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Chronology of the New Testament
The following is a hurried attempt to put the New Testament in chronological order. I readily admit that some dates may be disputable (men who have devoted their lives to such a study do not entirely agree, and absolute accuracy is really not necessary for our purposes). Our Lord has brought it to my attention that He intends to revolutionize His Church. Actually the word He used was "re-establish". He is going to re-establish His Church. It will be founded on truth, not tradition. But, for this reason it will be a literal revolution and will involve violent change. Like the religious leaders in Jesusí day, church leaders today will resist change because it threatens their positions of power and their livelihood. Iím putting the New Testament together like this because He told me that those who will be involved in this re-establishment of the Church would have to forsake everything theyíve ever learned about "church" as itís known in the traditional sense and understand the New Testament and how it really portrays the Lordís Church.
To do this, you must look at the New Testament as a history of consecutive events. For over 500 years now Protestantism has developed an ever-changing traditional Christianity with a Bible made up of numbered sentences (verses) and books that are completely out of order when compared to the sequence in which they actually occurred. Chronological exposition is unknown. Contextualism is extinct. Any idea that comes into the heart of man can be supported or seemingly proven with isolated scripture verses. Thatís why there exists today scores of denominations and countless other cults. They all claim to have started with the church Jesus founded. And they all claim to be true to the scriptures. Yet, how can that be, since they are all so different? The New Testament is a record of the development of the church in its first 100 years. Yet, none of those denominations or cults resemble the church described in the New Testament in even the slightest way!!!
It is necessary to look at the church in the New Testament, and the traditional church of today, so we can understand why they are not the same thing. Once we understand that, we can begin to understand why the Lord is going to re-establish His Church and we can begin to lay the groundwork for this revolution. Just keep this in the back of your mind for now, the church today in the traditional form that we know it has evolved over the past 1900 years, with many variations (denominations and cults) following the same form in slightly different directions, especially since the Reformation and the availability of the printed Bible, both of which came on the scene in the 15th century. In the meantime, you can use the chronological order of the New Testament that follows to begin to familiarize yourself with what God originally intended for us to use as the basis of our practice and belief.
The New Testament is in the same order that you find it in every major translation and it has been the same ever since the first one was printed in 1456. It was organized the way you see it because an Augustinian monk thought this particular order made it easier to study doctrine. But in this form, it presents an incongruous and disjointed picture of what really happened in the church during itís first 100 years, making it easy for men to disregard history and bend it to their own will and purposes. Jesus prophesied with the parable of the mustard seed that His earthly Kingdom (in the Book of Matthew this earthly Kingdom is called the Kingdom of Heaven and represents the earthly realm of "professing" Christians) would be filled with deception. The presentation of the New Testament as we know it has facilitated that deception. Weíve already discussed the deception in the Church regarding what constitutes salvation. In future discussions, we will look at two major deceptions regarding the form and function of the church and how the traditional church perpetuates these deceptions through misappropriated authority.
The purpose of the New Testament was to give us a pattern. When it was put together the way we know it, that pattern was destroyed. When there is no pattern to follow, men could make up their own. And thatís exactly what theyíve been doing for 1900 years.
Here is the New Testament in chronological order:
1. The first church was not the one in Jerusalem. It was Jesus and the 12 disciples. However, this record (the four Gospel accounts) was written at different times, for different reasons, and will be noted as we go through this sequence. For our purposes, we will begin with the events that took place in Jerusalem following Jesusí ascension in May, AD 29.
2. This history begins with the Book of Acts, chapters 1-11. Note that Luke actually wrote the Book of Acts 35 years after Jesusí ascension, in AD 64. But, since the Book of Acts is an actual historical account of many of the events that take place in the history of the early church, it makes sense to use it as a guide to keep those events in perspective. In these chapters we see the beginnings of the church in Jerusalem, Pentecost, the power of God displayed in the church, the persecution suffered by the early church, Peterís leadership, Stephenís ministry, Philipís ministry, Paulís conversion, his spiritual development, the beginning of his ministry in Antioch (this is where Paul begins to experience the church). These first 11 chapters in Acts span approximately 16 years, from AD 29, the year of our Lordís crucifixion, to AD 45.
