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I am researching when Jesus began His ministry and when He died. The main (although not the only) piece of information is found in Luke's account:

In the fifteenth year of Emperor Tiberius’ rule; when Pontius Pilate was governor of Y’hudah, Herod ruler of the Galil, his brother Philip ruler of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene...

As I found out at Skeptics StackExchange, there was a co-regency of Tiberius and Augustus for a time (how long that was may be next on my list of things to learn). However, did Luke start there as the base of his 15 years or did he start when Augustus died and Tiberius became Emperor alone?

In my search of answers to related questions, I came across this question on this Hermeneutics. According to this question, the early church father – Tertullian – said "the Lord has been revealed since the twelfth year of Tiberius". Was he wrong or is there a way for both Luke and Tertullian to be correct? You may want to include an answer to this question as well in your answers.

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As explained in Doig (1990) [1] ch 12, Luke, a Greek, was probably using the Syro-Macedonian calendar familiar to Theophilus, the Greek recipient of his works, who was probably a resident of Antioch. This calendar was in use through much of the Middle East, including Judea. The rulers of that area reckoned their reigns by this calendar. They used inclusive reckoning, with the new year beginning with the fall lunar month of Dios, somewhere in October. Tiberius became Caesar on 19 August 14 AD. Thus, his first regnal year according to the Syro-Macedonian calendar would be from 25 October 13 AD until 14 October 14 AD. Luke would have measured the fifteen years from that year one by inclusive reckoning. Thus, the "fifteenth year" fell from 20 October 27 AD to 09 October 28 AD, and John the Baptist began his ministry between these two dates. This timeframe is compatible with the constraint of Jesus' baptism taking place no later than 28 January 28 AD (*), leaving a maximum possible time of 3 months during which John could have been preaching before Jesus' baptism.

An alternative possibility is inclusive reckoning from Tishri, assuming that Luke used the Jewish calendar of the Diaspora, which began the year in the fall month of Tishri. In this case the "fifteenth year" would have fallen between 21 September 27 AD and 08 September 28 AD, which is very similar to the case with the Syro-Macedonian calendar.

(*) This constraint arises from taking in conjunction the narrative in the Synoptic Gospels of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert after his baptism and the narrative in John's Gospel of the start of his public ministry up to the first Passover, based on which we can draw the tightest possible timeline of events as:

  • Baptism, desert: 6 weeks (42 days) (Synoptics);
  • Encounter with the first five disciples in Bethany, travel to Galilee, wedding in Cana: 1 week (Jn 1:29-2:11);
  • Stay in Capernaum: 1 week (Jn 2:12);
  • Travel to Jerusalem, Passover: 1 week (Jn 2:13).

Thus, Jesus' baptism must have taken place no later than 9 weeks before the Passover of 28 AD (30 March), i.e. no later than 28 January 28 AD.

To note, Jesus' baptism in Jan. 28 AD and crucifixion in April 30 AD accounts for the three Passovers explicitely mentioned by John:

  1. 28 AD (Jn 2:13): Cleansing of the Temple;

  2. 29 AD (Jn 6:4): Multiplication of the loaves and discourse on the bread of life;

  3. 30 AD (Jn 11:55): Crucifixion.

It also assumes that John's mention of "a feast of the Jews" for which "Jesus went up to Jerusalem" (Jn 5:1) does not refer to a Passover.

[1] Doig, Kenneth F. (1990). "New Testament Chronology". (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990). Online at: http://www.nowoezone.com/NT_Chronology.htm

  • Some people say there were 4 passovers. I guess the feast of John 5:1 may be the passover they are referring to that I cannot find. This is a very good answer. Thank you – A Child of God Jan 19 '18 at 18:29
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[ EDIT: I apologise for my lack of references. I only stumbled across this site whilst researching the complex issue of the censuses of Herod (around the time of Christ’s birth) and Quirinius (6 AD / 7 AD). I had copied and pasted various articles for my purposes without recording the sources. I will add a number of references I used here.

