Can Biblical Chronology Be Trusted?


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NOTE: If you want Old Testament Chronology or New Testament Chronology specifically, scroll down to those headings.

The Bible is not a book of philosophical or ethical principles, although it contains them. It is a book about how God has made Himself known in history. Its message is timeless in that the nature of God and man has not changed. But the framework of that message, which holds it together and cannot be extracted from it, is the story of what God has said and done in history.

Chronology is the foundation of history; without it, history is a swarm of events with no relationship to each other or to us. Relative chronology places events before or after (or simultaneous with) each other. Absolute chronology relates events to us by fixing them on our conventional timeline in terms of B.C. or A.D.

The Bible is full of relative chronology. For example, we are told that Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born (Gn 21:5), that the Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years (Ex 12:40), that Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years (Nm 32:13), and that Judah’s exile lasted for 70 years (Jr 25:11–12). But no absolute dates are given for any of these or other biblical events. Does this situation leave us unable to confirm or deny biblical chronology? This is not the case for two reasons.

First, the Bible’s relative chronology can be shown to be internally consistent. Israel’s time in Egypt, the wilderness, and the exile, for example, is consistently given in many different places. Chronological differences between Kings and Chronicles have been closely examined and have yielded to reasonable methods of harmonization.

Second, the historical accounts in both OT and NT intersect at various points the histories of surrounding nations such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Rome, whose chronologies have been established to a high degree of accuracy. Assyrian chronology, for example, is set according to an eclipse known to have occurred on June 15, 763 B.C.

Problems still remain. Differences between ancient and modern calendars, for example, often require the giving of alternate dates in the form 931/0 B.C. Furthermore, different methods of harmonizing the dates of biblical kings yield slightly different results.

How to Interpret the Bible-1

Even conservative scholars do not always agree on how a particular chronological reference should be interpreted. For example, some scholars argue that many numbers in the Bible are figurative, especially 40 and its multiples. These scholars prefer in some cases to give priority to archaeological clues in establishing biblical chronology. Thus the patriarchal period is often dated to the Middle Bronze Age between about 1800–1600 B.C. It is also supposed that the Hebrews migrated to Egypt during the Hyksos period (about 1700–1500 B.C.), when Semitic people ruled Egypt. The exodus is then associated with the reign of Rameses II shortly after 1290 B.C. Following the wilderness period, the conquest of Canaan would have begun about 1250 B.C. Pharaoh Merneptah (1224–1214 B.C.) mounted a campaign against Canaan in the fifth year of his reign (about 1220). In his record of that campaign, he mentioned that, among others, Israel was utterly destroyed. Thus, by that date, the people Israel were a recognized group in Canaan.

Assuming a literal interpretation of 1 Kings 6:1, however, the exodus occurred in 1446 B.C. and the conquest period lasted about seven years around 1400 B.C. Continuing backward, based on Exodus 12:40, Jacob’s migration to Egypt would have been in 1876 B.C. Data regarding the ages of the patriarchs would place their births at 2006 B.C. for Jacob (Gn 47:9), 2066 B.C. for Isaac (Gn 25:26), and 2166 B.C. for Abraham (Gn 21:5). Because the genealogical lists in Genesis are believed by most to be intentionally incomplete or “open,” attempts are usually not made to establish historical dates prior to Abraham (see “Are the Genealogies Reliable?” in the notes on Genesis).

The NT is not much concerned with when events took place, with Luke being somewhat the exception. Luke tells us, for example, that Jesus was 12 when His parents lost Him in Jerusalem (Lk 2:42) and was about 30 at the beginning of His ministry (Lk 3:23). Both references are altogether reasonable. Luke 3:1 gives what appears to set the date for John the Baptist’s ministry—“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.” There is nothing problematic about this date except the interpretation of Tiberius’s fifteenth year, the determination of which depends on the beginning point and which calendar Luke had in mind.

Due to an error by a sixth-century Scythian monk who was responsible for our current Western calendar, Jesus’ birth actually occurred in the B.C. era, perhaps in late 5 B.C. We know that Herod the Great, who was alive when Jesus was born, died between March 12/13 and April 11, 4 B.C.

Unfortunately the date of Jesus’ crucifixion is uncertain. Although the majority opinion is that it occurred in A.D. 30, a good argument can be made for A.D. 33. Our knowledge of Roman history allows us to determine that Herod Agrippa and therefore the events of Acts 12 occurred in A.D. 44.

There is no credible reason, then, to question the Bible’s historical chronology, even though at times we wish we had more information.

Dating Events Between 33 and 49 A.D. In the Apostle Paul’s Ministry

1 Kings 6:37 That is, the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. “Ziv” is the Canaanite name for the second month of the year (April/May).

1 Kings 6:38 That is, the eleventh year of Solomon’s reign. “Bul” is the Canaanite name for the eighth month of the year (October/November).

1 Kings 7:1 Solomon spent nearly twice as long on his own palace than he did on the Lord’s temple. The juxtaposition of this verse with the previous was a statement by the author about Solomon’s priorities.

1 Kings 7:2 The “House of the Forest of Lebanon” was probably used as an assembly hall in the temple compound.

1 Kings 7:13 This Hiram is not to be confused with the king of Tyre.

1 Kings 7:14 Hence, he was half-Israelite, unless he was the son of his mother’s first husband, in which case he was probably a full-blooded Israelite.


1 Kings 7:21 “Jakin” means “He [the Lord] shall uphold,” alluding to the function of the pillar to uphold the ceiling. “Boaz” means “In Him [the Lord] is strength.”

1 Kings 7:23 “Reservoir” literally means “sea.” This was a poetic term for a very large basin or reservoir of water used in sacrifices and cleansing.

1 Kings 7:39 That is, the main reservoir of water.

1 Kings 7:44 That is, the bronze water reservoir used in the rituals.

1 Kings 7:46 “Succoth” means “huts.” It is usually identified with Deir ‘Alla just north of the Jabbok River on the east side of the Jordan. Archaeological excavations have revealed extensive metal works and furnaces. “Zarethan” is an uncertain location; the best estimates are of a site about eight miles north of Deir ‘Alla (Succoth?), on the east side of the Jordan.

1 Kings 7:47 Solomon decided that, because of the great number of utensils, trying to determine the weight was not worth the effort.

1 Kings 7:48 The “bread of the Presence” symbolized the covenant between God and His people. The term Presence was an important concept of Israelite theology: The Lord was personally present with His people.

1 Kings 8:2 “Ethanim” was the Canaanite name for a month later known as Tishri, covering part of September and October. This was the Festival of Booths (see Nm 29). Thus, the dedication of the temple occurred eleven months after its completion (1 Kg 6:38).

1 Kings 8:7 The picture was of cherubim with wings outstretched in obeisance toward the ark.

1 Kings 8:8 “They are there to this day,” that is, the days when the books of Kg were first written during the early days of the exile. The disappearance of the ark of the covenant was anticipated by Jeremiah (Jr 3:16).

1 Kings 8:9 Aaron’s rod (Nm 17:10) and a jar of manna (Ex 16:33) were never placed in the ark, but alongside it. The only items in the ark were the stone tablets of Moses. “Horeb,” also known as Sinai, was located in the southern Sinai peninsula. The exact location is uncertain, but it is traditionally identified with Jebel Musa.

1 Kings 8:11 The “cloud” was the form that represented the Lord’s glory and presence (see Ex 40:34–38). It occupied the tabernacle and led the Israelites during the wilderness years.

1 Kings 8:23 The Hebrew word for “gracious” refers to the kindness and good treatment expected by both parties of the covenant, namely God and Israel. Solomon pointed out that the Lord had not only kept His part of the agreement but had given special treatment to Israel because of that relationship.

1 Kings 8:31 “Forced to take an oath” is literally “lifts a curse against him to curse him.” The Hebrew idiom refers to the ancient Near East practice where one taking an oath calls upon the gods (in this case, the Lord) to punish him if he speaks falsely.

1 Kings 8:32 “May You hear … and act”; that is, the Lord will carry out the punishment. “Bringing … on his own head” refers to the guilty person suffering the consequence of his actions.

1 Kings 8:33 See Dt 29:17–27. Solomon was deliberately using the language of this passage.

1 Kings 8:41, 43 The Lord will hear the praying foreigners and treat them according to what they deserve.

1 Kings 8:42 This is the fulfillment of God’s purpose in creating Israel as a “kingdom of priests” (Ex 19:6).

1 Kings 8:51 The “iron furnace” referred to a furnace where iron is smelted.


1 Kings 8:63 Given the fact that “all the Israelites” were gathered together and that the feast lasted for 14 days (see v. 65), the numbers for the sacrifices are not unreasonable.

1 Kings 8:64 The large number of sacrifices overflowed into the courtyard in order to handle the volume.

1 Kings 8:65 Hamath was located at the northernmost boundary of Israel; the Brook of Egypt was at the southernmost boundary of Israel. The festival lasted 14 days: seven days for the dedication of the temple, and then seven days for the Festival of Booths.

1 Kings 8:66 This would be the day after the Festival of Booths, the fifteenth day of the combined celebrations.

1 Kings 9:8 Seeing the ruined temple, “every passersby will be appalled and will hiss.” The horror of the scene will cause the observer to suddenly have an intake of breath that would audibly hiss through their lips and teeth.

1 Kings 9:13 The name Cabul was a pun meaning “like nothing,” an allusion to Hiram’s assessment of the region.

1 Kings 9:15 The “supporting terraces”; literally “the Millo” or “Filling.” It was probably a system of terraced embankments on the enormous gulf between the City of David on the southeast hill and the Orphel “bulge” to the northeast, east of Solomon’s palace. This was likely the site of the barracks of the praetorian guard of professional soldiers so important to the Davidic dynasty.

