Christian History Timeline: First Century

Thanks to those who pitched in and pointed out things I missed or didn’t realize the importance of. I’m just one guy. I miss all sorts of things. I keep track, however, when corrected, so my picture of history keeps growing.

I’m going to go through the pre-Nicene era a century at a time (or less) with notes:

BC 6-4: Jesus born
AD 28-29: John the Baptist begins preaching

We know this from Luke 3:1-3. Tiberius was caesar from AD 14-29. So his fifteenth year was 28 or 29, depending on the months involved.

AD 33: Jesus crucified and risen

The year of Jesus death and resurrection has to be a year when Nisan 14 falls on Friday. The testimony to Jesus dying on Friday and rising on Sunday is unanimous in the early Christian writings. No one wrestled with “Hey, Friday evening to Sunday morning is not three days and three nights.” They never even mention that “problem.” I have to conclude that what Christian scholars claim is true. Any portion of a day or night could be considered “a day and night” in Hebrew terminology.

AD 33-60: Events of Acts and Paul’s letters

I don’t know the dates or order of Paul’s letters. No one knows them perfectly. I have heard arguments that 1 Thessalonians was Paul’s first letter and that Galatians was. The council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) is usually dated to AD 50. Events like that can be used to date other letters. It’s supposed that Galatians was written before the council, because Paul doesn’t mention its decrees directly. They would definitely have been pertinent to his letter.

The same logic helps with dating Hebrews. It has to be written before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 or the writer (Paul, Barnabas, or unknown) would have mentioned it. The Book of the Revelation is often dated before AD 70 for the same reason, but that is not agreed upon.

Anyway, I’m nowhere near an expert on the dating of the apostles writings. Gene Edwards claims that Paul persecuted the church and was converted 8 years after Jesus’ resurrection, but I have no idea why he thinks that. Honestly, I’ve had a lot of other things to study, and I’ve just never studied it. It’s been enough for me to know that everything we read in Acts happened during these 30 years.

AD 50: Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15)

Restless Pilgrim mentioned in comments that this council not only changed the course of Christianity by determining that Gentiles did not need to keep the Law of Moses or be circumcised, but it set a precedent for later councils.

It was a bit easier in AD 50 to gather the leading brothers, elders, and apostles for a council like this. The next general council of the church would be almost 300 years later at the Council of Nicea. Even then, most of the bishops were from the Roman empire, though the Gospel had already gone as far as India at least. Most of the bishops were also from the eastern Roman empire where the council was held.

Yes, the apostles were present at the Council of Jerusalem. Yes, the council is recorded in the Bible. Nonetheless, it is apparent that the church(es?) felt free to come together to make decisions on critical issues. It is a testimony to the power of the apostles preaching and to the faithfulness of the churches that we do not read about any councils in the second century, other than three churches getting together to give Montanus a hearing he did not deserve. (I commend their mercy towards him and their wisdom in giving him the boot once they heard his blasphemies.)

In the third century, we do read about area councils. New issuse that came up were …

Well, we’ll get to those in their time.

AD 64-67: Peter and Paul are martyred.

The dates of the other apostles martyrdoms are not well known. John, we are told, lived into the reign of Trajan, who began his reign in AD 98. He was not martyred, but died of natural causes.

Ignatius, who was martyred in either AD 107 or 116, was said to be appointed by “apostles” as bishop of Antioch (Paul’s home church!). Luke’s Acts of the Apostles preserved a lot of Paul and Peter’s activities for us and informs us that James, John’s brother, was put to the sword early on (12:1-2). We depend on hazy tradition for information on the rest of the apostles. I have to think that the “apostles in Asia” that appointed Ignatius may have included not only John or Peter, but also one or two of the others about whom we know less.

Thaddeus was in Edessa, for example, which was in modern Turkey and if not part of Asia Minor was certainly close to it.

AD 70: Fall of Jerusalem

The Roman general Titus destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70. Christians were prepared for this destruction because of the prophecies of Jesus, and they fled when they heard he was coming, as Jesus had commanded them to.

