This Lesson on Chronology may be freely reproduced by anyone who will either at the beginning or at the end of their reproduction give credit to the author, Ernest L. Martin, as composing and writing this Lesson. This permission is provided if the Lesson is produced in its entirety without subtraction, addition or change of any words or syllables. This Lesson is dedicated to and is written for all within the Body of Christ.
The Chronology of
New Testament Times
By Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1995
This lesson was first written in the year 1988. There may be an importance to that year because Christ officially began his ministry in the year A.D.28, precisely 1960 years before 1988 and 40 years before A.D. 2028. This lesson contains the essential historical evidence to show this primary truth. It then follows that Christ's crucifixion works out to the year A.D.30. Once it is understood when these two important dates were, we then have in our possession the necessary chronological benchmarks for reckoning all prophetic time and this includes the period from 1988 onward. One of the most revealing pieces of evidence to demonstrate the proper dates for the period of Christ's ministry is a comprehension of the Sabbatical Years cycle. This cycle of years which the prophet Daniel considered of prime importance can now be known with a great deal of precision. It is now time for all students of the Scriptures to be aware of these significant prophetic indications.
The Gospel of John records some prime chronological references for reckoning the years of Christ's ministry which the other three Gospels do not report. For example, John mentions three Passovers which occurred during the ministry of Christ (2:13; 6:4; 13:1). Other Jewish festivals were acknowledged as well. There was the "unknown feast" between the first two Passovers (5:1), and after the second Passover he mentions the feasts of Tabernacles (7:1) and Dedication (10:22). These feasts provide some chronological benchmarks for establishing the proper sequence of years associated with Christ's ministry.
The new evidence which is presented in this research centers on a statement given by Christ which John positions between his first two Passovers (2:13 and 6:4) and before his "unknown" feast (5:1). This reference is an important piece of historical information which, up to now, has been completely overlooked and misunderstood by most scholars. But when the new research is recognized, we will have one of the most significant chronological keys for ironing out the historical difficulties associated with Christ's ministry.
It is essential to understand the historical environment in which the new evidence occurs. At the end of John's third chapter we are told that Christ left Jerusalem after John's first Passover and started on his journey toward Galilee (John 4:3). His route necessitated traveling through Samaria. Upon his arrival at Jacob's Well, being weary of his journey, he talked to a Samaritan woman while his disciples went into the village to fetch food. No other people were around when his discussion with the woman took place (John 4:6-26). However, upon the conclusion of the dialogue, the disciples returned with food, whereupon Christ gave them some spiritual teaching about what true food actually represented. It is this particular teaching (when the woman had left and no other Samaritans were around) that solves a major chronological problem in Christ's ministry. Christ said:
"Say ye not, 'There are yet four months and then cometh the harvest?' Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields; for they are white [ripe] already for harvest."
The real meaning of Christ's words has not been understood, yet his intention is so easy to comprehend if the legal requirements governing Palestinian agriculture in the first century are taken into account In a moment we will show what Christ had in mind when he made his statement, but let us first review the normal interpretations given by scholars to explain what Christ meant.
There are two explanations that are normally proffered by theologians.
(1) Since Christ was speaking within a context of sowing
and reaping, it is recognized (correctly) that Christ was calling attention
to the barley and wheat harvest which farmers reaped between Passover and
Pentecost from late March to early June. Scholars have seen significance in
the phrase "four months unto the harvest." If Christ meant that
there were yet four months until the time of the Palestinian grain harvest,
then it is supposed he must have uttered his statement about late December
or early January this would allow the phrase four months to harvest to make
reasonable sense. If this is the case, scholars have surmised, it would mean
that Christ gave this illustration to the disciples some 8 or 9 months after
John's first Passover, and about 4 months before the beginning of the
regular grain harvest which started about late March. So, most conservative
theologians have felt that this is a chronological statement which can be
placed within the months of December or January. We will see the utter
absurdity of this belief.
(2) The other theory, however, suggests that Christ was simply stating a well-known proverb about some four month interval of time from the period of sowing to the harvest, and that no chronological significance is to be interpreted from his reference.
The trouble is, there are flaws in both suppositions For one, Christ's statement could hardly have been made some 8 or 9 months after John's first Passover because in verse 45 given shortly after he had returned to Galilee, his Galilean acquaintances recalled the signs he had recently accomplished at John's first Passover. These were Galileans who had gone to "the FEAST," for they also went unto the FEAST." Anyone can easily recognize that this refers to the first Passover mentioned by John which had happened about six or seven weeks before. If this is not the case, then the words of John's Gospel are incomprehensible. To say that the Galileans were referring to an unmentioned feast of Pentecost, or an unnamed feast of Tabernacles or even the feasts of Dedication or Purim is stretching the matter beyond reasonable belief. Truly, the Galileans must have been talking about the recent feast of Passover during which they had seen Christ perform certain miracles and that Passover was no more than 40 or 50 days before This means that Christ quotes s statement made at Jacob's Well, about a week before he met the Galileans was not made in the months of December or January, and not 8 or 9 months after John's first Passover. It is clear that the statement was made by Christ in late May or early June. The reason he did so at that time will be shown shortly.
The second explanation offered by many scholars is also suspect because no proverb has been found in Jewish literature which refers to a four month season from sowing to harvest indeed, the period for wheat was more like six months according to the Jewish Mishnah (Ta’anith. i.7).
THE REAL MEANING OF CHRIST'S STATEMENT: Christ said that his disciples should reckon four more months to the harvest, yet his statement was proclaimed in late May or early June right in the midst of the wheat harvest. There is really no doubt that this is correct. Origen who lived in Palestine in the third century recognized that Christ's teachings in John 4:35 were stated in the middle of the actual harvest season (in Joan, Tom. xiii.39,41). Even Christ himself acknowledged that this time was during the regular grain harvest.
"Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields for they are white [ripe] already for harvest."