1 Kings 9:21 The phrase “until today” was not the actual time of the author, who lived after the destruction of Jerusalem, but the “today” of the source he used, probably the Acts of Solomon. See the Introduction for more on the authorship of 1 and 2 Kg.

Young Christians

1 Kings 9:22 The Canaanites were permanently enslaved as workers for the Israelites. The Israelites were drafted temporarily for specific periods of time.

1 Kings 10:11 “Almug wood” is traditionally identified as sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus), imported from India. Elsewhere almug was said to be native to Lebanon (see 2 Ch 2:8), suggesting that it may refer to juniper (Juniperus phoenicea excelsa).

1 Kings 10:26 A large part of Solomon’s wealth came from taxes and tolls on international commerce. The army’s primary mission was to protect commercial traffic on Israelite caravan routes.

1 Kings 10:27 “Foothills”, literally “Shephelah,” the coastal plains lying below the Judean highlands.

1 Kings 10:28 The Masoretic scribes may have misread the Hebrew word that is translated here as “Egypt.” This Hebrew word differs by only one letter from a word that refers to “Mutsri,” the Cappadocian seacoast in Anatolia (modern Turkey). This fits with the other source of import, Kue, which is also located in Anatolia. The kings of Israel were forbidden to import horses from Egypt in Dt 17:16.

1 Kings 11:1 Solomon did this in direct disobedience to Dt 17:17. Most of the marriages were designed to seal political alliances.

1 Kings 11:2 The term “intermarry” is an idiom used for more than just marriage. While the context clearly centers upon marriage, it is the entire cultural package that went along with marriage (economic, political) and the negative moral influence of close association with unbelievers that was in view here.

1 Kings 11:5 “Milcom” was the national deity of the Ammonites; the name apparently means “the king,” and was identified with Chemosh, the deity of Moab, by Jephthah in Jdg 11:24. Some suggest Milcom is the same god as Molech, see Jr 49:1.

1 Kings 11:6 “Did what was evil”; literally “The Evil.” This expression with the definite article, referring to idolatry, is very common in the Former Prophets: Jos, Jdg, 1 and 2 Sm, and 1 and 2 Kg (see Ex 20). The use of capitalization captures the original intent. Of all sin, the greatest in the eyes of the biblical authors was idolatry, and they often wrote of it this way.

1 Kings 11:11 “Since you have done this,” can mean, “since this idolatry is your habitual practice.”

1 Kings 11:20 “Tahpenes herself”: it was not the sister of Tahpenes who weaned her son, but Tahpenes, the queen, who did so; a signal honor for Hadad.

1 Kings 11:25 “Aram” is modern Syria.

1 Kings 11:28 The porters provided the basic labor of carrying materials to the craftsmen. In this case, the primary job was to fill the breach, so the responsibility assigned to Jeroboam was significant.

1 Kings 11:30 The Hebrew word used here for “cloak,” salmah, was a pun on Solomon’s name (Hb shelomoh), having almost exactly the same consonants. The cloak was symbolic of the entire nation about to be divided, and the pun emphasized the irony: it was Solomon who was about to be divided.

1 Kings 11:34 The title of “ruler” referred to a leader of a single tribe, and so was a demotion from king.

1 Kings 12:4 There is strong evidence that Solomon, while not starting out enslaving Israelites, ended up doing so.

1 Kings 12:18 Rehoboam insulted “all Israel” by sending the man in charge of the Canaanite slave work force. By sending Adoram, Rehoboam implied that Israel was to be dealt with the same way.

1 Kings 12:28 “Here is your God”: literally “behold your gods.” This was almost exactly the same language used by Aaron in presenting the golden calves to Israel at Sinai (Ex 32:4).

1 Kings 12:29 Dan was in the far north of the kingdom, Bethel was in the southernmost part.

1 Kings 13:18 Though the man of God was deceived by the “word of the Lord” from the old prophet, he still disobeyed a clear command (v. 9), and God held him accountable.

1 Kings 13:30 He mourned not because of any regret for the Judean prophet’s death but because that death demonstrated that the Judean prophet’s denunciation of Jeroboam and Samaria would also be fulfilled.

1 Kings 13:33 Jereboam had a clear word from the Lord, but he disregarded it. The modern reader sometimes wonders why God does not do more miracles today to authenticate His message. One reason is that miracles are not always heeded even when they cannot be explained away (see Lk 16:31).

1 Kings 14:14 See 15:29 for the fulfillment of this prophecy.

1 Kings 14:22 “Did what was evil,” literally “The Evil”; that is, idolatry. See note on 11:6.

1 Kings 14:23 The “sacred pillars” were among those objects to be destroyed by the people when they entered the land (see Dt 12:3).

1 Kings 14:30 Since outright war is not recorded between the two kings, we assume this refers to a “cold war” with skirmishes and other incidents.

1 Kings 15:1 The “eighteenth year” was 913 B.C. “Abijam” is the same person called Abijah in 2 Ch 13.

1 Kings 15:2 Abijam reigned for three years, until 909 B.C.

1 Kings 15:9 The “twentieth year” was 910 B.C.

1 Kings 15:10 Asa reigned for 41 years until 869 B.C.

1 Kings 15:11 The phrase “what was right” is literally “The Right Thing,” a deliberate contrast to “The Evil” thing of idolatry that characterized disobedient kings.

1 Kings 15:17 “Ramah” was four miles north of Jerusalem on the road leading from the coastal plain. This would be the primary route for an invading army.

1 Kings 15:25 The focus of the narrative shifts to Israel, the northern kingdom, until the final verses of the book.

1 Kings 15:26 Literally, “The Evil,” i.e., idolatry, see note on 11:6.

1 Kings 15:27 Nadab and Israel had their military attention on the Philistines and so were vulnerable to internal treason.

1 Kings 15:28 Asa’s “third year” was 908 B.C.

1 Kings 15:29 See 14:10–11.

1 Kings 15:33 Baasha reigned 24 years, until 886 B.C.

1 Kings 15:34 Literally, “The Evil,” i.e., idolatry, see note on 11:6.

1 Kings 16:7 The author’s comments here reflected his philosophy of history and theological perspective: kings who commit “The Evil” of idolatry and break the first commandment are judged by the Lord. Both the king and people experienced disaster.

1 Kings 16:8 The “twenty-sixth year” of Asa’s reign was 886 B.C. Elah reigned two years until 885 b.c.

1 Kings 16:10 Asa’s twenty-seventh year was 885 B.C.

1 Kings 16:11 Baasha experiences the same fate as he gave to the house of Jeroboam.

1 Kings 16:13 “Worthless idols,” literally “vapors, mists.”

1 Kings 16:15 The twenty-seventh year of Asa’s reign was 885 B.C.

1 Kings 16:21 Tibni reigned six years, 885–880 B.C., overlapping with Omri’s reign by two years.

1 Kings 16:23 Asa’s “thirty-first year” was 880 B.C.

1 Kings 16:24 The term for “150 pounds” is literally “two talents.” Originally representing the weight a man could carry, a talent was a weight of about 62–66 pounds (28–30 kg) and was divided into 3,000 shekels.

1 Kings 16:25–26 “The Evil”: that is, idolatry, see note on 11:6. “Worthless idols,” literally “vapors, mists.”

1 Kings 16:27 According to secular records of Moab and Assyria, the “house of Omri” made significant accomplishments. But in 1 Kg, the author evaluated and then dismissed Omri on the basis of spiritual—not political, economic, or military—criteria.

1 Kings 16:29 Asa’s “thirty-eighth year” was 874 B.C. Ahab reigned 22 years, until 853 B.C.

1 Kings 16:30 “The Evil,” i.e., idolatry, see note on 11:6.

1 Kings 16:34 Most commentators understand Hiel’s sons to be a reference to child sacrifice, in light of the prophecy of Joshua about the one who rebuilds Jericho (see Jos 6:26).

1 Kings 17:1 “Gilead” on the east of the Jordan river and south of the Yarmuk river was wild, forested, and largely unsettled during this era. “Baal,” the Canaanite storm god, supposedly brought life-giving rain to the land. The drought and control of the weather was a direct challenge to Baal’s credibility as a deity.

1 Kings 17:3 A “wadi” is a stream that is dry most of the year, but which tended to have flash floods during the wet season.

1 Kings 17:9 Zarephath was located in Phoenicia, the heart and home of Baal worship and Jezebel’s home. The story of Elijah and the widow demonstrates the Lord’s sovereignty over Phoenicia as well as His grace and mercy even to Phoenician idolaters.

1 Kings 17:18 The woman was a Phoenician and a witness to the Lord’s provision for her needs. She thought her son had died as punishment for her guilt. The guilt she referred to was most likely due to her previous worship of Baal, which she had presumably ceased since Elijah came to stay with her.

1 Kings 18:4 They used two different caves.

1 Kings 18:5 For “wadi,” see note on 17:3.

1 Kings 18:15 The “Hosts” in “Lord of Hosts” is a reference to the angelic might of heaven. Elijah used this divine title to reassure Obadiah’s fears.

1 Kings 18:21 The phrase “two opinions” uses the Hebrew word saif, which means “crutches made from two sticks.” So an alternative translation might be, “How long will you limp about on two crutches?” The point of this metaphor was not about wavering between two opinions, but about the damage Israel was doing to itself by refusing to follow the Lord.

1 Kings 18:26 The phrase “did their lame dance” is literally “pass over, hence leaped, danced.” This is a pun on the concept of limping in verse 21. Elijah was making a derogatory pun to describe their ritualistic dance. Such ecstatic dancing was a documented characteristic of Phoenician and Canaanite religions.

1 Kings 18:33–34 Note the symbolism: 12 jugs of water, like the 12 stones of the altar—one for each tribe of Israel.

1 Kings 18:40 For “Wadi,” see note on 17:3.

By E. Ray Clendenen

The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)


Chronology, Old Testament. Branch of biblical studies that attempts to assign dates and sequences to OT events.

