It’s all the moving around. Most Bible narratives take place in one corner of the Near East. But in Acts, several major characters loop-de-loop their way around the Roman empire.
The first few times I read Acts, all the new city and province names just blurred together in my mind, and that made it even harder to follow the story.
But a big-picture framework makes it easier to deal with the details. So here’s a timeline of Acts with the main things we need to know:
- Who the major characters/locations are
- Where their stories overlap
- The major events that drive those stories
This is NOT an in-depth look at all the towns and ports Paul visited. You can find that in the back of pretty much any Bible. This is just about getting the gist of the story and seeing how the characters interact. ;-)
Here you go: a timeline of Acts
[Click the image to enlarge]
More info about this timeline of Acts
It’s easy to follow Moses across the wilderness. It’s tougher to keep track of several major characters as they walk and sail and teleport (Ac 8:39–40) their way around the Roman empire.
Then I remembered how Randall Munroe at xkcd visualized movie narratives. If a system can work for a story like The Lord of the Rings, it’s probably up for the task of Acts.
This doesn’t cover every character. You’ll notice that John doesn’t have a line, nor the faithful Luke, nor the prophet Agabus. Here’s why:
- Some important characters don’t drive the overall story. For example, the apostle John was considered a pillar in the early church, but his activity in Acts is always tied to Peter.
- At a certain point, the timeline would get cluttered. This isn’t an in-depth survey of Acts: it’s just enough to help you see what’s going on throughout the book.
- Some characters aren’t that important to the story, but are included anyway (like Timothy and Philip). I threw them in as a way to give more context to the other characters, particularly Paul.
This isn’t to scale. Luke hits the high points of the early church’s spread, which means there are often many years between one sentence and the next. This timeline would be way too long if everything were scaled.