17 Time Periods of the Bible
The timeline of the Bible can be divided into 17 basic time periods. (Actually, it can be divided many different ways, but this is one way that seems to work well.)
- Creation (or Before the Flood)
- The Flood
- The Scattering of the People
- The Patriarchs - Fathers
- The Exodus from Egypt
- The Wandering in the Wilderness
- The Conquering of Canaan
- The Judges
- The United Kingdom
- The Divided Kingdom
- Judah Alone
- The Captivity
- The Return
- 400 Years of Silence from God
- Jesus Life, Death, and Resurrection
- The Establishment of the Church
- Writing of the Letters (New Testament)
We will briefly look at each of these time periods.
1. Creation (or Before the Flood)
Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the beginning of the physical universe and so the beginning of history. The actual creation takes place in only six days, with man and woman being the final creation, the ones who are made in God’s image and given authority over the rest of creation.
This time period goes until the Flood and includes Adam and Eve’s first sin and the spiritual death that accompanied it. It also includes a promise of God’s plan to provide a solution to sin. We see mankind becoming worse and worse until God is sorry that He made man and decides to destroy the earth with a flood and start over with the family of the one man who is still faithful to Him–Noah.
This time period covers at least 1600 years, and is recorded in Genesis 1-5. This is why just calling it “Creation” doesn’t really include everything and it can be referred to as the time Before the Flood.
2. The Flood
God saved Noah and his family (8 people altogether) along with all kinds of land animals and birds through the ark that Noah built at God’s instruction. God caused it to rain for 40 days and the waters covered the whole earth, even the highest mountains. Noah and his family were in the ark for a year and 10 days until the water evaporated enough and left dry land.
All of mankind today is descended from Noah and one of his three sons–Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The family of Shem is the one focused on mostly in the Bible as the Jews come through him.
3. The Scattering
After the flood, Noah’s sons had many children with their wives and their children multiplied until there were many people on the earth again. Unfortunately, they did not want to follow God’s commandment to fill the whole earth and were determined to stay together in one place. They started building a great city and tower at Babel where they could all live together and show how strong they were. God had other plans and mixed up their languages so that they could not stay together any longer. They separated into their various language groups and filled the whole earth.
4. The Patriarchs - Fathers
The word “patriarch” means a man who rules his family. In a sense, there was a patriarchal age from Adam until Moses, but we are using the term here to refer to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s 12 sons.
Abraham was a descendant of Shem who lived in a city named Ur. God called him to leave there and go to a land where He would show him. This land turned out to be the land of Canaan, where Abraham lived as a nomad in tents for most of the rest of his life.
God made a number of promises to Abraham, but there are three that seem to be the most important for the rest of the Bible story. These are found in Genesis 12:1-3 and also verse 7.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” …. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.
We have a promise that God would give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendents, that he would make Abraham to be a great nation, and that through Abraham, all the families of the earth would be blessed.
The land and the nation were both tools God would use to bring about that last promise, which is fulfilled in Jesus.
These same promises were then given to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and Isaac’s son, Jacob, who God also named “Israel.” Jacob then had 12 sons who would become the 12 tribes of Israel. This happened in Egypt. God summarized what would happen when He explained it to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-14.
God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.
They moved to Egypt after Joseph, one of Jacob’s youngest sons, became the second ruler in Egypt and had them live there under his care. They became slaves over time after a ruler arose in Egypt who did not know Joseph and was afraid of the Israelites. It was during this time that Moses was born.
5. The Exodus from Egypt
Moses was born to an Israelite family, but because of the law at the time, which was to kill all male children, through God’s providence, he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. He knew his people and his God, however, and was determined to help his people be delivered from slavery. His timing was not God’s timing though. When he was 40 years old, he had to run away from Egypt because he had killed an Egyptian for beating one of his people. He was gone for 40 years and only came back at age 80 when God directly spoke to him and told him to go back to lead the people out of Egypt. He did this with the help of his brother, Aaron.
God performed 10 plagues in Egypt to demonstrate His power over their false gods. Finally, Pharaoh let the Israelites leave. God had Moses lead them through the middle of the Red Sea, as it was divided with a wall of water on each side of them. The Egyptians had changed their mind and tried to follow, but God drowned their army in the sea.
God led the Israelites with a cloud by day and fire that floated in the sky at night. He provided them with food and water. He led them to Mount Sinai, where He gave them The Law, including the Ten Commandments. This is where you might say that they actually became a nation, since now they had a national law.
6. The Wandering in the Wilderness
God then led them to the land of Canaan, but they refused to have faith in God’s promise to give them the land and decided to go back to Egypt. God decided to punish them by not allowing them to go into the land at that time, but to cause them to wander in the wilderness until all the adults who were responsible for this rebellion had died. This was to happen in 40 years. The only ones left at the end of this time were Joshua and Caleb, who were faithful to the Lord all along.
7. The Conquering
God had Moses pass the leadership of the Israelites to Joshua and he led them across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. They conquered Jericho and every other city and army they came against through God’s help. Unfortunately, they did not completely drive out the people of the land as God had commanded so God decided to use the nations they left to see if His people would be faithful or not.