Evangelicalism’s most eminent scholars have labored to make the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible a comprehensive and reliable tool for all who study Scripture. The encyclopedia contains more than 5,700 articles by over 175 leading evangelical scholars from around the world, including Colin Brown, Frederic Bush, Andrew Hill, Howard Marshall, Grant Osborne, Moisés Silva, Willem Van Gemeren, Gordan Wenham, Edwin Yamauchi, and Robert Yarbrough.

Both biblical and nonbiblical materials are utilized by students of OT chronology. Biblical data include: (1) genealogies showing personal and tribal affiliations among various peoples; (2) specific numbers given by biblical authors to indicate a person’s longevity, a king’s reign, or duration of a specific event; (3) synchronizing statements which date an event in a specific year of a king’s reign or relate it to a natural phenomenon assumed to be common knowledge at the time of writing (Am 1:1; Zec 14:5).

From the abundance of such chronological passages in the OT, one might conclude that establishment of OT dates and sequences would be a simple procedure. Each of the three kinds of biblical material, however, exhibits special problems that must be solved first.

Nonbiblical materials that shed light on OT chronology are quite numerous, and more are discovered year by year. They include: (1) official records of important affairs such as military campaigns from countries like Egypt or Babylonia; (2) official inscriptions that are dedicatory or commemorate a great victory; (3) annals listing major accomplishments of a ruler year by year; (4) ostraca (inscribed pieces of pottery) containing letters, tax transactions or other economic records, military dispatches between field leaders and command headquarters, or other information. Ostraca may be dated archaeologically and are often used to supplement the biblical record.

The chronologist tries to examine the pertinent biblical and nonbiblical information, note areas of correlation among all the data, and finally establish a working system into which the most facts can be fitted. New evidence uncovered at any time may necessitate shifts in the present working system. Although the basic structure of biblical chronology seems reasonably firm, many details will no doubt be subject to change as new evidence is discovered.

As a general rule, the earlier the period the less certain one can be of one’s dating. In the 2nd millennium bc, for example, many dates can be assigned within a range of about 100 years. By the time of David and Solomon (c. 1000 bc), the margin of error over which scholars debate is a decade or less. The range narrows as one comes toward the present, so that, with the exception of one or two problem eras, dates accurate to within one or two years are possible by roughly the middle of the 9th century bc. Such limitations must be kept in mind in any examination of the major periods of OT history.

Prepatriarchal Period

Biblical Evidence. In the first 11 chapters of Genesis are found accounts of the creation (Gn 1; 2), the fall (Gn 3), Cain and Abel (Gn 4), the flood (Gn 6–9), and the tower of Babel (Gn 11). Those events are set within a certain chronological framework.

According to Genesis 5 a period of 10 generations elapsed between the creation and the flood. Although the individuals listed enjoyed an average life span of a hefty 847 years plus, the total time elapsing between Adam and the flood was only 1,656 years.

According to Genesis 11 another 10 generations elapsed from the time of the flood until the time of Abraham (at least in the Septuagint, the 3rd-century bc. Greek translation of the OT; the Hebrew Masoretic text has nine). In that period the average age attained by individuals in the list is only 346 years (using a figure of 460 for Arpachshad’s son Kainan, who is included in v 13 of the Septuagint; cf. Lk 3:36); the total elapsed time from the flood to Abraham is only 520 years. Taken literally, that would mean that all of Abraham’s ancestors as far back as Noah’s son Shem were still alive at Abraham’s birth, and that a total of only 2,176 years elapsed from the time of creation to Abraham.

Interpretation of the Biblical Data. A literalistic or slavishly mathematical interpretation of the figures, as now appears in the margin of many KJV Bibles, requires a number of assumptions: that no names are omitted from the genealogies, that all the numbers given are consecutive, and especially that numbers used in an ancient biblical source carry the same meaning as that associated with them in the modern Western mind. Each assumption needs serious examination in the light of other established facts.

A cursory reading of other biblical genealogies, for example, reveals that not all the names of a given family were always included. Even in more recent NT times Matthew recorded a total of 28 generations (two sets of 14 each) between David and Jesus, and comparison with OT genealogies reveals that Matthew omitted several names. Luke listed a total of 42 generations for the same interval. Omissions are also obvious when one compares the genealogical lists given in 1 Chronicles 1–8 with those recorded earlier in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.

Further, ancient peoples thought of numbers in a schematic or stylized way. Use of numbers among the ancient Near Eastern nations differed sharply from current Western practice.

Examples of that practice are known from both biblical and nonbiblical sources. For example, a list of eight Sumerian kings who ruled in the city of Shurruppak before the “great flood” of the Jemdet Nar era (c. 3000 B.C.) assigns each man an average reign of more than 30,000 years. Berossus, a Babylonian priest of Marduk living in the 3rd century B.C., added two names to the eight found in that earlier list of kings and assigned an average of 43,200 years to each king. Such extraordinarily high numbers provide a perspective for considering the numbers of Genesis.

In light of the present evidence, therefore, although one can assume that the numbers assigned to the ages of the patriarchs preceding Abraham in Genesis “had real meaning for those responsible for their preservation,” according to OT scholar R. K. Harrison, they should not be employed in a purely literal sense to compute the length of the various generations mentioned in the text. Further, the numbers given in the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch, another early version of the Pentateuch, diverge in many details from those of the Hebrew Masoretic text. That means, among other things, that the Genesis numbers caused problems for even the earliest scholars of Scripture.


Significant Old Testament Dates

(According to Various Authorities)

Biblical Event

Rabbi Jose c. 150

Ussher 1650

Anstey 1913

Unger 1954

Anderson 1957

Schultz 1960

Mauro 1961

Thiele 1965

Kitchen 1966

Pfeiffer 1973

Bright 1981

Merrill 1987

The creation of Adam





The flood





The birth of Abraham








(?) c. 1950

c. 2000

(?) c. 1950


Jacob’s entrance into Egypt




(?) c. 1550



c. 1700



The Exodus








c. 1280


(?) c. 1280


The crossing of Jordan








c. 1240




The anointing of Saul







c. 1050




The division of the kingdom









c. 937




The fall of Samaria











The fall of Jerusalem













Cyrus’ decree to return









Second Temple









Ezra’s return



c. 458

428 (398)



c. 428


Nehemiah’s return










c. 400

500 (450)

460 (444)

c. 525

c. 450


Nonbiblical Evidence. Archaeology provides no evidence that may be used to date either the creation or any other account preserved in Genesis 1–11. The flood is an example that illustrates some of the difficulties. Many claims have been made by persons from a wide variety of backgrounds (scientists, explorers, theologians, and others) to the effect that archaeology has proven the Genesis flood narrative to be true. Yet no city so far excavated in Palestine and Syria (including some of the oldest towns in the world) shows archaeological evidence of the flood.

Although several cities in Mesopotamia do exhibit evidence of a flood, three factors make it difficult to link that evidence with Genesis 6–9. Each of the flood levels so far discovered dates from a different period. Further, since nearby sites show no evidence of flooding, all of the Mesopotamian flood evidence points to relatively small local floods. Finally, the evidence indicates no great cultural discontinuities of the sort that would result from destruction of an entire population. Thus it seems that the ancient Mesopotamian floods discovered through archaeological research are of the same kind as the floods that still occur in the Euphrates river valley.

Clearly, certain questions one might ask of the Genesis narratives simply cannot be answered. Many who regard the Bible as the Word of God have concluded that the date of events found in Genesis 1–11 must be less important than the theological truths of salvation, faith, and obedience that these accounts present.


From Abraham to Moses

The Patriarchal Age. The date of Abraham is still a lively topic among biblical scholars who agree that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were indeed historical persons. Opinions range from an early-date view estimating that the patriarchal age extended from 2086 to 1871 B.C., to a late-date view placing Abraham at around 1400 bc. Since each position claims to fit the biblical data, a closer look at the two points of view is in order.

Many OT passages seem to support the view that puts Abraham at a comparatively early date. First Kings 6:1 computes 480 years back from the founding of the temple in the 4th year of Solomon’s reign (961 B.C., according to the early-date view) to the exodus from Egypt, which would then be dated 1441 bc. Counting 430 years as the period of Israelite sojourn in Egypt (see Gn 15:13; Ex 12:40) takes the date back to 1871 B.C. To that date are added the 215 years demanded by the total of (1) Abraham’s age upon entering Canaan (75 years according to Gn 12:4); (2) 25 additional years before the birth of Isaac (Gn 21:5); (3) 60 more years to the birth of Jacob (Gn 25:26); (4) the appearance of Jacob before the pharaoh at age 130 (Gn 47:9). Those 215 years added to the previous total give a date of 2086 bc for the entrance of Abraham into Canaan and a date of 2161 bc for his birth.

Such a calculation does not use all of the chronological evidence presented in the OT; consequently the date for Abraham is open to challenge. For example, the 480 years between the exodus and Solomon’s 4th year represent a period of time into which the wilderness wanderings, the career of Joshua and his immediate successors, the period of the judges, Samuel, Saul, and David must be placed. Although the OT does not specifically say how long were the careers of Joshua, Samuel, or Saul, even a modest reckoning pushes the total years required by all the biblical data together to approximately 600.

In addition, the length of time to be assigned to the Egyptian sojourn is problematic. The Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint both view the number 430 (in Ex 12:40) as applicable not only to the years in Egypt but to the years of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Canaan as well. Evidently Paul followed the Septuagint tradition when he dated the giving of the law 430 years later than the time of God’s promise to Abraham (see Gal 3:15–18). That means the Septuagint figure cannot be dismissed lightly.

