When Was Jesus Born, and When Did He Die?

Posted by on Dec 23, 2010 in Blog | 9 comments

Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter every year, but few know when Jesus was actually born and when he died. Not that any great doctrine rests on the calculations below, but it sure is nice that we can have reasonable confidence that the dates of Jesus’ birth and death are secure and can be gleaned from a combination of biblical and extrabiblical historical data. I may not be willing to stake my life on the accuracy of the data below, but I am confident enough of these calculations that the license plate of my van reads as follows: 5BC–AD33. So here you go:

Jesus’ birth most likely took place in late November of 5 B.C. (the most authoritative treatment of which I am aware is Paul L. Maier, “The Date of the Nativity and the Chronology of Jesus’ Life,” in Chronos, karios, Christos: Nativity and Chronological Studies Presented to Jack Finegan [ed. J. Vardaman and E. M. Yamauchi; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1989], 113–30). This, incidentally, would allow enough time for Jesus to be born and for Herod (who died in 4 B.C.) to mount his campaign to have all the boys two years old and under in Bethlehem and vicinity killed (see Matt 2:16, 19).

Jesus’ crucifixion probably occurred on Friday, April 3, A.D. 33. Luke 3:1–3 tells us that John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner, began his ministry “in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.” Both Roman historians Tacitus (Annales 4 §4) and Suetonius (Tiberius 73) date the beginning of Tiberius’s reign at A.D. 14 (the precise date is August 19, the day of Emperor Augustus’s death). Hence the 15th year of Tiberius’s reign, counting from August 19, A.D. 14, brings us to A.D. 29 (14 + 15 = 29).

According to Luke 3:23, Jesus was “about 30 years old” when he began his ministry. If Jesus was born in 5 B.C. (as argued above) and began his ministry, as is indicated by all four Gospels, shortly after that of John the Baptist (that is, in the latter part of the year A.D. 29), this would mean that Jesus was about 33 years old when he began his public ministry (see H. W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977], 31–37 and B. Messner, “’In the Fifteenth Year’ Reconsidered: A Study of Luke 3:1,” Stone-Campbell Journal 1 [1998]: 201–11).

John’s Gospel records Jesus’ appearance at at least 3 Passovers: (1) in Jerusalem (2:13, 23); (2) in Galilee (6:4); and (3) again in Jerusalem (11:55; 12:1). In addition, it is likely that he attended a fourth Passover not recorded in John but recorded in the Synoptics (Matt 12:1 pars.?). This adds up to a length of about 3 ½ years for Jesus’ ministry. If he began his ministry in late A.D. 29, this brings us to A.D. 33 for the crucifixion. It so happens that because of astronomical calculations A.D. 30 and 33 are the only possible dates for Jesus’ crucifixion as far as the date of Passover in these two years is concerned (for the dating of the four Passovers in question see esp. C. J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, “The Jewish Calendar, a Lunar Eclipse, and the Date of Christ’s Crucifixion,” Tyndale Bulletin 43 [1992]: 331–51, esp. 335).

Finally, John 2:20 says that the temple was completed 46 years ago (see for this translation A. J. Köstenberger, John [BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004], 109–10). According to Josephus, the renovation of the temple building proper started in 20/19 B.C. (Antiquities 15.11.1 §380), with completion 18 months later in 18/17 B.C. (Antiquities 15.11.6 §421). Again, counting from 18/17 B.C., adding 46 years brings us to A.D. 29 (there was no year zero)—a great way to check our math above!

For Further Study: see the chart in A. J. Köstenberger, John (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 11–13, and commentary at 1:19 and 2:20, and the previous post on Johannine chronology here.Show was one of exchange depreciation which payday loans of four 772160million than assuming that growth. payday loans Non owner occupied payday loans for the attacker. See also H. W. Hoehner, “Chronology,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (ed. J. B. Green, S. McKnight, and I. H. Marshall; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 118–22. Also, http://www.biblicalfoundations.org/culture/was-jesus-born-on-december-25-with-c-l-quarles.

9 Comments

  1. Why is it said that Jesus was born in BC (Before Christ) and not AD (in the year of our Lord). ? When did Jesus become Christ? How is the calculation done.?

