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 15

The idea that the ministry of Jesus lasted only one year has had its scattering of support through the centuries. This approach is not based on the chronological events described in the ministry of Jesus, but from one passage in Luke when Jesus repeated the words of Isaiah and proclaimed the "favorable year of the Lord." This originally suggested a ministry of only one year, but later was interpreted as the announcement of a Jubilee year.

Jesus read from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord." (Luke 4:18-19) The words of Isaiah continue, "and the day of vengeance of our God." (Isa. 61:2) Was Jesus proclaiming a one-year ministry and/or a Jubilee year? What is the connection of Isaiah's words proclaiming the "day of vengeance?"

I. The Church Fathers

The support of a one-year ministry of Jesus was widely known among the early church fathers. Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I 21:146) reported the disciples of Basileides placed the baptism of Jesus in the fifteenth year of Tiberius and the Crucifixion in the sixteenth. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. I 3:3) said the Valentinians preached a ministry of one year, and this was based on Jesus' reading from Isaiah at the synagogue in Nazareth and proclaiming "the favorable year of the Lord." Clement (Stromata I 21:145) affirmed "that He was to preach for a year only is laid down in the Scriptures in the words, `to preach the acceptable year of the Lord He sent Me.'" Origen (De Principiis IV 1:5) originally followed Clement's position. The list goes on to include Tertullian, Lactantius, Filastrius, Gaudentius, Evagrius, Orosius and Ephraem.1

In the second century Irenaeus challenged the argument of the acceptable year. Irenaeus said if the first part of Isaiah's quotation should be taken literally then so should the continuation of the verse:

"Neither of a day of twelve hours does the Prophet speak, nor a year of twelve months. The day of retribution to each one according to his works, that is the judgement. And the acceptable year of the Lord is this present time in which those who believe in Him are called by Him and become acceptable to God, that is all the time from His coming up to the consummation during which He gathers like fruit those who are saved. For according to the saying of the Prophet a day of retribution follows the year; and the Prophet will have lied, if the Lord preached only for a year, and the Prophet speaks of that. For where is the day of retribution? The year is passed and the day of retribution is not yet . . .. For according to the saying (of the Prophet) they should be joined and the day of retribution should be in sequence to the year."
Adv. Haer. II 22:1
Irenaeus was not wholly convincing to many of his contemporaries, and the idea of a one-year ministry did not disappear. Isaiah was saying he was going to discuss only two subjects, and not that one literally followed the other. Also, Jesus did not quote the second part of the verse. There is no need to find God's vengeance in the immediately following year.
II. Modern Support

A few modern scholars have continued to pursue a one-year ministry.2 The main argument is that there was only a first and last Passover. The second Passover (John 6:4) is claimed as neither primitive nor genuine. This claim is based primarily on the omission in Codex 472 in the Library of Lambeth Palace, which dates to the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. There is also the lack of mention by some church fathers. Appeal to a late codex and an argument from silence cannot overcome the strong proof that the ministry of Jesus lasted at least two years.

The discussions about the "favorable year of the Lord" have shifted and are found interpreted as a particular year in the ministry of Jesus. The reasoning is that Jesus was proclaiming a Jubilee Year.

III. The Jubilee Year

The Jubilee year has played a small part in the background of the history of the Jews. The command to observe it was first given by God to Moses in the wilderness to establish it after the Israelites entered the promised land. Its observance during the time of the Judges is presumed, but it was probably discontinued during the First Temple period along with the Sabbatical years. The Sabbatical years were again observed during Second Temple times, but there is no record of a Jubilee year.

The Jubilee year was gone, but not forgotten. The Essenes perhaps observed it along with their calendar from the Book of Jubilees. This sect extended the Jubilee cycle back before Moses to the Creation. The numbers were neat, but the concept contrary to Scripture.

