As discussed in the previous blog posts on this topic, I decided to write an article on when Jesus died so I can shorten my other blog posts on Christian traditions by simply referring back to the article every time the topic comes up. However, there was so much information to go over that I was forced to divide it into several blog posts.
When considering the time of day, day of the week, year, and month and day of Jesus’ death, we find that these interplay deeply with each other and affect how we determine each. Previous blog posts addressed:
- Part I: Facts from the Bible
- Part II: Time of Jesus’ Death
- Part III: Day of the Week of Jesus’ Death
- Part IV: Year of Jesus’ Death: Chapter 1: Year of Jesus’ Birth
To determine the year of Jesus’ death, we have to consider the interplay of the various possible dates for the years of His birth, His ministry’s beginning, other important events, and His death. The determination of the year in which Jesus died is too complicated to cover one blog post, so it will be divided into two “chapters.” The second chapter, offered in this post, will address the year of Jesus’ ministry.
IV. YEAR OF JESUS’ DEATH
To determine the year of Jesus’ death, we have to consider the interplay of the various possible dates for the years of His birth, His ministry’s beginning, other important events, and His death.
It should be noted that His birth was traditionally dated at 1 A.D. by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century (there is no 0 A.D. or 0 B.C.), but that he set the date incorrectly. Specifically, he dated Jesus’ birth after the death of Herod the Great, as described above. Even the latest dates given for Herod’s death do not come in A.D., so Jesus had to have been born in B.C. In other words, if you thought Jesus was born in 1 A.D. and you’re basing your calculations of His birth and death on that concept, you should abandon that idea now.
Chapter 2. Year of Jesus’ Ministry.
In Fact 3, we learned that John the Baptist’s ministry started in Tiberius Caesar’s 15th year of reign; and in Fact 4, we learned that Jesus’ ministry started after John the Baptist’s ministry began. As mentioned above, John the Baptist’s ministry started in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Caiaphas was High Priest (the other facts about the various other personages don’t really help us much). In those days, it was common for successors to co-reign with the previous monarch for at least a few years before the previous monarch’s death. This was the case with Tiberius, who began co-regency with Caesar Augustus in 11 A.D. and began his full reign on Augustus’s death in 14 A.D. Therefore, 15 years into Tiberius’s reign could be approximately 26 A.D. or 29 A.D. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea from 26 A.D. to 36 A.D. and Caiaphas was High Priest from 18 A.D. to 36 A.D., so either date for the 15th year of Tiberius’s reign fits the other data and is therefore equally possible.
As also discussed in Fact 3, the Bible doesn’t say how long John the Baptist was preaching before Jesus came to him to get baptized, shortly after which Jesus Himself began His own ministry. However, it’s reasonable to believe that John had been preaching for a year, give or take some months, to gain the level of notoriety implied in the stories from Matthew and Luke about his arrest and eventual execution. If John began preaching in 26 A.D., using this estimate would give us 27 A.D. for the year Jesus’ ministry started. If he began preaching in 29 A.D., that would give us 30 A.D. for the year Jesus’ ministry started. As discussed in Fact 5, Jesus’ ministry started when He was about 30 years old; and as discussed in Chapter 1, Jesus was most likely born in 3 B.C. Remembering that there is no 0 B.C. or 0 A.D., adding 30 years to His birth in 3 B.C. gives us 27 A.D. for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
As discussed in Fact 8, Jesus made a prophecy at the beginning of His ministry, to which the Jews responded that the Temple had been under construction for 46 years (John 2:19-20). Herod the Great started the construction in the eighteenth year of his reign. According to Josephus, Herod was anointed king by the Romans 37 years before his death, but he began to reign over Jerusalem 34 years before his death. Josephus also identifies the year in which Herod began to reign over Jerusalem as 37 B.C. in one of his writings and as 36 B.C. in another. For many reasons, the 37 B.C. date is the most likely (Akin, 2013b; Akin, 2013c). Eighteen years after the start of his kingship began would be 19 B.C., and 18 years after the star of his reign over Jerusalem would be 16 B.C. From other sources, we know the Temple was completed in 64 A.D. Adding 46 years to the possible dates that construction began gives us approximately 27 A.D. or 30 A.D. for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. As discussed above and in Chapter 1, Jesus was most likely born in 3 B.C. and He was about 30 years old at the time of the start of His ministry. Again, we will add 30 years to His birth in 3 B.C. and get 27 A.D. for the start of His ministry.
As discussed in Fact 6, Jesus’ ministry spanned approximately three Passovers. So His ministry had to span at least a day longer than 2 years from the day before the Passover on one year to the day of the Passover two years later (recalling that He died on the day of the Passover). Of course, using only this data point, it could just as easily have lasted over three years. Nevertheless, this gives us a general understanding that we can add 2 or 3 years to the date His ministry started. As discussed above, the most likely date for the start of His ministry is 27 A.D., so 2 or 3 years later would give us an approximate year of death as 29 or 30 A.D.
Based on the previously discussed information regarding Jesus’ birth year, and based on facts regarding John the Baptist’s ministry, Jesus’ ministry, the age of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the length of Jesus’ ministry, we can estimate that Jesus’ ministry started in 27 A.D. and ended approximately 29 or 30 A.D. As we will learn in Part V, it’s actually possible to know the exact date of Jesus’ death based on other facts.
The last post will address:
- Part V: Full Date of Jesus’ Death
Akin, J. (13 April 2013b). “The 100-year old *mistake* about the Birth of Jesus.” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/the-100-year-old-mistake-about-the-birth-of-jesus/>.
Akin, J. (17 April 2013c). “Jesus’ birth and when Herod the Great *really* died.” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/jesus-birth-and-when-herod-the-great-really-died>.
I will edit this post to add the link to the final post in this series when it is published.