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Chronology of the New Testament

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CHRONOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT . In this article it is proposed first to examine the books of the NT, so as to determine as far as possible their relative chronology, that is, the length of time between the principal events narrated; and then to investigate the points of contact between the NT and secular history, and thus to arrive at the probable dates of the incidents in the former. It must, however, he remembered that the Gospels and Acts are not biographies or histories in the modern sense of the terms. The writers had a religious object; they wished to teach contemporary Christians to believe ( John 20:31 ), and were not careful to chronicle dates for the benefit of posterity. Sir W. Ramsay points out ( St. Paul the Traveller 6 , p. 18) that a want of the chronological sense was a fault of the age, and that Tacitus in his Agricola is no better (until the last paragraph) than the sacred writers. It must also be noted that reckoning in old times was inclusive. Thus ‘three years after’ ( Galatians 1:18 ) means ‘in the third year after’ (cf. Acts 19:8 ; Acts 19:10 with Acts 20:31 ); ‘three days and three nights’ ( Matthew 12:40 ) means ‘from to-day to the day after to-morrow’ ( Matthew 17:23 ). Cf. also Genesis 42:17 f.

I. Relative Chronology

1. Interval between our Lord’s birth and baptism . This is determined by Luke 3:23 to have been about 30 years, but the exact interval is uncertain. The RV [Note: Revised Version.] translates: ‘Jesus himself, when he began (lit. beginning) [to teach (cf. Mark 4:1 )], was about thirty years of age,’ and so most moderns, though the word ‘beginning,’ standing by itself, is awkward; it perhaps denotes the real commencement of the Gospel, the chapters on the Birth and Childhood being introductory (Plummer). The difficulty of the phrase was early felt, for the Old Syriac and the Peshitta Syriac omit the participle altogether, and Clement of Alexandria ( Strom . i. 21) has merely ‘Jesus was coming to his baptism, being about,’ etc. The AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , following Irenæus and also the Valentinians whom he was opposing, renders: ‘began to be about 30 years of age,’ which can mean only that Jesus was 29 years old. Irenæus ( Haer . II. xxii. 4 f.) says that Jesus was baptized ‘being 30 years old,’ having ‘not yet completed his 30th year,’ He ‘then possessing the full age of a teacher.’ The translation of AV [Note: Authorized Version.] is judged to be grammatically impossible, though it is odd that the Greek-speaking Irenæus did not discover the fact, unless we are to suppose that his Latin translator misrepresents him. Let us, then, take the RV [Note: Revised Version.] translation; but what is the meaning of ‘about 30 years’? Turner (art. ‘Chronology of NT’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] the most complete modern work on the subject in English) and Plummer ( St. Luke, in loc. ) think that any age from 28 to 32 would suit; but Ramsay, who remarks that St. Luke’s authority for his early chapters was clearly a very good one, and that he could not have been ignorant of the real age, thinks that the phrase must mean 30 plus or minus a few months. There seems to be some doubt as to the age when a Levite began his ministry at this time, as the age had varied; but we may follow Irenæus in thinking that 30 was the full age when a public teacher began his work. On this point, then, internal evidence by itself leaves us a latitude of some little time, whether of a few months or even of a few years.

2. Duration of the ministry . Very divergent views have been held on this subject. ( a ) Clement of Alexandria ( loc. cit. ), and other 2nd and 3rd cent. Fathers, the Clementine Homilies (xvii. 19, ‘a whole year’), and the Valentinians (quoted by Irenæus, ii, xxii. 1), applying ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ ( Isaiah 61:2 ; cf. Luke 4:18 f.) literally to the ministry, made it last for one year only. The Valentinians believed that Jesus was baptized at the beginning, and died at the end, of His 30th year. A one-year ministry has also been advocated by von Soden ( EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] , art. ‘Chronology’) and by Hort (see below). The latter excises ‘the passover’ from John 6:4 . This view is said to be that of the Synoptists, who, however, give hardly any indications of the passing of time. ( b ) The other extreme is found in Irenæus ( loc. cit. ), who held, as against the Valentinians, that the ministry lasted for more than ten years. He takes the feast of John 5:1 to be a Passover, but does not mention that of John 6:4 . He considers, however, that the Passovers mentioned in Jn. are not exclusive; that Jesus was a little less than 30 years old at His baptism, and over 40 when He died. This appears (he says) from John 8:56 f., which indicates one who had passed the age of 40; and moreover, Jesus, who came to save all ages, must have ‘passed through every age,’ and in the decade from 40 to 50 ‘a man begins to decline towards old age.’ He declares that this tradition came from ‘John the disciple of the Lord’ through ‘those who were conversant in Asia with’ him i.e. probably Papias; and that the same account had been received from other disciples. But here Irenæus almost certainly makes a blunder. For a 3rd cent. tradition that Jesus was born a.d. 9, was baptized a.d. 46, and died a.d. 58 at the age of 49, see Chapman in JThSt [Note: ThSt Journal of Theological Studies.] viii. 590 (July, 1907). ( c ) Eusebius ( HE i. 10), followed as to his results provisionally by Ramsay ( Was Christ born at Bethlehem ? 3 , p. 212f.), makes the ministry last over three years (‘not quite four full years’), and this till lately was the common view. Melito ( c [Note: circa, about.] . a.d. 160) speaks of Jesus working miracles for three years after His baptism ( Ante-Nic. Chr. Lib . xxii. p. 135). ( d ) Origen and others, followed by Turner ( op. cit. p. 409 f.), Sanday (art. ‘Jesus Christ’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , p. 610 ff.), and Hitchcock (art. ‘Dates’ in Hastings’ DCG [Note: CG Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels.] , p. 415 f.), allow a little more than two years for the ministry (‘Judas did not remain so much as three years with Jesus,’ c. Cels . ii. 12).

