The three points that will chiefly distinguish this chronology are as follows:
Antioch's relief gift had to be money (not grain) and so had to be earlyFixing those three points amidst all the other significant data requires essentially one specific alignment of all other major events. Furthermore, this process compels us to make only one creative decision - to put Titus at Fair Havens with Paul, thereby concluding Paul had no part in Titus' earlier mission on Crete. To be sure, this offers a reading of Titus 1:5 which is far more economical and less speculative, historically, than all other suggested reconstructions for Titus' travels.
Paul's plans changed to include Rome when the Emperor Claudius died
The best place to put Paul's execution is after the great fire of Rome
As a package, these points comprise my original contribution to the field of Pauline Chronology, which is simply a new set of boundaries for all other considerations. Based on solid historical judgments, those boundaries happen to be very tight. This is fortunate. The overarching framework of arguments and possibilities, of course, we all owe to many, many scholars and researchers who have gone before. Therefore, beyond the above points, all other evidence should be well established and easily locatable in standard reference manuals.
Note: In the rough sketch that now follows, many points are referred to ahead of time, and again after the fact. To anyone who has studied these issues, the overall argument should (hopefully) come across best if you read straight through this post, without skipping around at first.
Conversion - early 34 AD - No Roman Emperor ever "gave" Damascus to Nabatea but King Aretas sent the Ethnarch to get Paul at a time when Aretas was still active north of his own territory, which must have been before Tiberius died. It could not have been after. Among other reasons, we know this because the prefect Macro (successor to Sejanus) was essentially running the empire all year long in 37 AD, so Caligula was highly unlikely to reverse policy on Nabatea after Herod Antipas' letter. For more details, see here.
Antioch's relief commission - 44 AD - Because they could not have sent hundreds of ox carts with grain from the coast, especially in the middle of a famine, the church in Antioch must have sent Paul and Barnabas with money. That money was no good unless it came early enough that the church in Jerusalem could begin surreptitiously building a stockpile. (Even if they were going to give it away, the food bank had to built up in secret. Otherwise, what was the point?) Therefore, Paul and Barnabas did not wait until the famine itself (46/47 AD) and therefore Acts 11:30 and 12:25 cannot be extracted from Acts 12. If we leave Acts 12 just as it is written, then the relief visit happens in 44 AD and thus Galatians 2 cannot apply to an inclusive 14 year difference between Paul's conversion and this visit. Therefore, Galatians 2 most likely refers to the Council of Acts 15, despite those who still attempt to suppose an additional visit before the Council. For more on famine relief logistics, see here.
[***UPDATE (7/31/10): If Agrippa died in March of 44, as holds the consensus, then the relief delivery and that traumatic Passover in which Luke sets it, both, belong to 43 AD. Since Galatians 2 cannot refer to any year that's actually before the famine, anyway, this update is a moot point chronologically speaking, as far as affecting the rest of this timeline. Update 2: Red color added to text in paragraph above. For more, see this post. ***]
Galatians - 50 AD - Writen to the four South Galatian churches of Acts; before the Epistle of James, but after the council; it was carried by Titus & Luke, who visited all four churches and went on to wait for Paul at Troas (the one city everyone knew how to find, in West Asia Minor); that Titus' circumcision *was even an issue* and *could have been* "compelled" strongly suggests that this visit was part of the council occasion and virtually confirms that Galatians 2 refers to Acts 15. Further, the fact that Paul expects the Galatians to know who Titus is most likely means Titus himself was the letter carrier. As a witness to the events in Jerusalem, Titus was the perfect one to send, and he could easily have been holding Jerusalem's letter in reserve, as additional support for Paul's position. Thus, Paul had no need to mention the shorter letter because Titus was probably carrying it also - presumably on loan from missionally-minded Antioch. (For even more on Galatians and the Council, see here, here, here, and (again) here.)
1st & 2nd Thessalonians - 51 AD - standard view easily dated by Gallio's time in Corinth. We should note here, for later, that Timothy seems to have trouble sticking with his assignment, and keeps running to Paul for assistance. He's going to do this again, 6 years later, in Ephesus.
