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Chronology of Jesus Christ

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Exact dates for the life of Jesus Christ are not given in the Bible, but there are many references to when He was born, started His ministry, and died and returned to life. However, these dates do not appear at present to allow us to determine precise dates for events in Jesus' life.

Contents

Background

Calendars

Calendars (or calendric systems) have several characteristics, including the number and lengths of months, when the year starts, and how the years are numbered.

Many ancient calendars numbered the years according to the the ascension to the throne of kings, which means that there was often no single numbering system, as the numbering was reset every time the king changed.

The calendar used by most of the world today, the Gregorian calendar, numbers the years from the presumed birth of Jesus Christ, although it is generally accepted today that the original calculation (made in 525 by Dionysius Exiguus) was out by a few years.

Preincarnation

The Bible contains several references or presumed references to Jesus Christ before His incarnation.[1] One of the best known is the visit by three men—"the Lord" and two angels—to Abraham, telling him that Sodom was going to be destroyed.[2]

Incarnation

Most time-related references to Jesus Christ are to his lifetime on Earth in the first century. In many cases, the only time-related reference are reference to historical figures of the time, and for whom we have known dates of when those figures were alive or held certain positions.

Leading figures of the time

The Bible records various names of people having particular roles when events in Jesus' life occurred. The dates that most of these individuals served are known—or believed to be known—from extra-biblical sources.

  • Caesar Augustus ruled the Roman Empire from January 27 B.C. to August 14 A.D.
  • Tiberius was the Roman emperor from A.D. 14 to A.D. 37.
  • Tiberius appointed Pontius Pilate prefect of Judea, Samaria, and Idumeæa in A.D. 26, and Pilate ruled for ten years, until A.D. 36.
  • Herod the Great ruled Israel under the authority of the Roman senate, from 37 B.C. until his death in March/April 4 B.C. Following his death, his kingdom was divided and three of his sons were appointed by Rome to rule different parts, commencing in 4 B.C. Two of these were Herod Antipas and Herod Philip.
  • Herod Antipas was appointed by Caesar Augustus as tetrarch of Galilee. Antipas died in A.D. 39.[3]
  • Herod Philip (or just Philip) was appointed tetrarch of the northern part of the kingdom. He died in A.D. 34.
  • Qurinius was governor of Syria from A.D. 6 to A.D. 12.
  • Lysanias was a tetrarch of Abilene. Little is known of him, but an inscription recording him as tetrarch of Abila near Damascus is dated to between A.D. 14 and A.D. 29.[4][5]
  • Annas was high priest in Jerusalem from A.D. 6 to A.D. 15, when Rome removed him as high priest, although by Jewish law he was high priest for life.
  • Annas' son-in-law Caiaphas was appointed by Rome as high priest from A.D. 18 to A.D. 37, but Annas still wielded considerable authority.

The following chart shows the dates given above.

Year 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38
Augustus <
Tiberius
Herod the Great   <
Herod Antipas >
Philip
Lysanias See text
Qurinius
Pilate
Annas  ?>
Caiaphas

Conception

While Herod was king, the angel Gabriel visited Zechariah, a priest, and told him that his wife Elizabeth would have a son, who would prepare the people of Israel for the Lord.[6] This was John the Baptist.

When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, Gabriel visited a younger relative of Elizabeth, Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph. Gabriel told Mary, who was a virgin, that she would conceive a son by the Holy Spirit. She was to call him Jesus.[7]

Birth

Prior to Jesus' birth, Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem because of a decree by Caesar Augustus related to registration for taxation purposes. Luke records that this was the first such census, or registration, while Quirinius was "governor" of Syria.[8] This is probably the biggest problem with dating Jesus' birth, as Syrian records do not have Quirinius as governor of Syria until A.D. 6, and there is no record of a census in Herod's time either. Various solutions have been suggested,[9][10] and given Luke's track record as a reliable historian who has been proven right even when previously considered incorrect, it is not reasonable to conclude that Luke's record is in error.

Eight days after He was born, Jesus was circumcised and named.[11]

Forty days after Jesus' birth, Joseph and Mary, with Jesus, visit the temple in Jerusalem for Purification Ceremony that Mary had to undertake.[12][13] While there Jesus is visited by Simeon, whom the Holy Spirit had told would not die before he saw the Messiah,[14] and a prophetess named Anna. Anna had been a widow for 84 years (after being married for seven years), and had never left the temple. Herod had rebuilt the temple in 20-19 B.C. (although some construction work continued for decades after that), but the previous temple existed before that, and the account doesn't say that Anna had been in the temple since she was widowed, although perhaps that is to be inferred.

Magi visited Jesus shortly after his birth. Luke records Jesus being born in a manger, as there was no room in the inn. Matthew records the magi visiting Jesus in the house where He was. This could indicate that Joseph and Mary had moved to different accommodation, and therefore that Jesus was not newly born.