Indications of a ministry of more than a single year are found in the Synoptics; e.g. Mark 2:23 (harvest) Mark 6:39 (spring; ‘green grass’), for the length of the journeys of Mark 6:56 to Mark 10:32 shows that the spring of Mark 6:39 could not be that of the Crucifixion. Thus Mk. implies at least a two years’ ministry. In Lk. also we see traces of three periods in the ministry: (1) Mark 3:21 to Mark 4:30 , preaching in the wilderness of Judæa and in Nazareth and Galilee, briefly recorded; (2) Mark 4:31 to Mark 9:50 , preaching in Galilee and the North, related at length; (3) 9:51-end, preaching in Central Palestine as far as Jerusalem. Ramsay ( op. cit. p. 212) takes each of these periods as corresponding roughly to one year. In Jn. we have several indications of time: Mark 2:13 ; Mark 2:23 (Passover), Mark 4:35 (four months before harvest; harvest near), Mark 5:1 (‘a feast’ or ‘the feast’), Mark 6:4 (Passover, but see below), Mark 7:2 (Tabernacles, autumn), Mark 10:22 (Dedication, winter). In two cases ( Mark 5:1 , Mark 6:4 ) there is a question of text; in Mark 5:1 the reading ‘a feast’ is somewhat better attested, and is preferable on internal grounds, for ‘the feast’ might mean either Passover or Tabernacles, and since there would be this doubt, the phrase ‘the feast’ is an unlikely one. If so, we cannot use Mark 5:1 as an indication of time, as any minor feast would suit it. In Mark 6:4 Hort excises ‘the passover’ (Westcott-Hort, NT in Greek , App. p. 77 ff.). But this is against all MSS and VSS [Note: SS Versions.] , and rests only on the omission by Irenæus (who, however, merely enumerates the Passovers when Jesus went up to Jerusalem; yet the mention of Mark 6:4 would have added to his argument), and probably on Origen (for him and for others adduced, see Turner op. cit. p. 408); on internal grounds the omission is very improbable, and does not in reality reconcile Jn. and the Synoptics, for the latter when closely examined do, as we have seen, imply more than a single year’s ministry. The note of time in John 4:35 seems to point to (say) January (‘there are yet four months and then cometh the harvest’), while the spiritual harvest was already ripe (‘the fields … are white already unto harvest’), though Origen and others less probably take the former clause to refer to the spiritual, the latter to the material, harvest, which lasted from 15th April to 31st May (see Westcott, Com. in loc. ). We may probably conclude then that in the ministry, as related in Jn., there were not fewer than three Passovers, and that it therefore lasted (at least) rather more than two years. But did the Fourth Evangelist mention all the Passovers of the ministry? Irenæus thought that he mentioned only some of them; and though his chronology is clearly wrong, and based (as was that of his opponents) on a fanciful exegesis, Lightfoot ( Sup. Rel . p. 131) and Westcott ( Com . p. lxxxi.) are inclined to think that in this respect he may to a very limited extent be right. Turner, on the other hand, considers that the enumeration in Jn. is exclusive, and that the notes of time there are intended to correct a false chronology deduced from the Synoptics. On the whole we can only say that the choice apparently lies between a ministry of rather over two years, and one of rather over three years; and that the probability of the former appears to be slightly the greater.

3. Interval between the Ascension and the conversion of St. Paul . We have no certain internal evidence as to the length of this interval. Acts 2:46 f. may imply a long or a short time. We have to include in this period the spread of the Church among the Hellenists, the election of the Seven, and the death of Stephen, followed closely by St. Paul’s conversion. For this period Ramsay allows 2 1 / 2 Timothy 4 years, Harnack less than one year; but these conclusions come rather from external chronology (see II.) than from internal considerations. It is quite probable that in the early chapters of Acts St. Luke had not the same exact authority that he had for St. Paul’s travels, or even for his Gospel (see Luke 1:2 f.).

4. St. Paul’s missionary career . The relative chronology of St. Paul’s Christian life may be determined by a study of Acts combined with Galatians 1:18 ; Galatians 2:1 . Indications of time are found in Acts 11:26 ; Acts 18:11 ; Acts 19:8 ; Acts 19:10 ; Acts 20:6 ; Acts 20:16 ; Acts 20:31 ; Acts 21:1-5 ; Acts 21:27 ; Acts 24:1 ; Acts 24:11 ; Acts 24:27 ; Acts 25:1 ; Acts 25:6 ; Acts 27:9 ; Acts 27:27 ; Acts 28:7 ; Acts 28:11-14 ; Acts 28:17 ; Acts 28:30 . With these data we may reconstruct the chronology; but there is room for uncertainty (1) as to whether the visit to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1 was that of Acts 11:30 or that of Acts 15:4 , and whether the ‘three years’ and ‘fourteen years’ of Galatians 1:18 ; Galatians 2:1 are consecutive (so Lightfoot, Rackham), or concurrent (so Ramsay, Turner, Harnack); (2) as to the length of the First Missionary Journey; and (3) as to the later journeys after the Roman imprisonment. If the ‘three years’ and ‘fourteen years’ are consecutive, a total of about 16 years (see above) is required for the interval between the conversion and the visit of Galatians 2:1 . But as the interval at Tarsus is indeterminate, and the First Journey may have been anything from one to three years, all systems of relative chronology can be made to agree, except in small details, by shortening or lengthening these periods. For a discussion of some of the doubtful points named see art. Galatians [Ep. to the], § 3 , and for the details of the events see art. Acts of the Apostles, § 5 ff.

