New Testament Chronology
New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)
Establishing the date of Jesus' crucifixion is the ultimate aim of most New Testament chronologies. That dating mostly divides between those who support His death and resurrection at Passover in 30 or 33 CE, with a few claiming 31 CE. There is almost universal acceptance that Jesus' ministry lasted about three and a half years. Therefore, His baptism is usually established by backdating from His crucifixion, that is, to the fall of 26, 27 or 29. Jesus' first Passover is thus placed in 27, 28 or 30, depending on which year is supported for His death. The Scriptural and historical information relating to Jesus' baptism and the length of His ministry is then often massaged to fit one of the above schemes. However, the available clues can be evaluated independent of earlier or later events and without first establishing a date for the crucifixion.
The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist would seem fairly easy to date as there are several specific clues. Luke dates this event very carefully, and there are two dates that are relevant. The first to be discussed is Jesus' baptism during the governorship of Pontius Pilate. Although his arrival in Judea is often dated to 26 CE, it will be demonstrated that Pilate did not arrive until the summer or fall of 27. If John baptized Jesus shortly thereafter, this would place the earliest possible first Passover of His ministry in 28. This eliminates the possibility of a three-and-a-half-year ministry ending in 30.
Luke also dates Jesus' baptism in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar. The approach taken here is that Luke continued to date by his Syro-Macedonian calendar. This places the fifteenth year of Tiberius from October 20, 27 to October 9, 28 CE. This fits with the arrival of Pontius Pilate by the fall of 27, with an earliest first Passover still in 28. Of the other interpretations Roman dynastic reckoning is most likely. This places the fifteenth year from August 19, 28 to August 18, 29. In that scenario Jesus' first Passover might fall in 29 or 30.
Since Jesus was born about December 25, 5 BCE, Luke's statement can be confirmed that He was baptized when He was "about thirty" years old. Jesus was thirty years old through 27 CE, until December 24 by the Julian calendar, but still thirty into early 28 according to the Jewish or Syro-Macedonian calendars. Luke's statement fits best if Jesus was baptized while He was still thirty, earlier or later dates being less likely. The traditional date of January 6 is examined for 28 CE. On that date Jesus was still thirty years old by the Jewish or Syro-Macedonian calendars, but thirty-one according to the Julian or Babylonian calendars. The difference probably accounts for Luke's use of the imprecise term, "about."
The baptism of Jesus on January 6, 28 best fits Luke's dating of that event. That day fell in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, was after Pontius Pilate arrived in Judea, and was while He was still thirty years old. Thus, the first Passover of His ministry was in 28. This year is examined in relation to the claim that by that time it had taken forty-six years to build the Temple. The rebuilding of the Temple began about the end of December of 20 or January of 21 BCE. There would have been forty-six full years of rebuilding by January of 28 CE, and the reference to forty-six years as full years would have been appropriate at Passover of 28. Other interpretations that attempt to extend the forty-six years to an earlier or later Passover add difficulties.
Last in this section are three chapters examining the length of Jesus' ministry. This first discussion centers on the placement of a "feast" mentioned by John. It is there concluded that John referred to the Passover of 29 CE, during the same festival days when Jesus fed the five thousand at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. There are two reasons for this placement. One is the timing of the death of John the Baptist. The other is the fact that Jesus was alone at the festival since He had sent out His disciples to witness. There were thus only three Passovers during Jesus' ministry. This leads to the conclusion that Jesus' ministry lasted about two years and three months, not three and a half years. A harmony of the ministry of Jesus is at the end of the chapter.
Next is a review of the one-year ministry based on Jesus having proclaimed the "favorable year of the Lord." It does not seem possible to establish that Jesus was proclaiming a Jubilee year. However, Jesus read the words of Isaiah at the beginning of His second year of ministry. He was proclaiming that year as the time when the Lord would favor Israel with His presence. This interpretation confirms the two-year ministry of Jesus.
Finally, the popular three-and-a-half-year ministry is shown to be a weak interpretation. The underlying intent is often to satisfy the "seventy weeks" prophesied to Daniel. A discussion of the various interpretations of that prophesy show that a correct solution has yet to be found, or revealed.
Jesus' baptism on January 6, 28, a first Passover in 28, and a ministry of two years and three months leads to the most popular date for Jesus' crucifixion, at Passover of 30 CE. That date will require close examination on its own merits in the following section.