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1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,

This question is NOT what the A.D. year was but about the counting convention for years when mentioning reign of a ruler.

  1. "the first year" - is that using the Julian calendar or Jewish calendar?
    I'd guess he'd be using Jewish years - Tishri-1 to Tishri-1
  2. Partial year - regardless of Jewish vs Julian, would Luke count a partial year as "the first year"?
    If Tiberius assumed power 1 day before the start of new year, would that year (with one day left) be counted as "the first year"?

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Common methods

A variety of methods were used for reckoning leaders' reigns in antiquity. Here are the most common:

  1. Accession calendar year method: since monarchs seldom die on the last day of the calendar year, the new monarch would be confirmed, but "year 1" of the new monarch's reign would not be counted until the new calendar year (whenever that was for a given culture). The advantage of this system is that a given calendar year will always be identified with one and only one monarch -- specifically, whoever was reigning on the first calendar day of the year.

  2. Inclusive counting: Today is day one, tomorrow (one day from now) is day two, and so on. The same logic applies to years - today is year one, next year is year two, and so on. This method is less-used today than it was in the past, but it still survives in the Spanish saying "en ocho dias" - which literally means "in eight days", but is used to express "one week from now", because today is counted as day one. In this system, regardless of the number of days since accession, the new year's day after accession begins year 2 of a monarch's reign.

  3. Anniversary year (aka factual year): years are counted from the anniversary of an event. E.g. year 1 in Actian years is days 0-365 since the battle of Actium (the battle of Actium took place in September 31 BC, and 30 BC was a leap year, otherwise the prior sentence would have said "days 0-364"), year 2 in Actian years is days 366-730 since the battle of Actium, etc. The day that year 2 begins is the day that 1 year has passed since the event, meaning "he had reigned 25 years" and "this day his 26th year commenced" are equivalent statements.

Historical documents seldom explicitly state which method they are using, and it has to be pieced together from context clues (e.g. when Josephus says that Herod conquered Jerusalem 27 years after Pompey conquered Jerusalem, we know he means "27 full years", not "26 years and today begins year 27", because Josephus also reckons the tenure of the high priests during this interval, and their terms of office add up to 27 years, not 26).


Specific questions

Is Luke using the Julian or Jewish calendar?

Luke does not specify, but it is highly likely that he is using Roman reckoning because:

  • Tiberius is a Roman official
  • Luke's audience is a Gentile, Greco-Roman audience (this is attested by the content of the text, the Muratorian Fragment, the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke, and the writings of Irenaeus of Lyons).

If he used a Jewish system of reckoning it would only serve to confuse his audience...which would work against Luke's painstaking effort in Luke 3:1-2 to orient the audience by giving not 1, not 2, but 6 different reference points so they clearly knew the setting he referred to.

(note that the Jewish civil year did commence on 1 Tishri, but the Jewish religious year began on 1 Nisan. There is debate among historians regarding which Jewish leaders reckoned their reigns from which dates)

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If Tiberius assumed power 1 day before the start of new year, would that year (with one day left) be counted as the first year

This was a real system of reckoning in the ancient world (see inclusive counting above), but I am unaware of it being used by Roman emperors. Year 1 of Tiberius' reign would have been reckoned from either a) the day of his accession (anniversary year method) or b) the following 1st of January (accession calendar year method). There is debate as to which was used (I'd give a slight edge to the anniversary year method but I do not claim certainty).

We can reasonably infer that Tiberius' reign was not reckoned using inclusive counting based on the double-dated coins Silanus Antioch RPC 4270 and Silanus Selucia RPC 4330 (though I do not agree with all of this author's conclusions, this site offers a helpful discussion of these coins):

enter image description here

enter image description here

These coins show that Tiberius year 1 = Actium year 45 and Tiberius year 3 = Actium year 47, supporting the records of the Roman historians that, whether Tiberius was full co-regent with Augustus or not, his reign was not reckoned until after the death of Augustus.

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A Competing View

I'll offer a competing view to the thoughtful analysis shared by Robert.

Empress Julia died in AD 29, but we do not know the date - historians have proposed various possibilities from early to late in the year. Given that Tiberius' back and forth with the Senate to tarnish his mother's image took some time (the Senate resisted this change), and that the LIS coin was minted not in Rome, but in the faraway province of Judea, some time would have elapsed between Julia's death and her removal from newly-minted coins.