The following table, in which the year of St. Paul’s conversion is taken as 1, gives the various events. Ramsay’s calculation is taken as a basis, and the differences of opinion are noted.

1, 2. Conversion near Damascus, Acts 9:3 ; Acts 22:5 ; Acts 26:12 ; retirement to Arabia, Galatians 1:17 ; preaching in Damascus, Acts 9:20-22 (?), Galatians 1:17 .

3. First visit to Jerusalem, Acts 9:26 , Galatians 1:18 , ‘three years after’ his conversion.

4 11. At Tarsus and in Syria-Cilicia, Acts 9:30 , Galatians 1:21 [so HR, but T gives two years less, L three years less].

12. To Antioch with Barnabas, Acts 11:26 .

13. Second visit to Jerusalem, with alms Acts 11:30 [= Galatians 2:1 , R?]

14 16. First Missionary Journey, to Cyprus, Acts 13:4 ; Pamphylia, and Southern Galatia (Pisidian Antioch, Acts 13:14 ; Iconium, Acts 13:51 ; Lystra, Acts 14:6 ; Derbe, Acts 14:20 ), and back by Attalia to Antioch, Acts 14:26 [so HR; TL give one year less].

17. Apostolic Council and third visit to Jerusalem, Acts 15:4 [= Galatians 2:1 , TL?; so Sanday and most commentators].

18 20. Second Missionary Journey, from Antioch through Syria-Cilicia to Derbe and Lystra, Acts 15:41 ; Acts 16:1 ; through the ‘Phrygo-Galatic’ region of the province Galatia to Troas, Acts 16:6-8 ; to Macedonia, Acts 16:11 ; Athens, Acts 17:15 ; and Corinth, Acts 18:1 , where 18 months are spent; thence by sea to Ephesus, Acts 18:19 ; Jerusalem (fourth visit), Acts 18:22 ; and Antioch, where ‘some time’ is spent, Acts 18:23 .

21 24. Third Missionary Journey, from Antioch by the ‘Galatic region’ and the ‘Phrygian region,’ Acts 18:23 , to Ephesus, Acts 19:1 , where two years and three months are spent, Acts 19:8 ; Acts 19:10 ; by Troas 2 Corinthians 2:12 , to Macedonia, Acts 20:1 ; and Corinth, Acts 20:2 (see 2 Corinthians 13:1 ), where three months are spent; thence back by Macedonia to Troas, Miletus, and Cæsarea, Acts 20:4 f., Acts 20:15 , Acts 21:8 ; fifth visit to Jerusalem, Acts 21:17 ; and arrest, Acts 21:33 ; imprisonment at Cæsarea, Acts 23:33 .

25. In Cæsarea, Acts 24:27 .

26. Departure for Rome, autumn, Acts 27:1 ; shipwreck off Malta, Acts 28:1 .

27. Arrival at Rome, Acts 28:10 .

28. (end) or 29 (early). Acquittal.

29 34. Later journeys and death [so R; L gives one year less, T two years less].

II. Points of Contact with General History. It will he useful to give the dates of the earlier emperors, and those of the procurators of Judæa. Some of the latter dates are approximate only; information as to them is derived from Josephus’ Antiquities , and to some extent from his Jewish Wars ( BJ ).

Roman Emperors.

Augustus [b.c. 31 ( a )] a.d. 14 (Aug. 19) Tiberius 14 37 ( Mark 16:1-20 ) Caligula (Gaius) 37 41 (Jan. 24) Claudius 41 54 (Oct. 13) Nero 54 68 Galha 68 69 Otho 69 Vitellius 69 Vespasian 69 79 Titus 79 81 Domitian 81 96 ( a ) i.e. the battle of Actium; Julius Cæsar died b.c. 44, and Eusebius dates Augustus’ reign from that year ( HE i. 5, 9), as does also Irenæus ( Haer . III. xxi. 3).

Rulers of Judæa.

