New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation - Lesson 12

Acts - Chronology

Many of the events related to Paul's life and ministry are recorded in the book of Acts.

Robert Stein
New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation
Lesson 12
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Acts - Chronology


Part 4

IV.  Basic Chronology of Paul's Life

A.  Key Chronological Events

1.  The Famine (Acts 11:27-30) – AD 44-46

2.  Death of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:23) – AD 44 (early March)

3.  Claudius' Expulsion of Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2) – AD 39-50

4.  Paul's Appearance before Gallio (Acts 18:12-17) – AD 51-52

B.  Basic Chronology of Paul's Life

1.  AD 31/32 Conversion

2.  AD 34/35 First visit to Jerusalem

3.  AD 44-48 First Missionary Journey

4.  AD 49 Jerusalem Council

5.  AD 49-53 Second Missionary Journey

6.  AD 54-58 Third Missionary Journey

7.  AD 58 Paul's Arrest in Jerusalem

8.  AD 58-60 Paul's Imprisonment in Caesarea

9.  AD 60-61 Journey to Rome

10.  AD 61-63 Imprisonment in Rome

  • Acts was written by the same person that wrote the Gospel of Luke and continues where Luke left off with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

  • Luke wrote as a historian and includes details related to geography, political leaders and navigational terms. He was also an eyewitness and acquainted with eyewitnesses of events recorded in Acts.

  • Luke's purpose in writing Acts was give an orderly historical account of events surrounding Christ's ascension, the first followers of Christ and the spread of the early Church.

  • Acts 1:8 is the theme verse for the whole book. The structure of the book of Acts shows how this theme was fulfilled by recording events relating the spread of the gospel geographically.

  • At first, the early Church was made up mostly of Jews who continued to live a Jewish lifestyle.

  • Two events in the early Church were the choosing of an apostle to take the place of Judas Iscariot, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

  • The elements of conversion in the New Testament are repentance, faith, confession, regeneration and baptism.

  • Many of the early Christians spoke Greek and Aramaic. Stephen was one of the first deacons and was martyred for his faith.

  • The apostle Paul's background as a Jew, training as a Pharisee, and Roman citizenship had a significant influence in his ministry and writings.

  • Paul had a dramatic conversion experience as he was traveling on the road to Damascus.

  • After Paul's conversion, on some areas of his theology his positions stayed the same, and on some areas his positions changed dramatically.

  • Many of the events related to Paul's life and ministry are recorded in the book of Acts.

  • The conversion of Cornelius and Peter's vision were important events in emphasizing the inclusion of Gentiles into the early Church.

  • The church at Antioch sent out Paul, Barnabas and John Mark to preach the gospel. This was Paul's first missionary journey.

  • The Jerusalem Council was a meeting of the early Church leaders to decide how to include Gentiles Christians into what had, up to this point, been a predominantly Jewish Christian group.

  • Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus and Paul and Silas went through Asia Minor, then to Macedonia and Greece.

  • Some of the letters from Paul in the New Testament are to an individual and some are to congregations. The letters are written in a form that includes the same general elements in the same order.

  • A main theme of 1 Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ.

  • Paul addresses some issues regarding the second coming of Christ, such as being responsible to work and support yourself in the meantime.

  • On his third missionary journey, Paul spent most of his time in Ephesus.

  • Paul defends his apostleship and explains that the foundation of our relationship with God is based on faith, not works.

  • Paul begins by defending his apostleship. He then explains justification by faith and gives some ethical exhortations. (The lecture does not cover points C. Ethical Exhortations (5:1-6:10) and D. Conclusion (6:11-18), but we included the outline points for your benefit.)

  • Most people agree that Paul wrote both letters to the Corinthians. He answered questions from people in the Corinthian church and addressed problems that had arisen.

  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes unity and diversity in the body of Christ, and responds to questions about marriage, spiritual gifts and the Lord's Supper.

  • Paul defends his actions and apostleship and encourages the people in the church in Corinth to contribute to his collection for the poor in Jerusalem.

  • The content of Paul's letter to the church in Rome was shaped by the ethnic background of the congregation and the challenges they were facing at that time.

  • The outline of Paul's letter to the Romans indicates his understanding of the fundamental concepts of the gospel.

  • Paul wrote Romans from the perspective of his calling as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

  • Paul begins Romans by stating the problem of sin and enumerating a few specific sins. His conclusion in chapter 3 is that both the Jews and the Gentiles are under the wrath of God.

  • The divine remedy to the problem of sin and separation from God is justification by a righteous God.

  • The results of God's righteousness include, peace, hope, freedom, living in the Spirit and assurance.

