Date of the Lord's Death

This point is so closely connected with the length of His ministry, that we shall consider the two together. And we first inquire what data do the Evangelists give to determine how long the interval from His baptism to His death ? It has already been shown that about three months intervened between His baptism and the Passover following. This was probably the Passover of 780, and the first during His ministry, (John ii. 13.) Another Passover is mentioned, (John vi. 4,) and still another, (xi. 55.) It is universally admitted that the latter was the last Passover.' If there be none other than these named by John, His ministry was

of two years' and two or three months1 duration. But John speaks of a feast (v. 1) which he does not name, and which many regard as a Passover. If so, there would he four Passovers, and consequently His ministry emhrace a little more than three years. We have then to determine what feast is meant by John (v. 1.) This will hereafter he fully discussed. We shall here assume that it is a Passover. We thus reach the result that the Lord's ministry, computing from His baptism, embraced three years and about three months, and that the Passover on which he died was that of 783.

The day on which the Lord died was Friday, as plainly appears from the Evangelists. Joseph went to Pilate to obtain the body of Jesus " when the even was come, because it was the Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath," (Mark xv. 42.) " And that day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew on," (Luke xxiii. 54.) " The Jews, therefore, because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day," (John xix. 31,) &c. That this Sabbath was the regular weekly Sabbath, appears from Matt, xxviii. 1; Mark xvi. 1; Luke xxiii. 56. Jesus was crucified on Friday, and buried the same day; was in-the grave over the Sabbath, and rose on the morning of the first day < of the week.

If thus the Lord died on Friday, as is almost universally admitted, what day of the month was this ? Here we meet the much disputed point whether He was crucified on the 14th or 15th Nisan. This will be fully.considered in its place, and we assume here that it was the 15th. We have then to determine upon what year following 780, the 15th Nisan fell on a Friday. According to Wieseler (389) this was the case only once from 782-786. In 783 the 15th was upon Friday. To those who make the crucifixion to have been on the 15th Kisan, the year 783 is therefore the year of His death. Others, who place the crucifixion on the 14th Nisan, find that in 786 this day was a Friday,1 others still in 782.2 It is admitted that too many doubtful elements enter these calculations to make them perfectly trustworthy.3

Some have thought to find a chronological datum in the fact of the darkening of the sun at the time of the Lord's crucifixion.

i So Ewald, 5.136. * So Browne, 54. » Winer, 1. 562.

As this was upon the 14th or 15th of Nisan, and so at the time of a full moon, it could not have been an eclipse. But as mention is made of an eclipse which occurred near this time, some of the fathers, and some moderns have sought to establish a connection between the two events. Phlegon, of Tralles, who died about 155 A. D., and who wrote some historical works, of which only a few fragments remain, relates that, in the fourth year of the 202 Olympiad, or from July 785 to 786, a great eclipse of the sun took place, greater than any that had ever been known, so that at the sixth hour it was very dark and the stars appeared. There was also a great earthquake in Bithynia, and a great part of Mce was destroyed.1 This statement presents several apparent points of resemblance to those of the Evangelists, but a brief examination shows that it cannot refer to the darkness at the crucifixion. Phlegon speaks of an eclipse; had he meant an extraordinary or supernatural darkness, he could scarcely have failed distinctly to mention it. The time also of this eclipse is uncertain, for some of those who have reported his statement refer it to the fourth, and some to the second year of the 202 Olympiad, or to the fourth year of the 201.a But the astronomer Wurm has computed that only one eclipse took place in this Olympiad, and that in [November 24, 782.3 It seems, therefore, that Phlegon has himself erred in the date, or that he wrote the first year of this Olympiad, which has been changed into the fourth. As it is not mentioned at all by most of the early fathers, it seems that they must have regarded it as an ordinary eclipse, and therefore without any special relation to the crucifixion.4 Most moderns agree that it is of no chronological value.5

Some have found ground for a chronological inference as to the time of the Lord's death, in the assertion of the Pharisees before Pilate, (John xviii. 31,) " It is not lawful for us to put any man to death." Lightfoot (on Matt. xxvi. 3) gives, as a correct tradition of the Talmudists, " Forty years before the Temple was destroyed, judgment, in capital causes, was taken away from Israel."* It is generally agreed that the Temple was destroyed in August, 823. Computing backward forty years, we reach 783, as the year when the Jews lost the power of inflicting capital punishments. Hence it follows, that if Christ had been tried by them before the year 783, they would have had the power of punishing Him with death, according to their own laws. His crucifixion, therefore, could not have been earlier than this year.

