New Testament Chronology
New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)
The conclusion of this study is that Jesus was crucified on Friday, April 7, 30 CE. This was after the regular Passover, on the Jewish date Nisan 15 by sunrise reckoning. This date has been arrived at by a combination of facts, suppositions, and eliminations. The web of evidence that leads to 30 CE will here be reviewed. How firm is this conclusion?
The dating of the crucifixion can be reviewed independently of any preceding or following chronology. This will include the internal evidence of Scripture, some typology, and the calculated calendars of the period. Following will be a discussion of the evidence leading up to the years 30, 31 and 33 CE, and how that might modify or confirm the dating of the crucifixion.
The day of the crucifixion was a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. The Jewish day of the month was either Nisan 14 or Nisan 15, depending on whether the Last Supper was not, or was, the Passover. The day might be measured as beginning at sunrise or sunset, or both, depending on the calendars in use. A comparison of these variables with the astronomical calculations of Nisan 1, and the following Passover, yields the following possible dates for consideration:1
Possible Astronomical Dates of the Crucifixion
Note that the alignment of the sunset and sunrise calendars on April 7, 30 CE allows both Nisan 14 and Nisan 15 to fall on the same Friday. This alignment is not possible for the other dates considered. This consideration is critical to the possibility of there having been two Passovers observed, as discussed below.
The Passover supper is eaten in the evening of Nisan 14 according to the sunrise calendar, and on Nisan 15 according to the sunset calendar. Was the Last Supper a Passover supper? Yes, because:
1. The daylight preceding the Last Supper is described as the "first day of Unleavened Bread," (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7) that is, the beginning of Passover.
2. The "Passover lamb was being sacrificed" prior to the Last Supper (Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7).
3. The disciples asked, "Where do you want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?" (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:9)
4. Jesus "sent Peter and John, saying, `Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.'" (Luke 22:8)
5. The Last Supper was held after sunset, at night3 (Matt. 26:20; Mark 14:17; also John 13:30; 1 Cor. 11:23). The Passover meal was the only meal that began in the evening, after sunset.4 Although on special occasions a meal might continue into the evening, it was normal for the evening meal to begin before sunset. Since the Last Supper began after sunset it was likely because it was the Passover.
6. Jesus spent the night after the Last Supper in the immediate Jerusalem area. The night of Passover was to be spent in Jerusalem, as prescribed in Deut. 16:7.5 Jesus did not return to Bethany, outside the enlarged limits of Jerusalem, as he had on previous evenings.
Any discussion of whether the Last Supper contained the elements of the Seder may not be relevant, as that was a custom of the Diaspora where no lamb was sacrificed.6 The Passover lambs had been sacrificed, and Jesus said they were going to eat the Passover, the Last Supper. The Last Supper must have been a Passover meal. Jesus was crucified during the day after Passover, Nisan 15, whether by sunrise or sunset reckoning.
There are several considerations7 that have led many to conclude that the Last Supper was not the Passover meal:8
1. John described the Last Supper as "before the Feast of the Passover," (John 13:1) and that the Passover would be following the death of Jesus (John 18:28, 19:14).
2. Paul said that "Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed." (1 Cor. 5:7) Therefore, according to Christian typology, Jesus was sacrificed as the Passover Lamb.
From this it is concluded that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal and Jesus was crucified on Nisan 14. Can this contradiction stand in light of the previous conclusion that Jesus was crucified after the Passover, on Nisan 15?
There are two basic possible solutions to the above problem.
1. John's first comment can be interpreted to have been spoken before the Last Supper; the following verse then begins to describe that Passover meal. Or, John used the "Passover" interchangeably with the "Feast of Unleavened Bread." (Luke 22:1)9 Where John says the Passover, he is actually referring to the following Feast of Unleavened Bread. Therefore, the Last Supper was the Passover supper, and Jesus was crucified on Nisan 15.
2. There may have been two Passover meals observed at Jerusalem. This would be necessary because of the sometimes different dating by using the sunrise and sunset calendars. It is probable that the Temple authorities under the control of the Sadducees reckoned the Passover according to the sunrise calendar. The Pharisees and many pilgrims reckoned according to the sunset calendar.
