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The Daniel 9:24-27 Project

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At the 2017 Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, I had a conversation with a friend about the meaning of the 2,300 “evenings and mornings” mentioned in Daniel 8:14. The subject came up as we were discussing some aspects of the eschatology research I began in August 2017, which, among other things, has taken me into a deep study of the entire book of Daniel. This conversation brought home to me that there were differences of opinion as to how the 2,300 “evenings and mornings” should be understood.  I decided to undertake a focused study on the passage and its surrounding context to hopefully understand it better, and would like to share with you some insights that came out of that work.

What Matters is What the Bible Says

We could spend considerable time evaluating what various Bible commentators have had to say about the 2,300 “evenings and mornings.” One website (https://www.wake-up.org/time-periods/2300-days-daniel-8-14.html) observed that, of an assortment of “prominent scholars” between the years AD 430–1781 that dealt with the meaning of the 2,300 “evenings and mornings,” 21 claimed the 2,300 days represented years; six said they denoted the number of days to reach the end of the world; three claimed the period was 2,300 literal days; and one opined that the time represented 1,150 24-hour days. Folks, this diversity of opinion—which continues to our day—does not exactly engender confidence that a solution can be easily found! Nor does it mean that I, who would boldly sally forth into theological territory the prudent avoid, can come up with a better alternative than those who have gone before me. Nevertheless, when I stumble upon a workable solution offered by others to a seemingly intractable exegetical problem, as I did in this case, it seems good to pass it along.

The Text of Daniel 8

Let us first see what Daniel 8:3–14 says (NASB; a few phrases have been emphasized in bold for special attention):

3 Then I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a ram which had two horns was standing in front of the canal. Now the two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last.
4 I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward, and no other beasts could stand before him nor was there anyone to rescue from his power, but he did as he pleased and magnified himself.
5 While I was observing, behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes.
6 He came up to the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and rushed at him in his mighty wrath.
7 I saw him come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power.
8 Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.
9 And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the glorious land.
10 And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host and of the stars it cast down to the ground, and trampled upon them.
11 It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down.
12 And on account of transgression the host will be given over to the horn along with the regular sacrifice; and it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper.
13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to that particular one who was speaking, “How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?”
14 He said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.”

The angel Gabriel then explains in verses 8:20-26 the meaning of the above vision:

20 “The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.
21 The shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king.
22 The broken horn and the four horns that arose in its place represent four kingdoms which will arise from his nation, although not with his power.
23 In the latter period of their rule, when the transgressors have run their course, a king will arise, insolent and skilled in intrigue.
24 His power will be mighty, but not by his own power, and he will destroy to an extraordinary degree and prosper and perform his will; he will destroy mighty men and the holy people.
25 And through his shrewdness he will cause deceit to succeed by his influence; and he will magnify himself in his heart, and he will destroy many while they are at ease. He will even oppose the Prince of princes, but he will be broken without human agency.
26 The vision of the evenings and mornings which has been told is true; but keep the vision secret, for it pertains to many days in the future.”

What is clear to virtually all conservative interpreters is that Daniel 8:20–22 refers to Alexander the Great, the “large horn” king of Greece, from whose empire his four generals arose and parceled it out among themselves. This was an event that took place “many days in the future” from Daniel’s time, about four centuries later. Normal hermeneutics would lead us to expect that verses 20–22 establish, simply as a matter of context, that their era sets the time frame for understanding the entire prophecy covered by Daniel 8:3–26: that in the absence of any clear indications to the contrary, the whole passage deals with the time of Alexander the Great and its immediate aftermath.