If Tiberius' reign is counted from August (death of Augustus) or September (confirmation by the Senate) of AD 14, a portion of his 16th year took place in AD 29, meaning the LIS coin is consistent with a reckoning of Tiberius' reign from any year prior to AD 15, including a non-co-regency reckoning beginning in AD 14.

The year 17 LIZ coin does not help the case for reckoning Tiberius' reign from a co-regency beginning circa October AD 12: Empress Julia would have still been alive at the beginning of Tiberius' 17th year. Julia's presence/absence on Tiberius' coins does not provide probative evidence for or against reckoning Tiberius' reign from a co-regency. I review this in more detail in this video on my channel.

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    While we do indeed have a thoughtful/interesting analysis shared by Robert, I can't entirely go along with his reasoning, coins or no coins. Yes, to be sure there was a co-regency with Augustus, starting in 12 AD, but in order to fit in with the death of Jesus, on Nisan 14 (3rd of April, Julian), in the year 33 AD (a given for us both), Luke has to be talking 14 AD, for the start of Tiberius' reign, and not only that, said reign would have to have started no earlier than 18th September (equivalent to Tishri 8 back then) when the Senate confirmed his titles of Augustus & Pater Partriae, + 1. Oct 2, 2022 at 4:32
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There is not a manual or handbook that tells you how someone counted a reign, or when the power of the next in line to throne officially began. All we can look at is convention and how it worked with each ruler, keeping in mind that different rulers were treated differently based on the manner in which they came to power and how their reigns were viewed by the public.

the existence of various calendars, lack of knowledge about customs concerning the reckoning of the accession (part-) year, and especially a period of partial coregency with Augustus exclude certainty1

In the case of Tiberius, Luke was writing for an audience - the early church in the Roman Empire - and would use the dating conventions of that audience so here we should defer to existing practices for Tiberius. This inevitably becomes a question of years or dates as no universal custom is known to have existed, nor is there a reason to believe the same standards were applied to all emperors. In terms of dates for Tiberius, there is debate about whether the coregency was reckoned from 11 AD, 12 AD, or 13 AD, with the majority traditional view being that it goes October of 12 AD:

On Oct 23, A.U.C. 765 = AD 12, he celebrated a triumph for his military victories in Germany and Pannonia. Referring to this event, Suetonius says that "the consuls caused a law to be passed soon after this that he should govern the provinces jointly with Augustus and hold the census with him." The date when Tiberius thus began to govern the provinces jointly with Augustus was probably AD 12 [Suetonius, ed J.C. Rolfe (LCL), vol 1, 323] although arguments have been presented for putting it in AD 11 or 13[Holzmeister, Chronologia vitae Christi, p 66].In this connection Tacitus describes Tiberius Nero as collega imperii, "colleague in the empire" (Annals 1.3), and some consider him joint emperor with Augustus from this time on [The Encyclopaedia Britannica 22:176]

As to why reigns were expanded beyond how we would reckon reigns today from a purely historical view, imagine being taken in front of Tiberius in AD 20 - you would certainly declare his reign to begin from the earliest possible date. So it is about power.

For instance, we can look at numismatic evidence, and we don't see any coins commemorating Tiberius until after August AD 14 - but after that point, once he acquired power, it was conventional to date a longer reign than from AD 14 because this is what Tiberius himself promulgated. Augustus dies in August and Tiberius immediately appoints Gratus as Prefect of Judea to replace Rufus (who had been Augustus' appointee), and in the same year Gratus is already minting coins with Tiberius' image that have the LB inscription, meaning the second year of Tiberius' reign.

enter image description here

Because this is Tiberius' policy and not necessarily the view of everyone in the Empire, there are counterexamples as to regnal Imperial reckoning, but Tiberius appointed governors in Judea to support his claims. And this policy continued, so that in AD 15, Gratus mints an LΓ coin, and in AD 16 he mints an LΔ coin and in AD 17 he mints an LΕ coin and in AD 23 an LIA coin (11th regnal year) So there is absolute no doubt that in terms of Tiberius' own marketing, his reign begins in the fall of AD 12. Now perhaps there was a governor who was a holdover from Augustus in a different province that did not follow the official line and minted some other coin, but we do know what the policy was in both Palestine and Antioch, where Luke wrote.

