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New Testament Chronology

New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)

Kenneth Frank Doig
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Exact Dating of the Birth and Crucifixion of Jesus

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Chapter 25
GROWTH OF THE EARLY CHURCH, 30 TO 47 CE
The Crucifixion Through the First Missionary Journey

Since the date of Jesus' crucifixion in 30 CE is already established, this is the first entry.

30, April 7 - The Crucifixion.

30, April 9 to May 19 - The Resurrection and Resurrection Appearances.

30, May 28 - Pentecost and the First Days.

30 - Stephen Stoned and the Church Scattered.

After Pentecost, the Scriptures suggest that little time passed until the stoning of Stephen and the scattering of the church. The time references read: "And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved," (Acts 2:47) and "And they laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day," (Acts 4:3) and "For all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales," (Acts 4:34) and "At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place," (Acts 5:12) and "An angel of the Lord during the night opened the gates of the prison," (Acts 5:19) and "Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ," (Acts 5:42) and "Now at this time . . . select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom," (Acts 6:1, 3) and "Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people," (Acts 6:8) and Stephen was brought before the Council and then stoned to death.1 The persecution of the new church immediately followed, and the church was scattered.

The resurrection of Jesus followed by the initial conversions of 3,000 (Acts 2:41) and 5,000 (Acts 4:4) souls would have rapidly created a mixed sense of joy, wonder or anger among those in Jerusalem. The murderous mood of the chief priests that had led to Jesus' crucifixion was only heightened by the preaching of Peter, the Apostles, and now their many disciples. The Jewish leaders would not have allowed such a challenge to their traditional teachings to persist for any length of time. The momentum gained in the first months culminated in the death of Stephen, probably three to six months later. That one to three years might be included at this time for the growth of the church does not fit the wording or events described.

One interpretation of Gabriel's prophecy to Daniel of the Seventy Weeks requires that there be three and a half years from the crucifixion until the stoning of Stephen and the scattering of the Church. Such does not seem supported by the Scriptures and the murderous mood of the Jewish leaders.

31, August [October] - Paul's Conversion and First Visit to Damascus.

With the scattering of the Church, Paul2 followed up his advantage to continue the persecution of the fleeing Christians. He obtained a letter from the high priest (Acts 9:2) and proceeded toward Damascus. On the way he had a vision of Jesus and was blinded (Acts 9:3-9). Jesus appeared to Paul "last of all," (1 Cor. 15:8) and the Ascension of Isaiah 9:16 said Jesus was eighteen months in the world after His resurrection.3 Eighteen months after the crucifixion was in Elul, which began August 9 in 31 CE. [Correction: The Ascension of Isaiah 9:16 reads "And when He hath plundered the angel of death, He will ascend on the third day, [and he will remain in that world five hundred and forty-five days]." 545 days from 15 Nisan 3791 is 28 Tishri 3792, or about 1 Oct 31 Gregorian or 3 Oct 31 Julian. Perhaps we should add 3 days to these] When Paul arrived in Damascus, he was healed, and began to preach Jesus in the synagogues (Acts 9:10-22).

The story at this point is discontinuous, as the following verse begins after Paul had gone to Arabia and returned to Damascus. The length of his first stay in Damascus and the time in Arabia is presumed at something over a year.

33 to 35 - Paul's Second Visit to Damascus, Fled from Aretas. Gal. 1:17 - "I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus." Acts 9:23-25 - "And when many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. And they were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket." 2 Cor. 11:32-33 - "In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands."

After Paul's conversion and first visit to Damascus he went away to Arabia for an unknown period. When he returned to Damascus the second time he completed a three-year ministry there, ending in 35 (see below). While in Arabia his early preaching must have offended King Aretas IV. His preaching in Damascus certainly offended the Jews.

Both the Jews and the "ethnarch under Aretas" were on guard to seize Paul. Ethnarch is often translated "governor," implying that Aretas IV had some control over Damascus. Aretas IV, the Nabataean king, began his reign in Petra in about 9 BCE (Ant. XVI 11:9). His inscriptions and coins cease in his forty-eighth year, making his death in about 39 CE. However, there is no historical record that he ever had control over Damascus, which was long under the control of the Romans. Distinctive Nabataean pottery is virtually unknown north of the Dead Sea. The northern part of the Nabataean kingdom in southern Syria was not reached through the Transjordan, but through the Wadi Sirhan. However, pottery in the area of Damascus was of the same style as late Hellenistic Roman, more characteristic of Israel than Nabataea. The "ethnarch" may only have been the leader of the Nabataean colony in Damascus. The lack of confirmation during this period seems to rule out the possibility that Aretas did gain military control, or possibly was given control by the Romans.

