Paul’s Use of “About 450 Years” in Acts 13:20 -- By: Eugene H. Merrill

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 138:551 (Jul 1981)
Article: Paul’s Use of “About 450 Years” in Acts 13:20
Author: Eugene H. Merrill


Paul’s Use of “About 450 Years” in Acts 13:20

Eugene H. Merrill

[Eugene H. Merrill, Assistant Professor of Semitics and Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary]

No period of ancient Israel’s history has occasioned more chronological difficulties to the modern reader of the Old Testament than that of the period covered by the Book of Judges.1 The apparently successful untangling of the complex threads of monarchical,2 exilic,3 and postexilic4 historical narratives has not been achieved for the era between Moses and David. The purpose of this study is to propose solutions which permit the historical integrity of the Old Testament text to remain intact and which resolve the tensions that appear to exist in the Old and New Testament references to the period.

The Problem

First it is necessary to define the problem. Modern scholarship is nearly unanimous in dating the division of Israel’s kingdom within a decade of 931 B.C. and the reigns of Solomon and David at 971–931 and 1011–971 respectively.5 In Solomon’s fourth year he commenced the construction of the great Temple, an event so momentous it was tied in by the historian to the chronological origins of the nation, that is, the Exodus from Egypt. He states that the Exodus was 480 years earlier than the laying of the Temple foundations. The fourth year of Solomon was 966 so the Exodus was 1446 B.C.

It is clear from the accounts of the judges that the first of these illustrious figures was Othniel, the nephew of Joshua’s

contemporary, Caleb. Othniel delivered Israel from Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim within a few years after Joshua’s death, surely no earlier than around 1350 B.C.6 The last of the judges was probably Samson, the date of whose death is around 1085.7 The period of the judges, then, was 265 years at the most.

The problem emerges only when one considers two other factors, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament. These must be briefly stated.

The Internal Chronology of Judges-1 Samuel

The story of Israel in the time of the judges is one of chaotic anarchy described in terms of cyclical recurrence—sin, supplication, salvation, service, sin, etc. With apparent chronological precision the historiographer records the length of foreign oppression, the tenur...

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