Departure from Corinth - 52 AD - Paul must have talked with Peter in Jerusalem, about Corinth, somewhere in the middle or the end of sailing season in 52. At least, that is necessary in order for Peter to have sailed to Corinth here in 53 and caused so much trouble (53/54) in unfortunate preparation for a summer of letters going back and forth between Corinth and Paul, in 54. (On which date, see note at top, and see below.) Incidentally, many of the controversies that arose in Corinth around the time of Peter's visit bear striking parallels to the letter of Jerusalem, which suggests Paul had not shown it to Corinth, but that Peter had. Controversies over tongues and healing are also, most likely, symptomatic of Peter's visit.
Epistle of James - c.52 or 51 AD - Paul's visit to Jerusalem in 52 also means James' letter had probably been written by 52, because there is no chance James and Paul did not see each other during this visit, and that makes this the first chance they had to sit down and iron out their perceived differences [over things they didn't really disagree about, except perhaps semantically]. Circumcision was not argued in James' Epistle, and we have no record that James ever heard Paul say the things written in Galatians, before Galatians was written. James must have been responding, in part, to things Paul wrote in his first letter. (Church Councils are not magic cure-alls. They just aren't.)
1st Corinthians - 54 AD, before October - This is an especially critical point for aligning the rest of Paul's dates, and it is based on the fact that Paul talks about travel plans but does not include Rome. The Jews weren't allowed back in until Claudius died, and Paul's trip to Illyricum (Western Provincia Macedonia) must have been planned as part of preparations for going to Rome. Ephesus is also when Paul began speaking of Rome, according to Acts. Further, this letter must be 54, and could not be 53 because Claudius' death also best explains what interrupts Paul's stated plans to sail after Pentecost (which generally assured safe sailing weather; by the way, Paul's also had all of his first three shipwrecks by now).
2nd Corinthians - 56 AD, around November - Aristarchus, Secundus and Sopater evidently knew how to get through the Greek hinterland (Acts 20:4a). This letter mentions Macedonians currently visiting Corinth and Paul sounds as if he is following them there shortly. This must be at the end of Paul's Macedonian trip, for two reasons. First, the trip to the Adriatic and back (Acts 20:1-2 & Romans 15:19) must have taken over a year, and second, Timothy must have intercepted Paul in Thessalonica on Paul's way back from Dyrrachium, before Paul headed to Corinth. Timothy, of course, had been struggling in Ephesus since Paul left him there to go into Macedonia, and must have spent the winter of 54/55 building up enough angst & frustration to make Timothy, desperately, flee Ephesus to go seek out Paul's help (just as Timothy had done at least twice before, in Thessalonica). All of this means 2nd Corinthians cannot have been written until after Paul's trip to Illyricum, probably only a month or two before Paul himself returned to Achaia. Timothy simply had to leave Ephesus in time to be in Macedonia with Paul, in time to co-sign this epistle. (See also discussion on 1st Timothy, below.)
Romans - 57 AD - the turnover from Felix to Festus in 59 (not 60) is made necessary here by one of our three key starting points (at top) - that Paul was most likely executed in connection with the great fire of Rome. Again, confirming this point removes the need for those often but ill-conceived (and certainly purely contrived) later itineraries of Paul, Timothy and Titus. In fact, scholarship through the ages has generally considered Paul's death in 64 to be the first and most likely option. The only real obstacle to this has been an over-rigidity of interpreting Titus 1:5, as if Paul himself shared the work of the Cretan mission. (On this point, see above and below.)
1st Timothy - 57 AD - handed off in person, in Troas, giving Timothy one week to appoint the Ephesian Elders Paul met at Miletus. This most natural conclusion has been frequently put off without justifiable cause, and only requires 2nd Corinthians to be written in late 56 AD. (Look again at the discussion of Illyricum, Timothy and 2nd Corinthians, above.) On the need to explain who qualified as elders, Paul had only now formed his own personal stance on the issue of how to appoint/recognize them, since his separation from Barnabas. Timothy had not seen Gentile Christian Elders since the Judaizers so easily overcame the "elders" appointed mainly by Barnabas, in Galatia. (For more on this point, see here.)
Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians - 60 to 62 AD - The turnover from Felix to Festus in 59 puts Paul's arrival in Rome in early 60 and his release at 62. Somewhere during this imprisonment, these four "Prison Epistles" went out in two waves. Tychicus took the first three to cities near Ephesus because Colosse's own Epaphras came down with a serious illness. Then Epaphras (Epaphroditus) took Paul's thank you letter back to his new friends in Philippi. Most of this affects nothing else in Pauline Chronology, of course, but we note that after 11-ish years, Philippi now has elders. They were most likely appointed by Paul at his last visit, when Luke left, just while Paul was composing 1st Timothy, on his way to Troas.
Titus - 62 AD - This letter was probably written from Illyricum, which strongly suggests that Paul must have planted a church in Dyrrachium in 55/56, as a sort of a rest stop/half-way point for those from the churches who were heading to Rome after Claudius' death. (Again, see discussion on 2nd Corinthians above.) In any event, the cheapest and most efficient itinerary from Rome to Nicopolis was taking the Appian Way to one of the ferries at Brindisi (Brundisium) that sailed directly over to Dyrrachium. From there, the road south leads to Nicopolis. Later on, Titus winds up north of Dyrrachium, heading to Dalmatia. (A church in Dyrrachium is also attested by inscription, cited by the Jesuit scholar Farlati centuries ago - on which, look up Edwin E. Jacques.) Finally, a church in Dyrrachium could also explain where Erastus spent all his time after Acts 19:22, before heading to Corinth (2.Tim 4:20).
T.2. Titus, we presume, had remained on Crete since Paul left him there, at Fair Havens. The only question is, where had Titus been before? Obviously, considering this involves some conjecture, but it is probably necessary if we stick to the natural conclusion that Paul died in 64 AD. Besides, in what follows, only the details require conjecture, which is far more reasonable than inventing four years worth of additional travels.
T.3. We know Paul was at Crete at least once and we know Luke avoids mentioning Titus at least once. Putting these two points together with Titus 1:5 suggests Titus was present at Fair Havens. He must therefore have been part of Paul's sailing party, and he must have abandoned that party - probably because Paul knew from experience that their odds of shipwreck were high, and so one of them had to survive so the churches could know what had happened in case Paul really did die at sea. Besides that, Titus had been on Crete recently, after which he must have visited Caesarea and gotten on board with Luke and Aristarchus.
T.4. Now, if Luke intended Acts at least partly as a defense of Paul for his trial at Rome, and if Paul's three companions were also somehow under the centurion's special jurisdiction (perhaps as witnesses being shipped in at state's expense?) then Titus disappearing at Fair Havens could also explain why Luke deleted Titus from the record. Since only citizens or their slaves were allowed to testify in Rome, Paul (seriously) could simply have 'enslaved' his three friends (a loophole that Roman Law could not have anticipated!) planning to 'free' them later.
T.5. In any event, we know Paul was at Fair Havens and we know Luke avoids mentioning Titus. Somehow or another, Titus must have been at Fair Havens, at which point Paul told him to continue the work which he (Titus only, not Titus with Paul) had already begun. Paul also told Titus to appoint elders in every church before he left the island. This point evidently failed to get through to Titus, probably because the church in Antioch made crisis-level decisions without elders (Acts 15:2). Therefore, Paul had to explain to Titus what elders were because (like Timothy from 50 to 57 AD) Titus had never been part of a church that had elders. (As mentioned above, for more on Paul's evolving opinions about elders, see this post.)