It is here suggested that the Last Supper was the Passover meal, and Jesus was crucified on Nisan 15, according to sunrise reckoning. By the calendar of the Diaspora another Passover similar to a Seder was observed on the following evening of Nisan 15, according to sunset reckoning, and Jesus was crucified on Nisan 14. Thus, Jesus ate the Passover according to sunrise reckoning, and died on Nisan 15. This is a biblical day of new beginnings,10 and from that day humanity could find forgiveness of sin through the person of Jesus Christ. Also, according to the sunset calendar, Jesus was sacrificed as the Passover lamb on Nisan 14. This alignment occurs only in a month when the sunrise date precedes the sunset date (See Chart XXVII). As noted above, this combination of dating is possible only with the crucifixion on Friday, April 7, 30 CE (See Chart XXIX). The Last Supper was a Passover supper.
The above alignment of calendars has also been used to try to justify a 33 CE crucifixion.11 However, in 33 CE the new moon to determine Nisan 1 would have been observed at night, and the sunset day preceded the sunrise day (See Chart XXVIII). Two Passovers in that year are not possible since Nisan 14 by the sunrise calendar and Nisan 15 by the sunset calendar fall on the same evening. There is only one possible night for the Passover meal. To justify 33 CE it is necessary to establish that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal, in contradiction to the Scriptures.
The proof so far is strongly dependent on astronomical calculations. The beginning of the month at sunrise or sunset will always be twelve hours different, one way or the other. The distinction as to which calendar began the new year first, and the conclusion, is subtle. In 30 or 31 CE the sunrise month began first, and it is possible for Passover to fall on two succeeding evenings, depending on the calendar used. In 30 CE the Last Supper fell on the first Passover, and John's words are fulfilled by there being a Passover Seder after Jesus' crucifixion. But, in 31 CE the Last Supper would have to be the second Passover, and John's words must be explained away. In 33 CE the sunset month began first and Passover could only occur on the same evening, by either sunrise or sunset reckoning. If one accepts Jesus' words that the Last Supper was a Passover supper, and John's words that another Passover meal followed the crucifixion, then the year must be 30 CE.
Considering calendar arrangement, what are the choices? Friday, April 7, 30 CE uses two possible Passovers, and Jesus was crucified on both Nisan 14 (sunset reckoning) and Nisan 15 (sunrise reckoning). The scriptural chronology and the typology are satisfied. What about the other years?
A crucifixion on Thursday, April 6, 30 CE and Friday, April 3, 33 CE share a common problem. They can be satisfied only by the death of Jesus having occurred on Nisan 14. Then it must be demonstrated that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal. Such a proof has been repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, attempted over the years. Such remains a major weakness of these dates.
A crucifixion on Wednesday, March 28, 31 CE would be on Nisan 15, according to the sunset calendar. This would align well with the calendar of that year, and the Last Supper was the second Passover meal. The following references by John to the Passover can then be interpreted as meaning the Feast of Unleavened Bread. However, Paul's typology of Christ as the Passover Lamb is not satisfied.
The traditional days of a Good Friday crucifixion and an Easter Sunday resurrection are easy possibilities to establish from Scripture. No supporting traditional memory is required. However, the presentation of Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God on Nisan 10, required by typology, is known as Palm Sunday. This requires a tradition independent of Scripture. Only with the crucifixion on Good Friday, Nisan 15, according to sunrise reckoning, does the preceding Nisan 10 fall on Palm Sunday (See Chart XXVI). Only the April 7, 30 CE date fully supports such a tradition.
Although the crucifixion on Thursday, Nisan 14, would have Palm Sunday on Nisan 10, the crucifixion is not on Good Friday and the resurrection not on Sunday. With a crucifixion on Nisan 14 in 33 CE, Nisan 10 must be renamed Palm Monday. The Wednesday crucifixion has the preceding Nisan 10 on Friday. These dates must all be rejected, or the traditional Palm Sunday must be rejected.
Jesus died and was resurrected on the third day. This was according to Jewish reckoning that counted a part of a day as a whole day, and counted inclusively. How do the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday crucifixions fit this requirement?
1. With a Wednesday afternoon death of Jesus, His resurrection is said to have been in the late afternoon on Saturday. This is four days by either sunrise or sunset reckoning. It was determined that the term, "three days and three nights," (Matt. 12:30-40) was a figure of speech with no requirement that the interpretation must be seventy-two hours. The Wednesday crucifixion reverses the order of the days and nights, ignores the interval between Jesus' death and burial, and then its supporters claim it to be a literal fulfillment. The Wednesday crucifixion is a difficult choice.
2. The Thursday crucifixion literally fulfills the expression, "three days and three nights," according to Jewish reckoning. It also fulfills three days according to sunrise reckoning, if Jesus arose before sunrise on Sunday. This is an attractive choice.