Herod the Great, king ( a ) b.c. 37 4 Archelaus, ethnarch ( b ) b.c. 4 a.d. 6 Procurators . Coponius ( c ) a.d. 6 9? Marcus Ambivius ( d ) 9 12? Annius Rufus ( e ) 12 15? Valerius Gratus ( f ) 15 26 Pontius Pilate ( g ) 26 36 Marcellus ( h ) 36 37? Marullus ( i ) 37 41? Herod Agrippa, king ( j ) 41 44 Procurators . Cuspius Fadus ( k ) 44 46? Tiberius Alexander ( l ) 46? 48 Cumanus ( m ) 48 52 Antonius Felix ( n ) 52 58 or 59? Porcius Festus ( o ) 59? 61 Albinus ( p ) 61 65 Gessius Florus ( q ) 65 66 ( a ) He had been king de jure since b.c. 40. ( b ) Josephus, Ant . XVII. xi. 4, xiii. 2; he reigned over nine years. ( c ) ib. XVIII. i. 1; he arrived with Quirinius at the time of the taxing, Acts 5:37 . ( d ) ib. ii. 2. ( e ) ib. ; in his time ‘the second emperor of the Romans [Augustus] died.’ ( f ) ib. ; sent by Tiberius; he ruled eleven years. ( g ) ib. and iv. 2; he ruled ten years and was deposed and sent to Rome, arriving there just after Tiberius’ death; Turner makes his accession to office a.d. 27. ( h ) ib. iv. 2; sent temporarily by Vitellius, governor of Syria, ( i ) ib. vi. 10; sent by Caligula on his accession, ( j ) ib. and XIX. v. 1; made king by Claudius on his accession, having been previously given the tetrarchies of Philip and Lysanias by Caligula. ( k ) ib. XIX. ix. 2; sent by Claudius on Agrippa’s death. ( l ) ib. XX. v. 2. ( m ) ib. ( n ) ib. vii. 1, viii. 9; brother of Pallas; sent by Claudius; in his time was the rebellion of one Theudas; recalled by Nero, see below, § 12 . ( o ) ib. viii. 9 ff. ( p ) ib. ix. 1; sent by Nero on Festus’ death; while he was on his way to Judæa, ‘the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, whose name was James,’ was stoned by the Jews. ( q ) ib. xi. 1; the last procurator; he was appointed through the influence of Poppæa; his had government precipitated the Jewish War. For the procurators see also BJ II. viii. 1, ix. 4, xi. 6, xii. 1 f, 8, xiii. 7, xiv. 1 f., etc.

1. Date of the nativity . Early chronology is in such confusion that it is very difficult to assign exact dates to the various events, and the early Fathers give us little or no guidance. Clement of Alexandria ( Strom . i. 21) says that our Lord was born 194 years 1 month 13 days before the death of Commodus [a.d. 192], in the 28th year of Augustus; but his dating of Commodus is wrong (see 4 below). The calculation of our Christian era, due to Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th cent., is obviously wrong by several years. Even the dating by the regnal years of emperors is open to considerable doubt, as it is not always certain from what epoch calculation is made; e.g. whether from the death of the predecessor, or from the association with the predecessor as colleague. For the birth of Christ indications have been found in the death of Herod, the Lukan census, and the Star of the Magi.

( a ) Death of Herod . This probably took place b.c. 4, possibly b.c. 3. His son Archelaus ( Matthew 2:22 ), who succeeded him in part of his dominions with the title of ethnarch, was deposed (Dion Cassius, Leviticus 27:1-34 ) in the consulship of Lepidus and Arruntius (a.d. 6), either in his ninth (so Joseph. BJ II. vii. 3) or in his tenth year (so Ant . XVII. xiii. 2; and the Life , § 1 , speaks of his tenth year). This would give the above dates for Herod’s death; for various considerations which make b.c. 4 the preferable date see Turner, op. cit. p. 404. We must then place our Lord’s birth one or two years before at least, for Herod slew the male children of two years old and under ( Matthew 2:18 ), and we have to allow for the sojourn in Egypt.

( b ) The Lukan census ( Luke 2:1 ff.) would suit the result just reached; see art. Luke [Gospel acc. to], § 7

( c ) The Magi . Kepler calculated the date of the Nativity from a conjunction of planets, which he believed the ‘star in the east’ to be (Ramsay, Was Christ born at Bethlehem ? 3 , p. 215 ff.). But it is impossible to build chronological results on such an uncertain basis.

The date arrived at by Ramsay from these considerations is b.c. 6 (summer), by Turner, b.c. 6 (spring) or b.c. 7. We must remain in ignorance of the day and month. The calculations which give Dec. 25 and Jan. 6 are both based on a fanciful exposition and a wrong date for the Crucifixion; see the present writer’s art. ‘Calendar’ in Hastings’ DCG [Note: CG Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels.] i. 261 f.

2. The Baptism of our Lord . According to St. Luke ( Luke 3:1 ), the Baptist began to preach in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, Pilate being procurator. Eusebius ( HE i. 10) says that Christ was baptized in the fourth year of Pilate’s governorship, and ( HE i. 9) that Pilate was appointed ‘about the twelfth year of the reign of Tiberius’; the latter statement is quoted from Josephus ( Ant . XVIII. ii. 2), but the former seems to be Eusebius’ own deduction from St. Luke. But Pilate cannot have reached Palestine before a.d. 26 or 27, as his ten years ended shortly before Tiberius’ death in a.d. 37, and no date later than a.d. 27 is possible for our Lord’s baptism, if we take into account the date of the Nativity and St. Luke’s statement of our Lord’s age. It is probable, therefore, that Pilate’s accession to office and John’s appearance as a preacher both belong to the same year, say a.d. 26. Does this, however, suit St. Luke’s phrase, ‘the 15th year of the rule (or hegemony) of Tiberius,’ for that is the exact phrase? The 15th year from the death of Augustus would be Aug. a.d. 28 to Aug. a.d. 29. Ramsay supposes ( Was Christ born at Bethlehem ?, p. 202) that ‘the rule of Tiberius’ is dated from the grant by Augustus of a share in the government of the provinces just before he celebrated his triumph over the people of Pannonia and Dalmatia, Jan. 16, a.d. 12; and this would bring us to c [Note: circa, about.] . a.d. 25 26. This system of counting years is not found elsewhere, but it is quite a possible one. Turner inclines to the same supposition.