The late dating of Abraham (c. 1400 B.C.) is based on two propositions. (1) The picture of patriarchal society portrayed in Genesis most closely parallels that reflected in the cuneiform tablets recovered from Nuzi, a town in northeastern Mesopotamia about 175 miles north of Baghdad. (2) Because those tablets must be dated in the 15th and 14th centuries B.C., the parallel patriarchal age must have fallen within the same general time period.


Those who hold the late-date view are aware that their date for Abraham cannot be equated with the set of numbers on which the early-date view depends. They point to other data, also from the OT. Joseph, who was already a highly placed Egyptian official when Jacob moved to Egypt, lived to be 110 years old (Gn 50:26). Moses was a great-grandson of Levi, Joseph’s older brother. Since Joseph lived to see his own great-grandchildren born (who would probably be younger than Moses since their great-grandfather was younger than his), the late-date view concludes that Joseph could have been alive when Moses was born. The four-generation genealogy of Moses (Levi-Kohath-Amram-Moses, in Ex 6:16–20; Nm 3:17–19; 26:58, 59; 1 Chr 6:1–3) was evidently thought to be complete according to Genesis 15:16, which predicted that Abraham’s descendants would be freed from Egyptian bondage “in the fourth generation.”

However, a date of around 1400 bc for Abraham cannot be aligned with certain other biblical data, including the long Egyptian sojourn demanded by Genesis 15:13 and Exodus 12:40 and a 40-year (or “one-generation”) wilderness existence. Some normally moderate scholars are forced to reduce the wilderness time to two years in order to maintain their late date for Abraham.

In short, the late-date theory is consistent with part of the biblical evidence (the genealogies of Moses), but the early-date theory conforms to another part (the actual year figures listed in scattered verses from Gn and Ex). The late-date theory holds that the genealogies represent more reliable information in Semitic societies generally, whereas the early-date theory computes years given in the biblical account literally throughout its scheme.

Because of problems attached to both positions, a large group of scholars take a middle ground in dating the patriarchal age. Archaeologically, they say, Abraham and his life and times fit perfectly within the early 2nd millennium, but imperfectly within any later period. By placing Abraham roughly between 1800 and 1600 bc, they provide enough latitude for a merging of all the available evidence, biblical and nonbiblical, into a workable chronological scheme. Archaeology provides four major bits of evidence for an early 2nd-millennium patriarchal era.

(1) Though the Nuzi tablets furnish a clear parallel to patriarchal social life, other tablets from other towns and an earlier era reflect many of the same customs common to Nuzi and Genesis. Since the Nuzians were Hurrians who came to northeastern Mesopotamia from elsewhere (perhaps Armenia), their social customs originated no doubt much earlier than the time of their tablets now in our possession. Accordingly, the 15th-century B.C. date of the Nuzi tablets does not preclude an earlier date for Abraham.

(2) The names of several of Abraham’s ancestors listed in Genesis 11 can now be identified with towns in the northern area of Mesopotamia around Haran, the city from which Abraham migrated to Canaan (Gn 11:31–12:3). Significantly, Haran flourished in the 19th and 18th centuries B.C.

(3) Shortly after 2000 B.C. Semitic nomads from the desert invaded the civilized communities of the Fertile Crescent. Those invaders, called Amorites in the OT, established themselves in several cities in northern Syria and Mesopotamia. One of the Amorite cities was Babylon, ruled by Hammurabi sometime around the beginning of the 18th century B.C. Although the Amraphel of Genesis 14:9 is not linguistically identifiable with the Babylonian king Hammurabi, as earlier scholars believed, the picture of the times following the Amorite invasion still accords well with the Genesis narratives generally.

(4) Mari, another Amorite town, is now well known because of more than 20,000 tablets recovered from its royal palace and archives. Geographically, Mari is located in the general area of Haran. Chronologically, the tablets recovered come from the 18th century B.C. One 18th-century king of Mari, Zimri Lim, carried on extensive correspondence with Hammurabi of Babylon. The tablets from Mari also furnish valuable information about tribal and ethnic groups and their movements in the general region. Of basic importance for dating the Genesis materials are certain documents from Mari which include personal names very similar to Abraham (Abi-ram), Jacob, Laban, and several other West Semitic names.

Archaeological evidence neither proves nor disproves the actual existence of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. That is admitted on all sides. What archaeology has done is to provide a framework of probabilities within which the biblical patriarchal narratives appear more and more to be at home.

Date of the Exodus. The problem of dating the patriarchal age is closely related to the problem of assigning a date to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Since the evidence does not permit a precise date for Abraham, a precise date for the entry of Joseph or Jacob into Egypt is likewise unobtainable. Further, the biblical evidence does not yield an exact figure for the length of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt.

For years biblical scholars viewed 1 Kings 6:1 as a foundation upon which to build an unshakable date for the exodus. Because Solomon’s 4th year could be unquestionably fixed to within at least a 10-year span (967–958 bc), the exodus too could be dated with the same precision simply by adding 480 years. But other biblical data raised serious questions about that simple procedure. When the Bible deals with all the events between the time of the exodus and the founding of Solomon’s temple, that is, from Numbers to 1 Kings 5:18, the precise numbers given total not 480 but closer to 600 years.

Because the evidence is insufficient to allow a precise date for the exodus, scholarly opinion remains divided between two possibilities. A 15th-century exodus is supported by several pieces of evidence. The chronology in 1 Kings 6:1 appears to be independently corroborated by a passage in Judges 11:26. It claims that Israel had occupied the area around Heshbon for 300 years preceding his own day. If Jephthah is dated at roughly 1100 bc, one is obviously led back to an exodus in the middle of the 15th century. Also, three successive generations of pharaohs who ruled in the 16th and 15th centuries produced no male offspring, making it more likely that Moses would have become the foster son of a royal princess during that time; all of the 19th-dynasty kings (1306–1200 B.C.) had legitimate male heirs.

In addition, a 15th-century date makes possible a connection between the Habiru invasion of Canaan (1400–1350 B.C.) described in the Amarna letters found at Tell el-Amarna, Egypt, and the invasion of Canaan by the Hebrews described in the OT Book of Joshua. Related to that is a reference to “Israel” in the Merneptah stele, a stone pillar inscribed with the deeds of the Egyptian king, Merneptah, of about 1220 B.C.; it implies that the people referred to, met by Merneptah in the course of a Canaanite military campaign, had been in existence for some time. Finally, an excavator of Jericho, John Garstang, placed the destruction of that city at around 1400 B.C.

Other evidence, however, strongly implies not a 15th- but a 13th-century date for the exodus. Many scholars assign a date between 1290 and 1275 B.C. on the basis of that evidence. First, the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1 discussed above may be interpreted as schematically representing 12 generations, as indicated by 1 Chronicles 6:3–8. Thus if 12 generations averaged 25 years instead of 40 years, reduction of 480 schematized years to 300 actual years would point to an exodus date of around 1266 B.C. Second, archaeological evidence exists that dates destruction at the assumed sites of several cities conquered by Joshua (Lachish, Debir, Bethel, and Hazor) to the late 13th century. Third, there is no biblical mention of Egyptian military campaigns (such as Merneptah’s 1220 B.C. incursion); Israelites living in Canaan before the time of the militarily active pharaohs Seti I (1319–1301 B.C.) and Ramses II (1301–1234 B.C.) would certainly have been affected by such activity. Fourth, Exodus 1:11 mentions the city of Ramses, the capital built by Ramses II, according to his own inscriptions.

A fifth line of argument comes from archaeological conclusions that Transjordan and the Negeb desert were not occupied by sedentary people between 1900 and 1300 B.C., whereas the Bible states clearly that the Israelites encountered stiff opposition from groups in that same region. Thus, it is argued, the Israelites must have entered that region after 1300 B.C. Sixth, connecting the Habiru with the Israelites of the conquest lacks weight because many texts besides the Amarna tablets attest to the existence of Habiru groups virtually all over the ancient Near East. “Habiru” seems to be a much broader term, possibly meaning “trespasser,” and is probably unrelated etymologically or semantically to “Hebrew.” Seventh, and finally, Garstang’s work at Jericho has now been revised by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, who showed that the fallen walls that Garstang had dated about 1400 B.C. in reality were destroyed in 1800 B.C. or earlier.

So far it has been impossible to decide with precision between the two centuries proposed for the exodus. The majority opinion among OT scholars generally, including a growing number of moderate or conservative scholars, is in favor of the 13th-century option. On the other hand, many other conservative scholars continue to favor the 15th-century date. Dogmatism is unwarranted since problems remain unresolved with either option.

In accordance with the majority opinion, however, a date of about 1290 bc for the exodus will be used in dealing with subsequent problems.

Conquest and Consolidation. The chronological task for the period of conquest and consolidation is to fit all the events narrated by the OT, chiefly in Joshua and Judges, between the exodus (c. 1290 B.C.) and the times of David (c. 1000 B.C.) and Solomon (d. 930 B.C.). In other words, one must fit roughly 550 years of biblical events between Moses and David into a 290-year span.

Although assigning an early date for the exodus (c. 1447 B.C.) would make the task somewhat easier, the mere addition of about 157 years does not by itself solve all the problems. Neither date allows enough time for all the OT events from Joshua to David to take place singly and consecutively. Accordingly, advocates of both dates assume that some of the judges ruled simultaneously rather than consecutively. The difference is one of degree only.

The Book of Joshua furnishes most of the OT evidence regarding the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. Unfortunately, the Book of Joshua has no chronological notes that specify the amount of time elapsing during Joshua’s career. Further, there are no biblical references to major contemporary events in other parts of the ancient world, the dates of which could be used to fix the chronology. Rather, in what is obviously a telescoped account, the Book of Joshua records the fall of Jericho and Ai, followed closely by a southern and then a northern campaign. After those victories, covering much of the total territory of Canaan, various parcels of land were distributed to the tribal groups of Israel; the tribes were expected to complete the task of destroying whatever Canaanite inhabitants remained in their particular region. One seeks in vain, however, for any statements indicating how long those events took.

