Can we know from the Bible how much time passed from Jesus' ascension in Acts 1:9 to His appearance to Saul / Paul on the road to Damascus?
Based on the NT books of [Acts, Luke, John] the 'Resurrection-Ascension' timeline generates the following events :
Day-1 [Luke 24:1-3, John 20:1] Resurrection Sunday :
- 17th of Aviv (three days after Pesach, based on Luke 23:54) during Chag HaMatsot.
Day-8 [John 20:26] Doubting Thomas Monday :
- 25th of Aviv; four days after Chag HaMatsot)
Day-28 : undocumented Pesach for unclean disciples (14th of Ziv זִ֗ו , the redo of Pesach based on Numbers 9:11-12)
Day-40 [Acts 1:3] Ascension Friday :
- 26th of Ziv זִ֗ו (second month) : "being seen by them during forty days" ἡμερῶν τεσσαράκοντα ὀπτανόμενος αὐτοῖς
Day-49 [Acts 2:1] Pentecost/Shavuot Sunday :
- 6th of Sivan (third month) celebration of Shavuot "7-Weeks" (based on Deuteronomy 16 verses 9-10)
The Remainder of Acts 3-9 gives no definitive timeline leading up to Saul's conversion.
After Saul's vision [Acts 9:1-9], we are only told he developed his own understanding of Jesus the Nazarene - after three years [Galatians 1:18].
There is very little chronological information in the book of Acts. I can see none between the ascension and diaspora of Acts 8:1. However, it was probably about 3 years, based on very little data.
- Jesus ascended 40 days after the His crucifixion, Acts 1:3, 9
- Pentecost was 50 days after the crucifixion
- Acts 1:8 appears to suggest that the apostles were to evangelize Jerusalem and Judea before going further to the Gentiles. This might have taken some time and all the events between Acts 1:9 and 8:1 are confined to this area.
Specifically, following Pentecost in Acts 2, we have the following events before the Philip is sent to Samaria:
- Peter & John heal the beggar and then answer for their actions to the Sanhedrin, Acts 3, 4
- Annanias and Sapphira incident, Apostles heal many and the apostles persecuted, Acts 5
- Seven deacons appointed, Acts 6:1-7. This marks the end of the incidents in Jerusalem.
- Following the appointment of the seven deacons, Stephen's ministry expanded greatly and came to the attention of the Sanhedrin after the two parties developed - some of whom were from some distance away, Cyrene, Alexandria, Celicia and Asia (Acts 6:9). So some time was required for Stephen's reputation to have spread that far. After this, Stephen is tried, condemned and executed by the Sanhedrin.
This, and the material I placed in the appendix below suggest that there were a "few years" between Acts 1:9 and 9:1, but we cannot be precise.
The only other thing we can observe is the that in addition to the material in the appendix below, the material in the early part of Acts appears to be arranged to document the focus of Gospel preaching moving from Jews to gentiles, possibly in filfilment of some of the OT prophecies such as Dan 9:
- Acts 7:51, 57, 58: Stephen stoned, Jews (at least the leaders) reject Jesus as Messiah, finally. Stephen recognizes that Jesus is now in the heavenly sanctuary, Acts 7:48, 49, 55, 56, seated at the right hand of God.
- Acts 8:1: Church scattered from Jerusalem
- Acts 8:26, 27: First missionary to gentiles, Philip & the Ethiopian
- Acts 9:11, 12, 15: Paul the apostle to gentiles is called and appointed
- Acts 10:11, 12: Peter’s vision to go to the gentiles
- Acts 11:17, 18, 26: Gentiles become Christians and called such
- Acts 11:19-21: Church headquarters moved from Jerusalem to Antioch
Again, there is little hard chronological data here so we cannot be too precise.
APPENDIX - Book of Acts Outline
The book of acts reads like a church report of progress at various stages beginning with Jesus sending out the disciples until the Gospel reached Rome. Each section concludes with a summary of the progress of the Gospel that naturally divides the book into six sections. The table below summarizes this.
|1:1 – 6:7||Gospel preached in Jerusalem||6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.|
|6:8 – 9:31||Gospel spreads from Jerusalem to Samaria||9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.|
|9:32 – 12:24||Gospel spreads to Antioch and 1st Gentile convert, Cornelius||12:24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.|
|12:25 – 16:5||Gospel spreads to Asia Minor including Galatia||16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.|
|16:6 – 19:20||Gospel spreads to Europe||19:20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.|
|19:20 – 28:31||Gospel spreads to Rome||28:31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ--with all boldness and without hindrance!|