3. The rebuilding of the Temple . In John 2:20 , at a Passover not long after the Baptism, the Jews say that the Temple was 46 years in building, which, since the Temple was hardly completed at the outbreak of the War (Joseph. Ant . XX. ix. 7), can only mean that the rebuilding had begun 46 years before the Passover in question. But this rebuilding began in Herod’s 18th year de facto ( ib. XV. xi. 1; for the computation of BJ I. xxi. i., see Turner, p. 405); i.e. the Passover of b.c. 19 would be that of the first year of the rebuilding, and therefore the Passover of a.d. 27 that of the 46th year. This would agree with the result already reached.

4. Date of the Crucifixion . The Fathers seem to have known nothing certainly as to the exact year of our Lord’s death. Clement of Alexandria ( loc. cit. ), who believed in a one-year ministry, gives the 16th year of Tiberius, 42 1 /4 years before the Destruction of Jerusalem (this would be a.d. 28), which was 128 years 10 months 3 days before the death of Commodus (this would make the latter 7 years too late). A common tradition (Tertullian [?], adv. Judges 1:8 [ Patr. Lat . ii. 656]; Lactantius, Div. Inst . IV. 10, de Mort. Proverbs 2 Proverbs 2 [ Patr. Lat . vi. 474, vii. 194]) assigns the Crucifixion to the consulship of L. Rubellius Geminus and C. Fifius (?) Geminus Hippolytus ( in Dan . iv.) and the Acts of Pilate give the names as Rufus and Rubellio, i.e. a.d. 29, or possibly a.d. 28. The latest possible year is a.d. 33 (so Eusebius, HE i. 10), for Josephus ( Ant . XVIII. iv. 3, 6) relates that Caiaphas was deposed just before he tells us of the death of Herod Philip, which occurred in the 20th year of Tiberius, i.e. a.d. 33 34, reckoning from Augustus’ death; Josephus’ order has every appearance of being chronological.

Now, it is not certain on which day of the month Nisan the Friday of the Passion fell. We must put aside Westcott’s suggestion that our Lord died on a Thursday, as contradicting entirely the Eastern idea of ‘the third day’ and ‘after three days’ (see above). But the Synoptics would suggest that our Lord ate the Passover with the disciples on 14th Nisan, and died on the 15th, while Jn. would lead us to suppose that He died on 14th Nisan at the time of the killing of the lambs. The determination of this difficult question will only affect the chronological investigation if in a possible year of the Passion only Nisan 15 or only Nisan 14 can positively be said to have fallen on a Friday. But there is some uncertainty in the reckoning of Nisan. The Jewish months were lunar, and (in early times at least) the first day of the month was not that of the true new moon, but that on which it was first visible. This would be some 30 hours later than the true new moon. But it seems certain that the Jews at the time of the Gospel narrative had some sort of calendrical rules or some rough cycle to determine the first day of a lunar month; otherwise the Jews of the Dispersion would never have been sure of observing the Passover all on the same day, and the difference of a cloudy or of a bright sky on a particular day would introduce confusion. Thus we have to exercise great caution. A table of the true new moons, and of the days when the moon may be presumed to have been first visible, from a.d. 27 to 36 inclusive, is given by Dr. Salmon ( Introd ., lect. XV.). His result is that in a.d. 27, 30, 33, 34, one or other of the two days Nisan 14 and 15 might have fallen on a Friday. We may omit the first and last of these years, and we have left a.d. 30 and 33. But a.d. 29, which has the best traditional support, is also calendrically possible. Taking the equinox as March 21, Nisan 14 that year would be Sunday, April 18; the moon would have been first visible on Monday, April 4. But the equinox was not then, as now, accurately determined, and Turner ( op. cit. p. 411 f.) gives an argument for believing that Nisan in a.d. 29 was really the month before that supposed by Salmon. In that case Nisan 14 would fall on one of the three days March 17 19, of which March 18 was a Friday. Thus a.d. 29 is admissible, and the choice almost certainly lies between it and a.d. 30; for a.d. 33 is hard to fit in with the calculation as to the Nativity, and no doubt that year was selected because of the dating of the ‘fifteenth year’ of Luke 3:1 from the death of Augustus. Of the two years, then, a.d. 30 is chosen by Lightfoot, Salmon, and Wieseler; a.d. 29 by Turner, and in this conclusion Ramsay now acquiesces ( Was Christ born , etc.? 3 , p. 202), as does also Sanday (art. ‘Jesus Christ’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , p. 610). Of the days of the month, Nisan 14 is upheld by Claudius Apollinaris ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 150), Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Tertullian (?), Africanus; and by many moderns, e.g. Sanday (art. ‘Jesus Christ’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ) and Westcott. Nisan 15 is supported by Origen, pseudo-Cyprian, Ambrose, Chrysostom; and in modern times by Edersheim ( LT ), Lewin ( Fasti sacri ), and McClellan ( Com. on NT ). But the choice between these days should be determined by internal evidence of the Gospels rather than by the chronological investigations, which are too uncertain to be trustworthy.