  • Paul was arrested in the Temple in Jerusalem, went on trial in Caesarea, and was transported to Rome and imprisoned awaiting trial before Caesar.

  • A major theme in the book of Philippians is joy in times of adversity.

  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the preeminence and supremacy of Christ.

  • Imperative is always based on the indicative.

  • Most scholars agree that Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul, partly because the content follows an outline that is similar to other letters attributed to him that are contained in the New Testament.

  • In Ephesians, Paul emphasizes who we are in Christ and the mystery of the gospel.

  • Paul writes to Philemon about how Philemon should receive his runaway slave Onesimus, who has become a committed disciple of Christ under Paul's influence and is returning to him.

  • Luke does not record the details of Paul's death in the book of Acts.

  • The best argument is for Pauline authorship, possibly with the help of a secretary.

  • Two themes in 1 Timothy are the role and requirements for bishops and elders, and the role of women in ministry.

  • Paul gives instructions to Titus who is a pastor in Crete.

  • Paul gives instruction to Timothy, who is a young pastor.

  • It is unclear who wrote the book of Hebrews.

  • A major theme in Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ. There are also passages that emphasize that perseverance is essential.

  • According to James, true faith results in works.

  • The apostle Peter wrote this letter to encourage Christians to be faithful during a time of suffering.

  • Themes in 1 Peter include the atonement, the new birth and the continuity of the Old and New Testaments.

  • Some people question whether or not 2 Peter was written by the apostle Peter.

  • Themes in 2 Peter include false teachers and the return of the Lord.

  • 1 John is similar to the Gospel of John in style, vocabulary, theology and purpose.

  • John makes a distinction between acts of sin and continuing in sin.

  • Jesus came as God in the flesh and offers us the gift of eternal life.

  • Revelation is a book written in an apocalyptic genre by the apostle John.

  • The philosphy of interepretation you use when you study the book of Revelation determines what you think specific passages in the book are teaching.

  • Chapters 1-12 begins with the seven churches, and includes the seven seals and seven trumpets.

  • Revelation chapters 13-22 focus on the beast, Christ's final victory, final judgment and the millenium.

  • After Christ ascended and the church was spreading, it was helpful to have a written record of Christ's life and the apostles' teaching. All the books included in the New Testament were written before the end of the first century.

  • Each book included in the New Testament had to meet specific criteria. They are arranged with the Gospels first, then letters, then the book of Revelation.

In this second graduate-level class on New Testament Survey, Dr. Robert Stein walks you through the New Testament books Acts through Revelation. In his analysis of the books, you will learn not only the facts but also be challenged with their theological and spiritual significance.


Let’s go now to deal with a basic chronology of the events surrounding Jesus’ [i.e., Paul’s] life here. There are a number of events that we can pinpoint in history that serve as anchors in the life of the apostle Paul. One of them is a famine mentioned in Acts 11:27, ff. We have a pretty good time to date this. In Acts 11:27, we read, “Now in those days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).” We can date that somewhere around 44-46 AD. There are other records in secular literature that refer to this, that help us in our understanding of that particular event.

Another event that helps to pinpoint some of this is Acts 12:23, where you have Herod (not Herod the Great, but Herod Agrippa). We read of his death in Acts 12:22-23, that he is smitten at that time, and his body eaten by worms, etc. I believe it’s Josephus who refers to this, and ties it with a full moon, or some astronomical event, and we’re able to date that astronomical event pretty carefully – it was just before that took place. So Herod dies in Acts 12:23, and we can date that to AD 44 with pretty good precision.

The third event that we can use as an anchor is in Acts 18:2, which talks about the expulsion of the Jews from Rome during the reign of Claudius. “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.” We have records of that in the Suetonius’s work, a Roman historian at the beginning of the second century. He talks about a riot taking place at the time of Claudius among the Jews, supposedly led by a man named Chrestus. Most people think that he erred here-- that it was not a riot led by Chrestus among the Jews, but a riot among the Jews over Jesus Christus, and that this Jewish and Jewish / Christian riot took place, and he expelled them. But we can date that to sometime around 49 or 50 AD.

Then, one last event is Paul’s appearance before the Roman Governor Gallio. Lots of times governors ruled for only a single year, and so you can date that pretty nicely in the Roman annals. “But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal.” And so, around AD 51, 52 sometime we have Paul in Corinth being brought before the Roman Governor at that time.