3. The Friday crucifixion must treat the "three days and three nights" as not literal, as the time was only a little over twenty-seven hours. With Jesus rising a little after sunrise Sunday, it was three days by either sunrise or sunset reckoning. Friday is the generally selected day, as it was also known as the day of preparation.
Jesus was crucified on the "preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath." (Mark 15:42; also Luke 23:54; Ant. XVI 6:2) Therefore, Jesus was crucified on Friday.
Festivals, such as the Passover, were also observed with a Sabbath rest (Lev. 23). If the day before these festival Sabbaths was also called the "preparation," then Wednesday and Thursday again enter consideration. With a Wednesday crucifixion, Thursday would have been a Sabbath, Friday a regular day, with Jesus arising on the Saturday Sabbath. However, this scenario has the fatal flaw that the women would not have come to anoint the body of Jesus until the fourth day, Sunday.12 This would have been an unacceptable delay (John 11:39), as the women would have bought spices to anoint Jesus' body on the intervening day between the Sabbaths, Friday. They would not have waited until Sunday, as the Scriptures demand. Again, the Wednesday crucifixion is a difficult choice.
There was no intervening day between Sabbaths with a Thursday or Friday crucifixion, and both remain possible. Only the Friday crucifixion in 30 CE does not have some Scriptural or astronomical difficulty, and all the Scriptures are satisfied. How do the possible crucifixion years fare as the end of a prior chronological sequence?
In leading up to the year of Jesus' death, there are Scriptural references that allow the dating of the baptism of Jesus and the following first Passover of His ministry. With this dating, it is then necessary to determine the number of years between His first Passover and the crucifixion Passover. There are three Scriptures that help to determine the possible year of Jesus' baptism:
1. When Jesus began his ministry He was "about thirty years of age." (Luke 3:23) The Annunciation of the conception of Jesus to Mary most likely occurred on March 25, 5 BCE. In support of this day was the dating of the division of Abijah, the "sixth month" of the Syro-Macedonian calendar, and the first appearance of the Star of the Magi. Nine months later, Jesus was born on about Christmas Day, December 25, 5 BCE, on Kislev 25 (Hannakuh). Thirty years later ended on December 24, 27 CE by the Julian calendar, but not until January 10, 28 CE by the Syro-Macedonian and Jewish calendars. With the baptism of Jesus on the traditional day of January 6, here in 28 CE, Jesus was thirty or thirty-one years old, depending on the calendar, or "about thirty." His baptism might fall up to a year earlier and still meet the requirement of His being thirty, but not earlier since John the Baptist, a Levite, would not have begun his ministry until he was thirty. Dating after January 10, 28 CE must assume that Luke was not aware of the precise dating, and such was not so. To place the baptism of Jesus at the age of thirty-two or thirty-three does not do justice to Luke's dating. A first Passover of Jesus ministry in 28 CE best fits this Scripture.
2. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea when John the Baptist began his ministry (Luke 3:1-2). The departure of Pilate from Judea was most likely in February of 37 CE. Josephus said he had been governor for ten years, and by his dating, this would have begun with Nisan of 27 CE. He further relates that when Pilate first arrived in Judea he sent his troops to Jerusalem for their "winter quarters." This would place Pilate's arrival by the fall of 27 CE. The earliest first Passover of Jesus would have been in 28 CE. This is in accord with a 30 CE crucifixion after a ministry of a little over two years or a 31 CE crucifixion after three and a half years. At this point of review a later first Passover remains possible.
3. John the Baptist began his ministry in the "fifteenth year of Tiberius." (Luke 3:1-2) This has two likely solutions. The first continues the use of Luke using the Syro-Macedonian calendar, which is probable since he was writing to a fellow Greek at Antioch. This would place the fifteenth year from October 20, 27 to October 9, 28 CE. The earliest first Passover would again have been in 28 CE.
The other possible Roman solution would be according to dynastic reckoning from the accession of Tiberius on August 19, 14 CE. The fifteenth year would have been from August 19, 28 to August 18, 29 CE. Thus, the first passover of Jesus' ministry might have been in 29 or 30 CE. With the later dating and a three-and-a-half-year ministry, Jesus would have been crucified in 33 CE.
Missing is the possibility of a crucifixion in 30 CE following a three-and-a-half-year ministry. This would require a first Passover in 27 CE, before Pilate came to Judea and before the fifteenth year of Tiberius. The proposal that Luke would have measured the fifteenth year of Tiberius from 12 CE, when he became the "colleague" of Augustus, is without scriptural or historical support. Also, it does not answer the dating of Pilate's arrival in Judea later in 27 CE. The first Passover was not before 28 CE.