This reference by Christ shows that the grain was already available for harvest (after all, it was late May or early June), but for some reason he put it in the mouths of the disciples that they would not expect anyone to harvest for another four months. Why on earth did Christ say there were yet four more months before harvest, when the harvest season was already at its height?
The answer is simple if one remembers the agricultural legislation that Moses imposed on Jews and Samaritans living in the Holy Land rules that both groups observed in the first century. The truth is, Christ made his statement in the midst of a Sabbatical Year. Such a year was one in which no sowing or reaping were permitted, from the New Year of one Autumn to the New Year of the next autumn. When this is realized and understood, all chronological difficulties associated with John 4:35 (though they appear to be contradictions on the surface) thoroughly disappear.
Notice how plain the whole matter can become. Christ gave his teaching near the end of the second Hebrew month or the start of the third (late May or early June). When a person counts forward four more months, the Hebrew month of Tishri is reached. This is the month in which all Sabbatical Years ended and people could legally begin to harvest once again (Leviticus 25). Christ was saying what the apostles and the general population were aware of. Since that year was a Sabbatical Year, no one could commence any harvesting (even though one were in the midst of the harvest season for grain) until the Sabbatical Year was over. This is the reason Christ said it was still "four months" to the period of harvest.
There is more evidence to support this interpretation that Christ elaborated in his teaching about the harvest by saying:
"And herein is this saying true, One soweth and another reapeth." I send you to reap that which ye bestowed no labor."
Even Christ adopted the theme of a Sabbatical Year by telling his disciples that the harvest he asked them to engage in was one in which they HAD DONE NO LABOR. How true this illustration would have been even for the physical harvest of a Sabbatical Year. During Sabbatical Years no Jewish people in Palestine could labor on the land; no sowing, plowing, pruning, or harvesting were permitted. So even Christ's statement that the disciples had bestowed no labor on the harvest that he referred to, is indicative of the fact that that year was Sabbatical.
Another point needs to be made. Since Christ gave his illustrations in John 4:35-38 at the time the fields were already white for harvest, he strongly implies that no one was in the fields doing any reaping. If all the fields (and that is what Christ said) were then ripe for harvest, this is a powerful suggestion that none of the fields no matter how many there were was then being harvested by the people. And, of course, this would have been the case in a Sabbatical Year.
And in case some might doubt that fields in Sabbatical Years would produce much grain, since they had not been sowed in the previous Autumn and Winter, all one has to do is to recall that Leviticus 25:5 indicates there would always be a crop during the fallow Sabbatical Year from the grains that fell on the ground in the sixth year of harvest.
THE DAY OF PENTECOST?: There is yet another probable proof that the event which occurred at Jacob's Well happened in a Sabbatical Year. This is Luke's parallel account of what occurred in Galilee soon after Christ had returned to his hometown of Nazareth from the Passover at Jerusalem. Luke tells us in an unusual Greek expression that on "The Day of the Sabbaths" (or, The Day of the Weeks another way of saying Pentecost to agree with the terminology of Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10,16; II Chronicles 8:13), Christ was handed the scroll of Isaiah and he read chapter 61, verses 1 and 2. Luke recorded the occasion.
"And he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and he entered. as his custom was, into the synagogue on the Day of the Sabbaths [Greek, or, The Day of the Weeks] and stood up to read. And he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the scroll, and found the place where it was written: 'The Lord's Spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor, hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and sight to the blind, to set free the bruised, to proclaim the Lord's acceptable year.' And he rolled up the scroll, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him. And he began to say unto them, 'Today hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears.'"
It should be noted that the synagogue attendant handed Christ the scroll of Isaiah. This shows that the synagogue liturgy required Isaiah to be read that day. If so, this indicates that Christ read the regular triennial cycle selection from the prophets that accompanied the sequential readings from the five books of Moses. It is interesting that the section that Christ quoted was that which paralleled the readings from the Law of Moses for Pentecost on the second year of the triennial cycle. See the chart accompanying the article on the "Triennial Cycle in the Jewish Encyclopedia," Funk and Wagnalls, 1906. This may well be another indication that this event in the synagogue in Nazareth occurred on Pentecost.
Though I am in no way insisting that the phrase "The Day of the Weeks" on which Christ read Isaiah 61:1,2 was Pentecost (yet it seem to have been), it is still clear that the event happened in the late Springtime just after Christ had returned from Jerusalem from John's first Passover. It was certainly the same year that Christ said his John 4:35 Sabbatical Year teaching. With this in mind, we may have a further reference that that year was Sabbatical. Note that Christ called that year "the acceptable year of the Lord" the time of release.
These are terms associated with Sabbatical Years and with the Jubilee which was a type of Sabbatical Year. Jubilee Years were not being celebrated by the Jews in the first century, yet the ordinary seven year sabbatical cycle was very much in evidence among the Jews and Samaritans.
Look at the factors within Christ's quote from Isaiah which suggest this. He said that he was anointed (1) to preach good tidings to the poor. This is a reflection on the sabbatical regulations that the poor and the stranger could eat from the fields without hinder. (2) He was to proclaim a release and to free the bruised. This recalls the Sabbatical release regulations and being free of debt as mentioned in Deuteronomy 15:1-6. And (3), Christ was ordained to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. This is a reference to a Sabbatical period (which years commenced on the Day of Atonement Leviticus 25:9 and Isaiah 58:1-14). Such years are always associated with
"unloosing the bands of wickedness, undoing heavy burdens, letting the oppressed go free, and the breaking of every yoke."
This is the type of "acceptable year" that Christ was proclaiming at the synagogue in Nazareth, and the theme smacks of a Sabbatical Year.
If it can thus be shown that the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry and that of Christ's started in a Sabbatical Year, then it makes excellent sense why so many people were able to follow both of them during the times of their preaching many of the people would have been off from their farm labor and able to travel at leisure over the land of Palestine.
