What does Chronology Of The New Testament mean in the Bible?

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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Chronology of the New Testament
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 [1] translates: ‘Jesus himself, when he began (lit. beginning) [2], 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 [3] , 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 [3] 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 [1] translation; but what is the meaning of ‘about 30 years’? Turner (art. ‘Chronology of NT’ in Hastings’ DB [3]2 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 [7] , 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 [8] 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 [9] . 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 [3]2 , p. 610 ff.), and Hitchcock (art. ‘Dates’ in Hastings’ DCG [11] , 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 [12] , 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 [13], § 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 [14].
12. To Antioch with Barnabas, Acts 11:26 .
13. Second visit to Jerusalem, with alms Acts 11:30 [15]
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 [16].
17. Apostolic Council and third visit to Jerusalem, Acts 15:4 [17].
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,
People's Dictionary of the Bible - Chronology of the New Testament
Chronology of the New Testament
b.c.
Birth of Jesus.
4 (April)
Death of Herod.
[For Events in Life of Christ,
a.d.
see Jesus Christ, p. 124.]
Jesus among the doctors.
Baptism of Jesus.
Ministry in Judæa and Galilee. Sermon on the mount.
Baptist beheaded.
Five thousand fed.
Tour to borders of Tyre and Sidon.
The transfiguration.
Feast of dedication.
Part of Peræan ministry.
Lazarus raised to life. Peræan ministry.
April 1
Supper at Bethany.
" 2
Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
" 6
Last supper and Gethsemane.
" 7
Crucifixion.
" 9
Resurrection of Jesus.
May 18
Ascension of Jesus.
Death of Stephen.
Conversion of Saul.
a.d.
Saul's escape from Jerusalem.
[1]
James of Zebedee beheaded.
Paul's first missionary tour.
Paul's second missionary tour.
Epistles to Thessalonians, from Corinth.
Paul's third missionary tour.
66-8
Epistles to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans.
Paul before Felix.
Paul sent to Rome.
Paul arrives at Rome.
Epistle of James (?).
61-63
Epistles to Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians.
Paul supposed to be set free.
64-67
Epistles to Hebrews, 1st and 2d Peter, Jude, 1st and 2d Timothy, and Titus.
Paul's martyrdom (?).
Jerusalem destroyed by Titus.
80-95
John's Gospel.
65-95
Revelation of St. John.
98-100
Death of John.

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