7

I've always heard, over in over, in Church and elsewhere that Jesus's ministry on Earth was only three years. However, it doesn't seem that there is much supporting Biblical evidence for this, or at least direct evidence. Nowhere does it say an exact period of time the events in the gospel where taking place over.

Is there evidence in the New Testament that we can reconstruct how long Jesus ministered for? If not then where does the three year figure come from?

5
  • 2
    I don't have the specifics, but I think the identify perhaps three distinct times Jesus celebrated the Passover. Unless His ministry began on Passover, then it would be closer to 2.5 years, maybe even three.
    – Narnian
    Mar 7 '13 at 15:53
  • @Narnian I almost mentioned that in my question. John mentions 3 Passovers you are correct, but that would be minimum of 2 max of ? since there could have been one or more Passovers just not mentioned. Mar 7 '13 at 15:57
  • I do not have high enough reputation to answer this question. Your question is excellent. Most of the answers given so far depend on the Biblical translations being used, leaving one to question how strongly the traditions of man outweigh Truth. Jan 26 '20 at 22:50
  • @clairestreb Wrong. You have enough reputation to answer this question.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 28 at 20:34
  • I think that if one is to accept the Bible as Gods word, then one must also accept the accuracy of God's prophets and prophecy. In Daniel 9 it clearly outlines this..."27And he will confirm a covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put an end to sacrifice and offering." In order to accept this prophecy as truth all one has to do is understand the meaning of the sacrificial system (what did its point forward too?). Obviously the sacrifice was no longer needed when the Messiah was killed. Jesus ministry was prophesied to be 3.5 years.
    – Adam
    Feb 4 at 9:55
5

Scholars who have attempted a synchronized harmony of the Gospels seem to indicate the Jesus went up to Jerusalem on three different occasions. From this, the tradition has grown up that his ministry was three years.

Beyond this interpolation, however, there is nothing to suggest how long his earthly ministry actually lasted. As such, it is probably best to say his ministry lasted at least three years.

Then again, after reading Mark keep saying "and he went immediately", you have gotten the impression it was just a few days :). But, overall, it does seem that the various times Jesus shows up in Jerusalem lend weight to at least 3 years.

2
  • Yes, agreed about Mark, reading through Mark is actually what prompted the question in fact. Mar 7 '13 at 20:49
  • This depends on the Biblical translation being used. For example, most only have one Passover in Mark, leaving Jesus' ministry to only be about a year. Other translations look at other books, like John, to say there were two Passovers (so still only a little over a year), or three Passovers, but the ones with three Passovers are questionable since they say Jesus and a huge crowd ignored going to Jerusalem for Passover, which was unheard of, so something isn't right with those translations. Jan 26 '20 at 23:04
4

I understand that there is some disagreement over how old Jesus was, and how long His earthly ministry lasted, but as your question states, most scholars believe He started at about 30 years old, and it lasted 3-31/2 years based on tying events mentioned with other established historical dates.

From http://www.ucg.org/jesus-christ/bible-and-archaeology-jesus-christs-early-ministry/

Archaeologists generally date the start of Christ's ministry to the year A.D. 27. "The beginning of Jesus' public ministry," writes archaeology professor John McRay, "is dated by synchronisms [chronological arrangements of events and people] in the Gospel of Luke (3:1-2). A date of A.D. 27 seems likely . . . The dates mentioned by Luke are rather well established . . ." ( Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 160).

However, I wouldn't be dogmatic on the age or number of years. Scripture isn't explicit, and there is room for error here, leading to several other interpretations, so it might be best to answer "we don't know, but this is why we think..."

1
  • "I wouldn't be dogmatic on the age or number of years" well said! Jan 26 '20 at 23:08
2
  1. In the 15th year of Tiberius (Aug. 28AD to Aug. 29AD), John the Baptist began his public ministry (summer of 28AD).
  2. At that time Jesus was "about thirty years old", which statement would be precisely true if Jesus were born in 3BC. (Luke 3:23) a. The gospel of John records three Passovers during Jesus' ministry. The first when Jesus was 30½ years old (John 2:13), a second when He was 31½ years old (John 6:4) and His last when He was arrested and killed. (John 13:1) So, we see that His ministry lasted about 2½ years and He died at the age of 32½ years.
3
  • 1
    Can you add some references for this? Most people think he died at 33AD. If so, and if he was born in 5-6BC (again the most common estimate) then he would have been about 38-39 when he died.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 24 '14 at 4:23
  • 2
    Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. This is a good answer, but I think you do need a source for point one, that shows when Tiberius reigned. Click edit to add that in. Please see What this site is about and How this site is different for future reference. I hope to see you post again soon.
    – fгedsbend
    Aug 24 '14 at 14:39
  • As described in my own answer, the source for point 1 is Luke 3:1, but it doesn't contribute to the logic of this answer, which doesn't make use of any information about the date of the crucifixion. The part about Luke 3:23 also seems irrelevant, since the guesses about Jesus's age don't contribute anything to the logic. Pruning out the logically irrelevant parts, this answer is really just saying that John describes three Passovers, so it must have been three years. But this is a shaky method, for the reasons stated in my own answer.
    – user14061
    Jan 29 at 22:17
1

Wheat ripens in May, suggesting it was May when the disciples were plucking ears of grain soon after the beginning of Jesus' public mission (Mark 2:23). On this evidence, Jesus began his public mission around the time of the Passover, and of course his crucifixion took place at the time of the Passover. We can know the period of Jesus' public ministry if we know the number of annual Passover celebrations that occurred during this period.

