Jonathan, Stephen and the First Marker in Pauline Chronology
I write to suggest a new way to view Pauline Chronology.
The easiest way to establish the historicity of Acts of the Apostles is to demonstrate that all of the data contained therein can be utilized to create an accurate chronology of the first generation of the followers of Jesus. In Acts 4:5-6, we read:
On the morrow their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in
Luke does not mean to say that Annas was the reigning High Priest; rather Annas is named as the High Priest by Luke because 1) he is considered by Jewish society to still be the High Priest, as High Priest for life; 2) because he is the power behind the throne; 3) as a mark of respect due the former High Priest; and 4) as part of the irenical presentation that Luke is making to Theophilus the High Priest, son of Annas. This is not to say that Annas was the reigning High Priest when Jesus appeared before him or when Stephen was stoned. This is consistent with Luke’s usage in Lk. 3:2 and also consistent with Josephus’ usage in identifying a former High Priest as High Priest.
This John in Acts 4:5-6 should be correctly identified as Jonathan. In fact, the Western text[i] has the name correctly as Jonathan, which would be consistent with Josephus[ii] who identifies Jonathan as the high priest who follows Caiaphas. One commentator notes “This sort of inconsequential detail, the mentioning of names that do not really play a role in the narrative, is characteristic of Luke and suggest his use of sources.”[iii] On the contrary, “this sort of inconsequential detail” is a hint of the greater involvement of Jonathan in a subsequent event consistent with Luke’s step-progression method. Krodel claims “Luke never says everything at once, but expands and unfolds earlier themes as he moves step by step from one episode to another.”[iv]
Most of the commentators do not discuss the identity of the unnamed high priest who addressed Stephen: “Is this so?” [7:1]. The reason Luke does not explicitly name the high priest concerns the irenical purpose of his message.[v] On my view, the stoning of Stephen occurs during the high priesthood of Jonathan. This proposal causes problems for most if not all Pauline chronology schemes except possibly Robin Lane Fox. The high priesthood of Jonathan can be precisely dated using the information from Josephus. For Josephus, there are three great holidays: the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot, also known as Pentecost and Sukkot, when all Jews were enjoined to travel to
There is additional circumstantial evidence supporting the identification of Jonathan and the time period as the time period of the stoning of Stephen. Another son of Annas served for a brief time during the sixties as high priest and during his high priesthood the stoning of James occurred. The following similarities should be noted:
Jonathan + Ananus
son of Annas + son of Annas
5 months, 37 C.E. + 3 months, 62 C.E.
Vitellius in Antioch + Albinius out of town
stoning of Stephen + stoning of James
removal + removal
These two events occurred during a period of time when the Sanhedrin was unable to impose a death sentence without Roman approval. This should serve as a clue as to what happened in 37 C.E. In the case of James, the reigning high priest was removed as soon as Albinius arrived in
With respect to Stephen, we know that Jonathan served as High Priest for about 5 months before he was removed and replaced by his brother. Josephus does not tell us the reason for this unusual change of high priest after a brief period of service in that Jonathan did not die in office and we are left to speculate as to the reason for his removal. We do know that according to Acts, Stephen was stoned and the High Priest was involved. This High Priest was Jonathan. Just prior to the removal of the High Priest, there was vacuum in power as the top Roman official assigned to
In both situations, perhaps the reigning High Priest took advantage of the situation. Jonathan was removed as High Priest was because the stoning of Stephen took place on his watch and the Roman official took offense because he considered it to be a usurpation of his power. The stoning either was considered a lost of control of the crowds or failure to seek Roman approval of the death sentence. Josephus mentions another instance where the High Priest was removed because an event occurred for which he was held responsible: the removal of the eagle at the
In both instances, it would fair to infer that the stoning occurred because both Stephen and James had been publicly blaming the
Josephus does not tell us the reason why Jonathan only served five months. The reason is easy to understand. For Josephus, Jonathan is one of the good guys. There is simply no event prior to the high priesthood of Jonathan that can serve as the setting for the stoning of Stephen.
Based on the above, the date of Paul's conversion cannot be earlier than 37 C.E.
© copyrighted 2005, 10-9-07; comment about Nehemiah 9 added.
[i] See Metzger, Textual Commentary, 317.
[iii] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, (Grand Rapids, 1998), 191.
[iv] G.A. Krodel, Acts (
[v] For the same reason, Luke does not explicitly identify Caiaphas as the name of the High Priest before Jesus appeared.
[vi] So Vitellius . . . ordered Pilate to go to
But Vitellius came into Judea, and went up to
[vii] See VanderKam, From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile, (Fortress Press, 2004), 412.