3. The first New Testament epistle was written by James, the brother of Jesus, around AD 45. There are three prominent men in the New Testament named James. The first is James, the brother of John, one of the inner circle of Jesusí favorite disciples (James and John were probably cousins of Jesus, their mother being Salome, a sister of Mary, Jesusí mother). The second is also a disciple, otherwise known as James the Less. The third is James, the brother of Jesus. This James did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah until after His resurrection. It is this James that is the writer of the epistle. It is also this James who became the spiritual leader of the church in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of James, the brother of John, by Herod several years later (Acts 12:1,2). The Book of James is called a "general" epistle, since it is not addressed to a specific church, but to "the twelve tribes that are scattered abroad." The principle theme of this epistle deals with the difference between an intellectual understanding of truth and the practical application of truth in oneís life and conduct. Jamesí argument is precise: it is not enough to properly define faith; instead, faith must be expressed or lived out...otherwise itís worthless. This first epistle deals with a problem that is still prominent in the church today, which is, that most professed Christians understand an intellectual concept of God, but very few ever submit themselves to a daily life-changing experience with God that guides their conduct.
4. The history of the church continues in Acts 12 through 18:17 with the account of Peterís imprisonment and subsequent deliverance; the martyrdom of James, the brother of John (he was beheaded on orders from Herod to please the Jews); Herodís own death; Paulís first missionary journey with Barnabas; the council at Jerusalem (presided over by James, the brother of Jesus, who had taken over the spiritual oversight of the church); and part of Paulís second missionary journey with Silas. These chapters represent a time span of approximately 7 years.
5. Paul writes the first of his 14 New Testament letters (I Thessalonians) to the church at Thessalonica from Corinth during his second missionary journey, around AD 52. This church had been established during Paulís stay in Thessalonica just the year before. He had been rejected by the Jews there, but had great success preaching to the Gentiles. Now, while on his way to Corinth, Paul sends Timothy to Thessalonica to check on the condition of the church. When Timothy joins him in Corinth, he gives this report: the church is thriving, but theyíre laboring under some misconceptions regarding the Second Coming of Christ. So, Paul writes this letter to set their minds at ease and answer their questions on this important subject. The first information in scripture on this subject is found in what is called the Olivet Discourse, given by Jesus on the night before His crucifixion (Matthew 24, 25). Now, some 20 years later, in the midst of persecution, the believers in Thessalonica needed the same comfort the disciples received that night - just as surely as Jesus was going to leave, He was going to come back! Again, the history of the early church has a lesson to teach the church today. Belief in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus is essential to the spiritual well being of any church. The expectancy of this great event forces us to focus on a true holiness lifestyle (and Iím not talking about keeping a bunch of religious rules here, Iím talking about continually submitting your life to the personal Lordship of Christ).
6. Less than a year later, Paul writes II Thessalonians while still in Corinth (he stays there for about 18 months). This is around AD 53. The content of this letter parallels the first. In this letter Paul encourages the church to be steadfast in persecution; describes, more specifically, events preceding the Second Coming; illustrates the stability of a Christ-centered life, compared to the instability of a world rushing towards itís own destruction; and encourages these believers to reject worldliness and live by the principles of Christ.
7. The history of the church continues in Acts 18:18 through 19 with Paulís third missionary journey where he spends over 2 years in Ephesus. These chapters represent a little more than 3 years time.