A simple explanation may be available. The Romans did allow the Jews in Alexandria to be ruled by a Jewish ethnarch, "who governs the nation, and distributes justice to them, and takes care of their contracts, and of the laws to them belonging, as if he were the ruler of a free republic." (Ant. XIV 7:2) From the comment in Scripture it is easy to conclude the Romans also allowed a Nabataean ethnarch in Damascus, with similar powers.

There is a lack of specific proof to satisfy the Scriptures and fit into a chronology. Therefore, other suggestions have been previously made to establish the presence of a Nabataean ethnarch in Damascus:

1. The Jews of Damascus, with the support of an ambassador from King Aretas IV, gained permission from the Romans to extradite Paul if they could capture him. Their intent, however, was to kill him. This could have taken place any time between about 32 and 39. The earliest date is determined by three years inclusive from the crucifixion of Jesus and the latest the death of Aretas IV.

2. The Jews of Damascus, with the support of a commander and men from Aretas, sought to capture Paul. This was done without the knowledge or approval of the Romans. The cosmopolitan character of Damascus would have allowed the Jews and Nabataeans to watch the seven gates from the inside, and possibly outside, without arousing the suspicions of the Roman troops. This also might have taken place any time between 32 and 39.

3. Aretas gained control of Damascus in about 34, and his governor supported the Jew's efforts to capture Paul. This would have had to have been through a military adventure. This possibility is supposedly supported by the lack of Roman coins in Damascus for the period from 34 to 62. However, the Damascus mint closed from 32 to 53 CE, and all coins were supplied from Antioch.4 The limited extent of the archeological excavations prevents this lack of coins from being conclusive. Also, it could not prove that it was Aretas who had control of Damascus, since there is also a lack of Nabataean coins. Also, Josephus makes the following comment: "The Damascenes were at difference with the Sidonians about their limits, and when Flaccus was about to hear the cause between them. . . ." (Ant. XVIII 6:3) Flaccus was the Roman president of Syria from 32 to 35 CE, and this was near the end of his term when Agrippa sailed to Rome. Since a Roman was arbitrating difficulties in Damascus, Rome must have had control of Damascus then. It does not seem possible that Aretas IV had any control of Damascus by 34/35 CE.

4. The Roman government granted Aretas control of Damascus in about 37.5 Under Tiberius (14-37 CE) the official policy for the eastern frontier was to encourage regularly organized provinces such as Syria, as opposed to client kingdoms such the Nabataea. In 36 Tiberius favored Herod Antipas over Aretas in a border conflict. The Syrian governor Vitellius and two legions were sent against Aretas in about May of 37.6 They went by ship to Ptolemais and crossed through lower Galilee on the way to Petra. If Aretas had controlled Damascus at that time the Romans would likely have proceeded against it first. However, seizing the Nabataean capitol might have produced a better advantage, ending in the eventual surrender of Damascus. Whatever the Roman strategy, the attack was called off with the news of the death of Tiberius on March 16, 37. With the new emperor, Gaius (37-41 CE), the colonial policy was reversed, with a favoring of client kingdoms. Recorded are the granting of independence to Commagene in 37 and the area of Iturea in 38; in 37 and 39 Agrippa II received increases in his territory in Transjordan. Unrecorded is the granting of control of Damascus to Aretas IV, or anyone else. However, this position presumes that in about mid 37 Gaius gave control of Damascus to the former enemy of Rome, Aretas IV. It has been suggested that Gaius owed Aretas a favor. This position attempts to limit the possible departure of Paul from Damascus in mid 37 to 39, but this is only speculation with no supporting evidence. There is yet no evidence of Nabataean coins or pottery from that period.

The Nabataeans do not appear to have ever controlled Damascus during the reign of Aretas IV. The Romans probably allowed a Nabataean ethnarch to be chief of his community in Damascus, and he assisted the Jews in their attempt to kill Paul. The attempted dating of this event does not further the dating of the chronology.

35 - Paul's First Visit to Jerusalem. Gal. 1:18-19 - "Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas (Simon Peter), and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother."

The three years ended when Paul left Damascus for his first Jerusalem visit after his conversion. It is the length of stay during his second Damascus visit. The three years do not appear to be measured from his conversion or his first visit to Damascus. The year 35 is determined by working backwards fourteen inclusive years (Gal. 2:1-2) from the Apostolic Conference in 48 CE.7 This layout, and the entire chronology of Acts, is given on Chart XXXI.