There is general agreement that John's Gospel mentions the annual Passover celebration on at least three separate occasions. The first of these (John 2:13) is consistent with the event mentioned in Mark 2:23. Then, John 6:4 speaks of a second Passover on which Jesus did not travel to Jerusalem, as it occurred during the feeding of the five thousand. A third Passover (John 11:55) marks Jesus' final entry to Jerusalem. A possible fourth Passover is alluded to in John 4:54, where Jesus returns from Judea to Galilee. This would mean that his ministry took between two and three years.

Although John places the feeding of the five thousand at the time of the Passover, the synoptic gospels make no mention of this. Moreover, in Mark's Gospel, the story of feeding the five thousand, narrated in Mark 6:32-44, seems to occur only shortly before Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem, and there can not be two Passovers in the same year. The brevity of the synoptic accounts, especially in Mark's Gospel, and the absence of any journey to Jerusalem until the final, fateful trip suggests that Jesus' mission lasted about one year, but the parallel between John 6:4 and Mark 6:32-44 makes it at least possible that the public mission could have been for just two years.

Wikipedia says:

The three Synoptic gospels refer to just one passover during his ministry, while the Gospel of John refers to three passovers, suggesting a period of about three years. However, the Synoptic gospels do not require a ministry that lasted only one year.

Paula Fredriksen, in 'The Historical Jesus, the Scene in the Temple, and the Gospel of John', published in John, Jesus, and History, Volume 2 page 250, says that in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the implied period is about one year and that in John the journeys to Jerusalem require a period of over two years.

2
  • 1
    The major problem here is not understanding there are 2 Passovers each year. The first on is in the 1st month and the 2nd one is a month later (Num 9:11 ) for those who were defiled or out of the country and not able to participate in the 1st Passover.So when we see that Jesus is in Galilee during Passover (Joh_6:4), we know this is the second Passover because not attending the 1st Passover if possible wouldn't be fulfilling the law (Num 9:13). So it is entirely possible to reconcile John with the synoptics on a one year ministry. Jan 12 '18 at 22:59
  • This answer and @Messianic114's comment do not point out that they both highly depend on which Bible translation is being used. There are some translations that show sections in italics or parentheses to indicate the text was added beyond the original manuscripts or moved to a different chronology. If you ignore these sections, John 6:4, for example, is nonexistent. Jan 26 '20 at 22:44
0

According to New Advent's Catholic Encyclopedia, Yeshua's ministry lasted about one year. See the writings of the early Church fathers Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen and Lactantius. It was Eusebius, in the 4th century, who suggested a duration of 3 1/2 years, trying to align it with his interpretation of the prophet Daniel's vision in Chapter 9:20-27.

See "Chronology of the Life of Jesus Christ", under the heading "Relative chronology", sub-headed "The public life of Jesus: its duration".

2
  • 4
    This would be better if you could link to resources and add some quotes. Nov 21 '13 at 3:05
  • 2
    New Advent does not say that. In the section you link to it says "This shows that the public life of Jesus must have extended over four paschs, so that it must have lasted three years and a few months". It does say that some scholars hold the 'extreme view" that his ministry lasted just one year. Jan 29 at 14:25
0

Luke 3:1 dates the beginning of John the Baptist's mission to 28 or 29 CE. The gospels also say that the last supper was a Passover seder, and that Jesus died before sunset on a Friday. This makes the best candidates for the date of the crucifixion 30 and 33 CE (Humphreys and Waddington, "Dating the crucifixion," Nature, 1983. doi:10.1038/306743a0). For these reasons, most scholars these days seem to agree that the length of Jesus's ministry was either very short (about one year) or else about three years.

There is no secure way to determine which of these possibilities is right.

Although John seems to identify three Passovers during this period (2:13, 6:4, and 13:1), this is a shaky basis on which to rule out the one-year-ministry possibility, since the gospels are literary works and often arranged by topics, not chronology. John in particular is concerned with theology over history, or even narrative. The sequence of events in John is wildly different from what the synoptics give (with the assault on the temple, John 2:13, occurring before the rest of the ministry). Geza Vermes actually argues on similar grounds that Jesus's ministry was less than a year, since Jesus was obligated to make three pilgrimages every year to the temple, and Mark only describes one, on one Passover. (Vermes, The authentic gospel of Jesus, 2003, Penguin paperback edition, p. 371.) John 6:4 is also not present in all manuscripts, which suggests that the added features in his account of the loaves and fishes (going up into the mountains, a Passover feast) are embellishments added long after the fact, in order to theologize the miracle and heighten the aura of spirituality.

3
  • Daniels prophecy is pretty explicit regarding the length of Jesus ministry. Its 3.5 years...Daniel 9:27 27He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him."
    – Adam
    Jan 29 at 0:14
  • @Adam: You might want to write that up as an answer. It doesn't seem like it has much to do with my answer in particular.
    – user14061
    Jan 29 at 15:06
  • Hi Ben, it has a lot to do with your answer in that your answer completely ignores very specific biblical prophecy that states very specifically the exact length of Jesus ministry. I also find it unusual that someone can quote extensively from the New Testament, then talk about the passover (an Old Testament ritual) and yet not add a single Old Testament scripture to backup what is obviously an uncertain conclusion...and its uncertain because it ignores Daniel 9. I cannot understand how anyone could have uncertainty about this.
    – Adam
    Feb 4 at 9:45

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.