I am revisiting the out-of-print book The Origin of 1 Corinthians by John C. Hurd Jr.
Hurd believed that he could trace development in Paul’s theology in the letters. Most scholars agreed that Paul’s theology developed, but thought that those developments were over by the time he wrote his first letters. In other words, if Paul received his call in the early to mid thirties and then wrote all his letters between, say, 49 and 57 C.E., then Paul’s thinking probably was pretty much set by the time he started writing letters.’‘
Hurd questioned this chronology. It is based on the assumption that the Acts gives us history in chronological order. However, the firmest chronological information we have comes from Paul himself in Galatians. After he received his call in Damascus, he went up to Jerusalem three years later and spent just 15 days there. He did not return to Jerusalem for 14 years. He stakes a lot on this chronology. “By God, I do not lie” (1:20). Yet Acts does have Paul returning to Jerusalem during that time (12:25). Also Paul’s letters mention a number of things that happened to Paul, multiple shipwrecks, beatings, and so on that Acts never tells us about. So Acts is not giving us a complete picture.
Hurd argued that, based just on its content, 2 Thessalonians conjures up the Emperor Caligula’s effort to set up an idol in the Jerusalem Temple in about 40 C.E. Thus 2 Thessalonians would have been Paul’s first letter. Romans, written in the mid to late 50‘s, before Paul delivered his collection to Jerusalem would have been at least 15 years later. 1 Corinthians shows Paul just beginning to organized the collection. So it would have been a few years earlier.
Now I happen to disagree with his early date for the Thessalonian letters. And I think the hearing before Gallio in Acts 18:12, which we can independently date, is important for the history of events at Corinth. A big step forward in Pauline chronology was made in 1979 when Robert Jewett published A Chronology of Paul’s Life. Jewett took Karl Popper’s scientific method and used it to falsify a number of previous theories. Jewett dates the Thessalonian correspondence in about 50 and the Corinthian letters in about 55. But Jewett thought Hurd’s sequence of Paul’s ministry without the dates was about right.
Hurd’s first chapter about chronology and development in Paul’s theology is relevant but not essential to his treatment of 1 Corinthians. And I think Paul’s thinking does seem to have developed even during the short period of his letter writing. In 1 Corinthians 15 he seems, for instance, quite sure that the parousia or return of Christ will happen during his life time. By the time he writes 2 Corinthians 5, he has changed his perspective–and this cannot be much more than a year later.