T.6. It should be clear now what I meant that only the details require conjecture. The bottom line on dating Titus should be, in my humble opinion, that IF Paul died under Nero in 64 AD (which has always been the most natural conclusion to draw from Tacitus' report on the great fire and from Paul's second letter to Timothy) then Titus must have been at Fair Havens. It's the only time we know for certain that Paul was there, and educated guesswork to get Titus there with Paul is far more reasonable than inventing entirely new travels for both of them.
T.7. Note well: The only necessary conclusions on this point are that Titus was with Paul at Fair Havens, had previously begun the mission there without Paul's assistance, nevertheless received instructions from Paul at Fair Havens (about how to finish what Titus had begun), and remained on Crete when Paul sailed away. For all we know, Titus could have just wandered onto the beach at the right time, simply by divine providence - but of course, this is not my argument. This is only to make clear that all suppositional details in the previous paragraphs were included merely to show at least one very plausible scenario which might have occurred. Most of Titus' itinerary will simply have to remain a mystery, but again (for the last time) this is far better than inventing four years worth of additional travels.
2nd Timothy - early 64 AD - before the fire, and with enough time for Timothy to receive the letter and still have a chance to reach Rome "before winter". Tacitus' account of events in this year are a much more convincing explanation for the tradition that Paul was considered worthy of execution.
Spain - N/A - Paul's plans didn't always materialize. The trick is to realize, there is no Spain. ;-)
There you go. That's Pauline Chronology in a nutshell, according to me. Someday, of course, I really must write this up properly, supporting these dates and arguments to the strongest extent possible. Until then - or if I never get around to it - this is pretty much the basics of everything I've got to say on the subject.
If anyone wants to start working on this before I get to it, please feel free. I've got enough else to do for the next several years writing up everything that goes from 9 BC until 37 AD. I don't mind sharing at all.
Personal Observations: A lot of the difficulties that get ironed out in this treatment happen to reveal, I believe, strong institutional/religious biases in previous faith-based scholarship on Pauline Chronology. I deeply wish I didn't have to bring it up, but it really does need to be noticed. Certain aspects of the traditional, ecclesiastical dogmas about the Jerusalem Council and the lateness of the so-called "Pastoral Epistles" seem to be partly responsible for what has kept Pauline Chronology in dispute for so long. If all three "Pastorals" get to occupy an extra four years of vague, non-contextual space-time, then Titus and Timothy look more like permanent local preachers. This may seem shocking, but it must be considered.
Since my own past experience and outspoken preference for house churches is well known, I must admit this sequence could alter (or cleanse) our view of Pauline ecclesiology somewhat. That may be debatable but Paul's ecclesiology does not have to be ours, at any rate. No christian assembly that I know of is currently following Paul's pattern precisely. Besides this, the "Descriptive/Prescriptive" argument is a much more impenetrable defense than pre-emptive gerrymandering of dates (whether or not that is even partly what has been going on).
In any event, the historian's (or exegete's) job is to judge based on facts in evidence, and not to consider potential relevance of any conclusions beforehand. Given the evidence (as laid out above) I would contend that Pauline Chronology seems to have been unfairly beset by institutional biases, although much of it is undoubtedly subconscious. Of course, if it is fully aware, such cheating simply must come to an end.
I would also contend - and here is why this all had to be said - that this mostly explains why no one has solved Pauline Chronology more efficiently or sufficiently than this, before now, and why I myself (an untrained, if unashamed amateur) managed to happen upon it. In any case, if I've put together the argument I think I have, it deserves to be looked at. And no matter who looks here, none of us should allow ourselves to manipulate the data to support our church government practices. Pauline ecclesiology was primitive.
It is a simple historical fact that nobody in the New Testament performed the job duties of a medieval priest or a protestant "pastor". That's really not a big deal, unless we feel the need to pretend otherwise. It's really not even a problem, unless we let tradition or dogma inhibit us from viewing the full context of Paul's letters, as they properly ought to be viewed.
I've been going over this and over this for five years, and unless I'm missing something very significant, I believe I can make the following statement with all confidence.
This really must be the most likely solution to Pauline Chronology, period.
Your comments, questions and challenges are warmly invited, as long as this post remains online.