This impression is apparently confirmed by Daniel 8:23, “in the latter period of their rule.” Whose rule? Contextually, the rule of the four generals of Alexander who arose out of Alexander’s broken-up realm. When was the “latter period” of these generals? Known history indicates it was just prior to the Maccabean uprising, which spelled the effective end of that rule as far as the Jews were concerned. And what instigated the Maccabean rebellion? The desecration of the Second Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a descendent of Alexander’s general Seleucus. The description of Antiochus Epiphanes in v. 23, as “insolent and skilled in intrigue,” is consistent with what is known about him: his political machinations, his pride, the warfare he waged, his persecution of the Jews, the placing of the desolating abomination in the Second Temple (where he in effect opposed “the Commander of the host,” “the Prince of princes,” God), and his being “broken without human agency,” which is consistent with his death from disease as reported in 2 Maccabees.

The Vision about the “Evenings and Mornings”

These details indicate that the context for understanding “the vision of the evenings and mornings” is the time of Antiochus, not an eschatological time some 2,300 years later. Viewing “evenings and mornings” (note well, it does not say “days,” and we cannot assume without analysis that the phrase means this) as figuratively meaning “years” is contextually unsupported, and amounts to subjectively reading onto the passage a theological/eschatological viewpoint developed from outside it. We must not set aside the immediate context of Scripture, regardless of whether respected commentators may have done so.

The six days of Creation are described thus in Genesis 1: “and there was evening, and there was morning.” To most conservative interpreters, an evening-and-morning period in Genesis is a 24-hour day, so in the absence of any clear indications to the contrary, we should default to that understanding of the evening-mornings in Daniel 8. Provisionally taking the 2,300 evening-mornings as 2,300 days obliges us to look for a significant anchor point about six years prior to Antiochus' desecration of the Second Temple.

However, we cannot identify a known historical event to provide such an anchor. The best guess of conservatives seeking to understand the 2,300 period as literal 24-hour days—the solution promoted in the ESV Study Bible, following such commentators as Matthew Henry and Keil—is that there is an approximate fulfillment between the time of the murder of the high priest Onias III by the corrupt usurper Menelaus until Judas Maccabeus rededicated the Temple. But this is only approximate, which appears to be out of keeping with the evening-morning precision applied to the number 2,300. It seems we must search for a better answer, one that understands the “evenings and mornings” as meaning something other than “days.”

The Vision about the “Regular Sacrifice”

As explained above, verse 8:11 indicates that the one who removes the “regular sacrifice” from God, and through this act metaphorically “throws down” (desolates) His sanctuary, is Antiochus. This sets the stage for understanding these words in 8:13: “How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?” The bolded phrase is an exact analogue to what we read in 8:26, “the vision of the evenings and mornings”; both verses speak of the same vision, emphasizing different aspects. Therefore, we should be looking for an understanding of the 2,300 “evenings and mornings” as something connected with the resumption of normal Temple sacrifice practice after its interruption by the desecration wrought by Antiochus.

I recently found a proposed solution that takes into account both the context of the passage in Antiochus' time—the interruption of the regular daily sacrifice—and the evening-morning precision of the 2,300 period. First, we need to understand what Scripture says about the “regular sacrifice,” that is, the continual burnt offering referred to in Daniel 8:11. Exodus 29:38–42 gives us the details (NASB, emphasis added):

Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two one year old lambs each day, continuously. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning [Heb boqer] and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight [Heb 'ereb]; and there shall be one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering with one lamb. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it the same grain offering and the same drink offering as in the morning, for a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the doorway of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there.

We learn from this that the regular offering, the “continual,” involved one sacrificed lamb in the morning and another in the evening. The continual regular sacrifice thus was not one sacrifice per day, but actually two, involving an 'ereb and a boqer. Now, compare this with the Hebrew words used in Daniel 8:13-14: “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?” And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings ['ereb in the singular] and mornings [boqer in the singular]. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.” In other words, 2,300 evening-mornings. The same two words. Is this significant?

I think it is. Look again at the context of verses 8:13 and 14. The question asked is not, “How far in the future will the vision start to be fulfilled?”, which would expect an answer in years (since 8:26 tells us that the vision as a whole “pertains to many days in the future”). Rather, it is “How long will the regular sacrifice be disrupted?”, which looks for an answer connected with the actions of Antiochus. The NIV agrees with the NASB in affirming that this is the meaning of verse 13: “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the LORD's people?” It is not about the “many days in the future” when the vision starts to be fulfilled, but how long the process of fulfillment plays out.

