“Chronology of the NT” for L.B.D.

February 15, 2011

(Again, this is copyrighted material [Logos Bible Software].  So, it’s fine for your own use.  Just don’t publish it as if it’s your own material.  Thank you!)

*Chronology of the New Testament. The study of the dating and sequencing of the New Testament books and related events. Because of the historical roots of Christianity, chronology is an important study. The traditional New Testament dating throughout most of church history was significantly overturned by a consensus of Enlightenment/Liberal thinking. However, the enormous impact of J.A.T. Robinson’s Redating the New Testament, combined with resurgent evangelical scholarship, has largely restored the working consensus to much earlier dating. Firm historical dating is available for enough of the major New Testament events to allow for very plausible dating for other events and books. It must be understood, though, that current scholarly disagreements in some areas of dating/chronology do have major consequences in interpretation.*

!! The Importance of Dating/Chronology for NT Studies. Historic Christianity has been based on factually true historical events and trustworthy historical documents, both of which are open for inspection. When the Apostle Paul was interrupted in his testimony about his conversion and commission related to Christ’s death and resurrection and accused by the Roman governor, Festus, of being “out of your mind” (Acts 26:24, HCSB), Paul’s response was, “On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment… . This was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:25, 26, HCSB). Paul’s point has equal force today. The events and inspired biblical documents of the New Testament Era were public.  Those documents have survived in copies, and some of the events are part of the historical record. As such, there are available for investigation that sheds valuable light on our understanding of that period and the New Testament documents.

!! The Traditional Dating/Chronology of the NT. Until the 1700s, the almost unchallenged consensus of biblical scholars was there was no reason to doubt the historicity of the events seen on the pages of the New Testament or the apparent related dates of the books of the New Testament canon. In early church history, the order of writing of the Gospels was assumed to be that in the New Testament. Over time, a consensus emerged that Matthew and Luke came first, then Mark. Paul’s letters were comfortably harmonized with related events in Acts and the traditional date of his death. The General Letters were sequenced generally around the traditional dates of James’ and Peter’s deaths and the destruction of Jerusalem. A quotation from Irenaeus was considered a firm basis for the publication of Revelation in about A.D. 95, as the final aspect of New Testament chronology.

!! The Enlightenment-Liberal Dating/Chronology of the NT. Enlightenment rationalism, with its agenda of discarding the supernatural, eventually brought about a radical rethinking of every aspect of New Testament dating and chronology that was not historically unassailable. Classical liberals believed miracles were not possible, and thus believed that the Jesus seen in the Gospels could not have been “historical.” They employed naturalistic forms of criticism in search of what they assumed to be the actual “historical Jesus.” They similarly doubted the truthfulness of the Book of Acts, as well as whether a number of the letters traditionally attributed to Paul were written by him. This theory of widespread pseudonymous authorship of New Testament books (i.e., that someone other than the named author, whether during the stated author’s lifetime or after his death) was also applied to the General Epistles. Revelation was thought to have been written by some other John at a much later date.  From the later 1800s to the middle part of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for certain New Testament books to be dated as late as A.D. 120-150. 

!! The Stunning Impact of Redating the New Testament. The publication of John A.T. Robinson’s Redating the New Testament turned the previous liberal ruling consensus in regard to New Testament dating/chronology completely on its head. Robinson (1919-1983), who achieved a reputation as a radical liberal theologian, largely from his book Honest to God, stunned New Testament scholars with the simple focus of his 1976 volume, Redating the New Testament. That thesis is summarized in this ultimately unanswerable question: “If an event as important as the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 had already happened, why isn’t it recorded in the New Testament?” Since no such description of Jerusalem’s demise is seen anywhere in the New Testament, Robinson effectively struck a gusher of scholarly doubt that turned into a tidal wave that swept away virtually all liberal late dating of New Testament books. Though Robinson himself was anything but an evangelical, the far-ranging effects of his study, for all practical purposes, “out-conservatived the conservatives.” 