There is only one scriptural clue to dating the first Passover. At that time the Jews said to Jesus, "It took forty-six years to build this temple." (John 2:20) Herod began construction on the Temple in about December/January of 20/21 BCE. Using full years, so as not to exaggerate, the forty-six years were complete about the end of 27 CE, and a first Passover in 28 CE fits.13
Such dating is incompatible with a 30 CE first Passover, and a following 33 CE crucifixion. Therefore, another interpretation uses the fact that the Holy of Holies was completed in a year and six months, or about June of 18 BCE. Then the Scripture is reinterpreted to mean forty-six years since the Temple was completed. The forty-six years would have been complete in June of 29 CE, with a first Passover in 30 CE. However, the Jews were comparing forty-six years of rebuilding the Temple to Jesus' supposed claim of three days to rebuild that same Temple. They were not comparing forty-six years of no building being done, or rebuilding only a part of the Temple, the Holy of Holies. This solution is in the same category as explaining the fifteenth year of Tiberius with a co-regency; it is not an expected meaning of the words of Scripture.
The most probable first Passover of Jesus was in 28 CE. John mentions three Passovers (John 2:13, 6:4, 13:1), and this would place two years between the first and last Passover. The last Passover and crucifixion of Jesus were in 30 CE.
Because of the seeming necessity of having three years between the first and last Passover, a "feast" mentioned by John is usually misplaced (John 5:1). However, this Feast is the same Passover season as the following mentioned Feast of Unleavened Bread (John 6:1). This can be determined by the timing of the beheading of John the Baptist. Also, at the time Jesus went to the "feast" he was alone. The only time that was possible was when he sent out the twelve Apostles to preach, just before the same Feast of Unleavened Bread. With this arrangement a harmony of the Gospels falls comfortably into place, with a ministry of about two years and three months. With two years between the first and last Passover, a 33 CE crucifixion is no longer possible. A three-and-a-half-year ministry is Scripturally unnecessary, and only a product of attempting a prophetic fulfillment of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel.
Jesus was born on about December 25, 5 BCE. He was baptized by John the Baptist on about January 6, 28 CE. After a ministry of two years and three months He was crucified on Friday, April 7, 30 CE. He was resurrected to eternal life on Sunday, April 9, 30 CE. This is the only dating that fully satisfies the Scriptures and the reconstruction of ancient history and calendars. The following Jewish dates are by the Second Temple Calendar. The most probable chronology of Jesus is as follows:
Chronology of Jesus
With the crucifixion established in 30 CE, there is a firm starting
point for the following history of the Church, as described by Luke in
the Book of Acts.
1. Dating before 30 and after 33 CE has been eliminated based on earlier discussions. No date was astronomically possible in 29 or 32 CE.
2. Not considered for 31 CE is Nisan 15 on the sunrise calendar, possible with a one-day delay in the new year, or the April 25 date based on a late intercalated Ve-Adar.
3. R. T. Beckwith, "The Day, Its Divisions, and Its Limits, in Biblical Thought," EQ 43 (1971), 219, indicates that the Old Testament prescription that the Passover lamb was to be killed "between the evenings" was at nightfall. The Passover meal was then eaten after sunset, in the evening.
4. J. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1966), 44-46.
5. Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 55.
6. The present ritual of the Seder appears to be primarily derived from rabbinic traditions established after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. See B. M. Bokser, "Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder?," BR 3 (1987). However, a Passover without a lamb sacrificed at Jerusalem must have occurred many centuries before.
7. See Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 62-84, for an extended list.
8. D. Farner, "The Lord's Supper Until He Comes," GTJ 6 (Fall, 1986), 391-401, argues against the Last Supper as a Passover for the theological reason of establishing the Eucharist as a Christian ritual not tied to Jewish law.
9. Compare Matt. 27:15 and Mark 15:6 with John 18:39 where two say the "feast" and the one the "Passover."
10. See the discussion in the chapter, "The Sixth Month."
11. See the chart of the Dallas Theological Seminary in H. W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977), 89. The alignment is according to Chart XXVII, but with the Synoptic and John's reckoning reversed.
12. Luke 24:1, for example, says they brought spices on the first day of the week, Sunday.
13. Also, the forty-sixth inclusive Nisan years would begin in 26 CE, which could indicate a first Passover in 26 or 27, except that Pilate had not yet arrived in Judea.