5. Aretas and the occupation of Damascus . Turner deduces the earliest possible date for the conversion of St. Paul from the incident of 2 Corinthians 11:32 f., and accordingly gives a.d. 38 for the first visit to Jerusalem, a.d. 35 or 36 for the Conversion. But, in the opinion of the present writer, for reasons stated in art. Aretas, the incident cannot be used in determining the chronology at all. If it is so used, the date is consistent with the view that the second visit synchronizes with the Apostolic Council (above, i. 4). Ramsay, however ( St. Paul 6 , p. xiv), adduces as an external support for his date (a.d. 33) for St. Paul’s conversion, a 4th cent. oration found in St. Chrysostom’s works, which says that Paul served God 35 years and died at the age of 68. If he died in a.d. 67, this would give a.d. 33 for the Conversion. But Patristic chronology is very erratic.

6. Herod Agrippa the Elder received Herod Philip’s tetrarchy and the title of king early in a.d. 37 from Caligula, and somewhat later Antipas’ tetrarchy (Josephus, BJ II. ix. 6); and Claudius gave him the whole of his grandfather’s kingdom, which he held for three years till his death, ‘as he had governed his tetrarchies three other years’ ( ib. xi. 6). We see from his coins, which were issued up to his ninth year, that he died in a.d. 44 or 45; probably his ‘second year’ began with the Nisan next after his accession in a.d. 37. Of these two dates, then, Josephus enables us to choose a.d. 44. This fixes Acts 12:20 ff., though the events of Acts 12:1 ff. need not have been immediately before Agrippa’s death; and gives a.d. 41 for his accession to Herod the Great’s dominions. It is therefore probable, but not certain, that the Cornelius episode ( Acts 10:1-48 ) must be dated before a.d. 41, as it is not likely that a centurion of the Italic cohort would be stationed at Cæsarea during Agrippa’s semi-independent rule (see art. Cornelius).

7. The Famine . This was predicted by Agabus, and happened in the reign of Claudius ( Acts 11:27 ff.). If we can date the famine, it will help us to fix St. Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem, as this was occasioned by the sending of alms through him to the famine-stricken Christians there. In Claudius’ reign there were many famines, and not in every country at the same time. We read of Helena, queen of Adiabene, a convert to Judaism, arriving at Jerusalem in the middle of the famine, apparently in the procuratorship of Tiberius Alexander, probably therefore after the summer of a.d. 46 (Joseph. Ant . XX. ii. 5, v. 2). Orosius, a Spanish writer who visited Palestine a.d. 415, puts the famine in Claudius’ fourth year, i.e. in a.d. 44 ( Hist . vii. 6), but Ramsay ( St. Paul 6 , p. 68) shows that his dates at this period are a year too early; thus we arrive at a.d. 45. It is probable that a bad harvest in a.d. 45 resulted in a famine in a.d. 46, and St. Paul’s visit might then be either in the middle of the famine, or at any rate during the preceding winter, when the bad harvest showed that the famine was imminent.

8. Sergius Paulus . The term of office of this proconsul cannot be dated (for the inscription referring to it, see art. Acts of the Apostles, § 12 ); but, as the proconsuls in a.d. 51, 52 are known, St. Paul’s visit to Cyprus must have been before that.

9. Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews . The edict ( Acts 18:2 ) is mentioned by Suetonius. Tacitus, whose Annals are defective for the early years of Claudius, speaks only of the expulsion of astrologers in a.d. 52 ( Ann . xii. 52). Suetonius ( Claudius , § 25) says that the edict was due to Jewish tumults ‘at the instigation of one Chrestus,’ a confusion not unnatural in a heathen writer. Orosius ( Hist . vii, 6) quotes Josephus as saying that the decree was made in the ninth year of Claudius, i.e. a.d. 49, but this should probably be (as above, 7 ) a.d. 50. Josephus, as a matter of fact, does not refer to the matter at all, so that Orosius’ authority must have been some other writer. The arrival of Aquila and Priscilla at Corinth, if we accept Orosius’ statement, must have been later than this, perhaps in a.d. 51 (so Ramsay; Turner puts it one year, Harnack three years earlier).

10. Gallio . Achaia had been made a senatorial province by Claudius in a.d. 44, and the proconsulship of Gallio, who seems to have arrived at the end of St. Paul’s stay at Corinth ( Acts 18:12 ), was no doubt several years later than this. Gallio was brother to Seneca, who was in disgrace a.d. 41 49, but was recalled and made prætor in a.d. 50. Pliny ( HN xxxi. 33) says that Gallio became consul; this was probably after his proconsulship in Achaia. He is said by Seneca ( Ep . 104) to have caught fever in Achaia, and this is the only indication outside Acts of his proconsulship. The probability is that he did not bold this office while Seneca was out of favour at Court, and therefore a.d. 50 would be the earliest year for the incident of Acts 18:12 . It may have happened some few years later.

11. The Passover at Philippi . Ramsay ( St. Paul 6 , p. 289 f.) considers that St. Paul left Philippi on a Friday ( Acts 20:8 ). He traces back the journey from the departure from Troas (v. 7), on the assumption that the sermon and Eucharistic celebration at Troas were on what we call Sunday night. But would any Eastern call this ‘the first day of the week’ (see art. ‘Calendar,’ I. 1 in Hastings’ DCG [Note: CG Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels.] )? If Ramsay’s calculation be accepted, the further assumption is that St. Paul, who was in baste to reach Jerusalem, left Philippi on the morrow of the Passover, which therefore fell on Thursday. But in a.d. 57 it is calculated that it did so fall (April 7), and this therefore is Ramsay’s date for St. Paul’s fifth visit to Jerusalem and his arrest there. There is a triple element of doubt in this calculation ( a ) as to the day on which Troas was left, ( b ) whether St. Paul started from Philippi on the day after the Passover, ( c ) as to the calculation of the Passover. We must therefore probably dismiss this element in calculating the years, though Ramsay’s date is for other reasons quite probable.