!! Important Firm Dates/Date Ranges in the NT Era. Several dates, beginning with the birth of Christ and extending to the destruction of Jerusalem, provide a solid foundation for New Testament chronology.

!!! The Birth of Jesus. Matt 2:1 says that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.). Herod commanded that all boys in Nazareth two years of age and under be killed (Matt 2:16), representing his best estimate of the age of the Messiah. With this reasoning in mind, Jesus would have been born somewhere between 7 to 4 B.C. 

!!! The Beginning of Jesus’ Public Ministry. Based on when John the Baptist’s ministry began, it is possible to calculate the likely point when Jesus’ ministry started. Luke 3:1 dates the beginning of the Baptist’s ministry in “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias Caesar” (A.D. 28-29). If Jesus’ ministry began some months later, it would have begun in A.D. 29 or 30. The statement that Jesus “was about 30 years old” (Luke 3:23) was a generalization, with an actual age of 35-37 at that point not problematic.

!!! The Duration of Jesus’ Public Ministry. The most likely length of Jesus’ ministry is somewhat over three years. Three annual Passover celebrations occurred during Jesus’ ministry, as seen in John 2:13; 6:4; and 13:1. Thus, His ministry had to be at least three years.

!!! Jesus’ Crucifixion. More generally, Jesus died when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea (A.D. 26-37). Considerable debate exists about how to harmonize the accounts in the Synoptics and John as to the exact date. Harold Hoehner’s highly-detailed calculations conclude that Jesus died in early April, A.D. 33. Some, however, date Christ’s death as early as A.D. 29, or each year in between. 

!!! The Death of Herod Agrippa I. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, King Herod Agrippa I died in A.D. 44. That is helpful in dating events in Acts, given that Agrippa appears to have died (Acts 12:20-23) shortly after having the Apostle James killed (Acts 12:1-2).

!!! The Edict of Emperor Claudius. It is known that Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in A.D. 49. Thus, Paul’s arrival in Corinth and meeting of Aquila and Pricilla, who had left Rome under that edict, would have taken place in A.D. 50.

!!! Gallio’s Term as Proconsul in Corinth. The wording of Acts 18:12 (“While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia”; i.e., southern Greece) is referring to A.D. 51-52. Since Paul’s ministry in Corinth lasted a year and a half (Acts 18:11), this fits well with when Paul would have arrived and met Aquila and Priscilla. 

!!! The Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. The holy city and the Temple were destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Roman army commanded by Tutus. This was the climax of the Romans putting down the Jewish revolt which had begun in A.D. 66.

!! The Resulting Chronology of Major Events of the New Testament Era. Some of the following comes from the historical reasoning above. Others are based on early extrabiblical sources that are considered reliable. Still others are based on sequencing, such as biblical statements about the length of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (i.e., two to three years; Acts 19:10; 20:31) and the length of Paul’s incarceration in Caesarea (i.e., two years; Acts 24:27) and the maximum amount of time a prisoner could be held on appeal to Caesar without facing his accusers (i.e., two years). Finally, other aspects relate to plausibly dating and sequencing events that occur in otherwise undated portions of the New Testament Era. 

(7-4 B.C.) Jesus is born

(A.D. 29-30, or 26) Jesus’ public ministry begins, some months after John the Baptist’s

(A.D. 33, or any year past 29) Jesus dies on the Cross, followed by His resurrection and Pentecost 50 days later

(A.D. 34 or 35) Paul is converted

(A.D. 47-48 or 48-49) Paul’s first missionary journey

(A.D. 49) Jerusalem Council

(A.D. 49-51 or 52) Paul’s second missionary journey

(A.D. 53-56) Paul’s third missionary journey

(A.D. 57) Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem

(A.D. 57-59) Paul’s holding in Caesarea

(A.D. 60-62) Paul’s house arrest in Rome

(A.D. 62) Traditional dating of the death of James in Jerusalem

(A.D. 62-63 or to 67) Paul’s further ministry (“fourth missionary journey?”)

