New Testament Chronology
New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)
The story of the growth of the early church is told primarily by Luke in the book of Acts,1 with some clues available from Paul's epistles. The chapters that follow tell primarily of Paul's travels, as dating for Peter is mostly uncertain. Certainty for dating Paul's wanderings is also elusive. Although Acts is essentially presented in chronological order, there are few solid historical references that can be tied to specific dates.2 The references from Scripture that might be datable are:
1. The reign of King Aretas of Nabataea. His ethnarch and the Jews of Damascus intended to kill Paul.
2. The famine under Claudius, when Paul brought relief funds to the Christians at Jerusalem.
3. The reign and death of Herod Agrippa I, who had James killed and Peter imprisoned.
4. The term of proconsul Sergius Paulus in Cyprus, during Paul's first missionary journey.
5. Claudius' expulsion of the Jews from Rome, when the fleeing Aquila and Priscilla met Paul in Corinth during the second missionary journey.
6. The term of proconsul Gallio in Achaia, who acquitted Paul.
7. Dating the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when Paul departed from Philippi.
8. Dating the Egyptian revolutionary, in a case of mistaken identity with Paul.
9. The terms of procurators Felix and Festus, when Paul was imprisoned.
10. The "fast" of the Day of Atonement during the voyage of Paul to Rome.
11. The persecution of Christians under Nero, which occurred after the end of the story of Acts.
A thread that ties the early years to the middle years of the growth of the Church in the New Testament is Paul's reference to fourteen years between his first and third visits to Jerusalem. This was from after his fleeing from Damascus in late 34 or early 35 CE to the Apostolic Conference in early 48 CE. The Apostolic Conference is backdated from Paul's appearance before Gallio in about July of 51 CE, during the second missionary journey. From Paul's third missionary journey Acts moves forward to his arrest in Jerusalem in about June of 57 CE. Paul was imprisoned for two years in Judea, and he remained imprisoned during a hazardous winter voyage to Rome. After two further years under house arrest in Rome Luke's story of Paul ends in about March of 62 CE. The books of Luke and Acts appear as a complete unit and were likely completed during the two-year stay in Rome.3
Although Luke reckoned by the Syro-Macedonian calendar, he appears to give exact time durations rather than inclusive reckoning. Paul was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), and his dating was likely that of the Diaspora calendar that dated from the fall new year beginning in Tishri. Paul does appear to use normal Jewish inclusive reckoning. The Jewish festivals are calculated by the Second Temple Calendar.
The dating is presented in skeleton format,
which gives little of the disappointments and joys of the early Church.
The book of Acts should be read concurrently to fill in the outline.
1. J. Taylor, "The Making of Acts: A New Account," RB 97, 4 (1990), 504, reviews there were three redactions of Acts, with the second made by Luke. There are also three source documents posited.
2. D. Moody, "A New Chronology for the New Testament," R&E 78 (1981), 213-218, supports Acts being divided into five-year "books" with summaries at Pentecost in 34, 39, 44, 49, 54 and 59 CE. His chronology is adjusted to fit these dates.
3. Moody, "New Chronology," 224-522; J. A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (London: SCM Press, 1976), 325.