12. Felix and Festus . Felix married Drusilla, sister of Agrippa II., not long after the latter’s accession to the tetrarchies of Herod Philip and Lysanias ( c [Note: circa, about.] . a.d. 52 53); for she had married Azizus of Emesa on Agrippa’s accession, and ‘no long time afterward’ deserted him for Felix (Joseph. Ant . XX. vii. 1, 2). Thus St. Paul’s arrest could not have been before the summer of a.d. 54. Felix seems to have become procurator in a.d. 52, but previously be had held some office in Samaria (and possibly in Judæa) under, or concurrently with, Cumanus; and this accounts for the ‘many years’ of Acts 24:10 (see art. Felix). An apparent contradiction between Tacitus, Josephus, and Eusebius is resolved by Turner ( op. cit. p. 418) as against Harnack ( Chronologie , p. 233 f.), who interprets Eusebius as meaning that Felix came into office in a.d. 51.

The date of Festus’ arrival is greatly disputed. Lightfoot, Wieseler, and Schürer conclude that it could not have been before a.d. 60 or 61, because of Acts 24:10 , and because Josephus’ description of the events which happened under Felix implies the lapse of many years. But for these events five or six years are amply sufficient; and for the ‘many years’ see above. Eusebius ( Chronicle ), followed by Harnack, says that Festus arrived in the second year of Nero, i.e. Oct. a.d. 55 to Oct. a.d. 56. But Eusebius probably makes the first year of an emperor begin in the September after his accession (Turner, p. 418), and this would make the second year to be Sept. a.d. 56 to Sept. a.d. 57; accordingly Rackham ( Acts , p. 454) gives a.d. 57 for Festus’ arrival. Another argument for an early date for Festus’ arrival is that Felix was acquitted, after his recall, through the influence of his brother Pallas (Joseph. Ant . XX. viii. 9), and this could only have been (it is said) while Pallas was still in office (Josephus says that Pallas ‘was at that time held in the greatest honour by’ Nero). But he was dismissed just before Britannicus’ 14th birthday, in the spring of a.d. 55 (Tacitus, Ann . xiii. 14 f.). This, however, would make Festus’ arrival in any case too early; it would be in the summer of a.d. 54, before Claudius’ death, which contradicts Eusebius ( Chron ., and HE ii. 22). Harnack supposes that Tacitus wrote ‘fourteenth birthday’ in error for ‘fifteenth.’ It is, however, preferable to suppose that Pallas still retained influence even after he had left office. Turner suggests that at any rate the acquittal of Felix, when accused by the Jews, shows that Poppæa had not yet acquired her influence over Nero. This began in a.d. 58, though he did not marry her till a.d. 62, the year of Pallas’ murder by him. This consideration, then, militates against Lightfoot’s date (a.d. 60 or 61). Harnack’s date (a.d. 56) comes from following Eusebius; and accordingly be dates the events of Acts two or three years at least before Ramsay and Turner. Even that early date, if Pallas was still in office when Felix was acquitted, is not easy to reconcile with Tacitus’ statement. It does not seem safe to rely on Eusebius’ chronology in this case, considering that in other cases it is so inaccurate.

13. Persecutions of Nero and Domitian

(1) Death of St. Peter and of St. Paul . There is no good reason for supposing that the two Apostles died on the same day or even in the same year, though we may probably conclude that they both were martyred under Nero. Their joint commemoration is due to their bodies having been transferred to the Catacombs together on June 29, a.d. 258 (so the Philocalian calendar, a.d. 354). Clement of Rome ( Cor . 5) mentions them in the same connexion as examples of patience; Ignatius, writing to the Romans (§ 4), says: ‘I do not enjoin you as Peter and Paul did’; Tertullian says that they were both martyred at Rome under Nero ( Scarp . 15, de Prœscr . 36 [ Patr. Lat . ii. 174 f., 59]), and so Origen (Euseb. HE iii. 1); Dionysius of Corinth says ‘about the same time’ (Euseb. HE ii. 25); Caius ( c [Note: circa, about.] . a.d. 200) describes their graves near Rome (Euseb. ib. ). Prudentius ( Peristeph . xii. 5), in the 4th cent., is the first to say that they died on the same day. Eusebius puts their death at the very end of Nero’s reign, i.e. not long before a.d. 68. The determining considerations are: ( a ) the connexion of their deaths with the fire at Rome in July a.d. 64; ( b ) the necessary interval after St. Paul’s acquittal for his later travels, which would take some three years; and this, if we took Lightfoot’s chronology ( Clement , i. 75 n. [Note: . note.] ), would probably prevent us from fixing on a.d. 64 as the year of St. Paul’s death; ( c ) the date of St. Peter’s First Epistle, if a genuine work; and ( d ) the fact that St. Mark attended both Apostles, the suggestion being that he served St. Peter after St. Paul’s death. The last consideration, if true, would make St. Peter’s martyrdom the later of the two. The date of 1Peter is a difficulty. It makes Christianity a crime ( 1 Peter 4:14 , so in Rev.), and it is said by Pfleiderer not to have been so before the reign of Trajan. At first Christians were accused of ill doing; at a later period they were put to death as Christians . Ramsay gives reasons for believing that the change was made by Nero, and developed in the interval a.d. 68 96 under the Flavian emperors ( Ch. in Rom. Emp . pp. 245, 252 ff., 280). The fact of persecutions being mentioned makes it unlikely that 1Peter was written before a.d. 64 (Lightfoot, Clement , ii. 498 f.), and its indebtedness to some of St. Paul’s Epistles implies some interval after they were written. Dr. Bigg, however ( Internal. Crit. Com .), pleads for a much earlier date, in an argument that will not bear abbreviation: he thinks that the persecutions mentioned were not from the State at all, but from the Jews. Ramsay, on the other hand, thinks that the provinces of Asia Minor cannot have been so fully evangelized as 1Peter implies before a.d. 65, and that the Epistle was written c [Note: circa, about.] . a.d. 80, soon after which date St. Peter died. But this is against all the Patristic testimony, which there is little reason to reject. Probably, then, we must date the death of both Apostles in Nero’s reign. Two of the arguments mentioned above on the one hand that the two martyrdoms must have been in close connexion with the Roman fire; and, on the other hand, that St. Mark can only have attended on the one Apostle after the other’s death appear to have little weight. If, as seems likely from what has already been said, the general scheme of chronology adopted by Lightfoot and Wieseler places the events of Acts a year or two too late all through, the argument for postponing the date of St. Paul’s death, to allow for his travels, falls, although the later date for the death is in itself quite probable. On the whole, the conclusion seems to be that the martyrdoms may have taken place at any time between a.d. 64 and a.d. 68, more probably towards the end than towards the beginning of that period, though not necessarily in the same year.

