Identifying events in the New Testament with ancient dates is tricky. Controversy swirls around attempts to date of happenings in the lives of Christ, Paul, and other Biblical figures. Scholars are always excited when they can link the chronology of the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles
with dates that can be determined from non-Biblical sources.
Because we are given so much detail about Paul, not only by Luke, but by Paul himself in his letters to churches, historians have many facts that they can attempt to tie in with ancient writings and archaeological finds. We know, for example, that Paul was brought before Gallio the year Gallio was proconsul of Achaia. We know that he met Priscilla and Aquilla after they had been expelled from Rome. We know he stood before Festus in Festus' first year as governor of Judea. If we can determine dates for those events, we have a rough outline of Paul's movements.
Unfortunately, none of those years are easy to pin down. The world's greatest authorities disagree.
According to Jack Finegan's reckoning in the Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Paul was converted in ad 36. For several years he preached the gospel, always going to Jews first, and when the majority rejected him, turning to the gentiles. His gospel was of salvation by faith in the resurrected Christ whom he had seen with his own eyes. Good deeds could not win it although they would surely follow it.
Despite great adversity, Paul carried the gospel through Asia Minor and Southern Europe. In fact, Europe is Christian today in large measure because of Paul's zeal. Eventually Paul was arrested in Jerusalem. Imprisoned for several years, he finally appealed to Caesar, which was his right as a Roman citizen. He was shipped off to Rome under guard. This was probably in 57. On the way, he and his companions were wrecked on the island of Malta where they wintered, in custody of Roman soldiers.
This day, February 8, 58, may be the day that Paul sailed from Malta. Pliny tells us in his Natural History (an early encyclopedic work) that February 8 was the date Spring opened its seas to voyagers. If the sailors acted on the traditional date, we may actually have pinned down an exact moment in Paul's life. But from the evidence we have today, we cannot know for certain. Even the year is conjectural. Some researchers place the date of the shipwreck two years later.
1. Bible. New Testament, especially autobiographical passages from Paul letters and biographical passages in the book of Acts.
2. Daniel-Rops, Henri. The Heroes of God. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1965, 1958.
3. Finegan, Jack. Handbook of Biblical Chronology. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998).
4. Lockyer, Herbert. All the Apostles of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1972.
5. "Paul, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
6. Pollock, John. The Apostle
, a Life of Paul. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1969.
7. Prat, F. "Saint Paul." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
8. Vigeveno, H. S. Thirteen Men Who Changed the World. Glendale, California: Regal, 1966.
9. Various encyclopedia and internet articles.