8. While in Ephesus, Paul writes I Corinthians early in AD 57. He had established this church several years earlier and, since, had received disturbing reports of factions in the church, sexual misconduct, corrupt observance of the Lordís supper, abuse of spiritual gifts, and misunderstandings regarding the resurrection and some of the other basic teachings he had given them. His letter was to give instruction that would restore balance in the church. To me, one of the more important issues Paul deals with in this letter is the divisiveness. There were four factions that had sprung up in this church. One followed Paul, one followed Apollos, one Cephas (Peter), and one rejected all three men and claimed to follow only Christ. Paulís reasoning (through the guidance of the Holy Spirit) was simple: why choose allegiance to one, when you can benefit from what all had to offer? This is very subtle, but carefully consider what is happening here. This goes to the very core of the church and its function. God never intended for believers to follow a man or be spiritually dependent on a man. His intention was for them to be dependent on the Holy Spirit and each other, so when they came together they could edify one another by sharing their experiences and what they had received from God. We are all supposed to learn how to be dependent on God and on each other...that is the function of Godís church! Here, we see the simple function of the church being undermined by spiritually lazy believers who were willing to let someone else experience God for them and by ignorant or ambitious men willing to gather a following to themselves. This is how and why the professional clergy developed in the church and it is wrong!
9. Paul leaves Ephesus to go to Macedonia in Acts 20:1.
10. He writes II Corinthians during his short stay in Macedonia the latter part of AD 57. This second letter was written to reinforce the first and addressed some issues that still remained regarding the authenticity of Paulís apostleship. He also wanted to reassure the church that he loved them and that he took no pleasure in writing the first letter in such a harsh and direct tone. He also addressed the issue of financial support for the church in Jerusalem, which was experiencing severe famine at the time. In this letter Paul also talks about his "thorn in the flesh". (Paulís thorn in the flesh wasnít a physical disease or weakness, as some suppose - unless you want to call a demon sent by God to beat up on him every time he was tempted to exalt himself, a disease.)
11. Paul travels from Macedonia back to Corinth in Acts 20:2-3.
12. He writes his letter to the Galatians from Corinth in AD 58. The churches in Galatia (a Roman province in what would now be central Turkey) were established by Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey, probably around AD 50. This province was inhabited by the descendants of Gallic (French) warriors, who had invaded and subdued this area some years before. It was Paulís intention to merely pass through Galatia (which he had to do to get from Antioch to Philippi), but he was unable to travel due to illness. So, while he was there he preached Christ and these people warmly accepted both Paul and his message. Because of this, they always occupied a special place in Paulís heart. However, shortly after he left, false teachers came in and convinced these believers that it was necessary to follow the ritual laws of Judaism in order to benefit from any claims of the Gospel...in other words, the door to Christ was through Abraham. This same notion is advanced today by so-called Jewish Christians. This letter was written to refute these false teachings. Paul was angry, and his anger shows as he defends his teaching and his integrity. When you take into account all that Paul says in this epistle, then compare it to the church today; again, you have to wonder if anyoneís paying attention. Rituals and rules that lead to bondage do not define Christianity. Itís a relationship with God that produces a freedom to enjoy the fruits of the Spirit, and the opportunity to experience all the things that bring true contentment and fulfillment to our lives as weíre being conformed to the image of Christ.
13. Paul also writes his letter to the Romans this same year, even though he will not actually get to Rome until AD 61. This epistle is different than those we have looked at so far for several reasons. First of all, Paul didnít establish the church in Rome. And, he didnít write this letter to correct problems in this church. He simply wanted to introduce himself and express his desire to visit at some time in the future. For this reason, we see in the Book of Romans an organized, systematic presentation of doctrinal truths. This was Paulís way of putting his apostolic credentials on display, hoping that these believers in Rome would receive him when he came (which they did). In this book Paul develops and defends the major themes of faith, grace, righteousness and justification. This letter was written to Gentile believers to present the validity of Gentile involvement in the church - Christianity was not just for Jews.
14. Paul returns to Jerusalem in Acts 20:4 through 26 where he is arrested and put on trial several times in preparation for his trip to Rome. These chapters cover a little over 2 years time.
15. Also around AD 60, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are written. Matthew was a tax collector who was one of the 12 disciples. His account was written primarily to the Jews to show irrefutable proof that the long-awaited Messiah had come to establish His earthly kingdom (the Kingdom of Heaven). Matthew used the Old Testament to support claims believers had been making about Jesus for the past 30 years.
Luke, who also writes the Book of Acts, is a companion of Paulís and a Gentile medical doctor. He is the only Gentile writer of the scriptures and was not an eyewitness to any of the events recorded in his Gospel. This is the most detailed of all the Gospels, containing nearly one-third more information and stories not included in the other accounts. Since Luke was a physician, he was fascinated with Jesusí ability to heal and perform other miracles. It was Lukeís intention in writing this book to convince those in the Greek culture that the claims of Christ were valid and true.