1 For some little differences in the versions, see Jarvis, 420.

2 See Ammer, 41; Wieseler, 387.

a Winer, 2. 482. * See Jarvis, 427.

6 Winer, Lichtenstein, Meyer, Jarvis, Greswell. Sepp would prove from it that the crucifixion was in 782; Ammer, that it was in 786.

As we have no knowledge how this judgment in capital cases was lost to the Jews, whether by the act of the Romans, or, as Ligbtfoot supposes, by their own remissness, we cannot tell how strictly the " forty years " is to be taken. They may be used indefinitely, forty being here, as often, a round number. Little stress in this uncertainty can be laid upon this result.

Some find in the parable of the barren fig-tree, (Luke xiii. 6-9,) an allusion to the length of the Lord's ministry—•" Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none."2 It certainly cannot be without meaning that three years are mentioned. This is ascribed by some to the fact that so many years must pass after planting before the tree can bear fruit.8 But the language shows that fruit is sought, not after, but during the three years. Some refer it to the whole period of grace before Christ.4 But why designate it as three years ? Perhaps some three epochs in Jewish history may be meant, although it is not clear what they are. It is not, however, improbable that Christ's ministry is referred to. If we suppose it to have been spoken late in 782, His ministry beginning in 780, this was the third year, and He was not crucified till 783. But it cannot be said that the tree was actu* ally cut down after the expiration of the one year of grace. As a chronological datum, the mention of the three years has little value.5

From early times, many have found a prophetic announcement of the length of the Lord's ministry in the words of Daniel ix. 27, —" And He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week, and in the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease." Of the fathers, Browne says, (77,) "Others, comparatively late writers, were led by their interpretation of Daniel's prophecy to assign a term of three and a half years."

1 See also Friedlieb, Archaologie, 22.

3 So Bengel, Hengstenberg, Wieseler, Alford. 3 So Bloomfield.

4 So Grotius, McKnight. 6 So Meyer, Trench.

This interpretation has all along to the present day had advocates. Thus Lightfoot, (3. 39,) " He had now three years and a half to live, and to be a public minister of the Gospel, as the Angel Gabriel had told that in half of the last seven of the years then named He should confirm the covenant." Barnes (in loco) says : " The meaning of the passage is fully met by the supposition that it refers to the Lord Jesus and -His. work,- and that the exact thing that was intended by the prophecy was His death. "Whatever difficulties there may be about the precise time of our Lord's ministry, it is agreed on all hands that it lasted about three years and a half, the time referred to here." It seems also to have been commonly believed by the ancients that the last week of the seventy includes the prcedicatio Domini to the Jews for three and a half years before, and the same length of time after the Passion." x Greswell (4. 406) maintains the same interpretation. Yitringa, with whom Hengstenberg agrees,2 says : u His death was undoubtedly to happen in the middle of the last hebdomad, after the seven and sixty-two years had already come to an end."3

Without denying that the prophecy has reference to the Messiah, it is questionable whether it is to be so pressed as to furnish a proof that the Lord's public work continued just three and a half years. The number of interpretations that have been proposed is very great, and there is far from being even now unanimity of opinion. Thus Lightfoot makes the Lord's own ministry to have been three and a half years. Greswell adds to three years of the Lord's ministry half a year of the Baptist; Browne to one year of the Lord's ministry two and a half years of the Baptist.* We cannot, under these circumstances, attach much chronological importance to it.—Obscurum non prdbatur per obscurius.

Computations as to the year when the seventy weeks ended, as bearing on the time of the Lord's death, can be but little relied on, and need not be considered here.

Into the mazes of patristic chronology we are not called to enter, nor could we thus attain any important results.5 Still a brief survey of early opinions will not be without its value.

» Browne, 385. a Christology, 3.163.

a See Sepp, 1. 284. * See Ammer, 116.

« See the very full investigations of Patritius, iii., Diss. xix.

We find three distinct views prevalent. First. That which makes the Lord's ministry to have continued but one year, and the whole length of His life to have been about thirty years. This view first comes to our notice among the Yalentinians, a heretical sect, who said that there were thirty iEons corresponding to the thirty years of His life before His ministry, and that He died the twelfth month after His baptism. Among the orthodox, Clemens, of Alexandria, (f 220,) is the earliest defender of this view, and gave it wide currency. Among those who adopted it in substance were Tertullian, Origen, Lactantius, and perhaps Augustine, although the former is by no means consistent in his statements, Origen is confused, and Augustine doubtful. It is placed mainly upon Scriptural grounds, much stress being laid upon Isaiah lxi. 2, quoted by the Lord, (Luke iv. 19,) and by some upon Ex. xii. 5.