(2) The Apocalypse . This work gives us our last chronological indications in NT. Like 1Peter , it implies persecution for the Name; but, unlike 1Peter , it implies emperor-worship. The tone of antagonism to the Empire is entirely different from that of St. Paul’s Epistles and the Acts. Rome-worship was greatly developed by Domitian, and was scarcely at all prominent in Nero’s time. This feature in Rev., then, points to the scene being laid in the Domitianic persecution; and that date is argued for by Swete ( Apocalypse , p. xcv. ff. the most complete English commentary on the work) and Ramsay ( Ch. in Rom. Emp . p. 295 ff.). It is accepted by Sanday ( JThSt [Note: ThSt Journal of Theological Studies.] viii. 481 ff., July 1907). Lightfoot, however ( Bibl. Ess . p. 51, Sup. Rel . p. 132), and Westcott ( St. John , Introd. p. lxxxiv.) argue for a date during Nero’s persecution, mainly because of the difference of style between Rev. and Jn., the latter being dated late in the century; this argument assumes identity of authorship, and makes little allowance for a possible difference of scribes. Other arguments for the Neronic date have been taken from the number of the Beast, which is supposed to spell, in Hebrew letters, the names Nero Cæsar, and from the indication as to the ‘kings’ (emperors) in 17:10. The earlier date was in fashion a generation ago, but a reaction has lately set in, and the opinion of Irenæus is now largely supported, namely, that the book was written towards the end of the reign of Domitian, who died a.d. 96 (Iren. Haer . v. 30. 3; Euseb. HE iii. 18). The evidence seems to preponderate largely in favour of the supposition that the last decade of the 1st cent. is that illustrated by the last book of the NT Canon.

III. Results. The following table gives the dates arrived at by Harnack, Turner, Ramsay, and Lightfoot, respectively. The results of Lightfoot are in the main also those of Wieseler, Lewin, and Schürer. To the present writer the intermediate dates seem to be the only ones which fulfil all the necessary conditions; but Turner’s year for St. Paul’s conversion appears less probable than Ramsay’s. In view, however, of the confusion in reckoning Imperial years, lunar months, and the like, it would be vain to expect anything like certainty in determining NT dates.

H [Note: Harnack] T [Note: Turner] R [Note: Ramsay] L [Note: Lightfoot] Nativity of Christ, b.c. 7 w [Note: winter] or 6 sp [Note: p spring] 6 s [Note: summer] Baptism of Christ, a.d. 27 sp [Note: p spring] 25 w [Note: winter] or 26 sp [Note: p spring] Crucifixion 29 or 30 29 29 30 Conversion of St. Paul 30 35 or 36 33 34 First Visit to Jerusalem 33 38 35 37 Second Visit 44 46 45 a [Note: autumn] and 46 sp [Note: p spring] 45 First Miss. Journey 45 46? 47 48 47 49 48 49 Council (Third Visit) 47 49 49 w [Note: winter] and 50 sp [Note: p spring] 51 Second M. J. and Fourth Visit 47 50 49 52 50 53 51 54 Third Miss. Journey 50 54 52 56 53 57 54 58 Fifth Visit and arrest 54 56 57 58 Festus succeeds 56 58 s [Note: summer] 59 s [Note: summer] 60 or 61 St. Paul’s arrival in Rome 57 sp [Note: p spring] 59 sp [Note: p spring] 60 sp [Note: p spring] 61 sp [Note: p spring] Acquittal 61 sp [Note: p spring] 61 w [Note: winter] or 62 sp [Note: p spring] 63 sp [Note: p spring] Death of St. Paul 64 64 or 65 67 67 Death of St. Peter 64 64 or 65 80 64 A. J. Maclean.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Chronology of the New Testament'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/c/chronology-of-the-new-testament.html. 1909.

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