Pivotal Dates in Biblical History
THE Scriptures are verbally inspired of God, who gave the thoughts and the very words by which every shade of idea was to be expressed. Everything, therefore, in the Scriptures has a significance regardless of whether or not we discover its import.
If one will only glance through the Old Testament, one will see that there is much chronological data presented. Especially is this true in the historical portions of the Word. Furthermore, the prophets often dated their predictions, telling us that a certain oracle was received and delivered in a specific year, in a certain month, and on a given day. God would never have put all of this chronological data in the Bible if there had not been a purpose for it.
Why did He put so very much emphasis on this subject? A little thought will clarify the issue. All things in the world are related. Life is a series of sequences. One must understand when a statement was made, under what conditions, to whom, and for what purpose, if he is to evaluate the utterance correctly and accurately. Only when we have all the data in mind respecting any one statement or fact, can we see the subject in its proper perspective.
The Old Testament, for instance, contains an overwhelming mass of material. Of course, Israel occupies the central position on the historic stage. All other nations are mentioned only in relation to this prepared and called people. The details concerning the national life of Israel are innumerable; although, as a rule, the current of events eddy around certain outstanding individuals. Nevertheless, there is an almost unbelievable wealth of material and information in the Old Testament Scriptures.
All these details are but a jumble of facts and incidents if they are not properly related, one to the other. The chronological data of the Scriptures serve the same purpose to the rest of the material that our skeletons do to our bodies. If, by some secret process, every bone in our bodies could be eliminated, we would fall down in one mass of flesh. But with our skeletons, each organ of the body can function as intended by the Almighty, and we can perform our duties. To one who knows the chronology of the Scriptures, they constitute a living organism, standing erect and functioning, as He intended, for our good and God's glory.
To be more specific, allow me to give one illustration. In I Corinthians 15:52, Paul, in speaking of the rapture of the church, says that it will occur at the last trump. This Corinthian letter was written either in 57 or 58 A.D. The Book of Revelation was written, according to the best scholars, in the days of Domitian, the Roman emperor, in 96 A.D. In Revelation 11:15 we read that the angel who had the seventh, the last, trumpet sounded it. This is done in the very middle of the Tribulation, as one who is familiar with that book realizes. Some earnest students connect Paul's statement with reference to the rapture's occurring at the last trumpet and conclude that his reference is to the seventh or last trumpet of Revelation. Upon this supposition, these excellent brethren conclude that the rapture takes place in the middle of the Tribulation. But this is not at all a necessary inference. When one realizes that the Corinthian letter was written no later than 58 A.D. and that Revelation was given in 96 A.D.practically 40 years laterhe can readily see that Paul did not have the trumpets of Revelation in mind. In fact, we may be absolutely certain in asserting that Paul knew nothing about the seven trumpets of Revelation, because the message of that book had not been given in his day. It is therefore illogical for one to build a theory regarding the rapture upon the supposed connection between the Corinthian and Thessalonian letters and Revelation. A knowledge of the chronological development of the New Testament precludes such a supposition.
In every department of life in our western civilization, all our thinking is in terms of what is known popularly as the Ussher system of chronology. This computation naturally divides into two sections: the time before the birth of Christ, which is spoken of as "before Christ or B.C.," and the time since His birth, which is thought of in the term Anno Domini, "in the year of our Lord."
Many chronologers have done most excellent endeavoring to ascertain the exact time from the history to the present moment. At the same time many mistakes have been made. Anything which man does is marred by imperfections and errors. Mistakes therefore have been made by the different chronologers.
As is well known by most students, our present system of reckoning time is based upon the calculation of the heathen astronomer, Ptolemy. Christian chronologers, beginning with Africanus, who was followed by Eusebius, the father of church history, have accepted in most instances, without questioning, the system which was worked out by this heathen astronomer. This is a very unfortunate situation, which should be corrected if possible. It is utterly impossible to reconcile the scriptures and the chronology set forth in them with the system which was worked out by Ptolemy. Because of the great gulf between his system and the scriptural data, those chronologers who have accepted without question his calculation, have had to force in many instance strained meanings upon the Hebrew text of the Old Testament meanings which the words will not allow. Furthermore, many facts had to be warped and distorted in order to make biblical prophecy fit into this heathen system of chronology.
We praise God for all the efforts that have been made by scholars to unravel the tangles of the chronological question. Of all those who have labored in this field, in my judgment, the late Martin Anstey, building upon the ascertained facts of his predecessors, went back to the biblical basis and showed us the true system of chronology which is set forth therein. He did a monumental work when he produced his two volumes entitled The Romance of Biblical Chronology.
Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, the well-known Bible teacher, wrote the preface to this work. Because of the importance of Mr. Anstey's treatise, I wish to quote Dr. Morgan's introduction:
"It is with pleasure, and yet with reluctance, that I have consented to preface this book with any words of mine.
"The reluctance is due to the fact that the work is so lucidly done, that any setting forth of the method or purpose by way of introduction would be a work of supererogation.
"The pleasure results from the fact that the book is the outcome of our survey of the Historic movement in the redeeming activity of God as seen in the Old Testament, in the Westminster Bible School. While I was giving lectures on that subject, it was my good fortune to have the cooperation of Mr. Martin Anstey, in a series of lectures on these dates. My work was that of sweeping over large areas, and largely ignoring dates. He gave his attention to these, and the result is the present volume which is invaluable to the Bible Teacher, on account of its completeness and detailed accuracy.
"Bible study is the study of the Bible. There are many methods and departments; none is without value; all of them, when done thoroughly rather than superficially, tend to the deepening of conviction as to the accuracy of the records.
"In no case is this more marked than in departments which are incidental rather than essential.
"If, in such a matter as that of dateswhich seems to be purely incidental, and is of such a general nature that few have taken the trouble to pay particular attention to itthe method of careful study shows that these apparently incidental references are nevertheless accurate and harmonious, then a testimony full of value is borne to the integrity of the writings.
"To this work Mr. Anstey has given himself, with great care, and much scholarship. The results are full of fascination, and are almost startling in their revelation of the harmony of the Biblical scheme.
"The method has been that of independent study of the writings themselves, with an open mind, and determination to hide nothing, and to explain nothing away.
"The careful and patient student is the only person who will be able to appreciate the value of this work; and all such will come to its study with, thankfulness to the Author; and having minds equally open and honest, will be able to verify or correct. In this-process, I venture to affirm that the corrections will be few, and the verification constant."
The late Dr. James M. Gray, President of the Moody Bible Institute, in the Christian Worker's Magazine (now Moody Monthly) in the issue of February, 1914, wrote the following review of Mr. Anstey's monumental work, The Romance of Bible Chronology:
"An Exposition of the Meaning and a Demonstration of the Truth, of every Chronological Statement Contained in the Hebrew Text of the Old Testament. By the Rev. Martin Anstey, B.D., M.A. (Lond.), London and Edinburgh: Marshall Brothers, Limited ...
"In a preface by the author he says that the studies in these two volumes exhibit the exact chronological location of every dated event in the Old Testament, his object being the production of a standard chronology from the statements contained in the text itself. No other dates are given, and all approximate or estimated dates are omitted as well as those which, while probable, are nevertheless not guaranteed by the text. Such dates as secular history and modern discovery make known appear in the chapters on comparative chronological tables of Vol. II, but are excluded from those on the chronology of the Old Testament itself. His position is the scientific one that there is no room for any date that is not demonstrably true.
"Dr. G. Campbell Morgan writes a foreword for the book, in which he speaks of it as almost startling in its revelation of the harmony of the Biblical scheme. We have not had time to peruse it with the carefulness that we intend, but feel that we ought not to delay longer in calling attention to so remarkable a production which, so far as we know, stands without a rival, and which is the outcome of many years of the patient study and research of a scholar and a devout follower of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ."J. M. G.
In February, 1914 I attended the World’s Prophetic Conference held in the Moody church in Chicago. At that time I purchased in the Institute book room, Mr. Anstey’s volume. From then onward I began to study Bible chronology. I did not accept what Mr. Anstey said as final. On the contrary, I took my Bible and investigated every reference which he made in the light of its context and thus verified his statements. Furthermore, his historical references I found to be accurate. So far as I was able to ascertain, Mr. Anstey made only one mistake in his calculations, which error does not affect his computation in its final result. In the present state of my knowledge may I say that I am thoroughly convinced that Mr. Anstey was right in his conclusion. He believed in the Scriptures. He was convinced that they are verbally inspired and that one can rely upon anything and everything which God has spoken.
Instead of starting at the cross and going backward toward Adam (an unnatural way for a Bible student to do), he began with Genesis 1:1 and came forward through the centuries to the cross—the logical way, the way in which God presented the facts.
