"Jesus Christ entered into the history of our world. Christianity, therefore, has historical basis. The backbone of history is chronology. Whereas history is a systematic account of events in relation to a nation, institution, science, or art; chronology is a science of time. It seeks to establish and arrange the dates of past events in their proper sequence. Thus chronology serves as a necessary framework upon which the events of history must be fitted. In this book (the author) attempts to establish certain fixed dates in our Lord's life." - Dr. Harold W. Hoehner. Dr. Hoehner has gathered a vast amount of data, both from Scripture and extrabiblical sources, to support his conclusions concerning key dates in the life of our Lord, among them: - The Date of Christ's Birth - The Commencement of Christ's Ministry - The Duration of Christ's Ministry - The Year of Christ's Crucifixion He carefully documents his position and compares the date available--including a study of Greek words, Roman law, and Jewish customs and prophecy.
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Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ
By Harold W. Hoehner
ZondervanCopyright © 1978 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Date of Christ's Birth
In Luke 2:10-11 the angel of the Lord announced to the shepherds in the fields, "Do not be afraid for I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all people that today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born in the city of David. And this will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." The announcement is familiar to all Christians. The Bible portrays that the eternal Christ became incarnate beginning with His birth in Bethlehem of Judah. It is therefore fitting to begin this study of the chronology of the life of Christ at His birth.
The Year of Christ's Birth
The earliest Christians were not as much concerned about the date as the fact of the birth of Christ. Chronological notes, such as "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius" (Luke 3:1) marking the commencement of John the Baptist's ministry, were sufficient.
In A.D. 525 Pope John I asked Dionysius, a Scythian monk, to prepare a standard calendar for the Western Church. Dionysius modified the Alexandrian system of dating, which used as its base the reign of Diocletian, for he did not want the years of history to be reckoned from the life of a persecutor of the church, but from the incarnation of Christ. The commencement of the Christian era was January 1, 754 A.U.C. (anno urbis conditae = from the foundation of the city [of Rome]) and Christ's birth was thought to have been on December 25th immediately preceding. So 754 A.U.C. became A.D. 1 in the calendar of Dionysius.
The years before this date are denoted by B.C. (before Christ) and after by A.D. (anno Domini = in the year of the Lord) with no zero between 1 B.C. and A.D. 1. However, later research indicated that the latest year for Herod's death was 750 A.U.C. and Christ's birth, according to Matthew, occurred before Herod's death. Hence, today it is generally recognized that the birth of Christ did not occur in A.D. 1 but some time before that.
As to how soon before A.D. 1 Christ was born, there is great divergence of opinion. Olmstead dates it 20 B.C. and more recently Ogg dates it as early as 11 B.C. On the other hand Filmer would probably date it somewhere between 3 and 1 B.C. Hence there is a span of up to nineteen years.
In the broadest terms Luke 2:1 states that Christ was born in the reign of Caesar Augustus (who reigned from March 15, 44 B.C. to August 19, A.D. 14). Since this is so broad, one needs to narrow the limits. In the attempt to arrive at a more specific date, it is essential to establish two concrete limits, the termini a quo (the earliest limiting point in time) and ad quem (the final limiting point in time). With respect to this, the terminus ad quem is the death of Herod the Great, and the terminus a quo is the census of Quirinius (Cyrenius).
TERMINUS AD QUEM: THE DEATH OF HEROD THE GREAT
According to Matthew 2:1 and Luke 1:5, Christ's birth came before Herod's death. Herod was proclaimed king of the Jews by the Roman Senate in late 40 B.C. by nomination of Antony and Octavian and with the help of the Roman army he gained the possession of his domain in 37 B.C. He reigned for thirty-seven years from the time he was made king or thirty-four years from the time of his possession of the land.
According to Josephus, an eclipse of the moon occurred shortly before Herod's death. It is the only eclipse ever mentioned by Josephus and this occurred on March 12/13, 4 B.C. After his death there was the celebration of the Passover, the first day of which would have occurred on April 11, 4 B.C. Hence, his death occurred sometime between March 12th and April 11th. Since the thirty-fourth year of his reign would have begun on Nisan 1, 4 B.C. (March 29, 4 B.C.), his death would have occurred some time between March 29 and April 11, 4 B .C. Therefore, for these reasons, Christ could not have been born later than March/April of 4 B.C.
TERMINUS A QUO: THE CENSUS OF QUIRINIUS
According to Luke 2:1-5 a census was taken just before Christ's birth. Thus, Christ could not have been born before the census. The purpose of a census was to provide statistical data for the levy of taxes in the provinces. This census mentioned by Luke is one of the thorny problems of the New Testament and the major portion of this chapter will be concerned with it. Schürer states that Luke cannot be historically accurate because: (1) nothing is known in history of a general census in the time of Augustus; (2) in a Roman census Joseph would not have had to travel to Bethlehem, but would have registered in the principal town of his residence, and Mary would not have had to register at all; (3) no Roman census would have been made in Palestine during Herod's reign; (4) Josephus records nothing of a Roman census in Palestine in the time of Herod-rather the census of A.D. 6-7 was something new among the Jews; and (5) a census held under Quirinius could not have occurred during Herod's reign for Quirinius was not governor until after Herod's death. As weighty as these objections may seem, they can be answered.
Excerpted from Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ by Harold W. Hoehner Copyright © 1978 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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