A new Bible timeline
How to read the Bible in chronological order
The Chinese government intends to rewrite the Bible to ‘reflect socialist values’. This order was proposed in November, 2019, during a meeting held by the Committee for Ethnic and Religious Affairs of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which oversees ethnic and religious matters in China. New editions of religious texts must not go against the beliefs of the Communist Party. Any parts deemed wrong or challenging by the censors will be rewritten to match communist values. They claim that this will prevent ‘extreme thoughts’ and ‘heretical ideas’ from eroding the country. In this post we look at the contents of this ‘heretical’ book.
The Bible describes events that occurred over a period of about 5,000 years. But the 66 books in the Bible are arranged according to categories like history, poetry, prophecy, gospel (good news about Jesus Christ) and letters.
The Bible Timeline shows the chronological order of books of the Bible according to the estimated date of the events that they describe. A timeline of the nation of Israel and a timeline of the lifespans of some main characters in the Bible is also included in the Bible timeline.
The data used to construct the timeline is given in the table below. All dates are approximate as there is always some uncertainty in determining the dates of events that occurred thousands of years ago. Also, the dating of the books of Obadiah and Joel is uncertain (Appendix A and Appendix B).
What the timeline shows
The book of Genesis covers about 2,200 years of history, which is the longest time span for a book of the Bible. This book was complied by Moses who according to the Pentateuch was the 26th generation of humanity (Adam and Eve were the first generation). Because of the longevity of people before the flood, many generations overlap in this time period. From the timeline we can see that the records that Moses used to compile the book of Genesis would have to pass through up to eight generations (four of these are shown in the timeline, and I have allowed four more to overlap these).
This overlap means that Abraham could have learnt about the flood from people like Noah’s son Shem (or his wife) who lived through it. And he could have learnt about the Garden of Eden from a person who knew a person who knew Adam or Eve.
The book of Psalms was written over a period of at least 890 years. Moses wrote Psalm 90 and Psalm 137 was written after the Babylonian exile. Did Ezra write Psalm 119?
The books of 1 & 2 Chronicles tell the same stories as 1 & 2 Kings (they run parallel to each other), but 1 & 2 Chronicles give the reasons behind the events.
Abraham lived about 2,000 BC, Moses about 1,500 BC and David about 1,000 BC.
Daniel is the main book covering the Jewish exile.
The exile shows God’s patience with Israel. Although this was punishment for their disobedience it was delayed. For example, “Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord” during the reign of Rehoboam, which was over 300 years before the exile (1 Ki. 14:22).
The following people lived in the same era:
– Job and Abraham.
– Amos, Jonah and Hosea.
– Isaiah and Micah.
– Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
– Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, Esther, Nehemiah, and Malachi.
– All the writers of the New Testament. And Paul lived in the same time period as Jesus.
Matthew divided the history of the Jews into three time periods (Mt. 1:17):
– Abraham to David
– David to the exile, and
– the exile to the time of Jesus Christ.
Abraham, David and Jesus Christ are key Bible characters because they are associated with the Abrahamic covenant, the Davidic covenant and the new covenant. So if we add the periods before and after these three time periods, we get a total of five time periods of the history of the world up to now.
The only gap in the Bible record is the 430 years between Malachi and the birth of John the Baptist. This meant that none of the Old Testament prophets could have influenced the fulfilment of their Messianic prophecies. During the time between the testaments, God was active in world history causing major political and military events to occur as He had predicted in the book of Daniel. For example, the nation of Greece came to power and was conquered by Rome. The Greeks provided an empire-wide language and the Romans provided a good road network. And a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures named the Septuagint was produced. So during this time period God was fulfilling prophecy and preparing for the time when Jesus would arrive on this earth and then eventually die and Christianity could spread across the empire.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John give parallel accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. So there is a lot of redundancy in the Bible with multiple accounts of events and teachings.
Why is the Bible “heretical” in China?
The Chinese Communist Party is atheistic. Article 36 of the Chinese constitution protects freedom of religion for so-called “normal religious activities”, stating that “no one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the education system of the state”. Although this seems reasonable, Christians are being repressed.
Because the government is concerned that Christianity is a threat to its power, Christians have faced growing repression in recent years. That’s why they think that the Bible is “heretical” and leads to “extreme thoughts”.
