Literature consists of thoughts or ideas expressed in words. Literature conveys ideas which are related to
other ideas and these ideas are expressed in words which relate to other words. When words are put together
that have a relationship with each other, they contain particular words that define the nature of that relationship.
Words relate to each other by defining subject, action, time and space. If one of these is not indicated there is
uncertainty in the information given. Historical literature to be of any use to a later reader must define the
subject, the action, the time and the location. The Bible is largely historical literature. Particular words indicate
chronological order either directly or indirectly. When those words begin a statement they are either in
themselves an introduction, i.e. dates, or they indicate that the thought contained within that statement follows
the thought contained in the previous statement. Other words contained elsewhere within a statement also refer
to things mentioned in a previous statement, indicating a dependency, therefore the later statement follows. The
things which indicate chronological order are;
Dates indicate chronological order, also names of parts of the year, names of days or parts thereof. e.g. festivals,
particular months, morning evening, at that time, etc.
Ordinal numbers. e.g. firstly, secondly etc.
Temporal adverbs. E.g. When, then, after, now, before, etc.
Particular verbs. Some verbs are dependent upon a particular situation. Such as, “reply” and “answer,” which
imply a question having already been put forward. Likewise, “it came to pass” implies an action has already
occurred and introduces one to come. The present tense takes the reader back into that time frame. So when the
writer writes, “says” instead of “said” the intention is that one lives through what has been recorded. This
indicates that chronology is set. For if the author’s intention is that the reader relive an historical event, how can
it be done except that each event is recorded in chronological order.
Participles: Some participles such as “having been loosed, being loosed, having become” tend to imply a certain
situation already exists and the idea introduced by the participle therefore follows that situation.
Imperatives. Commands are given to an audience, which has usually already been defined. It is highly unlikely
that a totally independent event would ever be introduced by such a declaration such as “Look” or “but look.”
Relative pronoun. A relative pronoun if it begins a statement indicates dependency, because it refers to a person
or thing already named.
Personal pronouns. These indicate dependency. The personal pronoun, except the first person personal pronoun,
substitutes for a preceding person, therefore it must follow it. Likewise pronouns substitute for a preceding noun.
Nouns. Such as “the twelve,” and “the Pharisees,” when used as subjects or objects, and then again immediately
referred to as either subjects or objects indicate a dependency.
Demonstratives such as “which” and “that”, always introduce a dependent statement and therefore indicate
Interrogatives. These in asking a question refer to someone previously mentioned. Therefore they indicate
Conjunctions. “But” always indicates chronological order for it contrasts the idea to come with the idea
previously stated and is therefore dependent upon it.“Because” indicates the idea to come is the result of the
idea just mentioned. “And” almost always indicates chronological order in that it adds the idea to come to the
idea previously stated and is dependent upon its completion. However in a more simple use it may be used to
merely indicate that two or more ideas, things or actions are present. E.g. a shopping list: or a description of an
inanimate scene. However once the scene is animated by some event occurring, then ideas tend to become
chronologically dependent otherwise, irrelevancy is introduced.
Negatives & Affirmatives. “Yes, no, neither, none, certainly, indeed” are replies to previous questions and
therefore indicates that it is a dependent statement.
Dialogue must be set in narrative to give it reference to time and space. While it is possible for dialogue to
precede narrative this is rare and usually confined to poetry or fiction where it is used for dramatic effect.
Dialogue does not precede narrative in the historic books of the Old Testament, the Gospels or Epistles but it
does occur in the Psalms.
Themes, episodes, events or incidents often indicate chronological order. There is an overall theme to each
Gospel and that is the atonement but there are lesser themes, episodes, events or incidents that fit into that
overall theme to produce a climax in the crucifixion. In many instances it is plain that some events must precede
others. In other cases it is not so plain. However within a certain event or episode there must be a chronological
order so that it holds together for it to be even considered an event. Since this is the case the only instance where
discontinuity in chronological order may occur is between events.
Literature qualities such as irony, contrast, emphasis or reinforcement of ideas also often give an indication of
chronological order and integrity of the document.
Prophecy and its fulfilment occur in the Gospels. Where it occurs, it indicates chronological order, for the
prophecy must come first and the fulfilment second. A Quotation of the Old Testament follows its introduction.
Geography, indirectly illustrates chronology when it is plain that a set route is being followed or that a series of
events all occur in the one location.
Logic. Some events by their very nature must follow another stated event.
Theology is the study of God as revealed in His word. Theology is therefore also a study of words and their
relationship to each other. The relationship of one word to another or one event, described by words, to another
event also described by words, forms its context. It is important to realize that chronology is an integral
component of context. Without considering context, many parts of the Bible could not be satisfactorily studied.
If one were to say, as Papias and many false scholars say, that the Gospels are a collection of sayings orally
communicated by the Apostles and passed on to several generations of the Church before being set down in
writing by a group of editors, which implies an indeterminate chronology, then one is saying that essentially
context has little or no meaning in the Gospels. Yet the history of cults is that they continually take Gospel
sayings out of context and misapply them. Context is important.
It can be seen that more than just dates and temporal adverbs indicate chronology in literature. The
conveying of ideas through words in literature can be quite complex and subtle. Generally speaking the more
sophisticated a work, the more information that is contained in that work though less obvious means. That is
where the beauty of language lies. The foregoing are the things looked for and used in assessing each particular
portion of the Gospels as to its chronological definiteness or otherwise.