Paul begins his journey to Rome about this time, as recorded in Acts 27 through 28:16 and is imprisoned upon his arrival there in AD 61.
16. Paul writes his letter to Philemon in AD 61. This letter is a plea to Philemon for forgiveness on behalf of a runaway slave named Onesimus. Philemon was evidently a convert of Paulís in Colosse, and Onesimus was somehow brought to Paul in Rome and became converted as well. This letter is a masterpiece of Christian courtesy and intercession.
17. Paulís next letter is to the Colossians that same year. The church at Colosse was established by Epaphras, a citizen of that city and a disciple of Paul. This epistle was written at the request of Epaphras, who wanted to bring the full weight of Paulís apostleship to bear in dealing with certain problems that had developed in this church (some of which Paul was already very familiar). Judaizers had infiltrated this church as well. But, to add to the confusion, there was also a heavy influence of both Greek Philosophy and Oriental Mysticism. As a result, angel worship and the importance of "spiritual" knowledge were added to the mix of legalism. The idea that sanctification would be attained by the accumulation of knowledge is certainly an error that has survived the centuries. There are many in the Kingdom of Heaven today who still think sanctification is based on what they know about God - instead of whether or not they actually know Him in a real relationship. People still rationalize this issue and substitute second-hand, religious information for a day-to-day relationship of submission to God and intimacy with Him.
18. He also writes his letter, commonly known to us, as Ephesians. The best early manuscripts, however, do not contain the phrase "which are at Ephesus" found in 1:1 of this epistle. For this reason, it is believed that this letter was written for general circulation to churches in Laodicea, which is how it found itís way to Ephesus. This is probably the epistle that is mentioned in Colossians 4:16, where the church at Colosse is instructed to receive the letter from Laodicea, and also told to send itís letter from Paul to the churches there, as well. Since this letter does not contain any personal salutations or refer to any places or experiences Paul may have had in his two-year stay in Ephesus or address any specific church problems, it can be assumed that it was written for general circulation. The letter itself contains a great presentation on the subject of unity in the church, then moves on to talk about the redemptive work of Christ, the importance of a consistent Christian walk, a God-honoring home life, and practical applications regarding true spiritual warfare.
19. The Gospel of Mark is the next account of Christís life and ministry and is written around AD 63 by John Mark in Rome, most probably for Gentile believers there who were beginning to suffer intense persecution (persecution will always be part of the history of the true church, if the church doesnít suffer persecution, itís because it has made friends with the world, and is not part of the true church). This Gospel emphasizes the miraculous and presents Jesus as a God-man of power, action, law and world dominion - all characteristics the Romans would admire.
20. The last letter Paul writes during his first imprisonment is his letter to the Philippians in AD 63. In this letter Paul thanks them for sending him money to help with living expenses while he awaited trial in Rome. He also gives them one of the most beautiful psalms of praise to Jesus (found in 2:5-11) in his presentation on the importance of being faithful to Christ and of following His example of humility. He also warns against false teachers (Judaizers again) and against having confidence in the flesh, and encourages them to follow his own example of steadfast faith.
About this same time, James, the brother of Jesus, is martyred in Jerusalem by a group of fanatical Jews. The high priest and other rulers forced him to the roof of the temple and demanded that he blaspheme the name of Christ. He boldly declared that Jesus was the Son of God, and was thrown from the roof and killed.
21. Paul is released from prison around AD 64 as recorded in Acts 28:17-31 and remained in Rome for some time teaching and ministering to anyone who came to him.
It was at this time that Luke wrote the Book of Acts. This book was written to document the development of the early church and help establish the pattern for all churches that would follow. However, over time, a traditional church has emerged and most everything that has happened over the past 1900 years has brought about this one result: believers are controlled by other men (the clergy) and not by the Holy Spirit!
