First Century

People & Events

30 or 33 Death and resurrection of Christ

32 or 34 Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr

40-45 Simon Magus, sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24) and, according to tradition, founder of Gnosticism, is active in Samaria

44 James the son of Zebedee is executed by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-2)

47-64 Paul of Tarsus undertakes his missionary travels

60-100 Menander, a Gnostic teacher and disciple of Simon Magus, is active

62 James, the brother of Jesus, is stoned

64 The Great Fire destroys much of Rome; Nero blames the Christians; Peter and Paul possibly executed

95 [?] Christians may have been persecuted under Emperor Domitian

90-100 John, the last of the apostles, dies

Scriptures & Writings

43-62 James

48 or 54-57 Galatians

50-51 I, II Thessalonians

50-70 Jude

55-63 I Timothy

55-56 I Corinthians

55-70 Gospel of Mark

56-57 II Corinthians

57-58 Romans

57-63 Titus

58-62 Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon

60-63 I Peter

60-69 Hebrews

60-80 Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of Luke

62-80 Acts

63-65 II Timothy

64-65 II Peter

64-70 or 90-96 Revelation

80-95 Gospel of John, I, II, III John

95-97 I Clement

Second Century

People & Events

100-120 Saturninus, a Gnostic teacher and disciple of Menander, is active

108-117 Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, writers seven letters to churches on his way to Rome, where he is martyred

125 Quadratus (earliest Christian apologist) is active

130-150 Gnostic teacher Basilides is active in Alexandria

135 Christian apologist Justin Martyr debates Trypho (a Jewish teacher); refers to the "memoirs" of the apostles (Gospels)

140-165 Gnostic teacher Valentinus is active in Rome

143 Marcion of Sinope creates his own "canon" of Scripture

144 Marcion is expelled from the church in Rome, begins missionary activity in Asia Minor and Syria

145 Aristides (Christian apologist) is active

156 Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, is martyred

165 Justin Martyr is martyred

170-180 Gnostic teacher Heracleon is active

172 The Montanist movement emerges in Asia Minor

177 Christians are martyred in Lyons and Vienne

178 Irenaeus becomes bishop of Lyons

178 Celsus writes True Reason, the first systematic intellectual critique of Christianity

180 Melito, the bishop of Sardis, travels "to the east" (Palestine?) to investigate the number and order of the "books of the Old Testament" (earliest reference to this phrase) and provides the first Christian list of the contents of the Jewish Scriptures

180-200 [?] Muratorian Canon is the earliest surviving attempt to list the New Testament canon

180-200 Christian teacher Clement of Alexandria is active

185 Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, cites a "core collection" of 20 documents acknowledged as Scripture (four Gospels, Acts, 13 letters of Paul, James, 1 Peter)

180-200 Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, writes against the Gnostics

190-220 Christian theologian Tertullian is active

190-200 The phrase "New Testament" begins to be used

Scriptures & Writings

100 [?] Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles)

108-117 Letters of Ignatius

109-118 Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians

early 2nd c. [?] Gospel of Peter (Gnostic?)

120-140 Papias's Expositions on the Sayings of the Lord

120-140 [?] II Clement

125 Quadratus's Apology

130-132 [?] Epistle of Barnabas

143 Marcion's Antitheses (declared heretical)

145 Aristides' Apology

150 [?] Epistle to Diognetus

150 [?] Shepherd of Hermas

mid 2nd c. [?] Gospel of Truth (Gnostic)*

mid 2nd c. [?] Gospel of Thomas (Gnostic)*

156 Martyrdom of Polycarp

155 Justin Martyr's First Apology

160 Justin Martyr's Second Apology

160 Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho

165 Ptolemy's Letter to Flora (Gnostic)

165-175Gospel of Judas (Gnostic)

2nd c.Gospel of Mary (Gnostic)*

180-185 Irenaeus's Against Heresies

190-95 Irenaeus's Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

170-190 Concerning the Passover (Peri Pascha) by Melito of Sardis

late 2nd c. Treatise on the Resurrection* (Gnostic)

late 2nd c. First Thought in Three Forms* (Gnostic)

late 2nd c. Gospel of the Savior (Gnostic)

Third Century

People & Events

200 Naassenes (a Gnostic sect) flourish

202-206 Christians are persecuted in Rome, Corinth, Antioch, Alexandria, and North Africa (including Perpetua and Felicitas)

203 Christian theologian Origen becomes head of the Catechetical School in Alexandria; he later writes the apologetic work Against Celsus

216-276 Manes/Mani, founder of Manichaeism (an offshoot of Persian Gnosticism), is active

249-251 First empire-wide persecution is initiated by Emperor Decius

257-260 Christians are persecuted under Emperor Valerian

Scriptures & Writings

207 Tertullian's Against Marcion

3rd c. Gospel of Philip (Gnostic)*

3rd c. Apocalypse (or Revelation) of Peter* (Gnostic)

3rd c. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth* (Gnostic)

Fourth Century

People & Events

303-312 Great Persecution begins, instituted by Emperor Diocletian

313 Constantine's Edict of Milan grants religious toleration, brings persecution to a close

325 Council of Nicaea produces creed affirming that Christ is "of the same substance" as the Father and condemns the teaching of Arius

325 Eusebius (in his Church History) discusses the "state of the question" regarding the contents and boundaries of the New Testament

367 Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in his Easter Letter gives first list of 27 books that matches the New Testament as recognized today

Scriptures & Writings

375 Epiphanius's Refutation of All Heresies against the Gnostics

The Dating Game

When it comes to ancient documents, there is no one-size-fits-all criterion for determining their date. There are, however, general principles, based on two types of evidence: external and internal.

External evidence refers to clues outside the document that can either pinpoint a date or help give us a window. For example, if a given document is clearly cited in another dateable text, then the established text provides a "no later than" cut-off date for our text. Alternatively, an external source may give explicit verification of a document's authorship and/or dating. The only questions are (1) whether there is any reason for the source to have distorted or fabricated this report, and, if not, (2) whether there is good reason to doubt its accuracy.

Internal evidence includes any signs within the text itself that may give a clue to its date. Many of these can provide a "no earlier than" cut-off date. Internal evidence includes:

  • An explicit statement of audience, authorship (assuming that the named author is not a pseudonym), or time of writing.
  • Allusion to any dateable events, figures, movements, ideas, practices, texts, or other material culture.
  • The original language of composition.
  • The style, word choice, and genre of the document, which may be traceable to a particular author or setting.
  • The substantive concerns of the document, which may be traceable to a particular author or setting.

The more external and internal evidence there is, the greater likelihood of a consensus for a proper dating. The less evidence, the more we are left to an educated guess.

—Nicholas Perrin

*Indicates Gnostic texts included in the Nag Hammadi collection.

Most of the dates in this timeline are approximations due to the difficulties of dating events and texts in the first two centuries.