THE SEQUENCE OF SABBATICAL YEARS: Though over the past few centuries historians studying the records about Sabbatical Years have been able to arrive at their sequence within a year or two, only within the last 50 years (and especially the last 20), has it become possible, through archaeological discoveries, etc., to determine with an almost certainty what the exact Sabbatical Years' sequence is. This can be known from 163 B.C. to the present. Two brilliant historical studies by Prof. Wacholder of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, have solved the riddle of when the Sabbatical Years occurred in ancient times, and when they ought to be observed today. His first study is in the Hebrew Union College Annual, 1973, titled "The Calendar of Sabbatical Cycles During the Second Temple and the Early Rabbinic Period" (pp. 153-196), and the same Annual for 1975 has his "The Timing of Messianic Movements and the Calendar of Sabbatical Cycles" (pp. 201-218). In this article we will summarize the results of Prof. Wacholder's excellent studies. It will demonstrate the number of precise years over the centuries as Sabbaticals, and how we can know the exact sequence of the seventh years for the period we are discussing.
(1) We are told by I Maccabees 6:49 that Judas Maccabee's
defeat at Beth-Zur was in a Sabbatical Year. And this can be dated to the
Sabbatical Year from the Autumn of 163 to Autumn 162 B.C.
(2) Josephus, the Jewish historian, shows the murder of
Simon the Hasmonean as happening in the Sabbatical Year of Autumn 135 to
Autumn 134 B.C.
(3) Josephus shows Herod's conquest of Jerusalem as
occurring in the Sabbatical Year of 37 to 36 B.C.
(4) King Agrippa the First recited the section of
Deuteronomy which a king was required to do as associated with the
Sabbatical Year (Deut. 31:10-13). He performed it at a time which
historically shows that Agrippa's Sabbatical Year was A.D.41 to 42.
(5) A papyrus document written in Aramaic has recently
been found in Palestine which is dated to the second year of Nero, and it
says that that year was a Sabbatical Year. Thus, A.D.55 to 56 was
(6) A reference in the second century Jewish work called
the Seder Olam can be interpreted as showing the Temple at Jerusalem
being destroyed in a Sabbatical Year. That would have been A.D.69 to 70.
(7) Dated documents have been found concerning the Bar
Kochba revolt of the Jews against the Romans which show that the year
A.D.132 to 133 was also a Sabbatical Year.
(8) The ruins of an ancient synagogue have recently been
uncovered which have a date, in a mosaic, for the Jewish year 4000, and that
it was the second year of a Sabbatical cycle. This answers to A.D.237 to
(9) There is a reference in the Jewish Talmud (Sanh. 97b) that the Messiah will release the world from its bondage of corruption in the year after 4291 of the Jewish calendar. Since it was believed this would occur in a Sabbatical Year, this reference becomes important (though the prophecy did not occur) because the year after 4291 was A.D.531 to 532 and it was Sabbatical.
The interesting thing about these Sabbatical Years is the fact that they are all in proper sequence This gives the historian a great deal of confidence that they are correct. Now, all the Sabbatical Years in between can be known (Schurer, following Zuckermann, felt that the Sabbatical Years' cycle was a year earlier than the one presented here, but Wacholder has shown this to be untenable. For example, in Schurer's sequence, the year A.D.40 to 41 was Sabbatical, but Josephus says that crops were able to be harvested that year War II.200; Antiq. XVIII.271-284 and even Schurer admits to the difficulty (JPJC I,I.pp.42,43). Prof. Wacholder, however, reveals the answer to the sequence of Sabbatical Years. See also "The Interpreter's Dict. of the Bible," Suppl. Vol., pp.762,763. Other historical incidences mentioned in Josephus also support Wacholder's proofs.
HISTORICAL EVENTS IN JUDAEA CAN NOW MAKE BETTER SENSE: Once the proper annual occurrences of Sabbaticals are understood, all other intervening years in sequence can be tallied. We then discover how important events occurred on them. Those years were times when, the majority of the population being mostly in agriculture were off from their ordinary jobs, and something had to be done in order to keep them busy at earning a proper living. There was a simple answer to this that many people have not thought of. During the six years of farm labor the government took some grain and foodstuffs like Joseph did in Egypt and when the Sabbatical Year came around, they paid the people this produce to work at construction or other types of work. Since there was a vast reservoir of workers then available, new buildings, cities, walls, roads, irrigation projects were undertaken. And for the most part the people did the work willingly because they believed God to be behind their efforts of keeping the Sabbatical Years. Note examples of this.
Herod commenced his work on the outer parts of the great Temple of God on the Sabbatical Year of 23/22 B.C. (cf. War. I.101 and Loeb, vol.VIII,p.184 note c). This was also the exact year he commenced work on building the new city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast (cf. Antiq. XV.341 and Loeb note d). And later, Herod's son Philip started to build Caesarea Philippi (cf. Schurer, rev II.169-171) in the Sabbatical Year 2/1 B.C. The city of Tiberias probably had its founding in A.D.20 the beginning of a Sabbatical Year (cf. Schurer, ibid. p.179).
Also the expansive third wall around the northern parts of Jerusalem which, if finished, Josephus said would have made Jerusalem impregnable was no doubt started by King Agrippa the First in the Sabbatical Year of A.D.41/42 (cf. War II.218). And his son Agrippa II also began huge construction projects in similar circumstances. In the Sabbatical Year of A.D.62/63 Josephus said that "King Agrippa enlarged Caesarea Philippi and renamed it in honor of Nero. He furthermore built at great expense a theater for the people of Beirut and presented them with animal spectacles, spending many tens of thousands of drachmas upon this project" (Antiq. XX.211).