This ended the church in Jerusalem of course, but temporarily. When Jerusalem was rebuilt, circumcised men were not allowed in it, in an attempt by Rome to ensure no Jews returned there. The fact that there was a church in Jerusalem later is proof enough that circumcision was not practiced among Christians.

AD 70-96: End of Apostolic Era

The apostle John probably lived a couple years past this AD 96 date. I chose it, however, because that is first certain date of a Christian writing outside the New Testament. The church at Rome wrote a letter to the church at Corinth, anonymous but unanimously ascribed to Clement and called 1 Clement, mentioning persecution that sets the date of the letter at AD 95-96.

The Letter of Barnabas, The Letter to Diognetus, and The Didache (or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) are all ascribed first century dates by some, but none of them are certain.


That’s the first century. I’m really looking more forward to doing the second century and telling you a bit about the Christians who wrote during that period.

Now I’m going to go back and make some suggested corrections and additions on the other two timelines I did earlier this week. I welcome suggestions for this one, too.

I looked up very little of what I wrote above. There may be minor mistakes. I don’t think there are any major ones. Thank you for your help in this project should you have corrections. I am not trying to write a history, and I do not want to get too detailed. I just want to outline the period and touch on some interesting things. Acts and the letters of the apostles are the best source for what first century Christianity was like. Most Christians have read them.

The second century is much less well-known, so it’s easier to be interesting .

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3 Responses to Christian History Timeline: First Century

  1. paulfpavao says:

    I know an earlier date, even two earlier dates, have been argued for 1 Clement. I know why that would be related to the presbyter/bishop distinction. What do you mean by “the age of the ambassadors delivering the letter”?

    I usually use AD 96 for Clement because 95-96 is the most supported date. It is worth mentioning, I agree, the Didache is at least partially from the first century.

    • Yeah, I find it strange how often the 95-96 date is put forward with such confidence. I know historians such as Jurgens, Robinson and others suggest an earlier date based on evidence internal to the letter itself.

      Firstly, Clement refers to the Jerusalem Temple as though sacrifices are still going on (and the Temple was destroyed in AD 70).

      Secondly, Clement’s reference at the beginning of his letter to “…the sudden and successive calamitous events…” would be a very fitting description to “The Year of Four Emperors” (AD 69), rather than the persecution under the Emperor Domitian (AD 96) as is commonly assumed.

      Finally, I don’t see this argument made often (so there might be a solid reason against it), but the legates mentioned at the end of the letter (“Claudius Ephebus and Valerius Bito, with Fortunatus”) could also point to an earlier date. The first two were slaves freed by the Emperor Claudius. Claudius died in AD 54 and you had to be at least thirty to be a freed man. So, if we assume that they both turned thirty in AD 54, then that would put them at seventy-two by AD 96, an extremely advanced age for a long journey from Rome to Corinth. However, if we ascribe an earlier date for the letter, it would place them in their late forties or early fifties at the time when they deliver the letter on behalf of the Roman Church.

      I know it has also been suggested that Fortunatus was the Corinthian mentioned by Paul (1 Corinthians 16:17) which, again, would point to an earlier date for the same reason as noted above.

  2. > It is a testimony to the power of the apostles preaching and to the faithfulness of the churches that we do not read about any councils in the second century

    …and persecution, of course (c.f. Pliny the Younger’s letter to Emperor Trajan)

    > Christians were prepared for this destruction because of the prophecies of Jesus, and they fled when they heard he was coming, as Jesus had commanded them to.

    Most likely to Pella.

    > The church at Rome wrote a letter to the church at Corinth, anonymous but unanimously ascribed to Clement and called 1 Clement, mentioning persecution that sets the date of the letter at AD 95-96.

    An argument could be made for an earlier date here, based on early development of presbyter/bishop distinctions, as well as the age of the ambassadors delivering the letter.

    > The Letter of Barnabas, The Letter to Diognetus, and The Didache (or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) are all ascribed first century dates by some, but none of them are certain.

    Even those who give late dates to The Didache will usually admit that it most likely existed in an earlier form in the First Century.

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