I also used Armand Puig i Tarrech’s: "Jesus: An Uncommon Journey – Studies on the Historical Jesus", by Armand Puig i Tarrech (2010), LINK: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=elFp5tRSUH0C&redir_esc=y&hl=en

On the subject of the ‘eclipse of Herod’, here are some references about the two eclipses in 1BC, one in January 1 BC, the other in December 1BC. I tend to prefer the arguments of those who select the date of 29 December 1 BC for the eclipse. This would place Herod’s death probably in 1 AD and I would suggest Christ’s death in the autumn of 1 BC. This would make the beginning of Christ’s ministry in 29 AD and, assuming a 3½-year ministry with his ministry spanning four Passovers including the Passover of the Crucifixion, His crucifixion on 3 April 33 AD.

Of the two 1 BC eclipses, the first was apparently a full eclipse but IIRC began very late (about midnight). The one in December was only a 53% eclipse but because it started about dusk it is claimed that it would have been far more memorable and talked about:

http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/herod/herod.html

http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2017/07/29/How-Lunar-and-Solar-Eclipses-Shed-Light-on-Biblical-Events.aspx (also deals with the year of the Crucifixion)

http://www.askelm.com/star/star011.htm

http://expreso.co.cr/centaurs/steiner/herod.html

The date of the Crucifixion was I think calculated as 3 April 33 AD by Sir Isaac Newton. (I would also be interested to know what date the great Bishop Ussher assigned to it). I think most of the references to this date are readily available.

On the subject of the lunar eclipse in the early morning of 33 AD, here is the reference to the NASA site:

https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEhistory/LEhistory.html >>> scroll down to the section ‘ 1CE to 2000 CE’.

On the subject of Pilate’s letters, including the one referring to the blood moon, I looked at this reference:

http://www.orthodox.cn/patristics/apostolicfathers/herpilat.htm (Letters from Pilate)

It is titled ‘LETTERS OF HEROD AND PILATE’ and explains that they “connect Roman history with the death of Christ at Jerusalem. These letters occur in a Syriac manuscript in the British Museum, dated in the sixth or seventh century. There is a Greek copy in a Paris museum”.

I found this reference in ‘The Reports of Pilate, Anaphora Pilati’: “Pilate observed in his correspondence sent to Tiberius Caesar that there was seen a blood moon eclipse at dusk — ‘…and the moon that was like blood..’; ‘And the moon, which was like blood, did not shine all night long though it was at the full, ‘; ‘…and the moon lost its brightness as though tinged with blood ‘; ‘ and the moon, as if turned into blood ‘; → The Reports of Pilate, Anaphora Pilati”.

I also googled - Reports of Pilate Anaphora Pilati - and got this link: The Reports of Pilate, Anaphora Pilati. https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01526047/document

Then I found this link: http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2012/05/11/the-letter-of-pilate-to-tiberius/ …which on a Google search comes up with: by AC Baudoin - ‎2016 22 May 2017 - Rome: the Anaphora Pilati, or “The Report of Pilate.” I shall first briefly intro duce this text and then focus on the paragraph that opens it in some manuscripts, prior to the first person narration. In a second part of the paper, I shall bring to. —————. 1 Baudoin 2012. 2 The creation of a German word reflects ...

This article from one of the young earth creationist groups throws some doubt on whether the lunar eclipse of 3 April 33 AD produced the ‘blood moon’ effects but suggests another possible cause. It is worth a read: https://answersingenesis.org/jesus-christ/crucifixion/did-the-moon-appear-as-blood-on-the-night-of-the-crucifixion/

Finally on the subject of Christ having attended four Passovers, not three, I first of all offer the book: Baker’s Harmony of the Gospels (King James Version), ed. Benjamin Davies (1994) which I have on my shelves.

The main reference for the First Passover is John 2 vv 12-17.

The main references for the Second Passover are: Luke 6, John 5 vv 1-47 and Matthew 12 v 6.

The main reference for the Third Passover is John 6 vv 1-6.