In the Book of Judges a slightly different circumstance prevails. There the OT furnishes a rather complete list of figures to indicate the duration of periods of foreign oppression, judgeships, and ensuing peace. The total number of years described for that period is 410, but that total does not include any time for the many “minor” judges. It seems obvious, therefore, that most if not all of the judges were simply local chieftains whose activity was simultaneous with that of other judges, at least for part of their reign. Unfortunately the Book of Judges provides no crossreference system to indicate which judges were contemporaries of which others. Perhaps the best one can do is to assume general guidelines for the chronology of that period between Moses and David.

Two significant facts should be kept in mind. First, archaeological information seems to demand a conquest date beginning about 1250 B.C. rather than 200 years earlier. Assuming concurrent careers for the judges allows one to compress the literal OT figures into the general scheme demanded by other evidence.


Second, the ancient scribes evidently related the chronology of the period to a 40-year or generation-based schema, a practice that lasted until the time of the divided kingdom, when a regular dynastic chronology was introduced. In the face of so many careers being assigned exactly 40 years, the fact remains that the literal totals of such numbers cannot be harmonized with either the biblical or the archaeological evidence for the period. Accordingly, most scholars doubt that the number 40 was ever intended to be an exact mathematical calculation. That view permits enough leeway for cautious fitting of biblical and other evidence into a general timetable.

The Monarchy

Types of Evidence. For the period of the Israelite monarchy chronological evidence is abundant.

The OT itself strives to provide all the information necessary for the chronology of the period, including (1) a complete list of all the kings in Israel and in Judah both before and after the division of the kingdom; (2) the age of each king (except Saul) at his accession; (3) synchronisms of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah showing in what year of his contemporary in the other kingdom each king came to the throne; and (4) precise calculations of the length of each king’s reign.

In addition, some important events are dated by reference to another event; others are coordinated with concurrent events in secular history.

Outside the OT an abundance of material provides evidence for a chronology of the period. By far the most important single source is a collection of Assyrian limmu lists. In Assyria a record of each king’s reign was kept on a particular kind of an annal. Each year of reign was named after an individual of high rank in the court; the first year was named after the king himself, the second after the next highest-ranking official (though that name appears to have been selected by lot originally), and so on, down until the death of the king. The word limmu was used to introduce the name of the official after whom the current year was to be named, hence the designation “limmu lists.”

Assyrian limmu lists are tied precisely to the solar year, making the documents highly reliable. Further, in addition to many events in Assyrian history, notable natural phenomena were dated on the basis of the limmu in which they occurred. For example, a solar eclipse dated by the Assyrian scribes in the limmu year of Bur-Sagale has been computed astronomically as June 15, 763 B.C. Beginning with the year 763, then, and working both backward and forward, a complete list of Assyrian limmu officials has been obtained for the period between 891 and 648 B.C.

With the accuracy of the Assyrian limmu lists corroborated by a number of sources, they can be used with confidence in reconstructing the chronology of the corresponding period of biblical history. That is especially true where a biblical writer related an Israelite or a Judahite event to a particular year in the reign of an Assyrian king whose limmu list indicates the precise years of his reign.

There are also records from Chaldean (Babylonian) king lists and from later Greek historians. Ptolemy, in the 2nd century ad, for example, gave dates for Babylonian kings from 747 B.C. and continued with dates for Persian, Greek, and Roman rulers down to ad 161. Finally, useful information is found in inscriptions from monuments, stelae, and other artifacts from Assyria and elsewhere.

Problem Areas. Despite a wealth of evidence both in and outside the Bible, however, the problems of OT chronology of the monarchical period are not easily solved. Taken at face value, the biblical totals appear to be hopelessly out of harmony with the Assyrian dates. Further, the totals given respectively for the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah do not match precisely either. Hence one must consider four variable factors which, in general, provide enough flexibility to fit all the data into a single system.

  1. Israel and Judah did not always use the same method for reckoning the accession year of a king. Confusion has arisen also because each kingdom changed its system. In the accession-year system, year one of a king’s reign began with the first new year’s day following his inauguration. In the nonaccession-year system, the remainder of the calendar year in which a king was crowned counted as year one of his rule—but also counted as the last year of his predecessor. Judah followed an accession-year reckoning from 931 to about 850 B.C., switched to a nonaccession-year reckoning until 796, and then returned to an accession-year pattern from 796 to the exile. Israel, on the other hand, reckoned by the nonaccession-year pattern from 931 to 792 B.C. and then switched to the accession-year system until conquered in 722. Obviously the totals computed by scribes of the two countries would not match a total reached strictly sequentially.
  2. Another problem is related to the first one. When scribes from Judah computed the regnal years of a king in Israel, they used their own system rather than Israel’s, and vice versa. Unrecognized, that factor can lead to confusion in attempting to correlate the years assigned to kings of the two countries.
  3. A final problem is that of co-regencies (having two rulers in one country simultaneously) and the way in which they were figured into the numerical totals of the kings. Biblical authors sometimes counted a particular king’s total from the beginning of his co-regency; at other times they reckoned his years only from the time he began to rule independently.

Monarchical Chronology. The limmu list of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III provides a basis for the first comparison of dates among Assyria, Israel, and Judah. In the limmu of Daian-Assur, Shalmaneser’s sixth year on the throne, Ahab of Israel was listed as one of the kings who fought against the Assyrians in the battle of Qarqar. Thus the date for that battle may be placed confidently in 853 bc.

Assyrian records also indicate that Shalmaneser III came into contact with an Israelite king 12 years later, in 841 bc. That king was Jehu. Thus two fixed points are available for correlating the biblical information. Following the death of Ahab, which is not dated exactly by reference to the Assyrian records, two of his sons came to power. The first, Ahaziah, reigned two years (1 Kgs 22:51); the second, Joram (also called Jehoram), reigned a total of 12 years (2 Kgs 3:1). Recognizing a nonaccession-year reckoning by the Israelites in that era, the apparent total of 14 years may be reduced to an actual total of 12. Thus it seems evident that Ahab not only fought Shalmaneser III in 853 B.C., but also died in that year. Ahab was then followed by his two sons for a total of 12 years before the accession of Jehu in time to account for his contact with Shalmaneser III in 841 B.C. Further, because Jehu murdered both the king of Israel (Jehoram) and the king of Judah (Ahaziah) at the same time (2 Kgs 9:24–27), a fixed synchronism is provided between the two kingdoms for the year 841 B.C.

The first nine kings of Israel ruled an apparent total of 98 years or an actual total (taking into account Israel’s nonaccession-year policy) of 90 years. Zimri, who ruled only seven days (1 Kgs 16:15–18), counts as one of the nine but does not insert an extra year in either the actual or apparent totals. The accession of Jeroboam I thus occurred in 930 B.C. (adding 90 years to 841 B.C.), and Rehoboam of Judah began to rule in that same year as well. Allowing Solomon the 40-year reign indicated in 1 Kings 11:42 points to the year 970 bc for his accession. The death of David would also be pinpointed in that period, although allowance must be made for the possibility of a short co-regency of David and Solomon before David’s death. The reign of Saul then falls approximately in the late 11th century B.C.

In Judah the period between the death of Solomon in 930 B.C. and the murder of Ahaziah by Jehu in 841 bc was occupied by the kingships of six men whose time on the throne totals 95 biblical years. Computation of that era in Judah is not as simple as for the Israelite kings for several reasons. Problems include a change from accession- to nonaccession-year reckoning sometime around 850 bc, at least two co-regencies (Jehoshaphat with Asa and then Jehoram with Jehoshaphat), and the calendar differences between the two kingdoms. It is clear that the 95 apparent years must be reduced, on the basis of the differences in computation and calendar, to 90 actual years in order to bring the Judahite figures into line with the established Assyrian and Israelite synchronisms.

After the year 841 the next biblical event to be certified by nonbiblical materials is the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. That date is furnished by the annals of Sargon II of Assyria (722–705 B.C.), successor to Shalmaneser V (727–722 B.C.). Although that date comes just 120 years after the fixed point of 841 B.C. in Israelite history, the chronological materials for that period are quite difficult to interpret accurately. In the past, scholars resorted to assumptions of extensive co-regencies, to presumed confusion on the part of certain scribes over methods to be followed in computations, or to other theories in attempting to understand the period. In spite of the many difficulties, however, all the biblical and Assyrian dates for the period of the divided monarchy have been harmonized—with the exception of four figures related to the closing years of the Israelite kingdom, all connected in some way with the problematic reign of Hoshea.

The basic agreement among scholars regarding the chronology of the period of monarchy in Israel and Judah is illustrated in the table titled “The Monarchy to 722.” The names heading the columns of years are those of OT scholars W. F. Albright, E. R. Thiele, and R. K. Harrison, who proposed the computations under their names.

Judah After the Fall of Israel. Following the fall of Samaria in 722 B>C. OT chronology is concerned only with the southern kingdom of Judah until its destruction some 135 years later. Two events in the biblical record important for establishing a chronology for that period are the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib of Assyria in the late 8th century and the eventual fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in the early 6th century.

The Monarchy to 722 B.C.