8. The Judges
They were not faithful and turned to the false religions of the surrounding nations. God then allowed the surrounding nations to oppress the Israelites and they suffered until they repented and turned back to God. Then God would raise up a “judge” who would lead them to fight their enemies and deliver them from their oppressors.
The first of the judges was Othniel, Caleb’s nephew and son-in-law. The judges include Samson, the strongest man who ever lived, as his strength came from the Holy Spirit. They also include Deborah, the only woman judge, and many other interesting characters.
The last of the judges was Samuel. He was a great judge, as well as a prophet and priest, but sadly his sons were corrupt. Because the people of Israel did not want his sons ruling them, they used this as an excuse to ask for a king. Samuel and God were not happy with their desire to be like all the other nations, but God said to give them a king anyway. He chose Saul to be the first king of Israel.
9. The United Kingdom
Saul began as a good king, but in his about 40 years of kingship, he became rebellious and God decided not to allow his family to continue as kings. God chose the young man, David, as the next king. Samuel anointed him as king long before he actually took over as king. David proved himself as a great warrior and leader even as a young man. Saul became jealous and tried to kill him, so David ended up living as a fugitive until Saul died in battle against the Philistines.
David also reigned for about 40 years and was an excellent king and remained faithful to God, although he stumbled at times. God promised David that his descendants would always rule on the throne, a promise that was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus who is ruling now.
David’s son, Solomon, became king after him, and because of his request of God, God made him the wisest man who ever lived. He built the temple of God and wrote Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs). Unfortunately, he did not remain faithful until the end, but turned away from God to idols because of his many wives.
10. The Divided Kingdom
Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, became king next but was foolish and drove away 10 tribes who made Jeroboam their king. Rehoboam and David’s descendents after him remained king over the southern kingdom of Judah, while various kings ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel.
11. Judah Alone
After many years, the idolatry introduced by Jeroboam and continued by every king after him led God to punish Israel by having the Assyrians take them into captivity. This left only Judah for some time until they followed Israel in their idolatry. Judah did have some good kings who tried to lead the people in following only the true God, but there were mostly wicked kings.
12. The Captivity
Eventually, God punished Judah by having Babylon take them into captivity, destroying Jerusalem and the temple in the process. Daniel and Ezekiel were taken to Babylon in this time while Jeremiah was left to prophesy to the people left in the land.
13. The Return
The captivity lasted for 70 years. During that time, the Medes and Persians took over from the Babylonians. King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. They had some trouble and it took them longer than it should have to rebuild it and also to rebuild the walls of the city. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah cover this time.
This time period goes through the rest of the Old Testament, ending with Malachi.
14. The 400 Years of Silence from God
After the end of the Old Testament, there are about 400 years until the New Testament begins. During that time, God was not having any prophets write any new books of the Bible, so we call that a time where God was silent.
During this time, the Greeks took over from the Medes and Persians, then the Romans took over from the Greeks.
15. Jesus’ Life, Death, and Resurrection
After these 400 years, the time was perfect for the coming of the Christ (the Greek word for the Hebrew word “Messiah”, which both mean “anointed one”). God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus and she became pregnant with Him, although she was a virgin. She married Joseph and he became a father to Jesus.
When Jesus was about 30 years old, he was baptized by John the Baptizer as He was about to begin His preaching. He then traveled and preached for the next 3 and a half years. He chose 12 of His disciples (followers) to be His apostles (those sent out).
At the end of His time, the leaders of the Jews convinced Pilate, the Roman governor, to crucify Jesus, although He had done nothing wrong. Jesus willingly died, as this was His primary mission in coming to earth as a man–He came to be a sacrifice for sin.
Thankfully, Jesus did not stay dead, but three days later (as the Jews counted time), He rose from the dead on the first day of the week. He appeared to His apostles and others and they were convinced beyond any doubt that He really was raised. He stayed with them for about 40 days until He returned to heaven.
16. The Establishment of the Church
Less than two weeks later, on the Day of Pentecost, the church began in a big way. As the King in heaven, Jesus baptized His apostles with the Holy Spirit. They used the signs that the Holy Spirit provided as a starting point for convincing many Jews about Jesus being the Christ. They explained the plan Jesus had to save them and their need to be baptized in His name for the forgiveness of their sins. About 3,000 men and women were baptized that day.
The church continued to grow more and more as the gospel continued to spread in Jerusalem. Eventually, persecution forced the Christians to leave Jerusalem for other places and the gospel was spread in that way to Judea and Samaria. After that, it spread everywhere, eventually including the Gentiles (non-Jews) as well.
The apostle, Paul was the primary apostle to the Gentiles and the book of Acts tells us a lot of detail about his travels and preaching.
17. Writing of the Letters (New Testament)
While this is included as a separate time period, it does somewhat overlap with the beginning of the church. Much of the New Testament was written as the events in Acts were unfolding. All of the New Testament was completed during the first century, while there were apostles still living.
While all the scriptures are written by apostles and prophets, the Apostle Paul wrote the majority of the letters in the New Testament.
This has been a very brief overview of the whole Bible story, without much detail. Hopefully, this framework will help you fit details into their timeline better as we look at some of these time periods in more detail.