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Today we’re going to look at Bible chronology. We’ve mentioned that some of the early Church Fathers tried to predict the End of the world, and we’ve already noticed some problems with that. With a cursory inspection, the Bible appears to be pretty straight forward in terms of time, because there are so many lists of ‘begats’ and many, many mentions of things that appear to provide an actual date, such as “in the fifteenth year of Tiberius”, or “at the end of the reign of Domitian.” Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. As an example, Sir Isaac Newton wrote 4500 pages on Bible chronology, and still couldn’t nail it down (I’ll include a link on the sources page to the Newton Project, where many of those pages are available in modern English). He did a whole chronology of the secular world as well, with somewhat better results. I think I read that his interest in astronomy started with trying to use reported astronomical events to provide dates for far distant historical events (he was only partially successful in doing that). And he was an undisputed genius.
I’ll start by saying that an assumption was made, early on, that the Second Coming, and thus the End of the World, would be on the 6,000th year. Then, the end of the millennium would be the 7,000th year. This deduction was based on the 7 days of creation. The assumption is that God would plan it out that way, and the problem for them became: When did the 6,000 years start?
You’ve probably noticed in your own life, as I’ve noticed in mine, that God doesn’t usually do things by the numbers. For example, Daniel received a prophecy that the Anointed one would arrive (enter Jerusalem) 483 years after the word goes to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. Why 483 years? Why not 480 years? Or an even 500 years? Or why not have a really clear pattern of numbers ticking off the important prophetic events of history? We humans love to find patterns in things; I’m not saying God doesn’t like patterns, but His patterns are far beyond our understanding without His help. And besides, if everything was neatly laid out and perfectly visible, we would know when everything was going to occur, and that’s not really part of the plan.
The 6,000 years idea is interesting, but hardly realistic. Yet, it continues to crop up even today. It has morphed into “a Christian thing” to assume that the world is only 6,000 years old, even though Eusebius figured out from the Bible that it was 5270 years from Adam to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. That would make the world at least 7,292 years old this year.
I wanted to find the numbers for how several of the people who have predicted the End of the world have calculated it, but that turned out to be very difficult. I searched for 3 days and was able to find 3 examples. There are plenty of people who have made predictions, and you can find lists online of what year (and often what day!) they predicted, but not how they got there. The 3 I found tell me why that’s probably the case: the calculations are VERY convoluted. People are so ingenuous! As this is a rabbit-hole, and not our main topic, I decided to change my plan.
I found a book I could borrow on Internet Archive (see the sources page) that delves into how time has been perceived and calculated throughout the Bible. It’s by Jack Finegan and called HANDBOOK OF BIBLICAL CHRONOLOGY, published in 1964. I’ll be using this book, combined with a couple other online sources, to give you an idea of just how difficult it is to pin down the chronology of the Bible. Even in 1964, there was enough more discovered about the Holy Land and the ancient peoples that lived there to cast serious doubts on anyone’s calculations.
Let’s start with the numbers I did find, and first up is Eusebius, cleaned up by St. Jerome. This is from the HANDBOOK, and Mr. Finegan only takes it to the destruction of Jerusalem. This will give you an idea of some of the events that are used to provide dates and relationships. I’ll just give you the number of years, with, in parentheses, dates and number of years from Adam specific to the listed, underlined event.
Adam (5200 B.C., 0 years from Adam) to the Flood (2958 B.C., 2242 years from Adam)- 2242 years
First year after the Flood to the Birth of Abraham (2017 B.C., 3184 years from Adam) – 942 years
First year of Abraham to the last year of servitude in Egypt (1512 B.C., 3689 years from Adam) – 505 years
First year in the wilderness to the Foundation of the Temple in the 4th year of Solomon (1033 B.C., 4168 years from Adam) – 479 years
Fifth year of Solomon to the Destruction of the Temple in the 11th year of Zedekiah (591 B.C., 4610 years from Adam) – 442 years
First year of Captivity to the 70th year of the Captivity (521 B.C., 4680 years from Adam) – 70 years
Rebuilding of the Temple in the 2nd year of Darius (520 B.C., 4681 years from Adam) to the Birth of Jesus in the 42nd year of Augustus (2 B.C., 5199 years from Adam) – 519 years
43rd year of Augustus to the Beginning of the Public Ministry of Jesus in the 15th year of Tiberius (28 A.D., 5228 years from Adam) – 29 years
16th year of Tiberius to the Death of Jesus in the 18th year of Tiberius (31 A.D., 5231 years from Adam )- 3 years
19th year of Tiberius to the Final Destruction of Jerusalem in the 2nd year of Vespasian (70 A.D., 5270 years from Adam) – 39 years
Let’s look at Bishop Ussher (d. 1656) and his ideas next. He started by adding the ages of the 21 generations of the Old Testament, commencing with Adam and Eve, while subtracting the life span reached after the carrier of the next generation was born. This took him to the first destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (totaling 3442 years). He then turned to Greek and Roman history to establish the date of Nebuchadnezzar’s death as 562 B.C. Next he added 562 to 3442 to get 4004, which he took to be the year when the earth was created; or rather, the evening of October 22, 4004 B.C. Apparently he decided on the actual day by assuming that God would create the sun at a cardinal point. And then he thought about Adam and Eve with all that ripe fruit….it must be autumn! The date itself was then found on the calendar worked out for 4004 B.C. This is only a small part of the Bishop’s calculations.