Jeroboam I



















































Jehoram [Joram]




Jehoram [Joram]
















Jehoash [Joash]








Jehoash [Joash]








Jeroboam II




Uzzah [Azariah]




































Sennacherib’s Invasion of Judah. The Assyrian invasion (704–681 B.C.) is recorded in 2 Kings 18:13–16, where verse 13 dates the event to the 14th year of King Hezekiah. Sennacherib’s own inscriptions include a lengthier version of the affair. From them the date of 701 B.C. is established, placing the accession of Hezekiah in 715 bc. That much is simple, but problems still arise. For example, 2 Kings 19:9 reports that Sennacherib was in contact with an Ethiopian king, Tirhakah (c. 690–664 B.C.), during the course of his campaign, which included a siege of Jerusalem. Obviously, contact with a ruler who came to power in 690 B.C. at the earliest could not refer to events in 701 B.C. It is possible, however, that Sennacherib actually made two invasions of Judah, the first in 701 and the second sometime later. The date of that supposed second invasion is not assured, although 2 Kings 19:35–37 may imply that Sennacherib was murdered only shortly after his withdrawal from Jerusalem. Since Sennacherib was succeeded by his son Esarhaddon in the year 681, the presumed second invasion of Judah would have occurred somewhere in the last half of the same decade.

A number of scholars oppose the assumption of a second invasion of Jerusalem by Sennacherib. They suggest the possibility that Tirhakah, though king only from 690 B.C., may have led troops against Sennacherib as early as 701, before acceding to the throne. The reference to Tirhakah in 2 Kings 19:9 would then be understood as use of his eventual title in an effort to identify him to a later generation of readers.

However the question of the number of invasions is decided, it is certain that Sennacherib invaded Judah in 701 B.C., the 14th regnal year of Hezekiah. Such a synchronism establishes Hezekiah’s accession year as 715 B.C., but that date raises another problem. The fall of Samaria, now established at 722, is dated by 2 Kings 18:10 in the sixth year of Hezekiah’s reign. The most likely solution is that Hezekiah began a co-regency with his father, Ahaz, six years before Samaria fell. The possibility for confusion arises from the fact that one verse (2 Kgs 18:13; repeated in Is 36:1) synchronizes Sennacherib’s 701 invasion with the 14th year of Hezekiah’s independent reign; another verse (2 Kgs 18:10) correlates the fall of Samaria with the beginning of Hezekiah’s co-regency. Thus from about 728 to 715 B.C. Hezekiah was co-regent with Ahaz. From 715 to 697 he reigned alone. From 696 to 686 his son Manasseh was co-ruler with him.

According to the chronological information given by a number of verses in 2 Kings, a total of 128 years and six months elapsed between the time of Hezekiah’s accession in 715 and the capture of King Jehoiachin in 597, a date to be discussed below. Thus another problem is to explain the more than 10-year excess apparently demanded by the biblical totals. The best solution appears to lie in the assumption that Manasseh first came to power in 697 as co-regent with his father, Hezekiah. Manasseh died in 642, following what 2 Kings 21:1 states was a 55-year reign. Hezekiah, who came to the throne in 715, is said to have reigned 29 years (2 Kgs 18:2), which would mean that he was king until 686, roughly 11 years after the time when Manasseh must have come to the throne in order to have completed a 55-year reign by 642.

Fall of Jerusalem. Contemporary Babylonian records are available to shed valuable light on the last few years of Judah’s existence. For the years 626–623, 618–595, and 556 bc the Babylonian Chronicle, a formal record of Babylonian affairs of state, has been recovered. From information contained in that chronicle and other cuneiform documents of the period, three dates in Judah’s history may be fixed firmly. The first is the death of Josiah in 609; the second is the battle of Carchemish in 605; the third is the end of the reign of Jehoiachin, which is dated by the Babylonian Chronicle to the second month of Adar in the 7th year of Nebuchadnezzar, or March 16, 597.

After Jehoiachin’s capture, Zedekiah became puppet king of Judah for 11 years (2 Kgs 24:18). On the 10th day of the 10th month during Zedekiah’s 9th regnal year (2 Kgs 25:1), the final siege of Jerusalem was begun by the Babylonian army. That day was January 15, 588. On the 9th day of the 4th month during the 11th regnal year of Zedekiah, after a siege of almost 18 months, the wall of Jerusalem was broken through (2 Kgs 25:3, 4). The temple was burned on day 7 of the following (5th) month.

The chronology of the kings of Judah after the fall of Samaria is shown (see “Chronology of Judah After the Fall of Samaria [Israel]”), again listing the estimates of Albright, Thiele, and Harrison.


Beyond 586 B.C. Following the tragedy of 586 B.C. several further developments are given chronological notice in the OT. Jeremiah 52:30 records a third deportation of Jews to Babylonia in the 23rd year of King Nebuchadnezzar (582 or 581 B.C.). Both 2 Kings 25:27 and Jeremiah 52:31 give evidence of the release of King Jehoiachin from prison; the Babylonian Chronicle dates that event at 27 Adar, or March 21, 561 bc.

In 539 bc the Babylonians themselves were destined to learn the meaning of defeat. In that year a Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great, launched a successful campaign against Babylon and its king, Nabonidus. Inheriting control over the exiled Jews and many other groups of people conquered earlier by Babylonia, Cyrus moved quickly to initiate a policy of tolerance toward his new subjects. In the first year of his rule Cyrus issued an edict making it possible for Jews to return to their former land (Ezr 1:1). On the first day of the following year, 1 Tishri (Ezr 3:6), an altar was set up in Jerusalem. In Nisan of the following year (March/April 537) work was begun on the temple itself (Ezr 3:8).

After a period of frustrating work stoppages of varying lengths, the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah spurred on the Jews to complete the temple. Work resumed in 520 (Ezr 4:24; Hg 1:1, 15) and was finally completed on 3 Adar, or March 12, 515 (Ezr 6:15).

Chronology of Judah After the Fall of Samaria (Israel)





































The final stages of OT chronology pertain to the careers of Ezra and Nehemiah. The traditional view of their era places Ezra in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I (458 B.C.) and Nehemiah in the 20th (445 B.C.). Recently many scholars have reversed the traditional order of the two, dating Nehemiah about 445, with Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem placed at 428. The basis for that reversal is a supposed textual error in Ezra 7:7, where not the seventh year (458) but the 37th year (428) of Artaxerxes should be understood.

Other scholars have chosen not only to reverse the traditional order of Ezra and Nehemiah but also to move the arrival of Ezra in Jerusalem down to 398 B.C. They assume that the Artaxerxes mentioned in Ezra was Artaxerxes II (404–359) rather than Artaxerxes I (464–424). The year 398 is the seventh year of Artaxerxes II (Ezr 7:7).

Actually, none of the three positions solves all the problems of the period. All of Jewish tradition is uniform in placing Ezra first. The supposed error in Ezra 7:7 commands absolutely no textual support in the ancient versions. Further, it is unlikely that the careers of Ezra and Nehemiah should be completely separated, as required by the third view. Accordingly, a traditional sequence (Ezra-Nehemiah) and corresponding traditional dates appear to be at least as probable as any other alternative.

Conclusion. Clearly, OT chronology is beset with difficulties. A dogmatic stance seems unwarranted for periods as far separated as the age of Abraham and the career of Ezra.

Chronology is a science. It deals with evidence, theories, assumptions, and the balance of probabilities. Often it boils down to a matter of choosing among theories that are equally unable to solve all the problems raised by other points of view. OT chronology is an accredited branch of biblical studies primarily because it is essential for understanding the proper historical background of the biblical texts. In general, the chronology of the OT is understood well enough to vindicate the basic accuracy and sequential order of Scripture.

On the other hand, the biblical teachings about God and humankind, about sin and salvation, grace and redemption, are affected very little by one’s ability to understand numbers, sequences, synchronisms, and schemas. For Christians, the most important chronological statement in the Bible is no doubt that of the apostle Paul: “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son” (Gal 4:4).

Bibliography. E.F. Campbell, Jr., “The Ancient Near East: Chronological Bibliography and Charts,” The Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. G.E. Wright; J. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology; D.N. Freedman, “The Chronology of Israel and the Ancient Near East,” The Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. G.E. Wright; E.R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988)


Chronology, New Testament. Branch of biblical studies that attempts to discover the sequence of NT events and the amount of time that elapsed between them. Chronology is essential to historians, whose task it is to determine the causes and effects of past events. Generally, for a historian’s purpose, assigning absolute dates is less important than knowing the sequence of events that may have influenced each other. Very few NT happenings, in fact, can be given exact dates.

Evangelicalism’s most eminent scholars have labored to make the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible a comprehensive and reliable tool for all who study Scripture. The encyclopedia contains more than 5,700 articles by over 175 leading evangelical scholars from around the world, including Colin Brown, Frederic Bush, Andrew Hill, Howard Marshall, Grant Osborne, Moisés Silva, Willem Van Gemeren, Gordan Wenham, Edwin Yamauchi, and Robert Yarbrough.

A remarkable testimony to the influence of Christianity is the fact that the entire Western world now divides history into bc (before Christ) and ad (anno Domini, “in the year of the Lord”). Before that method of dating became widespread in the Middle Ages, events were dated by their relation to other important events such as the founding of Rome or the beginning of a king’s reign. When a monk named Dionysius Exiguus (6th century) invented our present method of dating, with the birth of Christ dividing history, he made a mistake in his computations. The odd result is the historical anomaly that Jesus himself was born no later than 4 years “before Christ.”

Chronology of Jesus’ Life

Birth. According to Matthew 2:1. Jesus was born “in the days of Herod the king.” A 1st-century ad historian, Josephus, recorded that Herod died in the spring of the year we identify as 4 B.C. Hence Jesus was born sometime before that, but how much before is uncertain. Luke 2:1, 2. records that Jesus’ birth occurred when “Caesar Augustus,” the Roman emperor, decreed that a census, or enrollment, should be taken throughout the nation. “This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (v 2). Those statements raise two questions: When was such a census taken, and when was Quirinius governor of Syria? Neither question has received a completely satisfying answer.