Chart XXXI
Chronology of the Early Church
Year      
30     Crucifixion to Church Dispersed
31 Galatians   Paul's Conversion enroute to Damascus
32 1:18    
33 1 Galatians 2nd Visit to Damascus
34 2 2:1  
35 3 1 1st Jerusalem Visit / Visit Peter
36   2  
37   3  
38   4  
39   5  
40   6  
41   7  
42   8 Paul in Antioch
43   9 2nd Jerusalem Visit / Famine Relief
44   10  
45   11 1st Missionary Journey / 45-47 CE
46   12  
47   13  
48   14 3rd Jerusalem Visit / Apostles Conference
49     2nd Missionary Journey / 48 to 51 CE
50      
51     4th Jerusalem Visit / Contribute to Poor
52      
53     3rd Missionary Journey / 53 to 57 CE
54      
55      
56      
57     5th Jerusalem Visit / Paul Arrested
58      
59     Paul Before Festus / Sent to Rome
60     Paul Arrived in Rome
61      
62     End of 2 Years / Paul Killed or Released

The emphasis in Paul's statements about the fourteen years in Galatians 2:1-2 (see text below) is to show that he received his ministry directly from Jesus and was independent of the leadership in Jerusalem. In his first visit he met with Barnabas, Peter, and James. His preaching in Jerusalem quickly led to attempts to kill him. He then proceeded "into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea." (Gal. 1:21-22) That he did not remain to preach in Judea is confirmed when "they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus." (Acts 9:30)

35 to 43 Peter's Ministry. No specific dating seems possible.

42/43 Paul Taught in Antioch. Acts 11:25-26 - "And he (Barnabas) left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers." This is backdated from the probable "famine" Passover in 43.

43 Famine Prophesied. Acts 11:27-30 - "Now at that time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea."

By this dating the prophecy probably occurred in the first months of 43, before the harvest began. This was at the end of Paul's first year of ministry in Antioch. Since it was a prophesy of a coming event, the collections for relief and delivery to Jerusalem may have occurred before the famine happened or in its early stages. Just as the Pharaoh had proceeded on faith that Joseph's interpretation of his dream was correct, the delivery of provisions and money could have been years ahead of the actual famine. The Sabbatical year in 41/42 followed by bad weather and crop loss in 42/43 would have produced famine until the crops were harvested in 44. Additional years of bad weather would have extended this time.

Just before the death of Agrippa I in early autumn of 43 CE, "he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king's chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king's country." (Acts 12:20) The implication is that the people of Tyre and Sidon humbled themselves before Agrippa for want of food. The harvest season of 43 CE was over and short of their needs. They sued for peace to help reduce the effects of the famine.

Claudius Caesar reigned from 41 to 54. If a worldwide famine occurred during a particular year of this period it is not recorded, although Suetonius does record a persistent succession of droughts (Claudius 18:2). There are records of famines in various years during Claudius' reign in Rome (41/42, 49/50 and 51/52), Egypt (45/46), and Greece (48/49),8 but no consistent pattern. The famine all over the "world" is translated from a Greek word (o_koum_nhn) that can be interpreted in more limited ways meaning "inhabited earth" or "Roman Empire."

The famine in Acts is usually tied to Queen Helena of Adiabene's visit to Jerusalem when she found the area in the midst of famine (Ant. XX 2:5). In his preceding chapter Josephus begins and ends with events immediately following the death of Herod Agrippa on September 28, 43 CE. This would place the visit of Queen Helena in 44 CE. She purchased large quantities of corn from Alexandria in Egypt as part of her famine relief. This must have been also done in 44, as an irregular Nile caused food shortages in Egypt from the autumn of 44 or 45 to the spring of 46 or 47.9 However, the famine is often dated in 46 CE, or later.10

43, March - Famine Relief Visit to Jerusalem/Paul's Second Visit - Acts 11:30 - "And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders."11

Paul probably departed in early spring to bring the supplies to Jerusalem. This also would have allowed Barnabas and Paul to be in Jerusalem during the Passover. The persecutions that were occurring then appear to have kept them from making contact with the apostles.12 The arrival of relief funds from Gentile Christians may have produced envy among the Jews, and possibly a cause for action against Peter and the Church.

43, April - Peter Imprisoned. Acts 12:3 - "And when he (Herod Agrippa I) saw that it (the murder of James) pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was the days of Unleavened Bread." Peter's imprisonment is placed in 43 because it is the last Passover before the death of Herod Agrippa I.