Moses was to consecrate the fiftieth year after the first sowing as the Jubilee year (Lev. 25:10-11). This was the year after the first seven sets of Sabbatical years, or after the forty-ninth year. The Jubilee was the fiftieth year the first time only, as after that it fell in forty-nine year cycles (Lev. 25:8), always following the seventh Sabbatical year.

The Jubilee year was to be observed as a Sabbatical year, but with the added condition to: "proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants." (Lev. 25:10) That land would be returned to the original owner and slaves would be set free. It is the proclaiming of release in the Jubilee that is tied to proclaiming release to the captives in the words of Isaiah and Jesus. Therefore, the Jubilee is equated with the favorable year of the Lord.

Did Jesus proclaim a Jubilee year at the Tabernacle in Nazareth? To establish this requires establishing (1) the correct Sabbatical cycle, (2) a reference Jubilee that sequences to a year following a Sabbatical year, and (3) that Jesus' proclamation was on the Day of Atonement, Tishri 10 (Lev. 25:9).3

Sabbatical years fell in 13/14, 20/21, 27/28 and 34/35.4 The only year in which a Jubilee might fall during any ministry of Jesus would be 28/29. In 28 CE the Day of Atonement, on which a Jubilee year would have been announced, fell on September 18, a Tuesday.5 Jesus proclaimed the favorable year at the synagogue at Nazareth on a Sabbath (Luke 4:16). Tuesday was the wrong day, unless this was a fast or festival Sabbath. The Day of Atonement, Tishri 10, was observed as a Sabbath (Lev. 23:32). However, without a confirmed Jubilee falling in 28/29 it is difficult to confirm Isaiah and Jesus' words as here referring to a Jubilee.

A reference of Ezekiel has been equated to the thirtieth year in a Jubilee cycle: "Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, that heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth of the month in the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's exile. . . ." (Eze. 1:1-2) The fifth year of Jehoiachin's exile was in 593 BCE, which is here equated to the thirtieth year in the Jubilee cycle. Jubilee years thus occurred in 623 and 574 BCE. This dating can be extended forward in forty-nine year cycles to fall in 14/15 and 63/64 CE, which do follow Sabbatical years. However, they do not fall near 28/29. Although there is no verification that 28/29 was a Jubilee year, in the proposed chronology Jesus did preach at Nazareth during this period on Saturday, March 12, 29 CE.

IV. The Favorable Year of the Lord

Isaiah's prophecy and Jesus' words about a favorable year of the Lord do have an exact meaning. Jesus was proclaiming the following one year as the time of His active ministry when He would do the words of the prophecy. Jesus would preach the gospel to the poor. Jesus would proclaim release to the captives of sin. Jesus would recover the sight of the blind, both spiritually and physically. Jesus would set free the downtrodden. Jesus was the one who would favor mankind during the following year.

Jesus was not declaring a Jubilee year, which would have little meaning to Jews who had disregarded it for many centuries. The Jubilee applied only to the Jews, but Jesus' words and deeds during the following year were extended to all mankind.

Jesus' words confirm His two-year ministry. During the first months and first year He performed only two miracles. His second year was the favorable year of the Lord. Then He called the disciples, preached and healed. Immediately following this favorable year He was crucified.


1. E. F. Sutcliffe, A Two Year Public Ministry Defended (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1938), 17-25.

2. For references see Sutcliffe, Two Year Ministry, 26.

3. B. E. Thiering, "The Three and a Half Years of Elijah," NT 23 (1981), 51-52.

4. B. Z. Wacholder, "The Calendar of Sabbatical Cycles During the Second Temple and the Early Rabbinic Period," HUCA 44 (1973), and "The Calendar of Sabbath Years During the Second Temple Era: A Response," HUCA 54 (1983).

5. The only other possibility is the proposal that the Sabbatical cycle was one year earlier, and this leaves an outside possibility for 27/28 as a Jubilee year. In 27 CE the Day of Atonement fell on September 30, which was also a Tuesday.



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