(A.D. 67 or 64) Paul’s death

(A.D. 68 or 64) Peter’s death

(A.D. 70) Destruction of Jerusalem (which means all Jewish Christians would have evacuated at some earlier time)

(A.D. 70-100) Approximate dates of John’s ministry in Ephesus, until his death

!! Likely Datings of the New Testament Books. Some books can be fairly precisely dated by virtue of what was going on in the background (e.g., Acts was written sometime during Paul’s house arrest, before his release; and Heb dates from when the Temple was still standing, but its destruction seemed close at hand). Others are dated based on fairly clear allusions to historical events (e.g., the “fiery trial” in 1 Pet appears to be referring to the fire in Rome in A.D. 64, after which Christians were persecuted). Others are dated from their apparent relationships to other writings (e.g., 2 Peter and Jude, which are quite similar in content). 

Matt (40s to 60s)

Mark (50s to 60s)

Luke (59-60)

John (85-90, or possibly the 60s)

Acts (61-62)

Rom (57)

1 Cor (56)

2 Cor (56)

Gal (48-49, or possibly 52 or 54)

Eph (60-61)

Phil (62)

Col (60-61)

1 Thess (51)

2 Thess (51)

1 Tim (62-63)

2 Tim (67, or 64)

Tit (64-65, or 63)

Phlm (60-61)

Heb (later 60s)

James (40s, or early 60s)

1 Pet (64)

2 Pet (65-68)

1-3 John (85-90, or possibly the 60s)

Jude (70s, or possibly the 60s)

Rev (95, or possibly the 60s)

!! The Impact of Disputed NT Dating/Chronology on Interpretation. There are currently several areas of New Testament interpretation that are significantly affected by dating issues, from the Gospels to the Apocalypse. The following are prime examples. 

!!! Early vs. Later Dating of Gal. Whether Gal is dated in A.D. 48 or 49, or in A.D. 52 or 54 greatly affects the understanding of Paul’s authority in the letter. If it was written in A.D. 48/49, that was before the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). Paul would have had no authority to appeal to except his own as an apostle. If, however, Gal was written in A.D. 52/54, it is quite surprising that there is no apparent reference whatsoever to the written findings of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:22-29).

!!! Markan vs. Matthean Priority and Dating. Though the view that Mark was the first Gospel written is still the unquestioned majority position, more scholars are considering the traditional view for much of church history that Matt appeared first. Most scholars offering dates for Matt still place it in the 60s, or even the 70s, but those opting for Matthean priority suggest dates as early as the 50s, or even the 40s. By contrast, the common dating of Mark (in the 60s or later 50s) has not changed. The differences between the two views in textual interpretation generally have to do with which Gospel is dependent on, or why it varied in wording from, the other. However, due to the elaborate theories proposed as solutions to “the Synoptic Problem,” choosing to hold Matthean priority could result in a virtual overhaul of thinking about the legitimacy of ‘Q’ (i.e., German for “source”), as well as the other assumed sources specific to Matt and Luke. 

!!! Pre-A.D. 70 vs. A.D. 95 Dating of Rev. In the wake of Redating the New Testament, there has been a rebirth of dating the Apocalypse prior to A.D. 70 and, with it, of an aggressive preterist interpretation of the book. The 1980s saw the first of what has since grown to a number of studies, including some commentaries, championing a preterist (or largely preterist) understanding of Rev, sometimes making sweeping interpretive claims based on a presumed pre-70 dating of the book. However, the majority scholarly view remains that Rev was written by the Apostle John about A.D. 95 (in keeping with the words of Irenaeus, which he claimed to be repeating from Polycarp). The difference this makes is that an A.D. 95 dating is usually the basis for an at least significantly futuristic interpretation of the Apocalypse.

–A. Boyd Luter

!! Bibliography

Alexander, Loveday C.A. “Chronology of Paul,” in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Eds. G.F. Hawthorne, R.P. Martin and D.G. Reid. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993: 115-23.

Brown, Raymond E. “Pauline Chronology,” in An Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday, 1997: 428-29.

