One of the most important things to do when beginning your reconstruction of New Testament history is to establish any known landmark dates around which the rest of your timeline can be built. The dictionary defines a landmark as “a prominent or conspicuous object that serves as a guide.” Take, for starters, Acts 12:20-23, which relates the death of Herod Agrippa I. This account is set within the context of Paul and Barnabas’ trip to deliver relief to the church in Jerusalem. Now, the Jewish historian Josephus informs us that Herod died in the year 44, so from this we know with a fair degree of certainty at what point in the story Paul’s second trip back to Jerusalem took place. A landmark date!
With this one little piece of information you have already begun to get some viable historic sense of the text. You might want to make a little note in your Bible just above Acts 12:20 stating that this occurred in A.D. 44. At least that’s what I did in mine. It helps to see these little things as you’re reading along.
Below is a list of nine more basic landmark dates and events, including a scripture reference and brief note regarding its significance. Read through them and let me know if you’re aware of others I have left out.
1)Death of Nabatean king Aretas – A.D. 39 or 40 (2 Corinthians 11:32,33-Paul’s reference here had to have occurred prior to Aretas’ death, so it was sometime before this date)
2)15th year of Tiberius’ reign – A.D. 29 (Luke 3:1-this is debateable depending on the fact that Tiberius shared a two year co-regency with Augustus starting in A.D. 12, so it depends on whether you count from there or from two years later when Tiberius’ independent reign began)
3)Time of Sergius Paulus’ proconsulship – A.D. 46-48 (Acts 13:4-12-this corresponds with the time of Paul and Barnabas’ first apostolic journey)
4)Date Herod the Great began rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem – 19 B.C. (John 2:20-this particular date can be disputed, though, just so you know)
5)Claudius Caesar expels all Jews from Rome – A.D. 49 (Acts 18:2-this having occurred not long before Paul met Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth)
6)Duration of Gallio’s proconsulship in Achaia – A.D. 51-52 (Acts 18:12-this allows us to date the time of Paul’s initial stay in Corinth)
7)Death of Claudius Caesar – A.D. 54 (This made the way for Jews to return to Rome, which undoubtedly factored into Paul’s plans for the church there)
8)Death of Herod the Great – 4 B.C. (Matthew 2:19-so we know Jesus must have been born sometime before this date, since Herod was alive at the time of his birth and tried to kill him)
9)Death of Festus – A.D. 62 (Acts 24:27-this helps us date the time of Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea since we know it took place while Festus was still around)
So there you have it, some landmark dates with which to begin. Any comments, critiques, or additions?