In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pauline Chronology

  • Introduction
  • Introductions to Paul
  • General Articles on the Chronology of Paul
  • The Genre of Acts
  • Acts in Relation to the Pauline Letters
  • Paul’s Conversion and Early Years as a Christ-Believer
  • The Jerusalem Conference and the Relation of Paul’s Jerusalem Visits in Galatians and Acts
  • Paul’s Missionary Travels
  • Key Cities in Paul’s World
  • The Chronology of Paul’s Missions and Letter to Galatia
  • The Chronology of Paul’s Corinthian Correspondence
  • The Collection for Jerusalem
  • Paul’s Time as Prisoner
  • The End of Paul’s Life

Biblical Studies Pauline Chronology
Mark Reasoner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0273


Pauline chronology, the chronological framework in which Paul’s life and letters are situated, is a significant prolegomenon for the interpretation of his letters and the book of Acts that prompts study for several reasons. First, readers of Paul’s letters inevitably construct a life story through which to read the letters, since humans learn through narrative. Second, the Christian idea of incarnation drives Scripture readers to connect its narratives with “real” places and dates in our world. Thus, New Testament readers feel compelled to work out an absolute chronology of Paul’s life, which dates his letters in relation to dates and events from the outside world of the 1st century. Third, questions arise from the book of Acts, which in its second half follows Paul exclusively. Did the events in Acts really happen? Did the author of Acts, who sometimes uses “we” pronouns when describing Paul’s travels (16:10–17; 20:5–21:18; 27:1–28:16), really accompany Paul? How is Acts related to the letters of Paul? Fourth, questions arise within Paul’s letters that beg for a chronology. There are enough differences in Paul’s letters to demand that one form at least a relative chronology of Paul’s life to ascertain the sequence of the letters’ composition. Paul sent a letter to the churches in Galatia and collected money from them (Galatians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 16:1), but it is unclear exactly where these churches were located and when Paul founded them. The letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians prompt readers to reconstruct a chronology of Paul’s visits and communication with the church in Corinth. The Pastoral Epistles, 1–2 Timothy and Titus, appear to come from a different voice than Paul’s other letters, but adjustments in Pauline chronology allow some to situate this difference within Paul’s lifetime. In this bibliography, adjectives “Acts-friendly” or “Acts-receptive” mean that the interpreter is relying on Acts as providing valid historiographical data for chronology. “Acts-critical” or “Acts-cautious” mean that the interpreter has heeded the most influential piece in this bibliography, John Knox’s seminal book, Chapters in a Life of Paul, which takes seriously and popularizes the skepticism of F. C. Bauer (1792–1860) toward the historical value of Acts. Knox’s book calls for New Testament readers to reconstruct Pauline chronology primarily from Paul’s letters. Knox thus challenges all New Testament readers to make deliberate arguments for the regard they give to Acts when responding to questions of Pauline chronology.

Introductions to Paul

Basic introductions to the person and letters of Paul often contain sections on Pauline chronology. Gunther 1972 and McRay 2003 completely accept Acts as a reliable source for Pauline chronology, attempting syntheses between its chronology and Paul’s letters. Suhl 1975, Jewett 1979, Lüdemann 1984, Murphy-O’Connor 1996, and Horrell 2006 are selective in the chronological data from Acts that they employ in constructing their respective chronologies. Buck and Taylor 1969, Harrill 2012, and Campbell 2014 do not employ Acts at all in constructing their chronologies, though Buck and Taylor 1969 compare their chronology with Acts.

  • Buck, Henry Charles, and Greer Taylor. Saint Paul: A Study of the Development of His Thought. New York: Scribner’s, 1969.

    After identifying “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3) with Caligula, “the restrainer” (2 Thessalonians 2:7) with Claudius, and God’s wrath on the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:16) with the famine in 46 CE in Judea (pp. 145–162), Buck and Taylor offer a Pauline chronology in order to track changes in his letters.

  • Campbell, Douglas. Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography. Grand Rapids. MI: Eerdmans, 2014.

    The most disciplined, Knox-driven attempt to follow Paul’s life as an apostle from data supplied by the letters. He holds to an early trip to Macedonia and Achaea (40–42 CE), when Paul founded churches in Philippi, Thessaloniki, and Corinth.

  • Gunther, John J. Paul: Messenger and Exile. A Study in the Chronology of His Life and Letters. Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1972.

    A traditional chronology that ignores Knox and utilizes Acts and the Pastoral Letters in its framework of Paul’s correspondence. Situates Paul’s first missionary journey in 46–47, the Jerusalem Council in 48–49, a trip to Spain in 62, and martyrdom in Rome in 64–65 CE.

  • Harrill, J. Albert. Paul the Apostle: His Life and Legacy in Their Roman Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139049511

    A readable overview of the life of Paul that prioritizes the letters over Acts. Also includes a survey of Acts that is sensitive to its cultural background and theological agenda as an early interpretation of the apostle Paul from the very end of the 1st century or early part of the 2nd century.

  • Horrell, David G. An Introduction to the Study of Paul. 2d ed. London: T. & T. Clark, 2006.

    Contains the sections “Relative Chronology,” “Absolute Chronology,” and “A Sketch of Paul’s Christian Career” in a readable, Acts-cautious manner.

  • Jewett, Robert. A Chronology of Paul’s Life. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979.

    While Jewett is skeptical of the overall framework of Acts, he trusts the historical value of the written sources that he thinks Acts’s author has used, especially the Antiochene Source. He is thus more optimistic about the value of Acts than is Knox.

  • Lüdemann, Gerd. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles: Studies in Chronology. Translated by F. Stanley Jones. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

    Selected material in Acts that can be correlated with the letters is used to argue for an early chronology that locates the composition of Romans and delivery of collection to Jerusalem c. 52 CE.

  • McRay, John. Paul: His Life and Teaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.

    Includes a chapter on Pauline chronology that represents a learned, Acts-friendly response from an evangelical perspective to Knox and Knox-inspired chronologies.

  • Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. Paul: A Critical Life. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

    Chapter 1 is a clearly presented chronology that uses data from Acts when Murphy-O’Connor sees no reason to doubt them. Murphy-O’Connor thinks that Paul did go to Spain before dying in Rome in 67 CE.

  • Suhl, Alfred. Paulus und seine Briefe: ein Beitrag zur paulinischen Chronologie. Gütersloh, Germany: Mohn, 1975

    Suhl trusts Acts less than Jewett, but still affords it some value where its chronological indicators can be matched with data from the letters in constructing this Acts-cautious chronology.

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