New Testament Chronology

New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)

Kenneth Frank Doig
Exact Dating of the Birth and Crucifixion of Jesus



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Chapter 13

The year of Jesus' first Passover will establish the anchor date for His ministry. This Passover will be the first one following His baptism by John. It has been established that the traditional date of January 6 in 28 CE was a likely date for His baptism. The following first Passover would then have been March 29, 28 CE. Can this date be supported by evidence independent of previous or following events?

There is only one passage that may help to identify specifically the year of the first Passover of Jesus' ministry, and that refers to there having been forty-six years since the Temple was begun. Additionally, it is possible to limit the range of possible years of this Passover from 28 to 31.

I. Range of Years of First Passover

The earliest year of Jesus' first Passover was the first one that followed His baptism. His baptism is presumed to have followed shortly after John the Baptist began his ministry during the fifteenth year of Tiberius, "when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea." (Luke 3:1) The earliest date of the fifteenth year of Tiberius according to Luke began October 20, 27, and Pontius Pilate arrived in Judea about that time. Therefore, the earliest possible first Passover was the one following the arrival of Pilate, or in 28 CE.

The latest possible first Passover can be inferred from the year in which the main Temple area was completed. At Jesus' first Passover the Jews spoke as though the Temple were still being rebuilt. This was before the main Temple complex was completed in late 30. This is determined by the completion of the Hanuyot colonnade, which is in the Temple precincts, most likely the Royal Portico. Then the Sanhedrin was transferred to there from the Lishkat Hagazit, "Chamber of Hewn Stone." This occurred, according to Talmudic sources, forty years before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE (Sanhedrin 41:2; Abodah-Zarah 8:2). The Temple was destroyed on Ab 9, or August 5, 70. The reckoning of this date is according to the Diaspora calendar that began the year in the fall month of Tishri. By counting back forty years the Temple would have been completed in the year beginning in the fall of 30 CE. The final completion of the entire Temple mount occurred during the administration of the Roman governor Albinus (62-64 CE) when "the temple was finished." (Ant. XX 9:7) Thus, if the completion of the main Temple complex limits the Jews' reference to forty-six years, then the latest first Passover of Jesus' ministry would likely be in 31. The first Passover of Jesus' ministry is thus limited to the years 28, 29, 30 or 31.

II. Forty-six Years to Build this Temple

During Jesus' first Passover the Jews asked for a sign, and He responded, "`Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews therefore said, `It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?' But He was speaking of the temple of His body." (John 2:19-21) These passages are the only scriptural clue to independently establishing the year of Jesus' first Passover.

What did Jesus mean by "temple," how did the Jews interpret His meaning, and what did the Jews mean by "temple?" Understanding each perspective will help to decide the probable starting point of the forty-six years. Then, there is the problem of interpreting the claim of uninspired bystanders that it took forty-six years to build the Temple. Their words are truly reported, but are they speaking truly?

Jesus referred to His own body as naos, a temple or shrine. He was standing in the Court of the Gentiles, near the front of the main Temple. The Jews thought He was referring to that structure, not His body. They thought Jesus was saying that if that Temple were destroyed, He would build it again in three days. They responded to Jesus with His same word, naos, which they claimed had taken forty-six years to build. They confronted Jesus with the impossibility of rebuilding in three days what had taken forty-six years to build. The Jews knew when the Temple had been begun, and they took spiritual and psychological refuge in that knowledge.

Jesus had just driven from the Temple the merchants of sheep and oxen and the moneychangers. He then confronted those selling the doves, and He was then asked by the "Jews" to show a sign. This was probably asked by a Temple scribe and echoed by the crowd that must have gathered. The claim of forty-six years to rebuild the Temple also must have been validated by the crowd. They contrasted the building process of three days against forty-six years and are not likely to have minimized their argument by exaggerating. Under these circumstances the forty-six years should represent a reliable number of years "to build this temple."

The approximate month and year in which the rebuilding of the Temple was begun can be established from the history of Josephus. He wrote, "now Herod, in the eighteenth year of his reign, and after the acts already mentioned, undertook a very great work, that is, to build of himself the temple of God." (Ant. XV 11:1) Josephus also gave the fifteenth year, (Wars I 21:1) which probably refers to the year in which Herod began the rebuilding of the Temple mount, not the Holy of Holies. According to Josephus the eighteenth year from Herod beginning his rule in Jerusalem would have begun Nisan 1, 20 BCE. This was "after the acts already mentioned," one act being "when Herod had already reigned seventeen years, Caesar came into Syria." (Ant. XV 10:3) This implies that near the end of his seventeenth year, early 20 BCE, that Augustus visited Syria. This is confirmed by Dio Cassius (Roman History LIV 7:4-6). Also, Josephus said that Augustus visited Syria ten years after his first visit, which was in 30 BCE (Wars I 21:1). When, in Herod's eighteenth year, beginning Nisan of 20 BCE, was the Temple begun?