There are a few other hints that the visit of the magi was some time after Jesus birth, but no clear statements. The magi first visited Jerusalem to ask Herod about Jesus.[15] Herod didn't know of Jesus, but asked the magi when they saw the star, which was before they started their journey.

Based on when the magi told Herod that they saw the star, Herod ordered the slaughter of all the boys in Bethlehem up to two years old. An angel told Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt, as Herod was going to try and kill him. After Herod died, an angel again told Joseph to return to Israel, as Herod was dead.[16]

Temple visits

Joseph and Mary visited the temple in Jerusalem every year for Passover. During their visit when Jesus was twelve years old, they inadvertently left him behind, and returned to find him discussing things with the teachers in the temple.[17]

John the Baptist's ministry

Luke records that John began his ministry when the following people had the positions shown:[18]

  • Tiberius Caesar's fifteenth year of reign.
  • Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea.
  • Herod was tetrarch of Galilee.
  • Philip was was tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis
  • Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene.
  • Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests.

Tiberius' 15th year would be about A.D. 29.

Jesus' ministry

The four gospels record various details of Jesus' ministry in first-century Israel, but apart from references to the order in which things happened, little chronological information is given. However, there are a few significant incidents.

Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, and began his ministry when he was "about thirty years old".[19]

John was arrested because he preached against Herod Antipas' marriage with Herodias, former wife of Herod Philip. Herodias died in A.D. 39, but otherwise it is not clear exactly when any of this occurred.[note 1] This seems to have occurred early in Jesus' ministry.

Also apparently early in His ministry was the incident where Jesus drove those selling oxen and sheep out of the temple. The Jewish leaders said the the temple had been under construction for 46 years. If this figure claimed by the Jewish leaders is accurate, this would put this incident at around A.D. 27 or 28.

The Gospel of John records Jesus taking part in three Passover ceremonies,[22] so Jesus' ministry lasted at least two to three years.[note 2]

Crucifixion

Jesus was crucified at the instigation of Caiaphas, and around the time of the Passover ceremony. A number of people have tried to calculate the date of Jesus' crucifixion based on Jesus being crucified on a Friday which was also a Passover. Two lists of Passover dates for the time in question are shown below:

Jimmy Akin[23] Scott Nelson[24]
A.D. 29 Monday 18th April Monday 18th April
A.D. 30 Friday 7th April Friday 7th April
A.D. 31 Tuesday 27th March Wednesday 25th April
A.D. 32 Monday 14th April Monday 14th April
A.D. 33 Friday 3rd April Saturday 4th April
A.D. 34 Wednesday 24th March Thursday 22nd April

Akin does not provide a source for his information. Nelson's dates are his own calculations based on astronomical dates of the full moon. However, it is not clear that we have enough information about how the first-century Jews determined the date of the Passover nor what their precise calendar was, to determine the first-century Passover dates.[25][26][27][28]

Post-ascension

Jesus will return to Earth at a time in the future, well-known by the term second coming, but little chronological information is attached to this.

Notes

  1. About.com claims A.D. 29,[20] whilst Wikipedia argues that it was likely around A.D. 34.[21]
  2. If He began his ministry just before a Passover, observed the next, then died at the time of the one after that, the total time is just over two years.

References

  1. Theophanies: The appearances of God to man in physical form.
  2. Genesis 18:1-2
  3. Herod Antipas, Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  4. Lysanias Tetrarch of Abilene.
  5. Lysanias the Tetrarch, Biblical Archaeology, Fri. 15th February, 2013Fri. February 15th, 2013.
  6. Luke 1:5-25
  7. Luke 1:26,36
  8. Luke 2:1,2
  9. Jared M Compton, Once More: Quirinius's Census, Associates for Biblical Research, Sun. 1st November, 2009Sun. November 1st, 2009.
  10. Glenn M. Miller, On an objection about Luke, Quirinius, and Herods.
  11. Luke 2:21
  12. Luke 2:22-24
  13. The Purification of Jesus (2:22-24), IVP New Testament Commentaries.
  14. Luke 2:25-26
  15. Matthew 2:1-3
  16. Matthew 2:19-20
  17. Luke 2:41-51
  18. Luke 3:1-3
  19. Matthew 3:13-17, Luke 3:23
  20. Mary Fairchild, John the Baptist, About.com.
  21. Herod Antipas on Wikipedia.
  22. John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55
  23. Jimmy Akin, 7 clues tell us *precisely* when Jesus died (the year, month, day, and hour revealed), National Catholic Register.
  24. Scott Nelson?, Passover dates 26-34 A.D., Yahshua (Jesus) and Judaism Versus Paul and Christianity.
  25. JavaScript Easter Sunday/Jewish Passover Calculator.
  26. Samuele Bacchiocchi, God’s Festivals In Scripture and History. Volume I: the Spring Festivals.
  27. Grace Edith Amadon, The "Wednesday" Crucifixion Argument, Ministry, May 1942.
  28. Determining the dates of the Paschal Feast and Passover.
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