:25).

There were two walks of the believers for the Jews and for the Gentiles, yet they associated together and were one in Christ and were both one in the one body, the church.

All three categories must be properly recognized and considered to fulfill Paul’s admonition, saying, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:” (1 Cor. 10:32).

Paul wrote Timothy, saying, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” To rightly divide the word of truth, we must properly apply the truth belonging to the Jews, to the Jews - that belonging to the Gentiles, to the Gentiles- and that belonging to the church of God, to the church of God.

Paul’s Prison Epistles

Hebrews was written from Rome, during Paul’s imprisonment (13:24; 10:34; 13:23) after arriving in Rome [Corresponding to Acts 28:25-31]. It was the first epistle written after his imprisonment and it expressed hope of his being restored to the saints again at some future time (Heb. 13:19). It was most likely written about the time in which he had reasoned with the elders and chief Jews of Rome and had said, “Be it known therefore unto you that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it” (Acts 28:27-28) In Hebrews the 8th chapter, Paul spoke of the future covenant which the Lord would make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah; then he made the comment, “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.”

Therefore, the book of Hebrews was written prior to the books of Ephesians and Colossians which revealed for the first time that the middle wall of partition between the Jews and Gentiles was broken down and the ordnances of the Law were “nailed to the cross” (Eph. 2 and Col. 2).

Ephesians was written from Rome, during Paul’s imprisonment (3:1; 4:1; 6:20). [Corresponding to a time after the book of Acts] It was delivered by Tych’i-cus, having the run-away slave, O-nes’i-mus, with him as he escorts him back to his master, Philemon (6:21-22). It was written after the book of Hebrews and is like Colossians which also revealed for the first time that the middle wall of partition between the Jews and Gentiles was broken down, “having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:” (Eph. 2 and Col. 2).

Colossians was written from Rome, [during Paul’s imprisonment (4:10)]. This book was delivered by Tych’i-cus, having the run-away slave, O-nes’i-mus, with him as he escorts him back to his master, Philemon (4:7-9). It was written after the book of Hebrews and is like Ephesians which also revealed for the first time that they were quickened together with Christ, “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Eph. 2 and Col. 2).

Philemon was written from Rome, [during Paul’s imprisonment (v-1; 9-10)]. Timothy was with Paul (v-1), This book was written in the latter part of this first imprisonment and was delivered by Tych’i-cus, (Col. 4:7-9) as Paul wrote to Philemon and Ap’phi-a, his wife and to Ar-chip’pus, their son and fellow soldier, and to the church in his house (v-1-2). Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, were written in the same time frame and, apparently, all three epistles were delivered by Tych’i-cus. Apparently, they were delivered together by Tych’i-cus, having the run-away slave, O-nes’i-mus, with him as he escorts him back to his master, Philemon, not as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, (v-10-12). Paul admonished them to prepare him a lodging, trusting to be given to them through their prayers (v-22).
Philippians was written from Rome, [during Paul’s imprisonment (1:13)]. Timothy was with Paul (1:25-26). The book was written in the latter part of his first imprisonment. Paul’s epistle was delivered by E-paph-ro-di’us (2:25). Paul expressed confidence of being released and coming to them (1:25-26). Paul trusted in the Lord to send Timothy shortly to them to comfort them and to know their state (2:19). Paul trusted in the Lord that he also would come to them shortly (2:24).

First Timothy
was written from Macedonia,
[after Paul was released from prison].
Apparently, after Paul had been released from prison, he had toured in Asia, and had left Timothy at Ephesus and journeyed to Macedonia (1:3). From there, Paul wrote Timothy, instructing him about the qualifications and work of elders and deacons, hoping to return to Timothy shortly, but if he tarried long, Timothy might know how he ought to behave himself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God (3:14-15). Paul admonished Timothy, saying, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”(4:13).

Titus was written [after Paul was released from prison and near the same time as 1st Timothy]. Apparently, after Paul had been released from prison, he had toured in Asia, and had left Timothy at Ephesus while he journeyed to other areas (including Macedonia) (1 Tim. 1:3). At some point, Paul had also left Titus in Crete to set in order the things that were wanting (1:5). Paul writes Titus, saying, “When I shall send Ar’te-mas unto thee, or Tych’i-cus, be diligent to come unto me to Ni-cop’o-lis: for I have determined there to winter (3:12). Apparently, Paul was going to send a fellow laborer to relieve Titus and to let him meet Paul at Ni-cop’o-lis which was on the western coast of Achaia.

Second Timothy was written from Rome, [during Paul’s 2nd imprisonment (1:8 & 17)]. All they in Asia were turned away from Paul, but On-e-siph’o-rus was not ashamed of his chain and when he came to Rome, he sought him out very diligently and found him (1:16-17). Only Luke was with Paul at that time (4:11). Paul had sent Tych’i-cus to Ephesus (4:12). Apparently, Timothy was in Asia; therefore, Paul asked him to bring his cloke, which he had left at Tro’as, and some books and parchments (4:13).

In this final epistle, written by the apostle Paul, he said, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” (4:6) In speaking of Timothy to the Philippians, (Phil. 2:20-22) Paul said, “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state, for all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.” As Paul was about to depart his earthly life, he wanted to see Timothy and John Mark one last time, saying, “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me.” (4:9).
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