It is because so many Jews had to take different types of jobs in Sabbatical Years that it was common for most of them in the first century to have two trades. Recall that the apostle Paul was a trained tentmaker (Acts 18:3). Most learned these secondary trades during the Sabbatical Years when so many new construction projects were then underway. This is one of the main reasons that the Jewish people put up with many of the building endeavors of Herod during the Sabbatical Years.
THE SABBATICAL YEAR OF CHRIST'S MINISTRY: The sequence of Sabbatical Years is now established with almost certainty by Professor Wacholder and other historical data which I can provide. This information, with the new interpretation of John 4:35 that I am giving in this lesson, provide a logical chronology for the years of Christ's ministry. We can now know that Christ gave his information about the "four months to harvest" in a Sabbatical Year and that year has to be the one from the Autumn of A.D.27 to the Autumn of A.D.28.
There is another chronological indication in Luke's Gospel that helps substantiate this. Luke said that John the Baptist began his ministry in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1). Scholars have recognized several ways of reckoning this fifteenth year, but with our new information identifying Christ's first year of teaching as the Sabbatical Year of A.D.27 to A.D.28, we are now helped in understanding the regnal years of Tiberius as reckoned by Luke. For a full discussion on the various ways that Tiberius' fifteenth year have been reckoned, see the excellent works of Prof. Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, pp.259-273, and Prof. Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, pp.29-37.
We can now consider two of the explanations which blend in perfectly well with our new chronological information. If one acknowledges the fifteenth year of Tiberius as being in conformity with the non-accession method based on the official Roman Year (called the Julian), that fifteenth year would be from January 1, A.D.28 to December 31, A.D.28. This would dovetail nicely with our new proposal, yet it would mean that John the Baptist began baptizing in January A.D.28 in the Jordan Valley. This would be acceptable since it was not excessively cold in the Jordan depression even during mid-winter. However, it does press events between January and the next Passover which occurred in late March or early April into a "hurry up" situation. Recall that Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism. Though this reckoning for the fifteenth year is not improbable, it is not to be preferred over the following determination which fits in much better with all factors. Let's notice it.
Since Luke was a gentile and writing to a nobleman named Theophilus (traditionally both were from Antioch, Syria), it is possible that Luke was using the non-accession method of reckoning regnal years in Syria from the time of Augustus to Nerva. The fifteenth year of Tiberius was then from Tishri 1, A.D.27 to Tishri 1, A.D.28. This would mean that Luke was calculating the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry and consequently that of Christ's according to the calendar with which he and Theophilus would have been familiar (Hoehner, pp.34,35). It also has the advantage of paralleling the Jewish Year which also commenced with Tishri 1. And more than that, this reckoning would also correspond precisely with the Sabbatical Year of A.D.27 to A.D.28.
And what a significant symbolic time for John and Christ to start their ministries. The Jewish people were keenly aware of the prophetic significance of Sabbatical Years as they related to prominent people of the Old Testament periods, and also to the advent of the Messiah into the world. In literature written not long before Christ began to preach, we have these symbolic features emphasized. The Book of Enoch presents an apocalyptic account based on the seven Sabbatical ages, and in 91:12-17 it adds three more a total of ten Sabbatical periods. The Book of Jubilees records that at the creation God partitioned off time periods into Sabbatical and Jubilee cycles (Jub. 1:27-29). The births of significant people such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, and other patriarchs were timed to dovetail precisely with Sabbatical eras (4Q181, fragments 1-2). The Dead Sea sectarians recognized future reigns of the Kings of Wickedness and Righteousness relative to a Sabbatical calendar, and believing that the last year of the cycle would be the start of the Messianic age (1QMelch. 3:2).
These early opinions on the symbolic teaching concerning Sabbatical Years were no doubt prompted by the sabbatical periods recorded by the Prophet Daniel. His Seventy Weeks' prophecy was an extension of a Sabbatical Years' theme, and this prophecy was the prime reference point for the advent of the Messianic age that the Jews were expecting in the first century. "Passover of the Sabbatical Year became the period when the redeemer's coming was expected most" (Wacholder, "Int. Dict. One Vol." supplement, p.763).
It is thus no surprise that vast crowds of people came out in the Sabbatical Year of A.D.27 to A.D.28 to be baptized of John the Baptist and Christ. This was not only a time when a great percentage of the people would have been free of agricultural duties and able to travel at leisure following the great teachers around Palestine, but it was also the Sabbatical Year when many of them were expecting many Messianic signs to occur.
It makes perfectly good sense that John the Baptist would have started his ministry in the Autumn, at the beginning of the Sabbatical Year, and that Christ would have commenced his own teaching a little later. The Jewish people would have seen significance in that year.
This would indicate that John the Baptist inaugurated his teaching ministry at the start of a Sabbatical Year. For what it's worth, Epiphanius said that Christ was baptized a little later on November 8. Soon after that Christ went into the wilderness for 40 days and then returned to Galilee. The preaching of Christ was relatively restricted until the wedding feast in Cana which took place not long before John's first Passover. Though Christ performed a great miracle at the behest of his mother, he still informed her that "mine hour is not yet come" (John 2:4). It appears that he was waiting for the time of Pentecost A.D.28 to begin officially his ministry. And why not? As is well known among students of the Bible, the Day of Pentecost was reckoned as a day of "beginnings." Not only did the New Testament church in Jerusalem commence on Pentecost (Acts 2), but the Jews have long believed that the Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai also on Pentecost. Interestingly, the apostle Paul even began his official teaching in Europe on "the Day of Weeks" at Philippi (Acts 16:13, see original Greek rendering, not the King James), and Paul at a later time acknowledged that this was "a beginning of the Gospel" in Europe (Phil. 4:15). Christ also began his official teaching on Pentecost and this is what we find him doing as recorded in Luke 4:16. This matter is explained on page 8 in the second portion of this Lesson.
