There are a bunch of popular misconceptions about dating events in the New Testament. This articles explores some of the worst.
Placing Jesus’ life in history
There is great debate within the Christian world about the exact dates surrounding the life of Jesus. From the perspective of an outsider stepping into the fray it appears there is no way to know when Jesus lived here on earth. The reason is that essentially all of the popular answers are based on private knowledge from sources other than the Bible.
Various communities within the Christian world place differing amounts of weight on different types of sources so the supposed dates surrounding the dates of Jesus differ within different faith communities. Baptists who subscribe to Darbyism typically place the end of Jesus’ life in 33 AD. Messianic Jews usually place the end of his life in the year 30 AD. Depending on the community making the claim, the end of Jesus’ life can vary from 27 AD through the mid 30s.
When I first started working on the Bible Time project I dreaded the thought of studying this topic because I didn’t know what source to place weight on. Should I get a star-charting software package and find an alignment of stars around the birth of Jesus? Should I look for a 3 hour eclipse near the year 30? Should I go study artifacts in the dirt and figure out when the census records where taken for ancient Rome? Should I use the Jewish calendar and look for the Passover dates? These are all popular techniques. I originally thought the fundamental problem was picking the right technique.
The fundamental mistake made by everyone using these techniques is this: The assumption made by all is that the Bible doesn’t adequately explain the dates surrounding Jesus’ life.
This assumption is false.
There is indeed a wealth of information within the Bible that provides an adequate explanation of the dates surrounding Jesus’ life. What I didn’t realize was the Bible Time theory, that history is repeating again, 1 modern day for each ancient year, brings a powerful Bible-based system for looking afresh at the dates surrounding Jesus’ life.
The simple, clear-text, dates given in the Bible surrounding the life of Jesus are accurate and trustworthy. How do we know? Because we can find accurate predictions for parts of Jesus life. For other dates we can understand what Jesus was doing by looking at the Bible’s time line as a schedule that Jesus was carefully following.
The first set of articles deal with the clear-text Bible passages that accurately describe the dates surrounding Jesus’ life. They also explain several quite simple Christian traditions that every Christian should know that point directly and accurately at Jesus’ dates. They should be quoted whenever someone asks when Jesus lived.
Because many people simply won’t believe the Bible, our attention turns to how these simple, Biblical, traditional, but discredited answers to these questions can then be supported by the general Bible Time theory.
The Bible Time theory places the dates given in the old testament in day-accurate relation to modern days.
Similarly, we can place every other event given with day-accuracy in an accurate historical context. Some of those historical events are the basis for prediction intervals that end with Jesus. Articles here explain those predictions, how they work and the dates when the predictions end in the era of Jesus’ life. In several fascinating ways those intervals powerfully support the simple traditional answers.
The traditional dates surrounding Jesus’ life are ultimately supported by showing the life of Jesus was following the original Biblical chronology. The odds against that happening by random chance are about 1 part in 11,000.
Many people come to this study expecting the Jewish calendar to provide fundamental dates at least for the crucifixion of Jesus. Since the Jews of Jerusalem were celebrating Passover when Jesus was crucified, this seems like a valid strategy. The problem is the Jewish calendar.
Until the mid 300s (Roman) the Jewish calendar was defined by the Rabbis of Jerusalem as they observed the moon. The Jewish calendar was not arithmetically defined as it is today. It is not possible to clock the modern Jewish calendar backward into the era of Jesus because that process does not get into the heads of the Rabbis in Jerusalem.
The need for an arithmetic definition for the Jewish calendar was addressed by Rabbis only in the 300s (Roman) when the majority of the Jewish population was spread out across the world. Even more curious the arithmetic terms used in the definition of the modern Jewish calendar was not finally determined until the mid 900s (Roman). This means that for all practical purposes the Jewish calendar is far newer than the Roman calendar used at the time of Jesus. The only feature of the modern Jewish calendar that predates the Roman calendar are the year numbers assigned to each year.
Dating Jesus’ Ministry
Once the dates surrounding the overall life length of Jesus have been established another question usually comes up. Can the dates of Jesus’ ministry be known?
Though it is easy to postulate possible dates for the start of Jesus’ ministry it is far more difficult to prove it with high accuracy. Indeed, even determining what constitutes high accuracy is a problem all by itself.
There are three different time intervals that contribute to Jesus’ ministry. The first is the 40 days of temptation and fasting between his water baptism and his return to his home town. The second is the Jubilee year that Jesus announced when he returned to his home town. This was predicted in Isaiah and Jesus read the prediction in order to open his ministry. The third period was the 3 days he spent in the tomb.
These three intervals can ultimately be shown, with exactly 1 part in 13,020 accuracy to be a story that points at the general resurrection from the dead. The extremely high accuracy to this prophetic story provides the proof needed to support this dating for his ministry. It also shows his public ministry was following a compressed repetition of the general calendar of mankind between Adam’s baptism and Adam’s general resurrection.
Understanding New Testament Stories
If a modern reporter was sent to track a famous world leader today the written report of what they saw would most certainly contain the dates and times when things happened. Since we live in a modern time-synchronous world we expect accounts of what people were doing to reference the time when they did things.
The New Testament has a limited set of time references that modern people often use to attempt to reconstruct the detailed dates of Jesus’ ministry. It is my opinion that Jesus was following a known, or knowable, schedule and the time references that remain in the text are always part of the prophetic stories that Jesus was laying out for future readers. The Book of Mark shows this pattern quite strongly.
Curiously, the schedule in Mark provides a way to find the historical, Old Testament stories that Jesus was using for each of his public encounters. This schedule provides a map for linking Jesus’ words to the underlying Old Testament stories. This takes what at times are quite brief stories and fully expands those stories with supporting documentation.
Once the dates surrounding Jesus’ life and ministry are known, the prophetic applications can then be drawn from those stories. This is an acid test that no other New Testament dating systems dare address since they are not accurate enough to draw modern prophetic conclusions.
In the case of Jesus’ life a 2000 year prophetic offset is in operation. The 2000th anniversaries of Jesus’ early life landed in 1998 with clearly identifiable headlines. If the pattern holds the second wave of such headlines hit in 2010. A third round of prophetic headlines will hit in 2028. Articles dealing with modern application look at the prophetic stories for these future dates.
Phil Stone, Updated 2016-11-05