Topic(s): Time, Old Testament

Bob Prichard

The historical time between the completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament covers about 400 years. This is the time between Malachi, the last writing prophet of the Old Testament, and the beginning of the New Testament period in the first century. 

These four silent centuries were a time when no inspired men wrote Scripture. Information on this period comes primarily from the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, Greek and Roman historians, and a collection of books known as the Apocrypha. Although not inspired, these writings contain valuable information. It is an important period to study, because it illuminates the changes in the religious scene between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. Studying the inter-testamental period illuminates the development of the synagogues, sects such as the Sadducees and Pharisees, and other features of the New Testament world.

The between the testaments time divides into four periods. The first, the Persian period (400-332 B.C.), was a time of relative peace and prosperity, a time when the political power of the high priest increased, the system of synagogues as schools of religious instruction spread, the scribes became powerful, and the Aramaic language gradually superseded the Hebrew language as the language of the Jewish people.

The Greek period (332-167 B.C.) saw the conquest of the known world by Alexander the Great, and his empire divided among his four main generals at his death. Of the four resulting kingdoms, the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria most impacted the Jews. The Koine Greek language became thelanguage of world trade during this time. The New Testament was written in Koine. Jewish culture began to spread to the whole world, and Jews in Alexandria translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek in the Septuagint translation.

The abuses of the Seleucid rulers, particularly Antiochus Epiphanes, caused the revolt of the Jews that brought the independent period known as the Maccabean period (167-63 B.C.). Under the rule of the Maccabees, a powerful Jewish family, there was continuing internal strife, as the divisions between sects of the Jews such as the Sadducees and Pharisees became more distinct. The high priesthood became more political and aligned with the Sadducees.

The Roman period began in 63 B.C. when general Pompey conquered Palestine. The Jews remained under Roman control, with limited self-government, until the Romans completely crushed Jerusalem and Judea in 70 A.D. The Roman period provided the properly prophesied environment for the Messiah to come (Daniel 2:44). When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law (Galatians 4:4). The Roman period provided a time of unprecedented peace (the Pax Romana), magnificent highways, and uniform laws that aided the spread of the gospel by the first century church. As the church grew, Judaism declined in power.


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