Reading: Timeline of People and Events in the Early Church

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Here is a document you would do well to keep handy somewhere since it gives us a timeline of the major events and people in the early church history.  It helps to keep all the varied people and events in mind as we continue our study.

The Unfolding Faith

A bird's eye view of the early church, the emergence of the Gnostics, and the development of the biblical canon.

Compiled by Michael Holmes, with contributions from Nicholas Perrin


First Century

People & Events

30 or 33Death and resurrection of Christ

32 or 34Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr

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

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

47-64Paul of Tarsus undertakes his missionary travels

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

62James, the brother of Jesus, is stoned

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

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

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

Scriptures & Writings


48 or 54-57Galatians

50-51I, II Thessalonians


55-63I Timothy

55-56I Corinthians

55-70Gospel of Mark

56-57II Corinthians



58-62Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon

60-63I Peter


60-80Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of Luke


63-65II Timothy

64-65II Peter


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

95-97I Clement

Second Century

People & Events

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

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

125Quadratus (earliest Christian apologist) is active

130-150Gnostic teacher Basilides is active in Alexandria

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

140-165Gnostic teacher Valentinus is active in Rome

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

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

145Aristides (Christian apologist) is active

156Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, is martyred

165Justin Martyr is martyred

170-180Gnostic teacher Heracleon is active

172The Montanist movement emerges in Asia Minor

177Christians are martyred in Lyons and Vienne

178Irenaeus becomes bishop of Lyons

178Celsus writesTrue Reason, the first systematic intellectual critique of Christianity

180Melito, 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

180-200Christian teacher Clement of Alexandria is active

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

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

190-220Christian theologian Tertullian is active

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

Scriptures & Writings

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

108-117Letters of Ignatius

109-118Polycarp'sLetter to the Philippians

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

120-140Papias'sExpositions on the Sayings of the Lord

120-140[?]II Clement


130-132[?]Epistle of Barnabas

143Marcion'sAntitheses(declared heretical)


150[?]Epistle to Diognetus

150[?]Shepherd of Hermas

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

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

156Martyrdom of Polycarp

155Justin Martyr'sFirst Apology

160Justin Martyr'sSecond Apology

160Justin Martyr'sDialogue 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 Revelationof 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  An explicit statement of audience, authorship (assuming that the named author is not a pseudonym), or time of writing.

·All  Allusion to any dateable events, figures, movements, ideas, practices, texts, or other material culture.

·Th  The original language of composition.

·Th  The style, word choice, and genre of the document, which may be traceable to a particular author or setting.

·Th  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.

Last modified: Wednesday, October 14, 2020, 9:19 AM