Ussher probably used a very similar technique to what Eusebius used to get to the first destruction of the Temple, but got different results….3442 years instead of 4679 years. Usher dated the fall of Jerusalem to 588 B.C., and Eusebius dated it to 591 B.C., and there are probably a number of other discrepancies in their dates.
I found information on one more person’s calculations, and that was Johann Albrecht Bengel. He based his calculations on the number 666. He wrote:
“It is impossible for me to withhold from you a disclosure, which, however, I must request you keep entirely to yourself. By the help of the Lord I have found the number of the Beast [Inveni numerum Bestiae, Domino dante!]. It is 666 years, from A.D. 1143 to A.D. 1809 [i.e., ‘the period of papal domination’]. This key to the Apocalypse is of importance, and even a consolation to me, with respect to the repeated losses of my infant children; for those who are born in this generation are entering into troubling times. You, also, my friend, may well make ready to meet such times; for wisdom will be greatly needed. But “Blessed be He that cometh! (Psalm 26; Luke 13:35).”
In Rev. 13:18, it says “let him calculate”, which Bengel took to be literal. To do that you need 2 numbers, so Bengel decided that John intended a distinction between ‘common time’ and ‘prophetic time’. He divided 666 years, the ‘common time’, by the 42 months of ‘prophetic time’ and concluded that a prophetic month was equal to 15.8571428 (or 15 6/7) common time years. From that he determined that Daniel’s ‘time’ equaled 222.22222 (or 222 2/9) common years. Think about this for a moment….this means that the Tribulation would last for 1111.11111… years. The Antichrist would have to have an Old Testament life span. But no, Bengel was a total preterist: he believed that everything had happened already.
Here’s an abbreviated form of Gerhard Krodel’s reportage of Bengel’s calendar based on his calculations. This abbreviated from comes from a 2010 article in Journal of Unification Studies by Mark D. Isaacs, entitled THE END-TIME CALCULATION OF JOHANN ALBRECHT BENGEL. I’ve added the Bible passages that were referenced so we can see if they really fit.
- 96 A.D. the Book of Revelation is written and the future is disclosed.
- 97-98 A.D. the seals are opened as promised in Revelation 6 and the “chronos” is indicated in the fifth seal (Rev. 6:11).
And white robes were given unto every one of them, and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. (Revelation 6:11; KJV)
- The second, third, fourth, and fifth centuries are filled with the blasts of the first four trumpets (Rev. 8:6-13); the second century is marked by, the scattering of the Jews by the Roman Emperor Hadrian (Rev. 8:7); the third century sees the invasion of the barbarians (Rev. 8:8); and the fourth century witnesses the Arian heresy (Rev. 8:10).
The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood…And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; (Revelation 8:7,10; KJV)
- Through the fifth trumpet the Roman Empire in the West comes to an end in 410 A.D. (Rev. 8:12).
And the fourth angel sounded and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise. (Revelation 8:12; KJV)
- The “first woe” (Rev. 8:13; 9:12) is dated between 510 and 589 A.D. and comprises the tribulation of the Jews in Persia (Rev. 9:1).
And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angles, which are yet to sound!…One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter. (Revelation 8:13, 9:12; KJV)
And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. (Revelation 9:1; KJV)
- From 589 to 634 A.D. is the interval between the first and the second woe.
- The second woe lasts from 634 to 847 A.D. (Rev. 9:13-19) and is filled with murder perpetrated by the Islamic Saracens (Rev. 9:13) as well as with the unsuccessful struggle against idolatrous images (Rev. 9:20) in the East. [e.g., Mohammad (c.571-632 A.D.) to the Battle of Tours (732 A.D.)]
