I stumbled on this verse again and would like some clarification:

Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? John 2:20 (KJV)

  • Was the temple 46 years old at that time?
  • Was the temple built in 46 years?

If it's the second option, how could it be true that the temple took so long to build? Were they short of labour, money, etc.?

  • 3
    The Jews replied, "It was taken forty-six years to build this temple; and u are going to raise it in three days?" (NIV)
    – regis
    Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 12:20
  • 4
    Liverpool Cathedral's foundation stone was laid in 1904, and it was only completed in 1978, with modern construction techniques. For a building the size of the Temple to take only 46 years using far more primitive techniques is extraordinary -- but it's remarkable that it took so short a time. Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 12:26
  • Solomon's temple took less: committedtotruth.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/… - 7-8 years Commented Jun 3, 2013 at 19:53
  • 2
    @tunmisefashipe it was also a fourth of the square footage. which in a 3D world is more like 1/8 the material and work. So that would be about right.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 1:33
  • 1
    Cologne Cathederal was started in 1164 and completed in 1880. It would be absolutely normal for an ancient building, over decades, to be partially built, to the point where it was usable, but not yet completed. Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 13:20

3 Answers 3


It means it took that long to build. This is apparent from the fact that they were challenging Christ's claim that He would build it in three days, when it's taken 46 years of work thus far.

From Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Forty and six years ... - The temple in which they then were was that which was commonly called "the second temple," built after the return of the Jews from Babylon. See the notes at Matthew 21:12. This temple Herod the Great commenced repairing, or began to rebuild, in the eighteenth year of his reign - that is, sixteen years before the birth of Christ (Jos. 'Ant.,' b. xv. Section 1). The main body of the temple he completed in "nine years and a half" (Jos. 'Ant.,' xv. 5, 6), yet the temple, with its outbuildings, was not entirely complete in the time of our Saviour. Herod continued to ornament it and to perfect it even until the time of Agrippa (Jos. 'Ant.,' b. xx. chapter viii. Section 11). As Herod began to rebuild the temple sixteen years before the birth of Jesus, and as what is here mentioned happened in the thirtieth year of the age of Jesus, so the time which had been occupied in it was "forty-six years." This circumstance is one of the many in the New Testament which show the accuracy of the evangelists, and which prove that they were well acquainted with what they recorded. It demonstrates that their narration is true. Impostors do not trouble themselves to be very accurate about names and dates, and there is nothing in which they are more liable to make mistakes.

  • My question was based on the dedication of people of those times, and I believed this should have made them to finish it earlier. Didn't know the government had hand in it. According to this link, Solomon's temple took lesser time: committedtotruth.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/… Commented Jun 3, 2013 at 19:50
  • Be aware that large buildings often took decades to build. Even a thousand years later the great cathedrals were taking decades, even centuries, to build, whoever was doing it. Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 15:34
  • "began to rebuild, in the eighteenth year of his reign - that is, sixteen years before the birth of Christ". How do you count the sixteen years? Herod died in his 37th year of reign and Christ was born shortly before that.
    – Jan
    Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 9:31

Herod began his actual reign in BCE 37 upon the death of Antigonus II that ended the Hasmonean Dynasty.

Josephus makes it clear that Herod's temple had been started in Herod's 18th year, counting inclusively from the year beginning his reign.

BCE 37; Herod starts reign

BCE 20; Herod begins temple

27 CE; Jesus' first Passover during His ministry, being 30 1/2 years old

See Antiquities XV 11

From BCE 20 to 27 CE is 46 years, counting from year 20 to 19 as 1 and ignoring the 0 year that didn't exist.

John 2:20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?

So, Christ was 30 1/2 years old and Herod's temple was 46 years old at the time when this exchange took place in Jerusalem at the Passover.

Christ of course was referring to His Body at its death, burial, and resurrection as the temple that will be raised.


Actually, Herod's Temple wasn't finished until 63AD, so it was about 80 years in the making. The Jews talking to Jesus were not saying that the Temple was finished when they spoke of 46 years. There were issues with the construction which made it more difficult than usual, though, as others have said, 80 years is not bad:-

  1. During construction the Temple had to continue in use as a Temple, every day, morning and evening.

  2. Parts of the work could not be done by secular builders, but by Levites. (I suppose you could argue that this is why it only took 80 years.)

For more info see https://www.bible-history.com/jewishtemple/JEWISH_TEMPLEHerods_Temple00000006.htm

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