THE CHRONOLOGICAL INDICATIONS OF JOHN: Since it looks evident that John the Baptist and Christ began to teach in the Sabbatical Year from Tishri 1, A.D.27 to Tishri 1, A.D.28, it is a simple procedure to follow the apostle John through his other chronological references to the year of Christ's crucifixion. Indeed, it is the establishing of the "first year" for Christ's ministry that can make the time of his crucifixion understandable.
The first Passover mentioned by John can now be reckoned to A.D.28. At the following Pentecost season he was in Galilee probably at Nazareth. The next festival of John was his "unknown" feast (5:1). This "unknown" festival occurred some time before John's next Passover mentioned in 6:4.
What was this "unknown feast? Many scholars have tackled the problem of identifying it. It is almost certain that it was not Pentecost because it can be reasonably shown that Christ was in Galilee for the Pentecost after John's first Passover. It is also not likely to be the other two national feasts since they are mentioned by name in other sections of John. Westcott makes an excellent case for the Day of Trumpets which was the beginning of the Jewish New Year (The Gospel According to John, pp.92-94). This suggestion is an attractive one. The theme of Christ's teaching at that feast was on the judgment and the resurrection (John 5:25-31) the exact symbolic teaching associated with the Day of Trumpets. This evidence is shown in my book "The Star That Astonished The World." This theme is central to Trumpets.
Both Professors Finegan and Hoehner accept the "unknown" feast as Tabernacles. This may be true, but for our present chronological purposes, Trumpets and Tabernacles are only separated from one another by 15 days, and this short interval presents no difficulty. It is only fair, however, to mention that both Finegan and Hoehner place this "unknown" feast not in the first year of Christ's ministry, as we do in this lesson, but in the second. To do this, an "unknown" and unmentioned Passover is usually inserted between the Passovers of John 2:13 and 6:4. My new proposal, however, shows no need to create another unmentioned Passover.
Whatever the case, the "unknown" feast of John 5:1 was probably New Year's Day (Trumpets) or Tabernacles in A.D.28. This would mean that the following Passover (6:4) was in A.D.29 when Christ fed the 5000 in Galilee. The next feast in John was that of Tabernacles in A.D.29 (7:1). and then the Dedication (10:22), which was in the winter of A.D.29/30. The next Passover mentioned by John was that at which Christ was crucified. This would have been in the year A.D.30.
A MINISTRY OF TWO YEARS PLUS: In short. A.D.30 is the year of the crucifixion. By following John's Gospel, the time from Christ's baptism to his crucifixion was about two years and three or four months. This length of time was maintained by Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea in Syria (c.310-390) and Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus (c.315-403). Among modern scholars who hold this view are Sutclfffe. Blinzler, Caird, Ruckstuhl, Schnackenburg, F. F. Bruce, and Duncan. See Hoehner for references, pp.48,49. Why Professor Hoehner says it is necessary to transpose chapters 5 and 6 of John to sustain a two years' account for Christ (plus a few months) is a mystery. With our new information, there is really no need to make such a shift in chapters 5 and 6, and likewise, it is not necessary to invent another Passover which John does not mention between 2:13 and 6:4. My former belief that Christ had a ministry of 31/2 years is no longer tenable and has to be jettisoned.
MORE EVIDENCE: There is even further proof for an A.D.30 date for the passion of Christ. This concerns the time the Book of Galatians was written. This book was certainly composed by the apostle Paul before the Jerusalem Council held in A.D.49. This has to be the case because it is inconceivable that six full chapters had to be written about the non-need for gentiles to observe circumcision and the Mosaic law if Paul could simply have referred the Galatians to the official decrees concerning the matter which were ordained by the apostles, and all others, at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).
But note this. Paul mentioned in Galatians that he went to Jerusalem two times to discuss doctrinal issues with the "pillar" apostles. One was three years after his conversion and then fourteen years after that (Gal. 1:18; 2:1 ). It is not to be imagined that Paul meant he only went to Jerusalem twice in that seventeen year period. Not at all. Paul may have visited the capital several times during the interval, and one such time is mentioned in Acts 11:30. In the Book of Galatians, Paul meant that he had gone to Jerusalem twice to discuss doctrine and the relevance of his special commission. In Paul's other visits over that seventeen year period (and there must have been several) the issue of doctrine and Paul's special commission never came up. That's why he never mentioned his other journeys to Jerusalem in the Book of Galatians.
But now to the point. Since Paul wrote Galatians not long before the Jerusalem Council and the controversy in Galatia may well have provoked the need for the Council in the first place, he said that he, Barnabas and Titus had gone by revelation to the apostles in Jerusalem to discuss their special commissions of preaching to the gentiles. This visit probably occurred in the previous year to the Council. If this is so, it would have been in A.D.48, or perhaps very early in A.D.49. This is an excellent chronological clue. Seventeen years before that pre-Council meeting, Paul saw his great vision on the road to Damascus. This leads us back, obviously. to A.D.31 for the conversion of Paul. And since there must have been at least one year's active persecution by Saul against the church throughout Judaea (before he became Paul), these historical references focus squarely on Christ's crucifixion as happening in A.D.30.
There is even further proof that the seventeen years mentioned by Paul in Galatians lead back to A.D.31. He stated that the Galatians were suddenly going over to keeping the Mosaic law because people from Jerusalem taught them the need to do so. Indeed. the Galatians were "observing days, months, times, and years" (Gal. 4:10). Note the italicized word "years." Within the context of Paul's rebuke to the Galatian gentiles, this can only refer to their observing (the verb is in the present tense) the Sabbatical Years of the Mosaic law. This, again, is an important chronological clue. The sequence of Sabbatical Years in the period when the Book of Galatians could have been written was A.D.41/42, A.D.48/49; and A.D.55/56. Since A.D.55/56 is well after the Jerusalem Council of A.D.49, this could not be the Sabbatical Year the Galatians were observing. It is manifestly too early for A.D.41/42 to be considered. The only possibility is the Sabbatical Year of A.D.48/49. Everything fits perfectly with this Sabbatical year.