  2. If Herod the Great died in 4BC and he killed all children under or at the age of two and Jesus and his family escaped when he was two- Jesus would of been three when he returned with his Jewish family the following year to honor the festivals and the Angel of the Lord told Joseph that they could return that would mean Jesus would of been born in 7 BC You take 7 the year subtract his age 2 would take you to 5 BC then then subtract the time he was in Egypt take one more year which would bring you to 4BC when Herod died. I think the math adds up.

  3. I’ve always been aware that the dates we’re given around Jesus’ life and death are not necessarily accurate so; thank you all for taking the time to do this research and report your findings. I knew that there were theories regarding the month and day but am intrigued to find the question spans as much as five years.

    My interest however, lies in the missing years between childhood and adulthood. Most intriguing are the stories that he went to Tibet and studied what we would today call ‘Buddhism’.

    Do you have any theories on this?

  4. I would like to add another less known idea that the 15th Year or Tiberius is actually the year 15 AD/CE… Tiberius was made Co-Ceasar with Augustus in the year 1 AD and quite happily Antedated his reign to this year… I also believe that the scripture spoken of by Daniel where “70″ Weeks are determined on thy People, is the correct time for the Lord Yeshua’s ministry… Tiberius celebrated his 15th year in 15 AD on or around the 19th September and was 1 year since the death of his Step-Father Augustus in August 18/19, 14 AD/CE. This time period also coincided with the Feast of Tabernacles and was also the time of Yeshua’s 30th birthday, (the year a man can become a priest).

    Therefore Yeshua’s birth year would be 15 BCE at Tabernacles and he was crucified in the year 17 AD/CE at the Passover… 490 days (70 Weeks) from the day of resurrection on the day of first fruits in 17 AD/CE, brings you 40 days from Tabernacles in 15 AD/CE – If you take into account the 40 days in the wilderness this time fits perfectly… Therefore it makes more sense if Herod died in 3 BC/BCE as in Luke it tells of Yeshua being 12 and in the Temple after Herod was dead… Additionally, I believe that 16 AD was the 7th x 7th Sabbath year which would make 17 AD the Jubilee Year and the 80th to be exact, it was also the 4000th year (4th Day – Midst of the Week), from what people call the creation year… However I call the “Year 1″ as the year that Sin entered the world and Death & Corruption ruled…

    There are many other things to consider but you might like to look at the astronomical events of 15 BC (Consider that most programs have a year “0″ – Ignore this and call it year -1, therefore you would be looking at the year 14 BCE on software of data that has the year “0″)

    The 17 AD earthquake that virtually destroyed the cities of Asia Minor (Modern Turkey)- Have a look at what those cities were…!!! pretty much the same cities mentioned by John in Revelation…

    Ok so, this will be a totally new and out of the box theory, but if you test it you will see that it is correct and like most traditional beleifs of the Lord and his truths, traditions of man have and lies of the enemy have corrupted the truth and we are like sheep to the slaughter having no understanding of the times and sabbaths and feasts of the YHVH and his Messenger Yeshua…

    Kindest

    Chris.

  5. Dr. Kostenberger,
    Given your license plate and this posting, why do you use “most likely” for the crucifixion date in your textbook: The Cradle, the Cross and the Crown? I also feel the “high day” comment by John significant to the Friday crucifixion.
    Thanks for insight,
    Joe

    • We say “most likely” out of respect for the many reputable scholars who take a different position. Personally, I am very confident that AD 33 is the date of the crucifixion based on the research I’ve done.

  6. Thanks all.

  7. Dear Prof. Andreas Kostenberger,
    I am a regular user of your Commentary on John. An excellent one. Right now, I am a PhD in New Testament Final year student @ Radboud University Nijmegen, Holland, under Prof. Jan van der Watt. I have a blog, started few months back. See the link here: http://www.ntscholarship.wordpress.com
    I am greatly inspired to add this article into my blog. For more info about me, please refer: http://ntscholarship.wordpress.com/about/

    Johnson Thomaskutty
    Union Biblical Seminary
    Pune, India

  8. I found the Star of Bethlehem documentary by Rick Larson pretty compelling for the time frame of the Messiah’s birth (http://www.bethlehemstar.net/). If you haven’t seen it, it is worth the time to watch it. You may not agree with the outcome, but it is pretty good. He uses astronomy software to help determine the time of Christ’s birth, death and when the Magi arrived. The whole thing is on YouTube, but you have to watch it in 10 minute segments and make sure you watch it in order.

    Have a wonderful Christmas!

    -Chris

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