In 43 Passover fell on April 13. Peter's arrest may have occurred between Nisan 8 and Nisan 14 when pilgrims were arriving in Jerusalem, or shortly after the Feast began. Herod probably intended to hold Peter in prison until after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which ended at sunset on Nisan 21. Herod would then have executed him the following morning, Nisan 22. Peter's escape would have been the night of Nisan 21, April 20, since it was "on the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward." (Acts 12:6)

43, April - Paul Returned to Antioch. Acts 12:25 - "Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission."

Because the famine supplies were delivered, the Feast over and the persecutions continued, Barnabas and Paul would have left Jerusalem by the end of Nisan.

A supposed scriptural problem arises because of Paul's second Jerusalem visit for famine relief. Paul indicated a period of fourteen years between his first Jerusalem visit in 35 and the third Jerusalem visit in 48. There is no indication of an intervening visit mentioned in Gal. 2:1. However, as noted, Paul's emphasis in Galatians is his knowledge through revelation and lack of contact with the apostles. He is no doubt correct in saying that he made no contact with them for fourteen years. He did not say he did not make another trip to Jerusalem. It can be assumed from his statements in Galatians that he made no contact with the apostles during his second visit to Jerusalem for famine relief. This is especially so in light of James's death and Peter's imprisonment.

43, Fall - Herod Agrippa Died. Acts 12:23 - "An angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died." Herod Agrippa I died in Caesarea after the Augustalia, on September 28, 43 CE.

45 to 47 - First Missionary Journey. Acts 13 and 14.

It is assumed that after another year or two in Antioch that Paul would have departed about the spring of 45. Allowing time for his mission, his return was probably by the fall of 47.13 Specific time-related references do not occur in the description of Paul's first missionary journey. However, one Scripture does seem to offer promise of dating: "When they had gone through the whole island (Cyprus) as far as Paphos they found . . . the proconsul, Sergius Paulus." (Acts 13:6-7) An inscription found at Kythraia in northern Cyprus mentions a Quintus Sergius Paullus.14 Another inscription found at Soloi on the north coast of Cyprus mentions a governmental reorganization "in the proconsulship of Paulus." The inscription is dated in the tenth year, but there is no indication from what year the ten years are measured. If it were dated from the accession of Claudius in 41, then the inscription would have been in 50/51. This date does not conflict with the chronology, but it does not further it either.



Notes:

1. D. Moody, "A New Chronology for the New Testament," R&E 78 (1981), 211, and "A New Chronology for the Life and Letters of Paul," CKC, 224, supports the stoning of Stephen in 36 CE based on a power vacuum left by Pilate's removal.  Pilate actually left in early 37 CE, and there is no evidence that his successor was without power.

2. The name Paul will be used throughout, even for the period when he was called Saul.

3. J. J. Gunther, Paul: Messenger and Exile - A Study in the Chronology of His Life and Letters (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1972), 26.

4. E. Bammel, "Syrian Coinage and Pilate," JJS 2 (1951).

5. E. Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ Vol. 2 (London: Clark, 1979 rev.), 129.

6. The dating of this campaign is given in the chapter, "Pontius Pilate in Judea," page 169.

7. Since Paul likely reckoned from a new year in the fall, then the beginning of the fourteen years may have been in the later part of 34 CE. The three years might then begin in late 32 CE.

8. F. F. Bruce, "Chronological Questions in the Acts of the Apostles," JRUL 68 (1986), 278,n.18.

9. B. Levic, Claudius (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1990), 109.

10. Levic, Claudius, 109, ties the Christian relief from Antioch to a grain shortage in Syria in 46 or 47. J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), 142, places the famine in the time of procurator Tiberius Alexander, with the famine dated to 46-48 CE.

11. S. Dockx, "The First Missionary Voyage of Paul: Historical Reality or Literary Creation of Luke?," CKC, 211, tries to establish that this is the same trip to Jerusalem as Acts 15:1-29, after his first missionary journey, which Dockx (p. 221) characterizes as "not a page of history, but a painting by Luke."

12. Apostles are distinguished from elders in Acts 15:4, although Peter calls himself an "elder" in 1 Peter 5:1.

13. J. W. Drane, "Review of Robert Jewett's Dating Paul's Life," JSNT 9 (1980), 74, notes the general agreement that early in Paul's ministry he thought the "end" was near and spread the Gospel as fast as possible. Therefore, the first missionary journey did not take three to four years.

14. Bruce, "Chronological Questions in Acts," 279-280.

 

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