If this was the Sabbatical Year they were actively observing (and note that Paul used the present tense "observing"), one can understand the apostle Paul's urgent concern for their behavior. The truth is, it was not even necessary for Jews to observe Sabbatical Years outside the designated lands associated with Palestine, but here were the Galatians (and gentiles at that!) now observing the official Sabbatical Year of A.D.48/49 in Asia Minor. And only that year fits.
IMPORTANT NEW TESTAMENT DEDUCTIONS: Once the proper sequence of Sabbatical Years is understood, we can now appraise some significant New Testament historical statements in a much better way. For one, we now know that the Autumn of A.D.48 to Autumn A.D.49 was a Sabbatical Year. This is a time when all agricultural activity in Palestine would have ceased. Such ritualistic requirements were often very traumatic for the Jewish people who lived in the Holy Land and this was especially true in the six months' period that succeeded any Sabbatical Year. The fact is, they had effectively been cut off from earning any money from land products during the sabbatical period. This point is a major one in interpreting several statements in various sections of the New Testament.
Since Palestinian Jews were usually in dire economic straits during Sabbatical Years, and the six months that followed it was customary for Jews in the Diaspora (those living outside Palestine) to send money and foodstuffs to their brethren in the Holy Land. However, when Palestine was not undergoing drought or keeping Sabbatical Years, there is ample evidence to show that the region was very productive to live in. Even Titus, the later Roman emperor, said that Judaea was proportionately more prosperous than Rome itself (Josephus, War III.516-521; VI.317, 333-336; Antiq. V.76-79). But when the Jews ceased agricultural pursuits in Sabbatical Years, many of them became poor almost destitute. Scripture attests to this.
It may seem like a moot point, but when Paul and Barnabas were given the right hand of fellowship that they should go to the gentiles and the "pillar" apostles were assigned to the circumcision, the only extra requirement imposed on Paul was that he "remember the poor" (Gal. 2:10). The poor in question, as the context certainly shows, were the poor among the Jews in Palestine because Paul and Barnabas would surely have considered it incumbent on them to show benevolence upon the gentiles to whom they were commissioned to preach. But why were the Jews poor? The answer should be evident once the sequence of Sabbatical Years is recognized. The truth is, A.D.48 to A.D.49 was a Sabbatical Year, and the apostle Paul had, the conference with the "pillar" apostles sometime in A.D.48ash right at the start of a Sabbatical Year. There would have indeed been many "poor" in Palestine during the next year or so.
Yet there is more. The apostle Paul went to Corinth while on his second journey, arriving there near the Autumn of A.D.50 or early A.D.51. He spent 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:11). There is archaeological information which shows that Gallio, the Roman proconsul, was in office between January 25, A.D.52 and before August 1. A.D.52 (Finegan, ibid. pp.316-318). Paul went before Gallio at that time (Acts 18:12-17). Afterward, in the middle part of A.D.52, Paul went to Jerusalem and finally back to his homebase in Antioch of Syria (Acts 18:21,2 2). Then in the Spring of A.D.53 Paul started out on his third journey (Acts 18:23), reaching Ephesus in late Spring of A.D.53. He stayed there for two years (Acts 19:10) and near that end of that period, and just before the Passover season in A.D.55, he wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians (I Cor 16). He ordered them, as he had those in Galatia, to save up money and goods to give to the poor saints at Jerusalem (I Cor. 16:15). Afterwards, he went to Macedonia from whence he wrote II Corinthians in late A.D.55. He again wrote the Corinthians two long chapters about the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem, praising them that even "from before" the Sabbatical Year began with Tishri in A.D.55, the Corinthians had started to save their money and produce (II Cor. 8:10; 9:2). Then, in late A.D.55, Paul went on to Corinth, where he wintered with them for three months (Acts 20:3). This is when he wrote his epistle to the Romans, telling them he was soon journeying to Jerusalem to deliver the collections he had secured from Galatia, Macedonia, and Greece (Rom. 15:25-33). The Book of Romans was written in the early Spring of A.D.56. He then left Corinth and went to Ephesus now telling them it had been three years since he started preaching to them (Acts 20:31). He got to Jerusalem about Pentecost in A.D.56 (Acts 20:16) approaching the end of the Sabbatical Year.
Why are these chronological data important to know? Because they show that Paul in his various epistles was talking about taking produce and money to Jerusalem to help them through the Sabbatical Year from Autumn A.D.55 to Autumn A.D.56! Not only does this information help us date the times when and II Corinthians as well as Romans were written, but the evidence helps to confirm the sequence of Sabbatical Years which Professor Wacholder has provided. There is also other evidence, not given in this lesson, that absolutely demonstrates the correctness of Professor Wacholder's contributions in solving this chronological matter.
CONCLUSION: When the complete ramifications of this subject are recognized, it will be seen how important the proper interpretation of John 4:35-38 really is. It represents a powerful chronological benchmark which can help us identify the years when the various festivals took place that John mentioned in his Gospel. And more importantly, it gives us, with an almost certainty, the true year of the crucifixion. When it is realized that the Sabbatical Year of A.D.27 to A.D.28 is the first year of Christ's ministry, most of the other chronological indications in the Gospels and epistles can make much better sense.
When I wrote my book "The Birth of Christ Recalculated" in 1980 and I had not yet noticed the chronological importance of John 4:35-38. Had I realized that this was an indication of a Sabbatical Year (which indeed it is), then it would have been simple to show that Christ began his ministry during the Sabbatical Year from Tishri One in A.D.27 to Tishri One in A.D.28. New research since that time (to accord with Second Peter 3:18) has now established that John 4:35-38 is indeed describing events appropriate to that Sabbatical Year, and I have this information in my book "The Star That Astonished the World." While this is true, this still does not tell us the exact time during that unique year when Christ officially commenced his ministry. But this is not difficult to determine if one will pay attention to other chronological data which are mentioned in the Holy Scriptures.
