Correct methodology in this quest is obviously to take all the evidence into account. On any issue the data has to be weighed according to their relevance and according to the reliability of their sources. Reconstructing the history behind Paul's letters therefore requires an evaluation of the reliability of each source document. This is an iterative process in which we must continually re-assess our estimates of the reliability of the sources by judging them against our evolving reconstructed history. No source can be dismissed at the outset.
Unfortunately Campbell does not realize this and proceeds with a flawed methodology that he inherited from Knox. He (rightly) keeps an open mind about the disputed letters:
we cannot at the outset simply exclude as an obvious matter any letters bearing Paul's name. We must make a case for exclusion with respect to each putative Pauline letter; epistolary data is in effect innocent until proved guilty. (p25)yet he arbitrarily dismisses Acts with a wave of the hand:
the data concerning Paul in the book of Acts, the second principal historical reservoir for his life, is something of an unknown quantity. We do not know who wrote Acts, when, where, or - perhaps most importantly - why. (p20)
The Acts data is initially opaque, irrespective of what we make of Paul. It could be spun out of thin air, for all we know. (p21)He then proceeds to build his reconstruction using only Paul's letters, which provide insufficient data on many issues.
We will rely on slender snippets of evidence in what follows, because that is all we have - occasional and fragmentary remains of conversations that took place millennia ago. But we do have evidence, and it will not do to dismiss parts of the following reconstruction with a generic claim that "this is insufficient" or "there is still not enough evidence." If this is the evidence that we have and it explains the data in the best existing fashion, then the correct scientific conclusion must be to endorse it and not to complain that we need more data that unfortunately does not exist. (p18)Campbell's conclusion here is a non-sequator and is obviously false. We should not endorse any conclusion that relies on nothing more than slender snippets of evidence. Yet Campbell does just that throughout the book, building speculation on speculation. However, Paul has left us clear statements on some matters, such as the sequence in which he evangelized the towns of Macedonia and Achaia, and his final voyage around the Aegean. Campbell does a good job at reconstructing these events, as others have done. The fact that Acts scores highly when assessed against these events should give Campbell pause and prompt him to re-consider his dismissal of Acts. Unfortunately he does not make any assessment of Acts and hardly refers to it at all. This left me feeling cheated that I had paid good money for a half finished work.
I very much enjoyed Campbell's demolition of the very common view that Paul visited Corinth and wrote the tearful letter between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. It is odd that he does not equate Titus with Timothy.
He accepts the conventional view that Paul wrote Romans during his last visit to Corinth. He assumes that the letter was read to the Corinthian believers before it was sent and he suggests that Paul wrote much of the contents of the letter with the Corinthian church in mind. In the same way he proposes that Paul's call for the Philippians to unite was intended more for the Corinthians, to whom he read the letter before sending it. He also believes that most of Gal 5:13-6:10 was inappropriate for Paul's Galatian audience, but was written primarily to be read to the Corinthians before the letter was dispatched. Thus Campbell arguments that Philippians and Galatians were written from Corinth during Paul's last stay there. Clearly there could be all sorts of theories about letters being written in part to be heard by the communities where they may have been written, and I am concerned that Campbell does not apply proper controls. More importantly I was unconvinced by the concept. If I need help doing the dishes I ask my children directly. I do not write a letter to my sister, urging her to do the dishes, and then read that letter to my children! Campbell does not explain why Paul would communicate to the Corinthians using letters to other churches rather than just talk to them directly. Nor does he explain why Paul would expose himself to ridicule in Galatian by writing things to them that did apply.
His other main argument for placing Philippians (and Galatians) shortly before Romans is that he sees Judaizing opponents in these letters. This is one of Campbell's slenderest snippets of evidence since it rests on the assumption that the Judaizing movement within the Church loomed large at only one time.
In 2 Cor 8 Paul sends collection delegates to Corinth, and this tells us that the plan was for Paul and the collection delegates to travel from Corinth to Judea without returning to Macedonia. If Philippians was written at this time we would have to suppose that Paul changed his mind and decided that both he and Timothy would return to Macedonia. Also, Campbell does not explain why, on his chronology, there is no mention of the collection in Philippians.
Campbell argues persuasively that Gal 2:10 is a reference to the collection of money from Galatia for Judea. He uses a line of reasoning that Hurtado put forward back in 1976, but does not cite his work. He then assumes, without argument, that the collection from Galatia was intended to be at the same time as the collection from Macedonia and Achaia. His main argument for diverging from the Acts chronology, and for placing Galatians late, hangs on this unexamined assumption. Nor does he explain why Galatians contains no encouragement to the Galatians to give generously, and no expression of disappointment at their failure to give.
It is disappointing that Campbell does not engage with Carlson's work on Gal 2:12, even though he surely must have known about it. Instead he opts (implausibly) for Leudemann's view that the Antioch incident took place before the Jerusalem visit of Gal 2:1-10. It is also disappointing that Campbell assumes that letter carriers read the letters that they delivered, even though Peter Head (who has studied the issue in detail) has told him that there is no evidence for this.
Like most commentators, he places 1 Thessalonians soon after Paul's first visit to Thessalonica. Strangely, he says that it was written from Athens. Others (e.g. Donfried and Witherington) have pointed out that if it was written from Athens Paul would have written "left alone here" instead of "left alone in Athens" in 1 Thess 3:1.
Campbell places Colossians and Philemon very early suggests that they were written not far from Colossae. His reasoning is this:
Moreover, the letter (Philemon) presupposes an effective founding visit from some member of the Pauline mission. But Paul himself sends no greetings from the local "brothers"at his location, so he does not seem himself to be imprisoned at the site of a successful mission; no local christian seems to be named besides itinerant members of his circle of coworkers. (p256. See also p261).This is very weak. People send greetings to those they know. The greeters in Philemon (and Colossians if genuine) are all itinerant co-workers because it is the itinerant co-workers who had visited the addressees. The absence of local believers among the greeters means only that Philemon had not visited a church in the town where Paul was being held. It does not mean that there was no church in that town. Campbell's early dating of Philemon and Colossians is therefore without evidence.
Campbell judges Paul to be the author of Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians. I don't have much to say about his arguments and I am not an expert on this issue. He feels that many of the arguments for pseudonymity have been over-stated. I wonder, however, whether he over-corrects and ends up giving insufficient weight to those arguments.
He judges the Pastoral Epistles to be pseudonymous. It is refreshing that, unlike some others, he does not seek to give the author the benefit of every doubt on the historical accuracy of the contents. For me, his chapter on the PE was the most valuable. His discussion of the author's knowledge (or lack of it) of "Titus" and "Timothy" was particularly inlightening.
While my review of the book is rather negative, it has to be said that I am hard to please when it comes to books on NT chronology. If I have been overly critical please let me know in the comments.