Census documents discovered in Egypt, together with earlier references, suggest that such enrollments were held every 14 years. That would put a census roughly in 8 or 9 B.C. In view of the time needed to carry out the census (which required a person to travel to his birthplace), the birth of Jesus may have been somewhat later than the actual year of the decree (perhaps 7 B.C.).

Josephus recorded that Quirinius became governor of Syria in ad 6, rather late as a date for Jesus’ birth. But some scholars have argued from ancient inscriptions that Quirinius also served in Syria as a special legate of the emperor Augustus before 6 B.C. That could be the period referred to in Luke 2:2. Why did Luke choose to cite Quirinius instead of the regular governor of Syria at that time? Perhaps by so doing he could provide a more exact date for the birth of Jesus, since Quirinius was in authority for a shorter time than the regular governor of Syria.

A reasonable conclusion is that Jesus was born about 7 B.C. That fits with Matthew 2:16, which seems to say that Jesus was born at least two years before Herod’s death in 4 B.C. No clear evidence exists concerning the day and month of his birth. Celebration of December 25 as Christmas originated in the 4th century, probably as a Christian alternative to the pagan winter solstice festival (Saturnalia).

The Beginning of Public Ministry. Luke 3:23 says that Jesus, “when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age”; since the age given is only approximate, he may have been two or three years older or younger (cf. the pseudegraphic Testament of Levi 2:2; 12:5). If exactly 30 is added to the suggested date of birth, one gets AD 24. That date cannot be right, because Jesus’ ministry began after John the Baptist appeared; Luke 3:1–3 dates John’s public appearance precisely in “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias Caesar” while Pilate was procurator (governor) over Judea. Pilate governed from AD 26 to 36, and the fifteenth year of Tiberias was most likely ad 27. Therefore Jesus did not begin his public ministry before ad 27. If only a short time elapsed between the beginning of John’s ministry and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, then Jesus probably began in ad 27 or 28 when he was approximately 33 years old.

Death. All four Gospel records seem to imply that Jesus ate the last supper with his disciples on Thursday evening, was crucified on Friday, and rose from the dead early Sunday morning (Mt 28:1; Mk 16:1; Lk 24:1). The claim that Jesus rose on the third day (1 Cor 15:4) comes from the Jewish custom of counting a part of the day as a whole day. According to Matthew (26:19), Mark (14:12), and Luke (22:15), the last supper was the Passover meal, a yearly celebration of Israel’s escape from Egypt (Ex 12–15). But according to John 13:1 and 19:14, the Passover meal had not yet been eaten on Friday; hence the last supper in John was not the Passover meal.

No completely satisfying solution to the apparent discrepancy has been put forward. Some scholars suggest plausibly that the use of two different calendars was responsible. According to that theory Jesus was following a calendar that placed the Passover meal on Thursday night. Temple officials, on the other hand, followed an alternate calendar that placed the killing of sacrificial victims on the next day. John may have used the second system to emphasize the fact that Christ was offered as the Passover sacrifice (cf. Jn 19:36; 1 Cor 5:7).

To find out how long Jesus’ public ministry lasted and thus the year in which he died, one can turn to time references in John’s Gospel. John referred to at least three Passovers (2:13; 6:4; 13:1) and possibly four (5:1). Since the Passover was a yearly feast, the ministry of Jesus would have lasted at least two and possibly three years. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke the Friday of Jesus’ death occurred on the 15th of the Jewish month Nisan (which overlaps March and April). According to John, Jesus died on 14 Nisan. The question is: In which years from 26 to 36 (when Pilate was procurator in Judea) did 14 or 15 Nisan fall on a Friday? The answer is ad 27, 29, 30, and 33. Of those, the year 27 is too early and 33 is probably too late. Thus Jesus was probably crucified in 29 or 30, his public ministry lasted two or three years, and he was 35 or 36 years old when he died.


Events from 30 to 50 AD. Acts is the only NT book that records how much time elapsed between Jesus’ death and his ascension: “To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking of the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The next key event after the ascension of Jesus into heaven was Pentecost (Acts 2:1). Pentecost, the Greek word for “fiftieth,” referred to a celebration of the feast of weeks (cf. Ex 34:22; Dt 16:9–12) 50 days after the Passover. Since Jesus was crucified during the Passover season, the Pentecost of Acts 2:1, during which the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, took place in ad 30, some 50 days after the crucifixion and about 10 days after the ascension.

After that, events of the early chapters of Acts are hard to date because no precise statements are made about the amount of time between various events. Therefore the usual method for dating events of the apostolic age is first to find at least one event that can be dated with relative certainty from sources outside the NT; one then dates events before and after that event by figuring out how much time elapsed between them. Sometimes Acts records how much time passed between two events; usually it does not, so dating can be only approximate.

One pivotal starting point is the great famine prophesied by Agabus, which befell Palestine during the reign of Roman emperor Claudius (Acts 11:28, 29). Josephus, who was alive at the time, gives enough information to locate the famine sometime between the years 46 and 48. We also know from the Mishna, a collection of Jewish laws, that the autumn of 47 to the autumn of 48 was a sabbatical year, when the Jews let the land rest and harvested nothing (cf. Lv 25:2–7). That could have aggravated and prolonged a famine, but one cannot be sure how early the famine started; some scholars propose 46 and some 47.

At first it seems peculiar that Luke, the author of Acts, should have recorded that famine (Acts 11:28) before recording the death of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:20–23). From facts reported by Josephus the death of Herod (a grandson of Herod the Great) can be dated in ad 44, probably in the spring. That means that Herod must have died several years before the famine Luke recorded earlier. Some scholars think that Luke simply got his chronological facts wrong. Others see Acts 12:1–24 as a kind of flashback to bring the history of the church in Jerusalem up to date. Such a practice was common among ancient historians, who often followed one source up to a suitable stopping point before moving on to another source. To charge Luke with inaccurate dating, it is argued, is to misunderstand the techniques of historical writing he was using.

Since Herod died in ad 44 (Acts 12:23), the apostle James, whom Herod put to death with the sword (Acts 12:2), must have died soon before 44, perhaps during the Passover season of 43 (Acts 12:3). The apostle Peter’s imprisonment and his miraculous escape (Acts 12:3–17) also belong to that period.

When the Christians of Antioch decided to send relief to the Christians in Jerusalem in the midst of the great famine (Acts 11:29), Barnabus and Paul were appointed to transport the money to Jerusalem. That was Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem after his conversion. The first visit is recorded in Acts 9:26–30. The third comes in Acts 15 when Paul and Barnabas were sent to discuss with the apostles and elders whether gentile converts to Christianity had to be circumcised. How one dates the first and third visits to Jerusalem, as well as Paul’s conversion, depends on how those Jerusalem visits are related to those reported in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

The basic problem, which still divides NT scholars, is this: In Galatians 1:15–2:10 Paul recounted that his conversion was followed by two visits to Jerusalem, one three years after his conversion (Gal 1:18) and one 14 years after that (2:1–10). All scholars agree that the first visit three years after his conversion is the same as the first visit recorded in Acts 9:26–30. Answers differ, however, to the question of whether Galatians 2:1–10 refers to the second (famine) visit to Jerusalem in Acts 11:30 (in which case the third visit of Acts 15 is the one omitted from Galatians) or whether Galatians 2:1–10 refers to the visit in Acts 15 (in which case the famine visit was the one omitted from Galatians).

Two Possible Reconstructions

Reconstruction 1

Reconstruction 2























Those who favor the first reconstruction offer six arguments: (1) The reason Paul gave such a rigorous account of his comings and goings in Galatians 1:15–24 was to show that he “did not get his gospel from men, nor was he taught it” (1:12). In other words his visits to the Jerusalem apostles were not for the purpose of receiving his gospel. If that is so, for Paul to omit the second Jerusalem visit would jeopardize his integrity and his authority with the Galatians. The first reconstruction avoids that difficulty; omission of a third Jerusalem visit from Galatians 2:1–10 could mean that it had not yet happened when Galatians was written. (2) Galatians 2:1–10 pictures a private meeting between Paul and Barnabas on one hand and the “pillar” apostles on the other. But the meeting in Acts 15 was public and before the whole church. Hence Galatians 2:1–10 more likely refers to a private meeting during the visit of Acts 11:30, which Galatians does not record. (3) Paul’s eagerness to give to the poor mentioned in Galatians 2:10 connects naturally with the second Jerusalem visit when he was in fact delivering relief to the poor (Acts 11:30). (4) If Galatians 2 recorded the same trip as Acts 15, one would expect some mention of the decision reached by the Jerusalem council, especially since that decision related directly to the problem of circumcision which Paul was handling in his letter to the Galatians. (5) Further, it seems unlikely that the Jerusalem council preceded the event of Galatians 2:11–21, when Peter was rebuked by Paul for withdrawing from fellowship with gentile believers; that incident could hardly have happened so soon after the issue of gentile status in the church had been settled in Jerusalem. (6) According to Galatians 1:6 the letter was written “quickly” after Paul had established the Galatian churches. That makes sense if Galatians was written soon after the first missionary journey, hence just before the Jerusalem council of Acts 15; that would make Galatians Paul’s first letter.