So those become the key events around which you can build a chronology of the life of Paul, and of the early church as well. So if we take that into consideration, we probably have something like the following as a chronology of Paul’s life:

• He is probably converted sometime around 31 or 32, very early. And one of the keys there involves the issue of the chronology Paul gives in the Book of Galatians. If you look at Galatians 1, he talks about his conversion. Then in v. 18 he says, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas ….” Three years after his conversion he went to Jerusalem to visit Peter, and there he remained with him fifteen days. Then in 2:1, he says, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem ….” Now, the key problem here is: is that fourteen years after the three years, or are both the three years and the fourteen years after his conversion? If it’s fourteen years plus three years, then you have seventeen years from this time going back to his conversion, or eleven years afterwards. Do you see that? It becomes somewhat confusing. But a basic chronology of Paul’s life, one that is frequently followed and that I am inclined to places his conversion at 31 or 32 AD, fairly early after the death of Jesus in AD 30;

• his first visit to Jerusalem three years after that;

• the first missionary journey 44-48;

• then the Jerusalem Council which we read of in Galatians 2 fourteen years after that;

• then we have the second missionary journey;

• third missionary journey;

• Paul’s arrest in 58;

• his imprisonment in Caesarea for 2 years (58-60);

• journey to Rome;

• imprisonment in Rome;

• and then after that we have to wrestle somewhat with what happens. Is he released, like tradition says, from his first Roman imprisonment, after which he ultimately goes to Spain for a short time, is then re-arrested, writes the pastoral letters of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, and then is martyred, sometime around 65 or so? We’ll have to wait till we’re at the end of the Book of Acts to wrestle with that issue. But that’s kind of a rough pattern. There are variations on this, but it’s about as close as I can get with regard to that.

Let’s go on now to the early years of Paul after his conversion, and see if we can deal with that. We have his conversion referred to in 9:1-19. After three days in the city of Damascus, he is met by Ananias, who is hesitant. (Who wouldn’t be hesitant to try to meet this man?) And when Ananias comes, he responds to Paul as follows [v.17]: “’Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and took food, and was strengthened.” So, here we have the baptism by Ananias, and scales falling from his eyes, turning from darkness to light would be very vivid here, and if that’s an image that he uses in conversion, maybe he views it as taking place at this event.

According to Galatians, he does not stay in Damascus, but he goes into Arabia. I don’t think he wanted to say that he was in the heart of today’s Saudi Arabia, but he goes east. If you’re in Damascus and you go east, you’re in desert. And so, this is where he stays for a time. He returns, and people have wondered what he did in Arabia. Did he go to meditate? I don’t think we should think of him as some sort of a monk, going into the wilderness and simply meditating all this time. He’s been meditating for days now, even before his conversion, over all of this, and he will continually meditate all his life on those kinds of things. But what happens when he comes back to Damascus in Acts 9, is that people are waiting to put him to death. And the king or governor is also there, wanting to put him to death. Now, I don’t know why the king would want to put him to death if he’s meditating in the wilderness. Very few people want to put others to death who are silently meditating in a wilderness area. He must have been doing some preaching, so this is what gets them upset. He then returns to Jerusalem after this for his first visit. He’s there fifteen days. He is now, instead of being the persecutor, become the persecuted. He has to flee, and he flees to Tarsus, and at that point we don’t hear about him for a while. When he goes to Tarsus, he’s there anywhere from six to ten years, and we never hear of a church in Tarsus; we don’t hear of Paul becoming a great, successful preacher up in Tarsus. And then, later on, we’ll review this again shortly, he is brought back by Barnabas to Antioch. They then visit for a famine visit to Jerusalem; and when they return back after a time of prayer, the church is told to commission Barnabas and Saul for the first missionary journey.

But what’s interesting to note, is that this time in Tarsus, we can call the Silent Years of Saul. We don’t know anything about it; nothing great must have happened because Luke doesn’t say anything about it, and we never hear of any church in Tarsus. But, when he is brought back, Barnabas brings him back, and he is working pretty much as Barnabas’s assistant. And when the first missionary journey begins, Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark go out. The order of the names makes it pretty clear that Barnabas is the leader of the mission group. After that, in the middle of the journey, there’s a switch that takes place – it’s Paul and his company. So here, his name changes, and he becomes the leader of the mission group. But up to this time, Saul has not been like a meteor lighting up the sky. For six to ten years, his life is fairly quiet. We don’t know much. And I think that it may be helpful for you as seminary students to realize that sometimes God takes time to prepare people for mission training. And even the apostle Paul has these silent years where we don’t know much about him, but they’re years used by the Lord to prepare him for his future work. So if, when you’re a seminary student, you are not quite attracting Billy Graham-sized crowds for evangelism, don’t worry about that. This is a time, much like Saul, like your silent years, where you’re training and acquiring the skills, and becoming the kind of person that God can use in the future. So there’s a sort of word of exhortation in that regard.