First of all, we are told that Jesus "began [his ministry] about thirty years of age" (Luke 3:23). To be "about" thirty means that he was approaching his birthday. As explained in my book "The Birth of Christ Recalculated" (and in my new book "The Star That Astonished the World," he was born on the Day of Trumpets (Tishri One). In the Bible we find that everyone was advanced one year of age on the same day (again, this was the Day of Trumpets). The late Spring of A.D.28 would fit Luke's description ideally because he would become exactly 30 years of age on the Day of Trumpets which began the Hebrew Autumn.
Since it appears that Christ was approaching 30 years of age when he began his ministry, where and when did that official beginning take place? One thing for certain, Peter who was an eyewitness to all such affairs said his ministry began "in Galilee" (Acts 10:37). The first miracle Christ performed was turning the water into wine which was in Cana of Galilee, but this was not the time for the official commencement of his ministry because he told his mother that "mine hour is not yet come" (John 2:4). Soon after that event Christ went to Jerusalem for the Passover and performed some miracles to the astonishment of the people (John 2:23), but the apostle John specifically states that "he did not commit himself unto them" (John 2:24). After that first Passover, he returned through Samaria where he told the apostles that the Sabbatical Year they were then experiencing would end in four months time (John 4:35-38). He then went north to Galilee where he was reared. And in the synagogue at Nazareth, on the Day of the Weeks (Pentecost in A.D.28), he committed himself officially to the people as the Messiah (Luke 4:16-21). This is what Peter meant when he said the Gospel began in Galilee (Acts 10:37). This proclamation by Christ occurred a little over three months before Christ became 30 on the following Day of Trumpets in A.D.28. This further means that Christ was born just after sunset on the Day of Trumpets, Wednesday, Sept. 11th, 3 B.C. This is important information. We can thus know the chronology of Christ's life from birth to death with a great deal of precision.
On Paul's two visits to Jerusalem mentioned in the Book of Galatians. In the foregoing lesson it is maintained that Paul was referring to two special visits which he made to Jerusalem. These were singled out from all the others he may have made because these two were the only ones in which he inquired diligently about doctrinal matters and the unique commission which had been given to him by Christ. He no doubt made other journeys to the capital when other reasons demanded it, and one such trip is recorded in Acts 11:30. However, Paul's first encounter with the "pillar" apostles was mentioned both by Luke (Acts 9:27-30) and by Paul himself (Gal. 1:18). At that first visit, Paul visibly "saw" all the apostles plus numerous other Christian folk, but he was only in dialogue with Peter and James about the nature of his unique commission on the two occasions mentioned in the Book of Galatians. And that is exactly what Paul said when one looks closely at his remarks in Galatians 1:20. Those two particular visits were "touching on things," or "in regard to things" which later concerned the Galatians. On Paul's other visits to Jerusalem (and who knows how many there may have been), such discussions did not arise. Thus, when Paul and Barnabas went to the capital on their alms mission (Acts 11:30), the subject of Paul's particular commission did not come up. This is why he told the Galatians that his journeys to Jerusalem in his third and seventeenth years from conversion were "touching on things" which later affected the Galatians. Once this is understood, the chronology of Paul's early career can be better understood.
On the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. Christ's statement recorded in John 4:35 can now be recognized as a reference to the Sabbatical Year of A.D.27 to A.D.28. This powerful indication would make Luke's reference to Tiberius' 15th year as an inclusive reckoning i.e. when Tiberius assumed command of the empire at the death of Augustus (19 August, A.D. 14), the year current (the one beginning at the start of the calendar year) is considered Tiberius' first year. If, then, the Roman civil year was intended by Luke, Tiberius' first regnal year began with 1 January, A.D.14, and his 15th year with 1 January, A.D.28. If, on the other hand, Luke was employing the Syriac year and traditionally both he and Theophilus were from Antioch, then Tiberius' 15th year began with 1 Tishri, A.D.27. This reckoning would dovetail with the Jewish year in Jerusalem. This latter deduction appears the most likely.
Now to the point of this addendum. Since an inclusive reckoning is essential for Tiberius' 15th year to correspond with the Sabbatical Year indication in John 4:35, it might be fair to ask if inclusive accountings are normal in the writings of Luke? We will now show where this is the case. Luke was fond of inclusive reckonings.
(A) Whereas Matthew and Mark say "after six days" (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2), Luke brings in a prominent and obvious inclusive reckoning, "about an eight days after" (Luke 9:28).
(B) Notice as well that Cornelius received his vision at the ninth hour (Acts 10:3) and immediately dispatched his servants to Peter. The next day at noontime they met Peter (v.9). Then, "on the morrow" they left Joppa for Caesarea (v.23) and arrived the next day (v.24) at the exact hour (the ninth) when Cornelius had received the vision (v.30). When one counts the hours from the time of the vision to the arrival of Peter, there were exactly 72 hours, yet Cornelius called it the fourth day (v.30). This, of course, shows the use of inclusive reckoning the day on which Cornelius received the vision (though only three hours were left of it) was acknowledged as the first day, and the time Peter arrived must then be accounted the fourth day. This kind of reckoning was indeed the normal Roman and Greek way of measuring time, i.e. the Olympic Games were reckoned to occur every fifth year to the Gentiles whereas they were only four years apart. And too, the Jews reckoned normally the same way. A boy was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 1:59), with the first day being counted from the birth even if born within the last minutes of the day. Inclusive reckoning for days, weeks, months. and years was the predominant method for societies in the first century, and Luke was accustomed to this manner of reckoning.
(C) A further example of Luke's use of the inclusive is the mention of 12 days (Acts 24:11) which accounted for the interval of time from Acts 21:15 to 23:33. There is no way those 12 days can be reckoned except in the inclusive method.
