The content of the Bible spans from creation to the end of time as we know it. The actual writing of the Bible spanned from the time of Moses in the 1400’s BC until John penned Revelation, possibly close to 100 AD. That’s a period of about 1500 years. How do we get those numbers? What was going on during that time period?
Although there are numerous resources out there, such as chronological Bibles and commentaries, that can help us to make sense of the biblical timeline, the actual text of the Bible doesn’t provide us with “real time” dating of events, at least not as frequently as we might wish, or in terms that make a lot of sense to the average modern person. It doesn’t tell us “this event happened 700 years before Christ” or “I Paul, am writing this letter 31 years after the resurrection.” Rather the Bible usually dates itself in relation to other events – what happened before or after what. The only way scholars can determine “real time” chronology, that is, actual, numerical dates, is by finding events in the Bible that correlate with records kept by other ancient cultures that kept time with detailed astrological records. When something in the Bible corelates with those records, scholars can fix those events with actual numerical dates.
Practically speaking, if an average person wants to know the real time numerical dates of biblical events, the easiest thing to do is consult a commentary (or even google). It’s even more important to become familiar with the big picture story of the Bible (Tip #13). Even if we don’t know the precise date of a biblical event, understanding a general timeline can be helpful.
Here’s a general chronological outline to be familiar with:
1500s BC and before: Genesis
1400s BC: Moses, The Exodus
1300s BC: Joshua, Conquest of Canaan, First of the Judges
1200s BC: Ruth, The Judges, Ehud, Deborah
1100s BC: The Judges, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson
1000s BC: Saul, David
900s BC: Solomon; Israel splits in two, Ephraim and Judah
800s BC: Elijah, Elisha
700s BC: Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah; Assyria the superpower; the fall of Ephraim
600s BC: Jeremiah, King Josiah; Babylon the superpower
500s BC: Ezekiel; the fall of Judah; Daniel; Persia the superpower; Jews free to return home
400s BC: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
300s BC: Intertestamental period; Greece the superpower; Hellenistic culture spreads
200s BC: Intertestamental period; Syria and Egypt as dueling regional powers pulling Judah one way or another
100s BC: Intertestamental period; Judah’s rebellion against Syrian power and gain of partial independence
000s BC: Intertestamental period; Rome the superpower
000s AD: Jesus; the apostles; the early church; the writing of the New Testament
Understanding how the Bible fits together chronologically is helpful because correctly situating a biblical author in a particular time can help us to understand what the writers say and why. Time important for reading the Bible in context. That’s why it helps to think about biblical chronology.