Timings Around John the Baptist’s Ministry

The following outlines the timing of the following events in the New Testament:

John’s Ministry Begins

1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judæa, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituræa and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,

2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  (Luke 3:1-2)

It appears from the authorities I am following that there is good evidence that this clear reference to a date for the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry can be interpreted at 26 AD.  Luke does not say within the year when he began preaching.  Given that John was six months older the Jesus, and would have turned 30 in June (I believe) of that year, similar to the Savior beginning his ministry at that age, it appears the authorities assume he began preaching in the summer of 26 AD.

Note the impact that he had:

4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan,

6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matt. 3:4-6)

All Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan” went out to him.  Quite an impact.  This is not done in a weekend.

The Savior’s Baptism

21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,

22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

23 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age,…(Luke 3:21-23)

So the Savior’s baptism occurred when he was “about thirty years of age.” What does “about” mean?  It could mean either before or after his exact birthdate, for my purposes, December 23, AD 5.

It appears from the authorities I am following, they interpret it to mean after his birthdate, suggesting the baptism was in January of 27 AD.  They don’t seem to indicate why that I can see; I imagine it perhaps is to give time to John to create the kind of impact described by Matthew, and backing up from events later that year.  John’s impact in that day and age could not develop in a week, or a month, but would have required multiple months to achieve.

Perhaps a more specific date for the baptism can be generated from the anchor point of Passover later that year, working backwards to the point of baptism.

Based upon the below, the Savior’s baptism would have occurred on or before Wednesday, February 12, AD 27.

First Passover

And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, (John 2:13)

Clark, referencing two scholars, points to April 11-17 or 11-18, 27 AD as the dates of the first passover of the Savior’s ministry (the second recorded ministry of his life, after the visit to the temple at twelve years of age). April 11, 27 AD was a Friday per one internet date calculator (two others would not give me a day of the week; so choice was limited in how to arrive at these days.  I agree this is some very good scientific criteria I have used for this analysis.)

Visit to Capernaum

Backing up one verse, prior to going to the Passover, we read:

After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days. (John 2:13)

So what constitutes “many days” at this time in Israel?  We certainly cannot be exact in this, but perhaps we can reasonably estimate, thus giving a better sense of the timing of events going on before this.

In modern times, a week to ten days I think would be considered “many days” for a visit. I’m not sure what the standard would have been anciently.  But, let’s at least guess using the modern standard.

Consider also that it would have been at least a two day journey from Capernaum to Jerusalem, three or four at a more leisurely or family pace if children or elderly were involved.

We know from the below that the visit started after the wedding in Cana on a Tuesday; and Passover began on a Friday, April 11, AD 27.  Given travel time to passover, the wedding could not have been on Tuesday, April 8th; but it could have been Tuesday April 1st, AD 27, giving 9 full days prior to the start of Passover, three days for travel to Jerusalem, one day from the wedding at Cana to Capernaum, and five days in Capernaum.

That would qualify as “not many days.

A Week of Incredible Activity

Prior to this visit to Capernaum, John is very specific in tracking a number of days in his narrative in John chapters 1 and 2.  In the surviving text, the last event, the marriage in Cana, happens “the third day,” which is troublesome because just prior to this John has already described either a 3rd or 4th day depending on how the days are counted.  In my research, I have not found an adequate explanation for this series of events.

My own consideration begins by asking what was John trying to accomplish with these points in his narrative?  If I accept amendment of perhaps lost text in Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible that the marriage occurred on the third day “of the week,” I come to a conclusion that perhaps John is attempting to be clear of the level of activity that occurred in one solid week after the Savior’s fast.

The point perhaps being that the Savior’s ministry began very quickly, immediately after his baptism, fast and temptations.

So, let’s start with the end of this chain.

Day 7, Marriage Feast in Cana

1  AND the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: (John 2:1)

Joseph Smith stated in the JST that we are missing the text third day “of the week” in this sentence.  Then the the marriage happened on a Tuesday, the third day of the week.

Based upon the time from passover which follows this as analyzed above, it would have been Tuesday April 1, AD 27.

It would be difficult for the Savior to get to Cana for the wedding from Bethabara where he was in one or even two days, a distance of at least 50 miles but perhaps even 80 or 90 miles depending on where John was preaching.  Traveling at 20 to 30 miles a day would have required probably three days.

So Monday (day 6), March 31, and Sunday (day 5) March 30, are spent in traveling. Perhaps the marriage happened later on Tuesday, so so part of it might have been in travel as well.