Open Doors reports, “New religious laws in China seek to control all expressions of faith. In China, the situation is the worst it’s been in more than a decade; some even say since the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. On the 2019 World Watch List China rose from rank 43 to 27. Many churches have been forced to close down, crosses have been removed from a number of buildings and some believers have been sent to ‘re-education camps’”.
The Bible is a library of books that were written by various people over a period of about 1,600 years. The Bible timeline shows how these books fit together.
The overall message of the Bible is how God has acted in history to create the universe and to offer reconciliation to humanity who has rebelled against Him. It offers supernatural help to get through the storms of life (Mt. 7:24-27), and lasting joy and peace in a world that lacks joy and peace (Gal. 5:22) .
Appendix A: Dating of Obadiah
According to the NET Bible:
“The date of the book of Obadiah is very difficult to determine. Since there is no direct indication of chronological setting clearly suggested by the book itself, and since the historical identity of the author is uncertain as well, a possible date for the book can be arrived at only on the basis of internal evidence. When did the hostile actions of Edom against Judah that are described in this book take place? Many nineteenth-century scholars linked the events of the book to a historical note found in 2 Ki. 8:20 (cf. 2 Chron. 21:16-17): “In [Jehoram’s] days Edom rebelled from under the hand of Judah and established a king over themselves.” If this is the backdrop against which Obadiah should be read, it would suggest a ninth-century BC date for the book, since Jehoram reigned ca. 852-841 BC. But the evidence presented for this view is not entirely convincing, and most contemporary Old Testament scholars reject a ninth-century scenario. A more popular view, held by many biblical scholars from Luther to the present, understands the historical situation presupposed in the book to be the Babylonian invasion of Judah in the sixth century (cf. Ps. 137:7; Lam. 4:18-22; Ezek. 25:12-14; 35:1-15). Understood in this way, Obadiah would be describing a situation in which the Edomites assisted in the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem. Although it must be admitted that a sixth-century setting for the book of Obadiah cannot be proven, the details of the book fit reasonably well into such a context. Other views on the dating of the book, such as an eighth-century date in the time of Ahaz (ca. 732-716 BC) (2 Chron. 28:17) or a fifth-century date in the postexilic period, are less convincing. Parallels between the book of Obadiah and Jeremiah 49:1-22 clearly suggest some kind of literary dependence, but it is not entirely clear whether Jeremiah drew on Obadiah or whether Obadiah drew upon Jeremiah, In any case, the close relationship between Obadiah and Jeremiah 49 might suggest the sixth-century setting.”
The main alternatives are either the rebellion of Edom against Judah during the reign of Jehoram (853-841 BC) (2 Ki. 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 2:8-15) or the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem (605-586 BC). Obadiah v.12-14 seems to be a warning to the Edomites not to repeat what they had done in the past. If Jerusalem were in ashes (like in 586 BC), such an admonition would be meaningless. The fact that total destruction of the city and temple are not mentioned supports an earlier date.
Also, Obadiah is placed between Amos and Jonah in the Hebrew Bible and between Joel and Jonah in the Septuagint.
So I have assumed an early date, namely 853 BC.
Appendix B: Dating of Joel
According to MacDonald (1990):
“No king is mentioned by Joel and there are few chronological hints in his short prophecy to help place the book in its proper time frame. Dates as varied as the tenth century to the fifth century BC have been suggested. Joel’s position in the “Book of the Twelve,” as the Jews call the Minor Prophets, indicates that Jewish tradition considered Joel to be an early book. Its style fits the earlier classical period better than the post-exilic era of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The fact that no king is mentioned may be due to the book having been written when Jehoiada the high priest was regent (in the boyhood years of Joash, who reigned between 835–796 BC). Also, Judah’s enemies are the Phoenicians and Philistines (3:4) as well as the Egyptians and Edomites (3:19), not her later foes—the Syrians, Assyrians, and Babylonians.”
So I have assumed a date of 835 BC.
MacDonald (1990) “Believer’s Bible commentary”, Thomas Nelson.
Valkanet V (2010) “Bible Timeline”, Discovery Bible and Biblos.com
Written, January 2020