The fourth Passover was attended on the night before Christ was crucified.

An identical reasoning is found in this 17-page pdf. to which I cannot link directly: [PDF]the four passovers of jesus christ's ministry - A Voice in the Wilderness ... vwcog.org/Documents/JESUS_CHRISTS_MINISTRY.pdf THE FOUR PASSOVERS OF JESUS CHRIST'S MINISTRY. Thomas C. Trinka. 3-22-2014. During our preparation for the Passover each year, we tend to focus our attention on the last. Passover of Jesus Christ's ministry, and the events surrounding it. And rightly so. We should be ever mindful that our Lord and Savior ...

A similar scheme is to be found at: https://smoodock45.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/the-four-passovers-in-jesus-public-ministry/ ...but he does not accept 33 AD as the year of the crucifixion ]

ORIGINAL POST FOLLOWS

My answer is that Luke is dating Tiberius' reign from when it started, viz. 28 September AD 14 (about a month after Augustus died). Here are my reasons.

This is one of the few dates in this period set in concrete. It is a fixed reference point around which other calculations or educated guesses may be made.

I noticed above that one poster referred to the date of Christ's crucifixion as 30 AD. That reckoning seems to be based on the outdated notion that the 'eclipse of Herod', if I can put it like that, occurred in 4 BC. Many recent articles suggest for very good reasons that the eclipse that Josephus was referring to was the prominent one that occurred on 29 December 1 BC. This in turn leads to the conclusion that Christ was born that year.

Most scholars who have thoroughly examined the accounts of Matthew and Luke consider that Christ was probably born around the Feast of Tabernacles ("He tabernacled amongst us"). We have the data about the time when it was Zechariah’s lot to burn incense in the temple (Luke 1 v 8), and we have other data in the early chapters of Luke and Matthew. The Feast if Tabernacles would fall in our September or October.

That being so, we also know that Christ did not enter His ministry until he was 'about 30 years of age', in order to fulfill the priestly requirements of Numbers relating to the age at which one could become a priest (Numbers 4 vv 3 and 23). So that places the beginning of His ministry in the autumn of 29 AD.

Now, setting aside for a moment all the discussion about the ways the Jews and the Romans reckoned years of reign, and when any 'co-regency' might have begun, the natural meaning of 'In the fifteenth year of Tiberius' brings us to the year beginning 28 September AD 28 (14 years after the beginning of Tiberius' reign) to 28 September AD 29 (15 years after). This would be wholly consistent with John the Baptist having commenced his ministry during this period, and Christ having commenced His ministry in the autumn of AD 29.

Above there is some debate about whether Christ attended three or four Passovers. All the reliable books I have seen document FOUR Passovers, the last one being the crucifixion Passover.

The date for Christ’s birth of autumn 1 BC then gives us a period of 33½ years until His crucifixion on a commonly accepted date: 3 April 33 AD. This was also the 14th day in the first month of the Jewish year, Nisan, thus precisely fulfilling the Passover day of the killing of the spotless lamb (Exodus 12 vv 6-7). Christ had entered Jerusalem on a donkey four days earlier, the 10th of Nisan, thus fulfilling Exodus 12 vv 1-5.

Worthy of additional note is Pontius Pilate’s letter to Tiberius, in which he described the night before Christ’s crucifixion in these terms: “The moon was like blood…it did not shine all night long though it was at the full…the moon lost its brightness as though tinged with blood”. Remarkable confirmation of this can be seen today on NASA’s website, which lists all historical lunar eclipses. There is one that began at 33 minutes past midnight on 3 April AD 33 and lasted for 2 hours 50 minutes.

I apologise for the lack of specific references in my post. I am new here (just joined) and will try to do much better in future.