Saturday (day 4) March 29, was the Jewish Sabbath, which started on Friday night at sundown and went until Saturday night at sundown.  The Savior would not have traveled significantly on that day.

Day 3:  Departure to Galilee

Some portion of travel was likely still required on Friday, March 28, AD 27 before starting to observe the Sabbath.  We can see that in John’s text.  Again, working backwards:

The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. (John 1:43)

The interview with Nathanael occurred perhaps on the way to Galilee.

Day 2: John the Baptist’s Second Testimony to His Disciples

The day before that, John the Beloved was introduced to the Savior the day before that, on Thursday, March 27, AD 27.

35 ¶ Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;

36 And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!

37 And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. (John 1:35 – 37.

Day 1:  John the Baptist’s First Testimony to His Disciples

John’s first specific public testimony to his disciples of the Savior happened on Wednesday, March 26, AD 27.

29 ¶ The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.

31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.

32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.

33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. (John 1:29 – 34)

Note that the Savior was present, coming to John (perhaps just arriving back at the camp from his fast) and that the baptism had occurred previously, for John to have been able to describe it.  So this is at the earliest the first day after the Savior’s fast and temptations.

Day 0: John the Baptist Bears Testimony to Sanhedrin

Farrar calls John 1:19-34 “John’s Testimony to the Sanhedrin”.  He does this based upon the following verse:

And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? (John 1:19)

This happened at the latest on Tuesday, March 25, AD 27 one week before the marriage feast in Cana.

The Savior may have been present, but I can imagine, in God’s economy, that he would want John to be bearing the full weight of his witness at this point, probably alone.  And so I conclude that the Savior did not arrive until Wednesday sometime.

Conclusion

What a week that was!

  • It begins with a clear testimony to the ruling class from John of one who was coming soon, who would be more powerful and important than he was on Tuesday, March 25, AD 27;
  • John then bears testimony directly to believers who that person is in the form of Christ on Wednesday, March 26, AD 27;
  • He gives a second witness to his disciples of who they should look to on Thursday, March 27, AD 27;
  • Christ identifies half of the ultimate 12 Apostles on Friday, March 28, AD 27;
  • And yet fully keeps the Sabbath holy on Saturday, March 29, AD 27;
  • He travels a good ways across the country, foreshadowing the energy of his ministry on Sunday and Monday, March 30 and 31, AD 27;
  • And he performs his first public miracle on April 1, AD 27.

What a week indeed!

The Savior’s Fast and Temptations

We are going to assume the Savior did not come to John’s camp at the end of his fast until Wednesday, March 26, AD 27.  We know the Savior fasted for 40 days; but how long was the period of temptation which followed it?

The relevant passages follow, first from Matthew:

1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.

2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.

3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.…

11 Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. (Matt. 4:1-3, 11)

Then Luke:

1 And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,

2 Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.…

13 And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. (Luke 4:1, 2, 13)

It seems the temptation did occur “afterward” as both of them say.  There is nothing about the description of the temptations that could not be accomplished in a day, particularly if we accept the Joseph Smith translations indicating the Spirit of God “moved” the Savior around to the temple, and the mountain top.

The ministering of angels would not have required a great deal of time either.

But both of these matters could have consumed many more days, heightening the power of the temptations, and the power of the ministration.

Yet it seems likely that either experiences would have been bounded by the extremity of a 40 day fast; either author could easily have extended the length of time described by the fast if these added experiences were lengthy.  Also, is it possible that since the wilderness may well have been adjacent to John’s camp, that the first food available to the Savior would have been there?

Would the Savior have had some travel time after the temptations to arrive at John’s camp again?

Mark says the Savior was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit immediately after his baptism.

12 And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.

13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him. (Mark 1:12 – 13)

Based upon the foregoing, for purposes of our analysis, let’s assume:

  1. The Savior went in the spirit of fasting from his baptism, thus beginning his fast,
  2. He ended his fast the 40th morning after the baptism, thus having fasted for 40 days and 40 nights
  3. The temptations occurred on that day, along with the ministrations later in the day
  4. He either arrived back at John’s camp on Tuesday night, March 25, AD 27, or perhaps more dramatically on Wednesday morning, and as he did so, John the Baptist bore testimony of what he had seen 41 days before.

It would be an interesting coincidence if the Sanhedrin interrogated John the Baptist on Tuesday, March 25, AD 27, that Satan would at the same time tempt the Savior with the power of the kingdoms of the world.

Suggested Date for Savior’s Baptism

If the foregoing analysis is correct, the Savior’s baptism would have occurred on or before Wednesday, February 12, AD 27.

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