Clendenen, E. Ray. “Biblical Chronology,” in the Holman Bible Handbook. Nashville: Holman Reference, 1992: 51-57.

Doig, Kenneth F. New Testament Chronology. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992.

Donfried, Karl P. “Chronology: New Testament,” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Gen. Ed. D.N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992: I: 1011-22. 

Drinkard, Joel F., Jr. and E. Ray Clendenen. “Chronology of the Biblical Period,” in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Gen. Eds. C. Brand, C. Draper and A. England. Nashville: Holman Reference, 2003: 291-95.

Finegan, Jack. Handbook of Biblical Chronology. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964.

Foster, Lewis A. “The Chronology of the New Testament,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed. F.E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979: I: 593-608.

Gunther, J.J. Paul, Messenger and Exile: A Study in the Chronology of His Life and Letters. Valley Forge: Judson, 1972.

Hemer, Colin J. “Observations on Pauline Chronology,” Pauline Studies: Essays Presented to FF Bruce. Eds. D.A. Hagner and M.J. Harris. Exeter: Paternoster, 1980: 3-18.

Hoehner, Harold W. Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976. 

Hoehner, Harold W. “Chronology,” in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992: 118-22. 

Jewett, Robert A. A Chronology of Paul’s Life. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979.

Ludemann, Gerd. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles: Studies in Chronology. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

Luter, A. Boyd. “Galatians,” in the Holman Bible Handbook: 701-10. 

Maier, Paul L. “Chronology,” in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments. Eds. R.P. Martin and P.H. Davids. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997: 184-93. 

Nineham, D.E., Ed. Historicity and Chronology in the New Testament. Theological Collections 6. London: S.P.C.K, 1965.   

Ogg, George. The Chronology of the Public Ministry of Jesus. Cambridge: University Press, 1940.

Ogg, George. The Chronology of the Life of Paul. London: Epworth, 1968. 

Piper, John. “Chronology, New Testament,” in the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Gen. Ed. W.A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988: I: 443-48.

Robinson, John A.T. Redating the New Testament. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976.

Suggs, M. Jack. “Concerning the Date of Paul’s Macedonian Ministry,” Novum Testamentum 4: 60-68.

Toussaint, Stanley D. “The Chronological Problem of Galatians 2:1-10,” Bibliotheca Sacra 120 (1963): 344-360.

Wedderburn, A.J.M. “Paul’s Collection: Chronology and History,” New Testament Studies 48.1 (2002): 95-110.

Wenham, John W. Re-dating Matthew, Mark, and Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992.



2 Responses to ““Chronology of the NT” for L.B.D.”

  1. Duncan said

    The following contains a typo (I am pretty sure you mean Titus, not Tutus 😉 “The holy city and the Temple were destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Roman army commanded by Tutus.”

    Here is something from my book, The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination, volume II (forthcoming) I don’t think the footnotes will show up.

    If Revelation were written during Domitian’s reign, then Revelation 17:10 should either read, “eleven have fallen one is” (if one starts the count with Julius Caesar and includes the three short-lived emperors in the list) or “ten have fallen one is” (if one starts with Augustus and includes the three short-lived emperors), or “eight have fallen one is” if one starts with Julius and excludes the three short-lived emperors or “seven have fallen one is” (if one starts with Augustus and excludes the three short-lived emperors). Saying that Revelation was written during Domitian’s reign simply can not legitimately be made to fit Revelation’s text of “five have fallen one is.” As Ladd notes, “no method of calculation satisfactorily leads to Domitian as the reigning emperor . . . .”

    If one wants to see what a book written during the reign of Domitian looks like, look at 2 Esdras (a.k.a. IV Ezra). In that book, the eagle (an obvious symbol of Rome), has twelve wings, representing twelve emperors (Julius-Domitian) and three heads, which are the last three of the twelve emperors (Esdras 11:1-9). The three heads represent the Flavian dynasty, Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian, (2 Esdras 12:10-30). The writer of 2 Esdras believed that Rome would fall in his day during the reign of Domitian, the twelfth Caesar.