Second. That which makes His age at His death to have been between forty and fifty. Of this, Irenseus (f 202) appears as the first defender, although it appears from Augustine that there were others later that held it. In proof, two passages in John's Gospel were cited, (viii. 57 and ii. 20.) From the former it was inferred that He was more than forty, and from the latter that He was just forty-six, as the temple of His body had been so long in building. Irenams, arguing against the Valentinians, shows from the mention of three Passovers by this Evangelist, that the Lord's ministry was more than a year, but how long he does not determine.

Third. That which makes His ministry to have continued from two to four years, and His whole life from thirty-two to thirtyfour years. Of this view Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Jerome were the earliest representatives.

If we now ask after the data upon which the early fathers based their opinions, we find the following the most important. Till the time of Tertullian (f 243) there is mentioned no datum for determining the length of His ministry other than is given by the Evangelists. If, as is affirmed by some, the church at Jerusalem had preserved the knowledge of the year by tradition, there is no proof of the fact. Tertullian is the first, so far as we know, who connects the crucifixion with the consulship of the two Gemini. "He suffered under Tiberius Csesar, K. Geminus, and P. Geminus, being consuls, on the eighth day before the calends of April," (25th March.) In this statement Tertullian was followed by Lactantins, Augustine, and others, especially of the Latin fathers.1 Whence had Tertullian this information ? This is not apparent. Some suppose that Pilate having sent to Rome an account of the Lord's crucifixion, which was placed in the archives, Tertullian thus learned its date. But on whatsoever basis it rested, this statement soon obtained general currency, and was almost universally received. If we assume its truth we must consider to what results it leads us.

The Gemini were consuls during the year beginning January, 782. Thus this consular year was contemporaneous with about eight months of the fifteenth year of Tiberius, and four months of the sixteenth year. The fifteenth year of Tiberius, if reckoned, as it seems to have been, from the death of Augustus, extended from August 19, 781, to August 19, 782, and the sixteenth to August 19, 783. But the crucifixion was, according to Tertullian, in March, 783, and was not, therefore, during their consular year, which ended with December, 782. Still, as only about three months elapsed from the end of their consulship, it might readily be connected with their names. It is also to be remembered that there was a threefold mode of reckoning the Eoman year—the political, the civil, the historical.2 The first was according to consulships, and from January to January; the second, from March to March; the third, dating from the time of founding the city, and from 21st April to 21st April. It is, therefore, possible that we may explain the discrepancies respecting the time of the crucifixion in the following manner: The year of the consulship of the Gemini, 782, reckoned from January to January, is not wholly identical with 782 of Rome, which was reckoned from April 21 to April 21, but has about eight months in common with it. "We have thus three years, all bearing on the same event, the crucifixion, yet differently computed; first, the fifteenth of Tiberius from August, 781, to August, 782; second, the consular year of the Gemini from January, 782, to January, 783 ; third, the year 782 of Rome from 21st April, 782, to 21st April, 783. It is apparent how confusion may have arisen from neglect to mark accurately the dates as connected with these several modes of computation.3

* See full citations in Greswell, 1. 451; Jarvis, 376.
a Ideler, 2. 150. 3 See Greswell, 1. 456.

That the Lord did not suffer in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, is plain from St. Luke himself, as in this case John's ministry and that of the Lord must both have been embraced in the brief period of twelve months. If, however, His death be placed in the sixteenth year of Tiberius, the Baptist may have begun his labors in August, 781, the Lord have been baptized in January, 782, and suffered in April, 783, thus making His ministry to Lave continued one year and some months, but in this case He did not suffer in the consulate of the two Gemini. Greswell remarks, (1. 439,) "I am persuaded, that during the first two centuries, no Christian doubted of the fact that our Lord suffered in the fifteenth or sixteenth year of Tiberius."