Since the Book of Acts was written in AD 64, it does not record the martyrdom of both Peter and Paul in Rome three years later in AD 67 at the hands of the Roman emperor Nero.
22. The first letter Paul writes after he is freed from house arrest in Rome is I Timothy in AD 64. Timothy is in the church at Ephesus and this letter offers practical advice on dealing with false teachers. It gives guidelines for believers with regards to worship, prayer and outlines qualifications for leaders. In the latter part of this letter, Paul gives Timothy practical, personal instruction regarding his duties towards this church.
23. He then writes his letter to Titus, a disciple of Paul who was, at that time, trying to help a troubled church on the island of Crete. This letter includes qualifications for leaders; guidelines for living a Godly life; an emphasis on faith that overcomes division among believers; and instruction on how to deal with heresy.
24. The Apostle Peter was in Babylon during this time and he writes his first letter known as I Peter, which was a general letter sent to believers scattered throughout Asia Minor. It should be mentioned that there is absolutely no evidence that Peter was ever in Rome. While Paul went west, Peter went east. He ministered mainly to the Jews (Galatians 2:7-9) and was not even the head of the Jewish section of the Church, much less that of the Gentiles. Roman persecution was intensifying and many Christian believers were beginning to wonder if God had abandoned them. Peter knew what suffering was all about, and he wrote this letter to encourage believers and offer them hope in the midst of their suffering. He also talks about the expression of true Christ-like character and urges them towards humility, sobriety and watchfulness.
25. The next letter to be written is to the Hebrews. It is reasonable to think that Paul wrote this letter from Rome, because a large part of his ministry after he was released from prison was to the large population of Jews living in Rome at that time (Acts 28:16-31). This letter is certainly Paulís style and contains vivid contrasts between Old Testament ritual law and New Testament faith; strong appeals to go forward in the new covenant, instead of reverting back to the old; and strong arguments for the superiority of Jesus Christ. All subjects Paul was imminently qualified to discuss. It was probably written in AD 65.
26. Peter writes II Peter to the same believers in Turkey in AD 67. The main themes in this letter are: an exhortation to spiritual growth; the necessity of holding on to truth; warnings against false teachers; and advice on how to live in view of the Lordís return.
27. Another brother of Jesus writes the letter Jude (his name), also in AD 67. This was an open letter circulated among the churches warning against the false teaching that since we are saved by grace; it doesnít matter if we sin because it will always be forgiven. The underlying error was that, in the Christian experience, change wasnít necessary. Sound familiar?
28. Paul then writes his last letter, II Timothy, in AD 67. He has been imprisoned for the second and last time in Rome and knows enough about the political climate there to realize that his life is just about over. There is no anticipation of any intervention from God, just a realization that the end is near. Most of his supporters have abandoned him, heís suffering, and he struggles to write this last letter to challenge Timothy to be faithful and be as effective as possible in his ministry for Christ. In this letter, Paul talks about the coming apostasy and the need to guard and keep the things that have been written (that is, the scriptures). Here, Paul correctly identifies the coming end of this apostolic era and the flood of deception that would descend upon the Church.
29. Paul is killed in Rome, AD 67. The church continues to thrive in the face of cultural opposition and persecution for the next 18 years.
30. The Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed by a Roman named Titus in AD 70.
31. Then, the Gospel of John was written by John, who by this time is the last surviving member of Jesusí 12 disciples, in Ephesus around AD 85. The purpose of this book is stated in 20:31, read it for yourself. This book was written to all believers to convince them that Jesus was the Son of God and to help them deal with confusing Greek philosophies that were eroding their faith.
32. Sometime after this, probably around AD 86-87 he wrote the letters known as I John, II John, and III John to deal with problems that were continuing to develop in the church because of false teaching. John encourages believers to maintain truth by maintaining their relationship with the Lord. What a great concept!
33. The last letter written was Revelation, again by John probably around AD 95 during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, a time of terrible persecution throughout the Roman Empire. This letter was written to the seven churches located in the Roman province of Asia (Turkey again) to warn them not to fall away from the faith and to encourage them that they would eventually have the victory if they remained on Godís side. The language is prophetic and apocalyptic, using figurative language and symbolism to assure believers that all evil will eventually be destroyed and replaced with the goodness and peace of Godís Kingdom. This book is the documentation of the eventual victory of Christís earthly, temporary Kingdom (the Kingdom of, or from, Heaven) as it is transformed into His heavenly, eternal Kingdom (the Kingdom of God).