Herod, in a public speech, announced his intention to rebuild the Temple. He promised not to begin the actual rebuilding process until everything was prepared. This included "a thousand wagons, that were to bring stones for the building, and chose out ten thousand of the most skilful workmen, and brought a thousand sacerdotal garments for the priests, and has some of them taught the art of stone-cutters, and other of carpenters, and then began to build; but this was not till everything was well prepared for the work." (Ant. XV 11:2) The preparations would have taken until later in that year, but the actual rebuilding process still must have been begun during Herod's eighteenth year. That is Josephus' emphasis on the eighteenth year.

To establish when the Temple was begun during that year it is necessary to backdate from the completion of the Holy of Holies. Josephus wrote, "the temple itself was built by the priests in a year and six months. . . . They feasted and celebrated this rebuilding of the temple, . . . for at the same time with this celebration for the work about the temple, fell also the day of the king's inauguration." (Ant. XV 11:6) The month that falls a year and six months before Herod's inauguration will be the month in 20 BCE when the actual rebuilding of the Temple began. When was his inauguration?

Was this the inauguration when he was made king by the Romans in 40 BCE, or when he captured Jerusalem in 37 BCE? After Herod captured Jerusalem, the Jews refused to acknowledge his appointment as king by the Romans. Herod had initially issued coins in the Roman style dated year three from his appointment in Rome. Later the Jews did nominally accept him as king. One concession by Herod is seen in his later undated Jewish-style coins. If the Jews recognized his inauguration date it would have been that which must have occurred shortly after he took Jerusalem, from which this eighteenth year is dated. When did Herod capture Jerusalem?

Jerusalem was captured when, "This destruction befell the city of Jerusalem when Marcus Agrippa and Caninius Gallus were consuls at Rome, on the 185th Olympiad, on the third month, on the solemnity of the fast, as if a periodical revolution of calamities had returned since that which befell the Jews under Pompey; for the Jews were taken by him on the same day, and this was after twenty-seven years time." (Ant. XIV 16:4) Herod captured Jerusalem on the fast in the third month, that is, the fast for Jeroboam forbidding sacrifices in Jerusalem, on Sivan 22.1 On that day, or shortly thereafter, was Herod's inauguration as king.

In 18 BCE Sivan 22 fell on June 25, about which time the Holy of Holies was completed. A year and six months before this was Kislev 22, or December 19, 20 BCE. Using eighteen lunar months, the probable intervening Ve-Adar might mean the date was Tebeth 22, or January 18, 19 BCE. Thus, the rebuilding of Herod's Temple was begun in about December/January of 20/21 BCE. The forty-six years would be measured from this point when rebuilding began, and not from Herod's speech.

December of 27 CE was forty-six complete years later. According to the Syro-Macedonian calendar by which Herod reckoned his reign the forty-six years began with the fall month of Dios in 20 BCE. The forty-six years were complete by Dios of 27 CE. In either case the Passover of 28 is the only Passover that can occur after forty-six complete years, of which can truly be said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple." (John 2:20) This is shown on Chart XVII as "Full Years."

Chart XVII
Dating the Forty-six Years to Build the Temple
(Year dating from Nisan 1)

A first Passover in 28 CE might lead to a crucifixion in either 30 following a ministry of a little over two years, or 31 following a three-and-a-half-year ministry.

III. Other Interpretations of the "Forty-six Years"

A first Passover in 27 is required for a chronology in which Jesus is crucified after a three-and-a-half-year ministry in 30. This requires interpreting the "forty-six years" as meaning during the forty-sixth year, before the forty-sixth year was complete. This would have been a slight exaggeration. However, if the forty-six years were according to a year beginning in Nisan the timing would be exact, as the forty-six years would have been completed several weeks earlier. However, placing the first Passover in 27 requires a demonstration that Pontius Pilate became governor in 26 instead of 27. Also, the Passover of 27 would fall before the "fifteenth year of Tiberius" when John began his ministry, unless one accepts that dating is from a "co-regency." Additionally, it will be shown in the following chapter that a three-and-a-half-year ministry for Jesus is unnecessary and unwarranted. A first Passover in 27 is difficult to establish and support.