    To summarize: Depending on whether one starts with Julius or Augustus and includes or excludes Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, then Domitian is either the eighth, ninth, eleventh or twelfth ruler of Rome. There is no legitimate way to make him the sixth ruler (as Rev. 17:10 requires).

    Some commentators attempt to make their theory of when Revelation was written fit by starting the count of the emperors with one of the Caesar’s that came after Augustus. These attempts are illegitimate because their methods of counting the emperors have no historical precedent. Robinson writes the following on the “contortions” made by those who attempt to make Domitian the sixth ruler:

    “The contortions to which the commentators have been driven in the interpretation of ch. 17 are I am convinced self-imposed by the ‘discrepancy,’ as Beckwith calls it, between the clear statement that the sixth king is now living and what Torrey called their ‘stubborn conviction’ that the book cannot be earlier than the time of Domitian. Drop this conviction and the evidence falls into place.”

    With the current rise of preterism, the early date for Revelation is regaining some of the acceptance it has had in the past. Smalley writes the following regarding the current reevaluation of the assumption that Revelation was written under Domitian:

    “It has been frequently assumed that the Apocalypse may be dated to the reign of the Emperor Domitian, the last representative of the Flavian house (AD 81-96), as a response to fierce persecution which took place during his reign. But this view has recently been challenged seriously, both because encouragement in the face of persecution may not be regarded as the single motive behind the composition of Revelation, and also on account of the insecurity surrounding the evidence of imperial oppression during the time of Domitian. The leaves the way open to revive the alternative view, common among nineteenth-century scholars, that Revelation was written between AD 64, as a result of the persecution under Nero, and AD 70, the fall of Jerusalem (see the summary of the research representing these two positions in Robinson, Redating [the New Testament, London: SCM Press, 1976] 224-26). As it happens, I believe that it is perfectly possible to locate the writing of Revelation in the reign of Vespasian (AD 69-79); and I have argued that the book emerged just before the fall of Jerusalem to Titus, Vespasian’s son, in AD 70 . . . I suggest that this conclusion fits the internal and external evidence for the dating of Revelation; it is also supported by the theological thrust of the drama itself. For the members of John’s circle, the earthly Jerusalem and its Temple would have been a central holy place in which to encounter God, and also a spiritual centre of gravity. If Jerusalem were about to be destroyed, the vision in Rev. 21-22 of a stunning and emphatically new holy city, where God’s people will dwell eternally in a close covenant relationship with him, would provided exactly, and at the right moment, all the spiritual encouragement they needed.”

    I find this quote interesting because Smalley is not a preterist but is what he terms a “modified idealist” (i.e., he sees Revelation as talking about the timeless conflict between good and evil). I believe that Revelation was written approximately five years before AD 70 (c. AD 65). It is talking about the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week, a period of three-and-a-half years that ends with the destruction of Jerusalem by the prince to come (Dan. 9:26-27). This was the soon coming forty-two- month period of AD 67-70 that Titus would spend destroying the Jewish nation (Rev. 11:1-2; cf. Dan. 7:23-25; 12:7; Rev. 11:7-18).


    • Duncan said

      Here are the footnotes. There are no numbers but I think one can figure out what goes with what.

      George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 229.

      For various methods of counting the kings see David Aune, Revelation 17-22, Word Bible Commentary, vol. 52 C, gen. eds. Bruce Metzger, David Hubbard and Glenn Barker, N.T. ed. Ralph Martin (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 945-950. G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, eds. I. Howard Marshall and Donald Hagner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 868-878 J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, The Anchor Bible, vol. 38, eds. William F. Albright and David N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 289-291.

      Robinson, Redating the New Testament, 247-248. Robinson starts the count of the kings with Augustus; he sees Revelation as being written in late AD 68 under Galba.

      Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 2-3.

      Ibid., 15-16. Smalley writes: “Revelation is a symbolic portrayal of the timeless conflict between the forces of good and evil, God and Satan. But this involves a final consummation in judgement (sic) and salvation, even if that finality is not depicted in terms which are precisely chronological.”

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