A common difficulty that many people who study the Bible run into, especially those new to God's word, is trying to place characters and events in a proper sequence in some kind of timeline. It is common for those attempting the memorization of dates and events to feel so overwhelmed by all of the details that they become discouraged and simply give up!
There is hope, however, for those struggling to remember a general timeline for the Bible. The good news is that we do not need to know EXACT dates in order to comprehend what the Scriptures teach or even to understand its story flow.
This series of seven short Bible lessons plus a synopsis approaches the problem of learning a basic sequence of events from a different perspective. These lessons center on the lives, using easy to remember dates, of seven well-known characters in God's word. They briefly explore the life of each individual and the notable events occurring while they lived. The last lesson will tie everything together by using the lives of these people as a framework to construct a basic chronology of pivotal events and important people.
We have assigned, for the sake of this series, approximate and easy to remember dates tied to the life of the seven individuals we will cover. This will aid in our compiling a complete chronological story flow for God's word. These dates are Adam (4000 B.C.), Noah (3000), Abraham (2000), Moses (1500), King David (1000), Daniel (500) and the Apostle Paul (1 A.D.). Before we begin our first lesson, we will cover a few general facts about dates and dating that are helpful to know.
B.C. and A.D. abbreviations
Throughout much of human history, most civilizations maintained their own unique method of dating. These dating systems usually began their counts from either a significant event (e.g. an earthquake) or an important ruler. For example, the ancient Babylonians dated events starting from the first year of Nabonassar, their first ruler. The Babylonian "Year 1" on their calendar corresponds to our date of 747 B.C. What is the basis, however, for the modern dating system in use by most of the world?
The date abbreviations we are all familiar with are B.C. and A.D. The letters "A.D." stand for the Anno Domini dating system. It is the creation of a Catholic monk seeking to compute when the church's Easter festival occurred. The starting point of the calendar system is the year of Jesus' birth. Years that occur AFTER the birth of Jesus were labeled "A.D.," which is short for a Medieval Latin term meaning "In the year of our Lord." The designation of years occurring BEFORE Jesus' birth as "B.C.," which means before Christ, did not come into general use until several years after the monk's death. The widespread use of this Christ-centered system, which would affect how the Bible is dated, did not occur until sometime after 800 A.D.
Dates before Christ's birth start with 1 B.C. while years after it begin with 1 A.D. Given this information, it is logical to conclude that Jesus's birth happened in year 0. Over the years, however, research has shown that the initial calculations determining the year of Jesus' birth are off by anywhere from one to six years! Many historians and researchers today believe our Savior's birth took place in 5 B.C. Since, however, the current calendar system has been in use for hundreds of years, no one has seriously suggested renumbered years to reflect the findings of such research.
B.C.E. and C.E. abbreviations
A growing world movement exists that does not want to reference years with a "religious bias" toward Christianity or the Bible. Instead of using A.D. to mark years after the birth of Christ, the abbreviation C.E. (short for Common Era) is used as a replacement. The abbreviation B.C.E., short for Before the Common Era, replaces B.C. when referencing years before his arrival on earth. For example, references to the years 100 B.C. or 2000 A.D. change to 100 B.C.E. and 2000 C.E. These new designations are currently in use in many papers discussing Biblical history and other scholarly topics, in modern Jewish writings, and even in televised documentaries.
The most common dates currently in use are based on the research of a late 16th century scholar name James Ussher. An Archbishop in the church of Ireland, Ussher is widely acknowledged as an expert on chronology. His research dated the creation of Adam to 4004 B.C., the great flood to 2348 B.C. and the birth of Jesus to 5 B.C.
Our own research places the actual date of Adam's creation at 3984 B.C., which is twenty years different from Ussher. Our research also leads to a date for the flood of 2328 B.C. (again a twenty-year difference) but agrees with Ussher's date for the birth of Christ occurring in 5 B.C. Please see our Timeline of the Old Testament for more details.
In our next lesson, we will visit the life of the first individual who will help us construct a basic timeline of the Bible.