Another popular year for the crucifixion of Jesus is 33, again following a ministry of about three and a half years. This requires a first Passover in 30. To use the "forty-six years" and move the first Passover out to 29 or 30 there are several ways to attempt the shift. One way is to note that after Josephus said that Herod began "to build of himself the temple of God" in his eighteenth year that "he thought to prepare them first by making a speech to them." (Ant. XV 11:1) It is then assumed that only the speech and extensive preparations were done in Herod's eighteenth year and, possibly, nineteenth year. The actual rebuilding is then presumed to have not begun until a year or two later.2 This allows one to backdate from a predetermined first Passover by forty-six years and then claim that a year such as 18 BCE was the most probable year in which the rebuilding of the Temple began. Then 30 CE would be after forty-six complete years. However, Josephus' emphasis seems clear that the Temple rebuilding began in Herod's eighteenth year, along with the speech and preparations. A forward shift in the year the Temple was begun is not supported.

Another attempted solution uses the fact that Josephus said that the Temple was begun in both the fifteenth and eighteenth years of Herod's reign. These are taken as the same year in 23 BCE, which is the eighteenth from Herod's appointment in Rome and the fifteenth from capturing Jerusalem.3 It is then argued that it took eight years to complete the first phase of the Temple, ending in 16 BCE. The forty-six years are then measured inclusively from this point, ending in 30 CE. This is illustrated on Chart XVII as "From the 15th Year." It was shown above, however, that Josephus meant the eighteenth year from Herod's capture of Jerusalem, that is, 20 BCE. Also, this would be during the forty-sixth year, as opposed to the more probable forty-six complete years. These, and additional difficulties, have caused even those who reckon from a first Passover in 30 to reject this theory.

Recognizing the difficulties of the above solutions has led others who want Jesus' first Passover to be in 30 in a different direction. This interpretation examines the original Greek usage of "temple." Naos was the term used for the sanctuary, whereas, hieron, a sacred place, usually referred to the entire Temple complex and courts. It is contended that the Jews were referring to the sanctuary of the Holy of Holies, and the forty-six years are to be measured not from the beginning of construction, but from its completion. The grammar appears such that no recognition of an ongoing building process is mandatory, and the reference may be to that of the completed Temple associated with the Holy of Holies. Thus, an alternate suggested translation of John would be: "It has been forty-six years since this temple was built, and You will raise it up in three days?" This would then date from the completion of the Holy of Holies after a year and six months.4 This would be forty-six years from the end of June in 18 BCE. This would end in June of 29 CE, with the following first Passover in 30. This is shown on Chart XVII by the combination of "Temple Decree 1½ Years" (three years with Nisan new year) and "Sacred Temple Complete." This would represent forty-six full years since the Holy of Holies was completed.

The Holy of Holies was within the main Temple and separate (1 Kings 7:50). The main Temple was not completed until late 30 or early 31 CE, with the precincts continuing to be built until 60 to 62. Limiting the comment about the forty-six years to only the Holy of Holies is out of context. The crowd must have interpreted Jesus as meaning that He would rebuild the entire Temple that stood before them, not just the inner sanctuary. The retranslation is weak, and presupposes a solution. The Jews were comparing the rebuilding process of three days to forty-six years. They were not comparing three days to one and a half years. This interpretation emphasizes not the time of rebuilding but how sturdy the structure was to have stood forty-six years. This would be an unimpressive time for such as the Temple. The Jews were comparing forty-six years of building the Temple, not forty-six years of nothing happening. A first Passover in 30 is a difficult choice based on the Jews' comment about forty-six years to build the Temple.

IV. Conclusion

The first Passover of Jesus' ministry was on March 29, 28 CE. This followed His baptism on about January 6, 28, as established by the "fifteenth year of Tiberius," Pontius Pilate's arrival in Judea, and "about thirty years of age." It fell forty-six full years after Herod began rebuilding the Temple in about December/January of 20/21 BCE. It is the first of three Passovers mentioned by John, which encompass the following two-year-and-three-month ministry of Jesus. The length of His ministry is examined in the following chapters. This will lead to the conclusion that Jesus was crucified in CE 30.


1. A. P. Bloch, Day by Day in Jewish History - A Chronology and Calendar of Historic Events (New York: KTAV, 1983), 209, note 65; M. F. Unger, Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody, 1981), 164.

2. R. Anderson, The Coming Prince 10th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, rep. 1980), 263-264.

3. H. W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977), 39-40.

4. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects, 40-43.



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