And we have even more numismatic evidence to confirm this, as Gratus's replacement, Pontius Pilate, continued the policy printing "LΙϚ" (LIS) coins denoting the 16th year of Tiberius reign, LIZ the 17th, and LIH the 18th year in AD 28, and AD 29 respectively.

Prior to A.D. 29 most coins except those that Gratus initially minted in A.D. 14 included an honorific for Julia Augusta up to and including the LIS coin dated Tiberius' 16th year which was struck with "Empress Julia" and minted in A.D. 28. But subsequent to Julia Augusta's death in early A.D. 29, the LIZ and LIH coins minted later in A.D. 29 and 30, respectively, did not have her honorific, thus establishing another synchronism resulting from reckoning Tiberius' years as factual from his joint-governance with Augustus in A.D. 12.

Coins minted

I provided only two data points, from Gratus and Pilate official policies, but there is a lot more evidence to review - however the main point is that Tiberius wanted his reign to be reckoned from AD 12 - even though not everyone reckoned according to Tiberius' wishes, especially not every later historian. When interpreting regnal years, we must do so as a subject of the empire rather than as a historian looking from outside the empire.

Reigns, in the mind of a subject of the empire, depended on how the Emperor, once in power, presented his reign to the people, in terms of minting coins, making announcements, and publishing decrees. If he wanted to say his regency began in X years, then that's what would be promulgated and used in collations of eye-witness reports such as Luke's. The man on the street would listen to the proclamations that some work was completed in the Xth year of a reign, or look at the coins, and say "This is the third year of Tiberius" in AD 15, and then when reporting an eye witness event, he would say that in the third year of Tiberius something happened, and then these testimonies would be accumulated by Luke in his reporting, assuming that Luke based his reporting on contemporary accounts during the time period in question.

But at the same time, a more scholarly work written in Rome by a later historian might ignore Tiberius' reckoning. And something written by an enemy of Tiberius would shorten his reign. This explains why there is conflicting evidence.

So no handbook or algorithm exists that can answer this question for all emperors or written documents. It is just false to say "Romans used X". At best, you can say "One historian used X" and "People in another province used Y", etc. You need to treat things on a case by case basis to obtain data from how regency periods were presented to, and therefore viewed by, the public. Nor can you separate this from the power politics at play in order to give it a veneer of objectivity. This will disagree with how modern day historians calculate regnal reigns and is a good method of distinguishing contemporaneous testimony from later accounts.


  1. Nolland, John. Luke 1:1–9:20. Vol. 35A. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1989.

  2. http://theos-sphragis.info/years_of_tiberius_timeline.html#coregent

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  • Thanks for the engaging dialogue! I'm not following the argument from the Gratus coins - they are single dated, meaning unless we assume in advance an AD 12 reckoning or an AD 30 crucifixion, these coins cannot be assigned to these specific Julian years. They are consistent with Tiberius' reign being reckoned from AD 12, 13, 14, or 15, but wouldn't provide any means of preferring 1 of these years over the other 3. Sep 10, 2022 at 14:58
  • We have more than just the physical coin. We know that the first thing Gratus did when he arrived is to mint a coin, and we know when he arrived and that no LA coin was ever minted for Tiberius, so there is one synchronicity for Valerus, and the Julia synchronicity for Pontius. The Roman Empire was fast and efficient, it did not take months for news to reach Palestine of royal events in Rome. numismalink.com/fontanille1.html
    – Robert
    Sep 10, 2022 at 15:32
  • What ancient sources can you recommend for a) the first thing Gratus did when he arrived was mint a coin & b) no LA coin was ever minted for Tiberius? (granted, the fact that no LA coins are known may mean no LA coin was minted, but it could also mean that such coins were minted and have been lost). I'm not sure I would describe the Roman Senate as fast & efficient, but certainly other features of the Roman empire were. Sep 10, 2022 at 16:03
  • You are confusing the speed at which a deliberative body comes to a decision with the speed at which imperial orders were executed. Coins were minted very quickly and the Roman post travelled at ~100 km/day on land and twice that by sea. Governors did not walk to their posts, taking a month. For sources, I would dig into the numismatic community, e.g. Fontanille's book at numismalink.com/fontanille5.html. Spear also has a book. It is stretching credulity to believe we found all the other coins minted by Gratus and Pilate in uninterrupted sequences but not the first.
    – Robert
    Sep 10, 2022 at 16:16
  • Thanks for the links. In my post I noted that there was debate between Tiberius & the Senate before Julia's honors were removed. A priori, I do not see reason to believe that coins couldn't have been minted in AD 29 prior to Julia's death or after her death but before the change in policy was made and communicated. As you noted, coins could be minted quickly. Re we found all the other coins - but this is begging the question - what if there are other mintings for which no exemplar has survived/been discovered? Sep 10, 2022 at 16:32
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Keep in mind that Luke 3:1 does NOT say during what part of the 15th year of Tiberius that John began his ministry to baptize people. Was it at the BEGINNING of Tiberius' 15th year, or was it during the middle of his 15th year, or was it toward the end of his 15th year? Once John began his ministry, how long was it before Jesus came to be baptized? Six months? One month? When?