Reflections on Luke 6:1 "plucking the gain." The disciples went through the fields picking the ears of grain on the sabbath (variant, second-first sabbath), It is usually surmised that this indicates the normal time for the grain harvest from late March to early June. And true enough, in normal agricultural years the grain harvest would have been over by the middle of June and certainly by July, even in upper Galilee. Did this "plucking of the grain" occur in the ordinary barley and wheat harvest season? It might appear so on the surface, but this does not have to be the case at all in the extraordinary year of A.D.28. Let's see how this is the case.
With the new chronological information presented in the main body of this lesson, this "plucking of the grain" would have happened sometime near the end of the Jewish year in A.D.28. The context of Luke in comparison with the accounts in the other Gospels suggests that the event of Luke 6:1 took place in the late summer or, at most, the early autumn. This seems to be an odd time for standing wheat to still be in evidence in Galilee. But one prime factor has not been acknowledged in the matter by theologians. The Jewish year until late summer in A.D.28 was a Sabbatical Year. There would still have been some very dry wheat stalks unharvested into late August or early September. Thus, there is not a problem in the world (the agricultural world of Palestine, that is) for the disciples to be plucking wheat in early September. In fact, this season fits very well with the chronological indications which soon follow the event. The next one involved Luke's recording of the blustery storm conditions upon the Sea of Galilee (8:23), which surely point to a late autumn or winter season. This is followed in sequence with the feeding of the 5000 (9:14) an event mentioned by all four Gospels and identified by John as occurring at the Passover season (early springtime). This would have been in A.D.29 in using the proper chronology. After that occurred the feasts of Tabernacles (7:1) and Dedication (10:22), and then Christ's final Passover (13:1) in A.D.30 when he was crucified.
Once the year of A.D.28 up to early September is recognized as a Sabbatical Year, many perplexing chronological problems throughout the New Testament now make much better sense!
On the Second-First Sabbath. There may be a further clue to the time for the picking of the grain mentioned in Luke 6:1. In some manuscripts, the descriptive phrase "second-first sabbath" appears, No one today seems to know what it means (if it is not some copyist error). It does seem odd to me that any scribe would want to retain some peculiar phrase as this unless he (or they) thought it to have been a part of the original autograph. Of course, there are ways of explaining how copyists could have by accident created such a strange terminology, but depending on copyist blunders as the prime answer seems to be an easy way to cut the Gordian Knot But what if this phrase were a part of the original? If so, it might help us in our inquiry into the chronological problems of the New Testament. The following suggestions might be ones in the right direction toward solving the meaning of the phrase.
Since there are two ordinal numerals in combination, we might have a clue to what Luke meant by the "second-first sabbath." Note this point. Does not the word "second" in the phrase imply that a "first" may have preceded it that is, if one follows a normal sequence of numerals? If this would be the case, it could also be rationally supposed that the "second" could have been succeeded by a "third," "fourth," etc. Looking at it this way could give us a regular series of numerals being followed in sequence. Thus, there would be a "first-first," a "second-first" (as in Luke's account), a "third-first,20 " etc. Or, maybe it's the final ordinal numeral that should be changed in sequence? We would then have a "second-first" (Luke's term) being the first in a series, followed by the "second-second," the "second-third," etc.
This explanation is a step to help us understand the answer. Such a procedure may not be as far-fetched as it first might appear. Since the descriptive term is associated with the weekly sabbath in the other two Gospels (or apparently so), it is possible that some sequence of sabbaths is intended by Luke. One such series of sabbath courses is found in the Bible. These were the 24 priestly courses who attended the rituals in the Temple. It is interesting that each course is described in succession as being the "first," the "second," the "third," etc. until the "twenty-fourth" is reached (I Chron. 24:7-18). Each priestly course took over from the previous one at noon on the weekly sabbath. The Old Testament says the courses "were to come in on the sabbath." and to serve until they "were to go out on the sabbath" (II Chron. 23:8; II Kings 11:5). The first course began its administration on the first sabbath at the start of the spring month Nisan, along with the leaders of the 12 tribes (I Chron. 27:1,2). Priests normally commenced their regular ministrations with Nisan (Exodus 40:1-38. Each course served for one week (while all 24 served at the three national festivals II Chronicles 5:11). It took half a year for all 24 courses to serve in succession. Then the procedure started again the second half of the year with the autumn month of Tishri, and lasted until the next Nisan.
Since Luke introduced John the Baptist's father as being "of the course of Abijah" (the eighth course), and that he functioned "in the order of his course" (and both phrases were without elaboration or definition), it shows that both Luke and Theophilus were quite familiar with the ritualistic liturgies within the temple at Jerusalem. If Zachariah's course was in the springtime (and he was the eighth I Chron. 24:10), then the sabbath on which he took over might be reckoned the "eighth-first." If it were in the autumn cycle, then it might have been called the "eighth-second." If one reverses the numerals, however, they would be "first-eighth" and "second-eighth."
Whatever the case, if Luke's "second-first Sabbath" quote was in the autumn cycle as we are suggesting, then the plucking of the grain would have been during the first sabbath of the second period of administration just after the end of the Sabbatical Year of A.D.28. Thus, there would still be standing grain in evidence.
There is another possible explanation. Maybe the term "second-first" means the weekly sabbath when the second course succeeded the first course at noontime? If this is a possibility, then the picking of the grain by the disciples would have been a week later from the explanation above.
Granted, no one knows what the "second-first" means (or even if it should be retained in the text), and I am not trying to advance one theory over another, or any theory at all. What is clear from John 4:35 is that Christ's first year of ministry was a Sabbatical Year. This means Luke 6:1 was near Tishri A.D.28. This makes reasonable sense and is compatible with Palestinian agricultural activities in the first century. New Testament chronology thus becomes clear.
Ernest L. Martin
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