  • Thank you for a concise answer. I personally have only counted 3 Passovers, and have yet to find the fourth. Could you list the verses that describe these? Of course, we should all know of the final Passover. Also, feel free to edit your answer to include references, as these can easily help your answer gain more votes. I especially would like to see the Pilate's letter to Tiberius. – A Child of God Mar 12 '18 at 0:15
  • And welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! – A Child of God Mar 12 '18 at 0:17
  • Thank you for your comments. I have added (at the top of my post) some of the key references I used as background for my post – 1Tim115 Mar 12 '18 at 11:51
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Augustus died in AD14. Thus Tiberius began his reign as sole Emperor. The 15th year, then, would have been sometime during the Gregorian calendar years of AD29-30. This is the time most historians ascribe to the beginning of Jesus' ministry.

Luke took the historian mantle on when writing his gospel. I would suggest he was careful to count from AD 14 because that is when the reign of Tiberius began. Elsewise he might have said the reign of Tiberius and Augustus.

The Roman Senate named Tiberius Emperor Sept 18, AD14. Before that did he serve a leadership role as Augustus' health was failing? Yes. But His reign did not officially begin until AD14. This is considered the agreed upon beginning of his reign for the last 2002.5 years. Luke would have had no reason to consider the "co-regency" as part of Tiberius' reign because no one else did either. The "15th year" is counted from AD14.

Augustus died August 19, AD14 In Annals, Book 1, Tacitus reports that, after the death of Augustus, a Roman centurion attempts to report to Tiberius (7) who replies "I have not yet been given command [of the Roman army]." In Book 1.10, Tacitus writes that Augustus had not chosen and seeming did not want Tiberius to be his successor. If Augustus didn't consider them to be ruling together, I don't know why anyone else would.

Book 1.12 shows that they are trying to name Tiberius as Caesar but he only wants to have partial power. In 13, we read that Senator Haterius says "How long, Cæsar, will you suffer the State to be without a head?" Even though they saw Tiberius as the presumptive Caesar, he was not officially so. The Roman senate recognized Sept 18, AD14 as the beginning of Tiberius' reign.

Not Augustus nor the senate nor even Tiberius himself considered Tiberius to ever be co-regent. Sept 18, AD14 is the correct dat from which to measure the 15 years mentioned in Luke 3:1

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    The Roman Senate named Tiberius Emperor Sept 18, AD14. Before that did he serve a leadership role as Augustus' health was failing? Yes. But His reign did not officially begin until AD14. This is considered the agreed upon beginning of his reign for the last 2002.5 years. Luke would have had no reason to consider the "co-regency" as part of Tiberius' reign because no one else did either. The "15th year" is counted from AD14. – Mark Anthony Songer Apr 25 '17 at 21:33
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    Augustus died August 19, AD14 In Annals, Book 1, Tacitus reports that, after the death of Augustus, a Roman centurian attempts to report to Tiberius (7) who replies "I have not yet been given command [of the Roman army]." In Book 1.10, Tacitus writes that Augustus had not chosen and seeming did not want Tiberius to be his successor. If Augustus didn't consider them to be ruling together, I don't know why anyone else would. – Mark Anthony Songer Apr 25 '17 at 22:06
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    12 shows that they are trying to name Tiberius as Caesar but he only wants to have partial power. In 13, we read that Senator Haterius says "How long, Cæsar, will you suffer the State to be without a head?" Even though they saw Tiberius as the presumptive Caesar, he was not officially so. The Roman senate recognized Sept 18, AD14 as the beginning of Tiberius' reign. I don't know what more proof you need. – Mark Anthony Songer Apr 25 '17 at 22:06
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    I'm downvoting, because this answer doesn't show its work: it doesn't provide any justification for why Tiberius' reign should be counted from the death of Augustus, nor does it provide any sources or references for its claim that 'most historians' date Jesus' ministry to AD 29-30. – user2910 Apr 27 '17 at 18:21
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    Mark, the justification is in the comments, but I will add it to the original answer – Mark Anthony Songer Apr 27 '17 at 18:28
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Tiberius was given some power before Augustus died, and was in the provinces of Rome for a little while. Pilate became procurator (governor) of Judea in the autumn of 27 AD. Luke was a Greek, writing to Theophilus, another Greek, and most likely was using the Syro-Macedonian calendar with which the Greeks were familiar. See here, and excerpt:

