Thursday, 21 October 2010

Timeline of Paul's Ministry

Faith and Roger Forster's new book, Women and the Kingdom (PUSH Publishing, 2010), includes a chapter entitled 'Paul in Context', all about the background to Paul's life and ministry and background to the churches in Corinth and Ephesus. This chapter also contains a timeline of Paul's ministry, which is reproduced below.

It is a fascinating study to piece together Paul's life and ministry using the book of Acts, Paul's letters (especially Galatians 1-2), writings of the Early Church Fathers and external historical evidence. Using all these different sources you can create a timeline like the one above, but due to the paucity of references to specific historical events in Acts and Paul's epistles, most of the dates and the time intervals between events remain approximate.

The books of the New Testament were never intended as historical reference books - they had a far more important message to communicate. However, there are though a handful of events which allow us to frame some of the events of Acts quite accurately:
  • Acts 12 v20-23: The death of Herod Agrippa, which happened in AD 44/5
  • Acts 18 v2: Jews, including Aquila and Priscilla have been expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius, placing Paul's trip to Corinth sometime after AD 49 (according to Suetonius)
  • Acts 18 v12-17: Paul was brought before Gallio, who was Proconsul of Corinth for one year from AD 51/52
  • Acts 24 v27: Felix, Governor of Samaria dies and is succeeded by Porcius Festus in around AD 59
  • Acts 28 finishes with Paul under house arrest in Rome, with no mention of the persecution under Nero that began after the Great Fire in AD64 indicating that Acts was completed before this date.
The likely writing dates of Paul's epistles are indicated based on internal references in the text to people, places and journeys compared to the events in Acts (not all Epistles are shown).

This is more than just an historical study or mental exercise - Acts and the epistles really come alive when you follow Paul and his co-workers on their journeys, understanding when they letters were written, why and what was going on in the world around them. Hopefully this timeline will encourage you to study Acts and the epistles together to get deeper into the word.

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