Scholars who favor the second reconstruction offer four arguments: (1) The main purpose of Paul’s visit in Galatians 2:1–10 appears to be the same as that in Acts 15:1–29; both dealt with the issue of whether circumcision should be required of gentile converts (Gal 2:3–5; Acts 15:1, 5). That similarity is obvious, but there is no such explicit similarity between Galatians 2 and Acts 11:30. (2) On the basis of form and content Galatians is similar to Romans and to 1 and 2 Corinthians; it would thus seem to come from the same period—considerably later than the Jerusalem council. If so, it is likely that Paul would have included a reference to the Jerusalem council (namely Gal 2:1–10) in his recollections, since its outcome supported his own stance on circumcision set forth in the letter. (3) Acts 11:30 pictures Barnabas as the leader of the Barnabas/Paul team, since his name is given first place (as in Acts 12:25; 13:1, 2, 7; cf. 11:25, 26). But in the description Paul gives of the visit in Galatians 2 he sees himself as the leader of the team. Since Acts does picture Paul as the leader from the time of the first missionary journey (Acts 13:9, 13, 43, 46, 50), including the third Jerusalem visit (15:2), it is more likely that Galatians 2 records the trip of Acts 15. (4) Finally, in Galatians 2:7, 8 Paul was recognized as an apostle to the Gentiles with a standing equal to that of Peter. But if Galatians 2 recorded the events of Acts 11:30 and the first missionary journey had not yet occurred, the “pillar” apostles could hardly have recognized Paul’s authority as apostle to the Gentiles. It is more likely that Galatians 2 followed the first missionary journey, just as Acts 15 followed the first missionary journey in Acts, and that both refer to the same event.

The significance of those arguments for chronology is that according to the first view Paul’s conversion came 17 years before the famine visit of Acts 11:30 (cf. Gal 1:18; 2:1). According to the second view Paul’s conversion took place 17 years before the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. The difference amounts to only one year, however.

It is helpful to consider one more date that can be fixed with high probability; namely, Paul’s arrival in Corinth on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1). On the second missionary journey (Acts 15:40–18:22) Paul and Silas set out on land through Syria, Cilicia, Phrygia, and Galatia, visiting churches founded on the first missionary journey. They came to Troas, then passed over to Philippi and continued down the coast through Thessalonica and Beroea. Paul went on to Athens before arriving at Corinth. From Acts 18:12 we know that Gallio was a proconsul in Corinth while Paul was there. An inscription discovered at nearby Delphi indicates that in all likelihood Gallio’s term of office was from mid-51 to mid-52. The incident recorded in Acts 18:12–17 probably occurred at the beginning of Gallio’s term, since the Jews hoped to get a ruling against Paul from their new proconsul. Not long after that, Paul left Corinth, probably in the summer or autumn of 52. According to Acts 18:11 Paul had spent 18 months in Corinth, which means that he probably arrived in the early months of 50 or the end of 49. That arrival date is confirmed by Acts 18:2, which says that Aquila and Priscilla had only recently been exiled from Rome when Paul came to Corinth. A 5th-century historian, Orosius, dated the edict of Claudius expelling the Jews from Rome in ad 49. Therefore Paul and Aquila and Priscilla probably arrived close together late in 49 or early in 50. Early in his 18-month stay Paul wrote his first and second letters to the Thessalonians.

The two fixed dates, then, are 46 or 47 for the famine visit (Acts 11:30) and late 49 or early 50 for Paul’s arrival in Corinth (Acts 18:1). Taking into account the time gaps mentioned in Galatians 1:18 and 2:1, as well as the supposition that the first missionary journey lasted about a year, the two reconstructions are presented in the following table. Keep in mind that they are approximations and that they reflect the ancient custom of counting a part of a year as a whole year.

Two Possible Chronologies



31 or 32

Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:3–19)

32 or 33

33 or 34

First Jerusalem visit (Acts 9:26–30)

34 or 35

46 or 47

Famine visit (Acts 11:30)

46 or 47


First missionary journey (Acts 13:4–14:28)



Jerusalem council (Acts 15:1–29)


late 49 or early 50

Paul’s arrival in Corinth on second missionary journey (Acts 18:1)

late 49 or early 50

autumn 51

Paul’s departure from Corinth (Acts 18:18)

autumn 51

Events from ad 50 to 70. Acts 24:27 describes an event that helps us date events in the rest of the book, namely Porcius Festus’ replacement of Felix as the procurator of Judea. A careful analysis of the evidence given by Eusebius, a 4th-century historian, leads to the probable conclusion that Felix was replaced in the summer of 59.

Working backward from that date, Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 21:33) must have occurred in 57, some two years before the coming of Festus. More precisely, Paul’s arrest probably occurred in the late spring or summer of 57; Paul’s goal (Acts 20:16) was to arrive in Jerusalem by Pentecost of that year, and Pentecost occurred at the end of May. He was not long in the city before he was arrested.

The Passover festival, 50 days before Pentecost, was celebrated by Paul with the church in Philippi (Acts 20:6). That would have been April 7–14, ad 57. Only after the feast did he continue his hurried journey to Caesarea and Jerusalem (Acts 20:6–21:16). Before his Passover visit to Philippi, Paul had spent three months in Greece (Acts 20:3). Allowing some time for him to travel through Macedonia and visit the Thessalonians and Beroeans, those three months were probably the winter months of 56–57 (Acts 20:3; cf. 1 Cor 16:6). No doubt they were spent in the main church of Greece, Corinth, and were used in part for the writing of the letter to the Romans.

Between Paul’s departure from Corinth on the second missionary journey (Acts 18:18) in the autumn of 51 and his arrival in Corinth on the third missionary journey (Acts 20:2) in the late winter of 56 are five years of activities that cannot be given exact dates. Paul said that he worked during three of those years in Ephesus (Acts 20:31; cf. Acts 19:1–20:1). With enough time allowed for the travels before and after, that stay at Ephesus probably lasted from 52 or 53 to the summer of 55 or 56 (cf. 1 Cor 16:8). During his long stay in Ephesus Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians. Then, on his way to Corinth in 56, he wrote 2 Corinthians from Macedonia.

Festus arrived as governor in the summer of 59, after Paul had been in prison in Caesarea for two years. Within a matter of days Paul was tried before Festus (Acts 25:1–12). Not wanting to be remanded to the Jewish authorities, Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:12), which meant that he would go to Rome. The account in Acts gives no hint of a delay, so the voyage most likely began in the summer or fall of 59 (Acts 27:2).


Luke reported that when Paul the prisoner got to Fair Havens on the island of Crete, the weather had become dangerous for sea travel “because the fast had already gone by” (Acts 27:8, 9). One ancient writer said that sailing became dangerous between mid-September and mid-November, and after that, impossible until spring. The fast referred to was no doubt the one in preparation for the Day of Atonement, which in the year 59 fell on October 5. It is not surprising that 14 days after leaving Fair Havens, the ship in which Paul was traveling was wrecked on the coast of Malta, south of Sicily (Acts 27:27–44). Three months later Paul set sail for Rome again in a ship that had spent the winter at Malta (Acts 28:11). Soon he was welcomed into Rome by Christians who came out to meet him (Acts 28:15). Thus Paul arrived in Rome in the early part of ad 60. The Book of Acts closes with the remark that “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house” (Acts 28:30 NIV). The NT does not report the outcome of his trial. During that period, according to the traditional view, he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.

Eusebius wrote, “Tradition has it that after defending himself the Apostle was again sent on the ministry of preaching and coming a second time to the same city suffered martyrdom under Nero.” Nero, who was the Roman emperor from 54 to 68, put to death a multitude of Christians in Rome soon after a disastrous fire in July of 64, according to the Roman historian Tacitus. A number of early Christian writings (e.g., Clement) seem to indicate that Peter and Paul were both killed in Rome during that savage persecution. If so, and if Eusebius was right, then Paul may have spent the two years from 62 to 64 freely ministering back in the eastern provinces. Many conservative scholars date Paul’s first letter to Timothy and his letter to Titus from that period. Written from Rome shortly before Paul’s martyrdom in 64, 2 Timothy was probably his last letter (2 Tm 2:9; 4:6).

In Jerusalem, within three years after Paul had been carried off to Rome, James the brother of Jesus was stoned to death by the Jewish authorities. According to Josephus that occurred in 62. Not long afterward, according to Eusebius, the church in Jerusalem received a prophecy warning them to leave that doomed city and settle in Pella, one of the cities of the Decapolis (“ten cities”) east of the Jordan. Thus when war broke out between the Jews and the Romans in 66, the Christians for the most part escaped its fury. That war ended in 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (cf. Mk 13:2; Lk 21:24).

Conclusion. The results of NT chronological inquiry can be summarized in the following table of key events giving the approximate dates when they happened.

Summary of NT Chronology

Birth of Jesus (Mt 2:1)

7 B.C.

Beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (Lk 3:23)

AD 27

Death of Jesus (Mk 15:37)


Pentecost (Acts 2:1–41)


Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1–19)


Paul’s first Jerusalem visit (Acts 9:26–30)


Death of James the apostle (Acts 12:2)


Paul’s second (famine) visit to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30)


Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:4–14:28)


Paul’s third Jerusalem visit (Jerusalem council) (Acts 15:1–29)


Paul’s arrival in Corinth on second missionary journey (Acts 18:1)

early 50

Paul’s departure from Corinth (Acts 18:18)

autumn 51

Paul’s stay in Ephesus on third missionary journey (Acts 19:1–20:1)


Paul’s winter in Corinth (Acts 20:3; 1 Cor 16:6)


Paul’s celebration of Passover at Philippi (Acts 20:6)


Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem and imprisonment (Acts 21:17–23:31)


Paul’s journey to Rome after two years in prison in Caesarea (Acts 24:27; 25:10, 12; 27:1, 2)


Paul’s arrival in Rome (Acts 28:14)

early 60

Paul’s two years in Rome (Acts 28:30)


Paul’s final ministry in the east?


Martyrdom of James, Jesus’ brother


Peter and Paul’s martyrdom under Nero


Destruction of Jerusalem


By John Piper

Bibliography. J. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology; J.J. Gunther, Paul, Messenger and Exile: A Study in the Chronology of His Life and Letters; R. Jewett, A Chronology of Paul’s Life; G. Ogg, The Chronology of the Life of Paul and The Chronology of the Public Ministry of Jesus. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988)



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