Such information seems to be lacking. Jesus may have been baptized during Tiberius' 16th year. Then, fasting 40 days in the wilderness before attending the wedding described in the book of John. Then, some time after that he was in Galilee and began to choose some disciples. This could all have happened in Tiberius 16th year. No one seems to know for sure.

I have often wondered why Luke gives the year of Tiberius reign for the beginning of John's ministry but does not give the year of Tiberius' reign for the death of Jesus. That should have been part of Luke's narrative since he was a historian par excellence.

The lack of time markers in Luke after John the Baptist has some scholars thinking when the gospels were first written Jesus' ministry was originally only one year.

Luke does make one possible time marker when he refers to the "second first sabbath" in Luke 6:1. The KJV refers to it as "the second sabbath" after the first. This could be the second weekly Sabbath after the Passover was eaten.But many scholars also believe it was a scribal error. The oldest manuscripts do not have "second first" Sabbath in Luke 6:1.Here is a translation from the KJV.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+6%3A1&version=KJV

Some manuscripts do not have these troublesome words. Keep in mind that there was a seven Sabbath countdown from after Passover meal and that the Sabbath referred to in Luke 6:1 could be the second of those seven consecutive Sabbaths.

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  • In light of your recent interest in me, you might want to take note of my comment, just posted, under the answer given by Hold To The Rod. Oct 2, 2022 at 4:37
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God put the Sun and the Moon for times and seasons - Genesis. There is a solar calendar. There is a lunar calendar. Each needs adjustment to keep seasons from drifting. Seven times in 19 Years the Hebrew calendar needs an extra month, Adar II.

What year was it that Jesus Christ healed that blind man with clay & spittle? It was a sabbath day (as scripture records in John). Simple really, pin down that date, and six months later was the Passover when Jesus Christ was sacrificed.

  • Autumn of 30 AD has that day of blind man's healing on a Sabbath.
  • Autumn of 29 AD has that day as a Tuesday or a Thursday (I forget).
  • Jesus died Passover Adar II 31 AD.

You can't be fooled following the scriptural timeline. You can be fooled by following many men's ideas. Is it true?

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-1

There is no calendar or convention involved. A year is 365 days. Day 1 is in the first year, day 365 is in the first year, and day 366 is in the second year.

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  • 1
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    – agarza
    Sep 7, 2022 at 2:36
  • No. Authors of the Bible were Jewish so they used Jewish years which have a range of days and is tied to lunar cycle. Jews had been using their calendar since Moses; Romans recently introduced the Julian calendar in 45 BC. Sep 7, 2022 at 11:47
  • @Maximus1987 That is entirely false information. A year in every calendar is the earth's orbit of the sun. The start and end dates may be measured differently; the number and length of months may be different; but the year is always 365¼ days.
    – Joe Palaca
    Sep 7, 2022 at 12:47
  • @JoePalaca http://www.cgsf.org/dbeattie/calendar/ No. Count how many days from Tishrei-1 to Tishrei-1 in any year using this site https://www.timeanddate.com/date/duration.html? or google it https://www.britannica.com/topic/Jewish-religious-year Sep 7, 2022 at 13:27
  • @Maximus1987 Like I said, the months are different but the year is 365 days. Since the Hebrew calendar of months doesn't add up to 365, they add an occasional "leap month" to make up the difference because a year can only be 365 days by any calendar. There is no other way to measure a year than by a solar orbit. It is the literal and only definition of a year.
    – Joe Palaca
    Sep 7, 2022 at 18:34

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