My best advice to anyone who reads this paper is to try to forget everything you ever learned and everything you ever experienced in the traditional church and read the New Testament in the order that you see it here. Put yourself in the New Testament church that is portrayed by this history that spans approximately 100 years (Jesusí birth at 4 BC to the writing of the Book of Revelation at AD 95). In the weeks to come we will begin to compare what we see in the New Testament to what we see in the traditional church, identify the differences and the possible reasons for these differences, and begin to adjust our thinking to prepare for the changes that will have to take place as our Lord re-establishes His Church (prepares His Bride).
Let me end this paper on a somewhat prophetic note. The Lord wants me to tell you the purpose of what He is saying and doing here: it is not simply to re-establish His Church. There is something else that has been mostly lost over these past two thousand years - a true reality of Christ in the hearts and lives of believers! As you go through the history of the early church you will see suffering, hardship, persecution and spiritual opposition, mixed with joy, humor, hope, determination and commitment. Iíve already stated that the church of today is not anything like the church described in this historical account.
The same must be said of the believer, and the difference between the two is the reality of Christ. He was real to them and it changed their lives and made them willing to endure anything. Of the 14 apostles (the original 12, plus the one selected to take Judasí place, and Paul, the one called to be an apostle), all were martyred carrying out their responsibilities as apostles, except the beloved disciple John. What was it that made them (and others like them) willing to give up their lives for the cause of Christ?
What God is saying to us today is that this reality can only be found in the atmosphere and activity of His true Church. The reality of Christ that is found in a moment-by-moment relationship with Him, where He is the first thing we think about when we wake up in the morning and the last thing we think about before we go to sleep at night. Itís a reality that melts our hearts as we experience His love. And itís a reality that makes us eager to know His purposes and willing to obey His every word. The reality of a Lord that is so great that we know our constant worship of Him will never adequately define His greatness! A reality that takes us from glory to glory, transforming us into His Own wonderful image. And a reality of Christ that is so real that it constrains and consumes us.
This is a reality that can only be experienced in the real church that God is going to re-establish. It obviously cannot be found in the traditional, clergy-led churches of today. Most of these churches are lifeless memorials to worthless religion. The result of what only men can do when left to their own devices. Even the churches today that some believe have life (because there is a continual display of supernatural events ascribed to the Holy Spirit); do not have the life of God in them. For the most part, the "supernatural" is fueled by familiar spirits that have attached themselves to church leaders who have sold out to the world system and to the god of this world. These are the ones described in Matthew 7:21-23 who did all those "powerful things that impressed so many people", but never had a real relationship with God.
The Lord must re-establish His true Church. The traditional church has demonstrated, without contradiction, that it cannot fulfill His purpose. It is time for men to get out of the way, submit themselves to God, and let God do what only He can.
Addendum: A Quick Reference Guide to the Chronology of the New Testament
The following is a list of the Books of the New Testament in chronological order. The New Testament should be read in this order and subject studies should take this order into consideration.
1. James; 2. I Thessalonians; 3. II Thessalonians; 4. I Corinthians; 5. II Corinthians; 6. Galatians; 7. Romans; 8. Matthew's Gospel; 9. Luke's Gospel; 10. Philemon; 11. Colossians; 12. Ephesians; 13. Mark's Gospel; 14. Philippians; 15. The Acts of the Apostles; 16. I Timothy; 17. Titus; 18. I Peter; 19. Hebrews; 20. II Peter; 21. Jude; 22. II Timothy; 23. John's Gospel; 24. I John; 25. II John; 26. III John; and 27. Revelation.
I have published a Chronological New Testament with accompanying commentary. It can be ordered at the following link: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/chronology-new-testament/15391381
Copyright 2001 © Community Fellowship The reproduction and non-commercial use of this material is permitted.
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