by Dr. Randy White | July 9, 2023
The Problems with Christian Chronology
Over the years I’ve become more convinced that we have a problem in “Christian” chronology. I call it Christian rather than Biblical because it is the “Christian consensus” and not the Biblical record. Surprisingly, the two are often wildly divergent. Even more surprisingly, the Scripture very often plays “second fiddle” to the secular dates of “Christian” chronology.
Problem 1: Assuming the Bible to be in Error
The most common Old Testament dates, such as the building of Solomon’s Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon, are out of sync with literalist Biblical chronologies. These dates themselves come from secular, non-Biblical sources. Why do we assume the Bible to be in error by continuing to adopt these dates? This has led to some students of the Bible being dismissive of the precision of Biblical chronology and assuming that the Bible is filled with chronological errors.
However, I am convinced that what may appear to be errors are actually different points of calculation. These differences add to, rather than detract from, the evidences of verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. I contend that the numbers and dates of the Bible are as true and inspired as the remainder of the Scriptures, and that the Bible must be our sole source of authority, even in chronology.
For instance, 1 Kings 6:1 mentions 480 years from the Exodus to the Temple, but Acts 13:17-22 requires 573 years, a difference of 93 years. We can either dismiss this inconsistency or search the Scriptures for truth. When we examine the 450-year period of the Judges closely, we find that there were exactly 93 years in which Israel was out of favor with God. Therefore, we can build a “lo-ammi” (not a people) concept of chronology and see that in the Hebrew Scriptures, God only counted years in which He and Israel were in alignment.
Problem 2: Assuming a Lunar Calendar
It is often taken for granted that the Hebrew people used a 360-day lunar calendar, with many Christian chronological arguments built on this assumption. However, there are reasons to question this. For starters, the number 360 is a rounded figure; an actual lunar calendar is about 354 days long. This discrepancy of approximately 11 days compared to a 365-day solar calendar might seem small, but over the course of years, it adds up.
To put this into perspective, consider the 40-year wilderness period in the Bible. If the Hebrew people were strictly using a lunar calendar, the Passover—a spring feast—would have gradually shifted seasons. It would have become a winter, fall, and summer feast before returning to spring by the end of the 40-year period.
This provides a strong argument for the necessity of some form of solar year for accurate biblical chronology. We must be mindful of these details when engaging in chronological study of the Bible. The concept of a “360-day prophetic year” may be an oversimplification that results in inaccuracies.
The Prevalence of the Problem
An instructive example of the problem can be seen when studying Daniel 9:24-27. In this passage, Daniel prophesies a period of 70 “weeks”, which—following the commonly accepted interpretation of each “week” representing seven years—amounts to 490 years. The prophecy is broken down into periods of 7 weeks (49 years), 62 weeks (434 years), and 1 week (7 years). According to the prophecy, the Messiah is to be “cut off” after the combined period of the 7 and 62 weeks (483 years). This timeframe is often used to calculate the date of Jesus’ death.
Many interpret this prophecy by multiplying 483 by the 360 days they assume were in a biblical year, arriving at a total of 173,880 days. However, if we instead use the 365.25 days in a solar year, we arrive at a total of 176,416 days, a difference of almost 7 years.
Here is a common interpretation found on the website “GotQuestions”:
Converting the 360-day year used by the ancient Jews, 483 years becomes 476 years on our solar calendar. Adjusting for the switch from B.C. to A.D., 476 years after 444 B.C. places us at A.D. 33, which would coincide with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1–9). The prophecy in Daniel 9 specifies that, after the completion of the 483 years, “the Anointed One will be cut off” (verse 26). This was fulfilled when Jesus was crucified. (What Are The Seventy Weeks of Daniel? https://www.gotquestions.org/seventy-weeks.html. Accessed July 8, 2023.)
This interpretation assumes a 360-day year as being without question, and then makes an incorrect conversion to a solar calendar, erroneously reducing the number of years from 483 to 476. But why make the initial assumption of a 360-day year when this would throw off the timing of the spring and fall feasts, a crucial aspect of Jewish religious life?
If we instead calculate using a 365.25-day solar year, the timeframe of Daniel’s prophecy shifts considerably. This not only aligns better with historical and seasonal context, but also provides a more accurate understanding of the biblical chronology.
A Fresh Approach to Biblical Chronology
To address these problems, we must adopt a fresh approach to biblical chronology that is based on careful, faithful examination of the Scriptures themselves. Here are some principles to consider:
- The Bible as our sole source of authority: We must rely on the Bible as our primary source of information when determining dates and chronologies. This means that we should prioritize the biblical data over secular sources, even when they appear contradictory.
- Taking biblical numbers and dates seriously: We should not dismiss apparent inconsistencies in biblical chronology as errors. Instead, we should seek to understand the underlying reasons for these differences, which may involve taking into account the cultural and historical context of the biblical text.
- Considering a solar calendar: As discussed earlier, there is reason to believe that the Hebrew people used a solar calendar, or at least a calendar that accounted for the discrepancy between lunar and solar years. We should therefore consider the implications of a solar calendar when examining biblical chronology.
- Recognizing different points of calculation: We must recognize that the Bible might be using different points of calculation for certain chronologies. For example, the “lo-ammi” concept mentioned earlier allows us to reconcile the differing timeframes between 1 Kings 6:1 and Acts 13:17-22 by considering that God only counted years in which He and Israel were in alignment.
By following these principles, we can develop a more accurate and faithful understanding of biblical chronology, one that harmonizes with the inspired Word of God and deepens our appreciation of its historical accuracy and reliability.
Unlearning flawed assumptions about biblical chronology is crucial if we want to accurately understand the Bible and its message. By re-examining the biblical text and questioning our presuppositions, we can uncover a more accurate, faithful, and reliable understanding of the events and timelines described in the Scriptures. This, in turn, will not only strengthen our faith but also allow us to better share the truth of God’s Word with others.
For a sermon on this topic, click here.