The Two Major Conflicting Types of Bible Dating Systems
The divisive issue is belief in Scripture!
Believers: The Bible contains many statements of authorship and many references to dated events, nations, kings, etc. Very good dating is generally well supported directly from the pages of Scripture. Generally accepted systematic dating of biblical period events has been established by Ussher in 1658, and was not broadly disputed by secular interests until 1878.
Unbelievers: The conflict arises from unbelieving "scholars" who have gone to great pains to basically refute Scripture by means of Darwinian dating in denial of the creation and the flood, and by attacking authorship and dating of the Pentateuch and other books such as Isaiah and Daniel.
First - Creation and Flood vs Evolution and Ice Age The rejections of the biblical accounts of both the creation, and of the world-wide flood. The two of these together cause all kinds of disjunction with biblical accounts, as "science" must have a much older planet, and an ice age instead of a flood. I'll leave this topic alone, except to say that Christians have great resources in Creation Science which go to great lengths to prove the viability of the scriptural accounts, and also to note that the conflict between unbelivers (Darwin/Ice Age) and believers (Creation/Flood) is one of the two major impacts on biblical-period dating.
Secondly - Moses vs JED&P This attack on biblical dating is based in an attack on biblical authorship, which generally started with Julius Wellhausen in 1878. His work has come to be called the "documentary hypothesis", or "critical dating", and is most infamous for replacing Moses' authorship of the pentateuch 4,000 years ago, with generic authors refered to as J, E, D, and P, who wrote from the 2,500 - 2,900 years ago. This would put the writing of the Law during the Kingdom age.
This theory violates all Scripture citing Moses as the author, including the words of Jesus Christ, and makes the Law an invention of the the kings of Israel.
This dating has NO PLACE for acceptance in ANY CHRISTIAN REFERENCE!
The Book of Isaiah is another example of a Bible book which has been subject to authorship theories and dating which refutes Scripture. The Book of Isaiah is clearly presented as the words of Isaiah, Jewish tradition identifies Isaiah as the author, and we also have New Testament Scriptures which identify Isaiah as the author from the writings of Matthew, Luke, John, and Paul, attributing portions from Isaiah chapters 6-10, 53, and 65 to the prophet. Conversely, secular theories separtate Isaiah into the works of 2, or even 3 separate authors, espeically separating chapters 40+ to a later writer, a "deutero-Isaiah." These theories deny New Testament inerrancy and are dated so as to refute the possibiliy of Old Testament prophecy by Isaiah.
The Book of Daniel is a third example of a Bible book under attack by unbeliving "scholarship." The Book of Daniel, written in Babylonian captivity by Daniel, the book has a geat deal of prophecy which was fulfilled in world history in very obvious ways. Critical dating mandates a much later date for the authorship of Daniel, so that the "prophecies" may be be dismissed as fradulant. This rejection of inerrancy requires puposeful deception on the part of biblical authors, and should not be considered as a possibility by Christians. It is worth noting that this attack has been defended strongly by archeological proofs.
What remains is for Christains to identify those references which are conservative, faithful works of study, versus those works which have intentionally or indiscriminately included this malicous scholarship.
The litmus test of a reference book such as a Bible dictionary or Bible encyclopedia can be the dating of the books of Genesis, Isaiah, and Daniel. Genesis should be from about 1400 B.C., NOT 500 BC, Isaiah should be approcimately 790-680 BC, not 550 BC or later, and Daniel should be from about 500-600 BC, NOT 160 BC. Also, none of these books should be described as having multiple authors!
Those who DO NOT Believe the Bible
Proponets of Anti-biblical Dating
Those who DO Believe the Bible
Some Proponets of Biblical Dating
Other Notes on Christian Period Dating
Before the Time of Abraham
Those who depend upon the words of Scripture to establish dates and authors still vary to a significant degree when dating the accounts of Scripture before the time of Abraham. This is the periods of the creation, the flood, and tower of Babal, especially the dating of creation. I have seen conservative dates from Ussher's standard date of 4,000 BC to 10,000 BC (a reasonable earliest-date limit) for the creation account.
A few theories worth are worth mentioning.
The point of historical accountability is really from the time of Abraham forward. Before this time, we're basically working backwards, guessing years based on generations and references to names of people or cities, and making estimates based on sources external to Scripture. Christians should not be too concerned about actual dating of Scripture before (about) the time of Abraham, but cannot buy-in to dating based on the mythologies of evolution and ice age, or by blatant misinterpretation of God's Word.
Starting with the Time of Abraham
After the time of Abraham, dates are fairly uniform.
The most historically significant chronological framework based on biblical accounts is from the work of James Ussher (1581-1656). Ussher was Archbishop of Armagh who's dates were published in King James Version Bibles for many years. It is his dating system which has been, and still is, the defacto standard for conservative Christians, including both Catholics and Protestants. His book, "The Annals of the World" is still available (and on my shelf).
Ranges for the life of Christ also span a few years of variance. This date is important enough to merit endless debate. Just remember that a 2 years dating variance for an event 2,000 years ago is a variance of 1/10 of 1%. The bottom line is that some variance is to be expected. Dating varies for the entire New Testament, including both when described events occur, and when the books where written - but not by more than a few years in most cases.
The most relevant concerns in New Testament dating concern whether the entire work was completed before AD 70, or else, extends to around AD 100, and concerns regarding the sequence and dating of the individual Books in context of the historical framework given in the Book of Acts.
The Entire New Testament The first issue concerns whether all the epistles were written before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, which is generally a likely possibility. This is, however, sometimes presented dogmatically, which does not seem warranted. The later datings which take New Testament authorship to AD 100 or later is not justified and seems artifically presented in order to justify identifying ancient church persecution as the tribulation period described in the Book of Revelation - a view of historic Roman Catholic amillenialism.
Individual Books The second issue, dating and sequencing the individual Books of the New Testament is not absolutely resolvable, but is important for contextual understanding of the individual epistles. There is great benefit from studying these books in context with the Book of Acts. While some books are almost impossible to definitavely place, like the Book of Hebrews, other books, like Galatians, are obviously placed sequentially and will only vary in dating based on the date spans used for the events of the Book of Acts.
The Gospels An additional note must be made regarding the dating, or sequence, of the Gospels. In particular, there are two schools of thought on the primacy of Matthew or of Mark, as the first Book written. Many biblical references cite Mark as being the first written, and thus being a source for Matthew and Luke, and to a lesser degree, for John, but most conservative scholarship maintains the primacy of Matthew. In consideration of these two views, I hold to the latter and offer the following:
Most reasonably, Matthew was written at any time, but has no dependance on Paul's missionary journeys and could easily have been published first - even as early as the Books of James and Galatians. Luke is, like Acts, tied to the events of the life of Paul and would have been completed some time near his first imprisonment, John is generally accepted to have been written at a relatively later date, about the same time as I, II, III John, and Revelation. Mark was most reasonably published either during Mark's service with Peter (after his missionary journeys with Barnabas) - the traditional view, or else with Paul, during the time of Paul's imprisonment. There is no reasonable explanation for the concept of Mark being authored first.
So Which Dates do I Use?
Personally, I use the books I've listed in the section above as my primary sources, and recommend them. Note that these references do not completly agreee with one another, but they are best-guess dates given in harmony with scriptural statements and evidences. Primarily, I use:
Here is the table which I have put together for the general date periods - it is not detailed, but gives the basic chronological framework:
(C) Copyright 2012 Dainel Stanfield, this document may be distributed freely, but may not be sold or modified.