by Craig Blomberg
We know that Christ died during the reigns of the prefect Pilate (AD 26–36), the high priest Caiaphas (AD 18–36), and the tetrarch Antipas (4 BC–AD 37). It would seem that he was crucified on a Friday (the day before the Sabbath, as in Mark 15:42 par.) and the day after the evening on which the initial Passover meal was celebrated (Mark 14:12, 14, 16 pars.).
But John seems to indicate Christ being crucified on the day of the Passover celebration, before the initial meal was eaten (John 13:1; 18:28; 19:14, 31). So, was Passover, following the Jewish custom of counting a day from sundown to sundown, from Thursday night to Friday night or from Friday night to Saturday night?
Because we know that Passover was celebrated on the 15th day of the month Nisan and calculated from the appearance of the new moon, we can use astronomical data to determine the years this date fell on a Friday or Saturday. But weather conditions always made it doubtful whether the first sliver of a new moon would be sighted on the first or second day of a new month. As it turns out, a case can be made for Passover having fallen on either Friday or Saturday in AD 30 or 33, although it is more difficult to date the festival in 33 on a Friday.
Choosing between these dates is extremely difficult. If one equates the cosmic disruptions in Mark 15:33 and Acts 2:19–20 with a lunar eclipse, then the year must be 33. Yet if the darkness is a wholly supernatural phenomenon, then this information is of no help. If the earliest plausible date for the beginning of Christ’s ministry is 28, and if it could be as late as 29, and if one is convinced that he had about a four-year ministry, then it is natural again to opt for 33.
But with all the uncertainties noted above, it is not at all impossible that Jesus’ ministry lasted only two years or a little more and that the bulk of it occurred during 28–30. If Sejanus’ demise (AD 31) put Pilate in a more awkward position, which would account for his behavior at Jesus’ trial (see above, p. 23), then once more 33 emerges as the winner.
Still, none of this can be demonstrated very conclusively. Also relevant is the dating of the events in the book of Acts and the life of Paul. It is somewhat easier to fit all of those details into a period beginning with AD 30; things are a much tighter squeeze if one waits until 33. Among commentators who take the Gospel data seriously enough to reconstruct any kind of a chronology, 30 thus emerges as the more common favorite. Fortunately, little of great exegetical significance rests on these exact dates.
Request a faculty review copy here.
Request a media review copy here.