My personal study of the question of chronology since 1914 has led me to believe that anyone can investigate the chronological question for himself and can see the importance of the subject. One should not accept a positon because another has held it; but, if there is any doubt at all, one should make his own personal investigation. When I was a student in the University of Chicago, one of my professors brought out a new edition of one of his volumes. In it he told us that a certain year was the earliest known date in human history. The year designated was earlier than that which the Bible indicates. I, therefore, asked him to give me his authority for making the statement. His reply was that Breasted took that position in his Ancient Records. I found Breasted’s treatment of the subject and examined what he had said and how he obtained the date in question. I discovered that his entire course of reasoning was based upon assumptions regarding Sothic cycles of the vague Egyptian year. I merely call attention to this incident to show how very prone we are to accept what someone else has said without any personal investigation. This is a vicious habit and one that will inevitably lead to error. On the other hand let us not assume the hypocritical attitude. We can be open-minded and, like the Bereans, listen to the message which is brought to us and examine the Scriptures to ascertain whether or not the things asserted are true (Acts 17:11).
(Unfortunately, Mr. Anstey’s volumes have been out of print for years and cannot be procured, unless by chance one can pick up a copy I a second-had store. May I state that I have incorporated all the essential data found in his work in my volume Messiah: His First Coming Scheduled.)
The chronology which is used in this volume is therefore the correct biblical one, is reckoned from Adam forward toward the cross, and is spoken of in terms of anno hominis years, which expression means “in the year of man.”
In the Scriptures there are outstanding events which mark certain crises in the history of redemption. Chief among these are the following:
The Flood was the first major disaster which befell the earth after the days of reconstruction mentioned in Genesis 1. This occurred in the year 1656 A.H. This date is determined by calculating the data found in Genesis 5,6, and 7.
The next crisis was the splitting up of the original continent (Gen. 1:9), which occurred in the time of Peleg, whose birth year was 1757 A.H. (Gen. 10:25). That there was at first a single continent is evident form Genesis 1:9ff. After the removal of a portion of the waters upon the earth to a positon above the firmament, the waters remaining were gathered together into one place, and the dry land appeared. This language can mean only one thing; namely that there was only one original continent and one sea. In Peleg’s day this body of land was split into the five major continents and numerous islands. Doubtless the present land distribution is due to that calamity.
The next epoch in human history was the call of Abram and the Covenant which God made with him. This occurred in 2083 A.H., when the Lord told him to go into the land of Canaan.
According to Galatians 3:17, God led the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage under the leadership of Moses 430 years after this event. By adding this number to 2083, we see that the year of the Exodus was 2513.
Israel wandered, because of disobedience, in the wilderness for forty years. That generation which came out of Egypt and would not believe God passed away during that period. In the wilderness a new generation arose. Finally Joshua led the nation into Canaan in 2553 A.H.
For six years Joshua led the host of Israel against the various Canaanitish nations and groups of nations and finally conquered the major portion of the country in six years, which event brings us in our account to 2559 A.H.
By taking all the facts as stated in the Books of Joshua and judges in connection with the statement of the Apostle Paul in Acts 13, we find that there was a chasm of fourteen years from the close of the wars of conquest to the first servitude mentioned in the Book of judges. From this first servitude to the establishment of the monarchy under Saul, there were 450 years. This event certainly marks a change in the history of the Chosen People.
The united kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon continued for 120 years. Upon Solomon’s death the people of the northern tribes revolted against the tyranny of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. Listening to the younger men, the king rejected their appeals for a lightening of the taxes. When he turned a deaf ear, they revolted and established a kingdom, the capital of which was Samaria.
Finally, in the year 3406 A.H., under the sledge hammer blows delivered by the Assyrians, the northern kingdom fell. According to Sargon, who captured the city, there were 27,290 of the leaders of the people taken into captivity and a governor was placed over those remaining in the land.
For 114 years, the kingdom of Judah with its capital at Jerusalem continued but finally fell under the Chaldean invasion in 3520 A.H.
According to prophecy the captivity was to continue for seventy years. The first year of the Exile was 3520 A.H.; the seventieth was 3589 A.H. Thus Zerubbabel and Joshua led those captives back who wished to return to their homeland in 3589 A.H.
We come to the end of the Old Testament history in the year 3637 A.H. which was the thirty-fourth year of Darius Hystaspes.
The period between the closing of the Old Testament canon and the New Testament is indeed vague because of the scarcity of evidence. The chasm can be spanned only by the prophecy of Daniel 9, which is discussed thoroughly in my volume, The Seventy Weeks of Daniel. It is also treated very briefly under the head of “The Jewish Calendar” in this volume.
The crucifixion occurred in 30 A.D., according to the best New Testament authorities. This event indeed was the most important one of all the centuries.
By 96 A.D., the canon of the New Testament was completed.
May the Lord use this brief discussion to stimulate an interest in this subject.