In short, we have to stay anchored to the context of the passage, both in terms of its time frame and its subject. The time frame in question is the aftermath of Antiochus' desolating the Temple, while the subject is the regular “continual” sacrifice. Since we know that the “continual” involved sacrifices in the evening and the morning (the Jews reckoned their days as beginning in the evening), we ask, “Might the 2,300 evening-mornings refer to 1,150 days of twice-daily sacrifices?”

A Precise Solution to the 2,300 Evening-Mornings

In what follows I am indebted to Fred P. Miller for the keen insights into the prophecy of Daniel 8 in the following analysis, posted at http://www.moellerhaus.com/2300.htm. He points out that precise dates for the beginning and end of Antiochus' desecration of the Second Temple are known. 1 Maccabees 1:54 gives us the date of the abomination as Kislev (December) 15, 167 BC, while 1 Maccabees 4:52–53 tells us the Temple was rededicated on Kislev 25, 164 BC. (The Jews remember this date in their celebration of Hanukkah.) These two dates span a total of 3 years and 10 days.

Now, if we compare the “time, times and half a time” expression used in Daniel 7:25 with the “forty-two months” of Revelation 13:5 for the same period when the Antichrist exercises authority, we see that Daniel reckoned a year to be 360 days long:

Dan 7:25 He [Antichrist] shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they [the saints] shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.

Rev 13:5 And the beast [Antichrist] was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.

Comparing Revelation 12:6 with Revelation 12:14 yields the same result:

Rev 12:6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

Rev 12:14 But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.

When we plug this 360-day year into the three full years spanned by the desecration of Antiochus, we account for 1,080 days. To this we must add the intercalary (leap) months used by the Greeks to periodically get their calendar synced up with the seasons. How long were those months? Herodotus, the Greek “Father of History,” helps us answer that question. Writing around the year 445 BC, in a dialogue about happiness between Croesus and Solon, he states:

Seventy years I regard as the limit of the life of man. In these seventy years are contained, without reckoning intercalary months, twenty-five thousand and two hundred [25,200] days. Add an intercalary month to every other year, that the seasons may come round at the right time, and there will be, besides the seventy years, thirty-five [35] such months, making an addition of one thousand and fifty [1050] days. The whole number of the days contained in the seventy years will thus be twenty-six thousand two hundred and fifty [26,250], whereof not one but will produce events unlike the rest (https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/herodotus-creususandsolon.asp).

Let’s follow along with Herodotus to find out how long the year and intercalary months were in his day. Dividing 25,200 days by 70 years yields 360 days per year, just as in our Scriptures above. The length of an intercalary month in the Greek system—probably that followed in Antiochus’ day, since he was a Greek—is found by dividing 1,050 days by 35 months, yielding 30 days per intercalary month. Over our 3 years and 10 days period, having a 30-day intercalary month in the first and third years (“every other year,” as Herodotus put it) adds 60 days. We then total it all up—years, intercalary months, plus 10 extra days: 1,080 + 60 + 10 = 1,150 days.

This is exactly the number of days covered by 2,300 evening-morning regular sacrifices. It is yet another indicator of the inspiration of Scripture, a marvelously precise fulfillment of what Gabriel revealed to Daniel about the duration of Antiochus Epiphanes' desolation of the Second Temple. I commend this solution to you for understanding the 2,300 “evenings and mornings” of Daniel 8:14. Adopting it also eliminates giving the false impression that we somehow need to accommodate 2,300 years into our eschatological understandings. We can thereby avoid an unfruitful rabbit trail as we try to think God’s thoughts after Him, as we study Daniel and other eschatology-focused Scriptures.