"Tiberius became Caesar on August 19, 14, and in that year Dios 1 fell on October 15. Thus, his first regnal year according to the Syro-Macedonian calendar would be from Dios 1, or October 25, 13 until October 14, 14. Luke would have measured the fifteen years from that year one by non-accession, or inclusive, reckoning. Thus, the "fifteenth year" fell from October 20, 27 to October 9, 28. According to Luke's Syro-Macedonian reckoning John the Baptist began his ministry between these two dates. This falls in line with the arrival of Pontius Pilate by the autumn of 27. The earliest first Passover of Jesus' ministry would have been in 28."

The Macedonian lunar month of Dios corresponds to the "moon" of October. As John baptized Christ after Pilate began to rule in Judea, then Christ's ministry would have begun sometime around October AD 27. His first "passover" with His disciples would have then been in Nisan (April) 28, which would have been approx. 6 months after His baptism, and going forward the remaining 3 years of His ministry would put His crucifixion in Nisan (April) 31 AD.

Excerpt from same source:

"Based on Luke's use of the Syro-Macedonian calendar it was established that John the Baptist began his ministry between October 20, 27 and October 9, 28. This was the "fifteenth year of Tiberius." John began his ministry after the arrival of Pontius Pilate, by the fall of 27. John baptized Jesus soon thereafter, and the traditional date of January 6 is here used. This date is supported by an understanding of Luke's usage of Jesus being "about thirty years" old at that time, and the thirty years are exact by the Jewish or Syro-Macedonian calendars. The chronology will proceed using January 6, 28 as the probable date for the baptism of Jesus. This will place the first Passover of Jesus' ministry in 28, as will be confirmed in the following chapter."

This corresponds to Josephus' record which mentions Christ's crucifixion in the 4th year of the 202 Olympiad, which could have been in either 30, 31, or 32 AD.

(The list of Olympic winners at Wikipedia is a good record, but historians admit that the records of the first year of the Greek Olympics could have begun as much as two years earlier. See: here)

R. W. Burgess places the 15th year of Tiberius in 28 AD.

"...: though there are only 297 regnal years covered between Year 15 of Tiberius and Year 20 of Constantine (325 * 28 = 297), Eusebius lists 298 Years of Abraham (2342 - 2044 = 298). This attribution of two calendar years (Years of Persecution), two years of Abraham, and two years of an Olympiad to a single regnal year, which itself represents a single calendar year, is unique in the Chronicle." (Bold emphasis is mine.)

Source: The Dates and Editions of Eusebius' Chronici canones and Historia ecclesiastica, p 477 See here

Allowing for the 40 year anti-type for the spread of the gospel after His crucifixion (release from slavery to sin), which 40 years mirrored the wilderness wandering after the Exodus (release from slavery bondage to the Egyptians), the inclusive count of A.D. 31 crucifixion date plus 40 reaches 70 AD and the destruction and desolation of Jerusalem and the temple.

Most probably Christ began His ministry in late 27 AD and was crucified in Nisan (April) 31 AD. That would place His birth in about Sept. / Oct. 3 BC.

Records of historical dates are prone to human error. The mention from Tertullian to the 12th year of Tiberius could have been referring to some rule or authority exercised by Tiberius in the provinces before He ascended as Caesar. However, Tertullian's writings are not inspired and many were wrong such as his views of women as "the devil's gateway" ([here]), or his views on celibacy derived from a misunderstanding of 1 Cor. 7 ([here]).3.

  • Good answer, just it would be nice to have some more references. For example, a reference supporting "However, Tertullian's writings have been shown to be wrong before" would be helpful. – A Child of God May 20 '17 at 16:01
  • The sources for Tertullian's beliefs can be added, but it would require a discussion of his misunderstanding of the scriptures that would be off topic for this question. – Gina May 22 '17 at 7:16

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