That no value is to be ascribed to the tradition of the Lord's death in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, is apparent from the fact, that it plainly contradicts the statements of John, who mentions three Passovers; and it limits His ministry to a year and some months. Nor is it possible that He died during the consular year of the Gemini, for then His crucifixion was in the early part of that year or the spring of 782, which presents the same difficulty. Nor can this have taken place on the 25th March of that year. He was crucified on the 14th or 15th Nisan, but these days in 782 fell on the 16th and 17th of April.1 The designation of the day and month is necessarily wrong, and this invalidates the accuracy of the whole tradition. Besides, this tradition was by no means universal or unquestioned. The early fathers were not wholly unaware of these difficulties, and several of them state that they had not the data for a conclusive judgment. Irenseus says: ""We cannot be ignorant how greatly all the fathers differ among themselves, as well concerning the year of the Passion as the day." Again: " Concerning the time of the Passion, the diversities of opinion are infinite." Augustine says, that except the fact that He was about thirty at His baptism, all else was obscure and uncertain. Tertullian is inconsistent with himself, and now makes His ministry to have continued one year, and • now three; now puts His baptism in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, and now in the twelfth. In regard to Tertullian, the bishop of Lincoln, in his account of his writings,3 observes: " The correct inference appears to be tliat Tertullian believed that our Saviour's ministry continued for three years, but mistook the year in which He was revealed for the year in which He suffered."

1 Ideler, 2. 422. « London, 1845, p. 147.

Some began early to put His death in the sixteenth, others in the seventeenth or eighteenth, and finally in the nineteenth of Tiberius. This tradition, so indefinite, and never finding general reception, has now no claim upon our attention.

From this survey of the several data respecting the time of the Lord's death, we conclude that none lead us to positive results. If it were certain that the Friday on which He was crucified, was the 15th Nisan, there would be strong probability, if not absolute certainty, that the year was that of 783. If, however, it was the 14th Nisan, as many affirm, this datum fails us, and we have to choose between the years 782 and 786. The computation of the length of His ministry, from the number of Passovers, has an element of uncertainty which forbids a definite judgment; and the computations based upon the darkening of the sun at His crucifixion, upon the loss of power to inflict capital punishments by the Jews, upon the parable of the barren fig-tree, upon the prophetic half-week of Daniel, and upon tradition, are all inconclusive.

We add a brief survey of opinions respecting the duration of the Lord's public life. The first is that which limits His ministry to a single year, or a year and some months. As has been said, this was a very early opinion in the church, many of the fathers finding in it a fulfilment of Isaiah Ixi. 2, where mention is made of "the acceptable year of the Lord."1 This early opinion has been recently defended by Browne in his Ordo Sceculorum (p. 92.) He thus meets the difficulties arising from the mention of three Passovers by St. John. That mentioned in John vi. 4, is not rightly found there, since it is not mentioned by some of the early fathers, who, in their notices of this subject, must have alluded to it, had it been in the text of the first two centuries. The feast (John vi. 1) was not Passover but Pentecost. Thus but two Passovers remain, and the following order is obtained: 1. Passover, John ii. 13; 2. Pentecost, v. 1; 3. Tabernacles, vi. 4 and vii. 2; 4. Dedication, x. 22; 5. Passover of the crucifixion. Thus the whole ministry extends from one Passover to another.

How insufficient are the grounds upon which the rejection of the Passover (John vj. 4) rests is apparent. Nor is it possible upon any grounds, external or internal, to defend this order, which thus crowds all the events of the Lord's public life into a single year.

i Others, however, applied this passage not to His whole ministry, but to the first year of it.

If some find but two Passovers in the sacred history, others find five, or even six. McKnight supposes that the Lord's public work may have been prolonged more than five years complete.1 " Nay, it may have been several years longer, on the supposition that there were Passovers in His ministry, of which there is neither direct mention made, nor any trace to be found in the history." This opinion has now no advocates, and needs no discussion.

Rejecting the extremes on either side, our choice must lie between a ministry embracing three, and one embracing four Passovers. The former has many advocates, but labors under many difficulties, which will be pointed out as we proceed. On both internal and external grounds we are led to choose the latter, and to give to His ministry a duration of a little more than three years. Placing His death in April, 783, His public life, if it be dated from the purgation of the Temple, continued just three years, if from His baptism, three years and about three months, or from January, 780, to April, 783.

"We accept, then, as probable conclusions, that the Lord was born December, 749; baptized January, 780; crucified April, 7, 783; length of ministry, three years and three months. That the 25th December and 6th January were the days of the nativity and baptism rests wholly upon tradition.

For comparison, we add the various dates of the Lord's death, which have found recent advocates: 781, Jarvis; 782, Browne, Sepp, Clinton, Patritius; 783, Wieseler, Friedlieb, Greswell, Tischendorf, Bucher, Ellicott, Thomson,Riggenbach; 784, Hales, Paulus; 786, Ebrard, Ammer, Ewald.

J Har., Preliminary Obs.