13 And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God. 14 Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. 15 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men. 16 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them. 17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. 18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. 19 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. 20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk (Revelation 13-20; KJV)
- December 25, 800 A.D. begins the “non-chronos” of Rev. 10:6 with the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (742-814 A.D.), followed by a line of many “kings” (Rev. 10:11).
And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer. (Revelation 10:6; KJV)
And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings. (Revelation 10:11; KJV)
- 847-947 A.D. is the interval between the second and the third woe. The third woe lasts from 947 to 1836 (Rev. 12:12).
Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the seal for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. (Revelation 12:12; KJV)
- 940-1617 A.D. comprises the 1,260 days of the woman (Rev. 12:6).
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. (Revelation 12:6; KJV)
- 1058-1836 A.D. is the “time and times and a half time” of Rev. 12:14.
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. (Revelation 12:14; KJV)
- In 1614 “the angel with the eternal gospel appears” (Rev. 14:6), i.e., Johann Arndt (1555-1621), the father of Lutheran Pietism.
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth; and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people (Revelation 14:6; KJV)
- June 18, 1836 A.D., will see the beginning of the thousand-year imprisonment of Satan and the destruction of Antichrist (Rev. 19:11-20:3).
I don’t think I need to add the long Bible quote of Rev. 19:11-20:3. If the world ended and Satan was chained in 1836 I couldn’t prove it by history. And if the Millennium has already come and gone, I’d say we’re in trouble.
To force these Bible passages to “fit” the historical “equivalents” would take some major fast talking. I’m sure there is symbolism involved in the explanation, but, for example, Revelation 10:11 is pretty straight forward….John is told that he will prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.. This could refer to what he did after Patmos, and/or it could refer to how his Revelation has been read around the world. It seems far less likely that it would mean that Charlemagne was followed by a line of many “kings.”
Also, there is a lot of Revelation left out here. It’s possible that Bengel actually did a line by line explanation, but the preterists that I’ve read so far seem to avoid that. They prefer to do what was done here: pick and choose the “likeliest” passages in Revelation to fit the history that they have in mind.
Regarding the ‘first woe’, I was intrigued by the bit of history that Bengel chose. Of course I knew that the Jews lived in Babylon during the captivity, and I knew that probably not all of them left with Moses. But I didn’t know if they were there continually or for how long. Bengel is saying that they were there between 510 and 589 A.D., and by identifying that time and place as the ‘first woe’, I would expect to be hearing about some pretty horrific things happening there and then. Even if the falling star, poisoned waters, and the sun and moon being dimmed were all symbols, it would have to be something pretty bad. But, notice that the Bible verses referred to completely avoid mentioning any of those things (and that’s hard to do in that part of Revelation). So I looked up that time and place and did not find a lot of entries. But, the online Jewish Encyclopedia has this to say about that time period in Persia:
“The opening of the reign of Bahram V., who is generally known as “Bahram Gor,” from his fondness for hunting the wild ass (“gor”), was signalized by a victory over the White Huns…but was later darkened by the defeat he sustained in war with the Byzantine Empire, which compelled Persia to accept terms of peace with her traditional foe (421 C.E.)…In their religious attitudes towards other beliefs, however, the Sassanids were often very intolerant, as is shown by their persecution, at different times, of the Jews, Christians, and the followers of the sects of Mani and Mazdak. The Jews suffered especially under Ormazd IV. (578-590)…”
While this indicates troubles, it still sounds much like other times and places for both Christians and Jews, hardly a special time of ‘woe’. I’ll include a link to this site on the sources page. At the bottom of the site is a quote from Curzon’s PERSIA describing how the Jews lived in Persia during that time. Again it doesn’t sound great, but it wasn’t unique either for the times or for the place.
I should also mention the second woe briefly, referring to the Battle of Tours. This was the deciding battle on whether a part of Spain would be ruled by Islam (with, of course, an eye to the rest of Europe), and the Islamic forces lost in a big way. The East did indeed lose to the Islamic forces, Persia, for example, lost much of her culture to Islam. But the West stood and did not lose. I’m afraid that the ‘woes’ of Revelation are going to be much worse and much more world-wide than these two ‘woes’ of Bengel.
On the whole, Bengel’s list sounds 19th-century-centric and doesn’t really explain Revelation well at all.
As this has gotten very long, I’ve decided to break it into two parts. The next part will go a bit deeper into the HANDBOOK’s discussion of some of the problems in actually dating parts of the Bible. And I’ll keep it shorter.
Until then, I’ll be praying for your inclusion in Christ’s plan. k