How Many Years??

In early August, I responded to this question in an article I wrote for the Taylor Press:

“Hey, Ron – was Jesus’ ministry really three-and-a-half years long? If not, why are we told that?”

Jesus’ ministry began when He was almost (about) 30 years old – so, 29, and lasted for just over a year. He was crucified at the age of 30, which may also account for the number (30) of silver pieces Judas received for betraying Him (taxes or fees paid sometimes were based on an individual’s age). The gospels agree very well on the flow of the ministry, and John’s account is the easiest to follow.

Why do we believe, incorrectly, that Jesus ministered for 3.5 years? John 6:4, which throws in a bogus Passover, wasn’t in the earliest manuscripts but added by the third century. Then, fourth-century Eusebius, wanting to crack the code of the ‘week of years’ before the end of the world, used the bad information and rounded up, perpetuating the false belief that Jesus’ ministry was three-and-a-half years long. If you leave out chapter six, verse four (as you should!), the flow of Jesus’ one-year ministry goes like this according to the Gospel by John:

  • John’s introduction, the start of Jesus’ ministry, and gathering disciples: 1
  • Jesus performs His first miracle; the ministry begins just before Passover at age 29: 2
  • Jesus’ first Passover; religious contention begins (March/April): 2-3
  • Jesus goes back to his home in the north, stopping in Samaria along the way: 4
  • Jesus visits Jerusalem for Pentecost (May/June): 5
  • Jesus heads back to the north for the summer; feeding 5,000: 6-7
  • Jesus goes back to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths in the fall (October-ish): 7
  • Jesus stays in Jerusalem until winter and the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah in December): 7-10
  • Jesus leaves Jerusalem for the rest of the winter: 10-11
  • Jesus enters Jerusalem for the second and last Passover in His ministry; He’s crucified and then resurrected (March/April): 12-20
  • Jesus appears to various disciples and ascends to Heaven: 20-21

So, what did we learn? First, Jesus’ earthly ministry lasted just over a year from the age of 29-30. Second, the Christian tradition of a 3.5-year ministry was started by Eusebius when trying to rationalize his belief about end-of-the-world timing.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

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