Question: "Can you give me a basic timeline of the Bible?"
Answer: In the most basic sense, the Bible timeline is endless and eternal, as it chronicles creation (date unknown; Genesis 1:1-31) and the end of ages (Matthew 28:20). From a more practical viewpoint, the Bible timeline on which most scholars agree begins with Abram’s birth, renamed Abraham by God (Genesis 17:4-6) in the year 2166 BC and ends with the writing of the book of Revelation in approximately AD 95. Prior to Abraham’s birth, the Bible timeline beginning in Genesis contains a rich history of creation, Adam and Eve, the Fall of Man, extensive genealogies, stories of human travails leading up to Noah and the Great Flood (date also unknown), and much more.
Of course, this raises the question of how literally to interpret dates and other statements in the Bible. Genesis says that God created the world and everything in it in six days (Genesis 1:31). Yet the Bible also says that with God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day (2 Peter 3:8). And as Jesus told His disciples to forgive people not only seven times but seventy times seven times (490), the context seems clear that Jesus exhorts us to offer limitless forgiveness to those who trespass against us (Matthew 6:9-13). So, the most accurate and practical way to regard biblical time is that only God knows the true beginning and end of His universe (Mark 13:32).
Yet, within the period between Abraham’s birth and the apostle John’s writing of the book of Revelation, history clearly documents and verifies many of the events and people addressed in the Old and New Testaments. For example, Moses was estimated to be born in 1526 BC, Joshua entered the Promised Land approximately 1400 BC, and the period of Israel’s ten judges lasted until 1050 B.C, or until the onset of King Saul’s reign, when most scholars agree that concrete, historically verifiable dating is possible.
From there, Israel’s first king, Saul, the famous King David—from whose family Jesus Christ would be born—and David’s son, the wise King Solomon, presided over a united kingdom until 930 BC. After King Solomon’s reign, Israel experienced a divided kingdom. Kings ruled the north (kings of Israel) and the south (kings of Judah) until the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 BC and the fall of Jerusalem (in the southern kingdom), which resulted in the Jews being exiled to Babylonia in 586 BC.
This exile lasted until 538 BC when Persian King Cyrus directed Ezra to return to Israel and build a temple for God at Jerusalem in Judah (Ezra 1). The Jews restored Israel between this time and approximately 432 BC, when the last book of the Old Testament (Malachi) was written. What followed was a period of approximately 430 years, often referred to as “the time between the testaments.”
In approximately 6 BC, Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, was born in Bethlehem and left soon thereafter for Egypt. After the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC, Jesus and His parents left Egypt and returned to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23). Nothing is recorded for the next ten years, until we see Jesus astounding the teachers in the temple at age twelve (Luke 2:40-52). This was followed by approximately nineteen years of silence until Jesus began His public ministry in circa AD 27, which included His baptism (Matthew 3:13-17), temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13), first miracle in Cana (John 2:1-12), the first cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-25) and early Judean ministry (John 3:1–4:43). The following year in Galilee, He called His disciples (Luke 6:13-16), preached the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1–8:1), spoke in parables, did many miracles, including healings (Matthew 8:23–9:34), and sent forth the twelve (Matthew 9:35–11:1).
In the period AD 29-30, Jesus spent most of His time in Judea, preaching, teaching, performing miracles—including the raising of Lazarus from the dead—and further equipping the disciples to continue on after His death. Early in the year 30, He set His face toward Jerusalem. During the last week of His life, Jesus celebrated the Passover with His friends, where He instituted the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14-20) and gave His farewell discourse, including His High Priestly prayer (John 17:1-26). Finally, He was betrayed, arrested, tried, crucified and resurrected (Matthew 26:36–28:8). After that, the risen Christ began a 40-day ministry, was seen by many, and finally ascended to heaven (Acts 1:3-11; 1 Corinthians 15:6-7).
Shortly after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, His apostles and followers wrote what we now call the New Testament, a collection of books composed comparatively soon after His earthly ministry. Many scholars proficient in studying ancient texts believe that the concurrency of accounts plus the enormous number of copies produced and replicated over subsequent years makes the New Testament the most historically reliable document of all ancient texts. The first book of the New Testament to be written (either Galatians or James) could have been written as early as AD 49, or within two decades of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This meant that the original texts were written by eyewitnesses providing firsthand accounts of what took place. The final book of the New Testament, Revelation, was written in approximately AD 95.