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For quite a long time there has been an active debate amongst scholars devoted to the study of New Testament chronology concerning the date of the Crucifixion. Some say 30 AD, others 33 AD, and a minority have suggested other years. It might all seem to be purely academic to the man or woman in the pew, and in one sense it is; those who have been born again by the Spirit of God know He indwells them, and the specific date of the redeeming act pales in significance to this sublime fact.

To those who have not experienced the deep peace and sense of assurance that comes from being indwelt by the Spirit of God, however, the question has some importance, because it bears on whether the Bible can be trusted when it addresses the eternal “things which are not seen” (2 Cor. 4:18). How so? Because people without the spiritual insights afforded by a personal relationship with the Savior must look to external indicators to weigh whether its truth claims are believable. Such externals include the testimony of nature; the testimony of the changed lives of Christians around them; the testimony of historical records and archaeology; and the testimony of the Bible itself. Those immersed in a secular worldview can dismiss the marvels of nature as either an accident of random chance or perhaps due to the intervention of “aliens” (actually demons); those who know individual Christians with an inconsistent or immature walk with Christ can tar Christianity in general with such labels as “hypocrites” or “judgmental”; those who know something about biblical history and archaeology may say “no one knows for sure” due to the clamoring skeptical voices filling social media and academia, which vigorously push a negative slant on the facts; and those who find in the Bible “unbelievable” miracles and “rigid, outdated” moral standards they deem inappropriate for our “enlightened, tolerant” age of near-total individual freedom, readily point to perceived errors in its pages to claim that its moral precepts and its testimony that Jesus is the only Savior of the world can be ignored.

Yet, it remains true that no sane person doubts that Jesus of Nazareth once walked the dusty roads of ancient Israel, and His life left a mark on the human race that has endured for two millennia. But notwithstanding this acknowledgement, most people are content to heed the voices of skeptics, supposedly authoritative scholars who question the biblical text, or in-name-only “cultural Christians” who embrace a vague “spirituality” that encompasses all religious aspirations but is devoid of objective substance. As a result, they refuse to seriously wrestle with what those truly committed to the Bible’s message have to say – particularly when they say a bunch of different things about the Book they all claim as Truth! To the point of this article, many people realize that believers can’t even agree on the year when their Savior was crucified. If they can’t get their facts straight on that key event, how can they be expected to get right anything the Bible teaches? In their rational minds, their skepticism seems well-justified.

In last month’s issue of the ABR Newsletter, I discussed some of my research regarding the date of the Crucifixion. That article, “How the Passover Illuminates the Date of the Crucifixion,” looked at how the Passover was first observed on the night before the Israelites left Egypt, then at how God commanded His people to commemorate it each year as a memorial to His great deliverance (Ex. 12, Lev. 21, Nm. 28). Applying this information from the Word to initially narrow down the options for the date of the Crucifixion – it ruled out any days other than a Friday, or any duration other than from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning – the study then looked at records of lunar eclipses, in the hope that such objective, science-based information could tie the date of the Crucifixion to a specific year. We left that investigation with the observation that lunar eclipse information contributed nothing of substance in making a determination, leaving us with two possible candidate dates – April 7, 30 BC and April 3, 33 BC. We concluded that further information was needed to try to choose between them.

This installment picks up from where we left off last month, looking at additional factors which may help us choose between these two options. Here we will delve into some chronological details in the books of Acts and Galatians. The reader will notice our approach is to go directly to Scripture whenever possible, and when datable extrabiblical events are taken into account, to only use those which have virtually unanimous acceptance. If the resulting conclusions match up with what the scholars say, well and good; if not, the reader is encouraged to evaluate them by the straightforward sense of Scripture, not by filtering them first through the opinions of scholars. As a wise friend, an engineer, told me in an email, “As erroneous historical scholarship seldom results in death or malpractice lawsuits, far too many liberties are taken with scholarly presumptions. I find many (not all) scholars are often in error but never in doubt...” This is a sentiment I agree with; there is a lot of scholarly arrogance out there. For this reason, we do well to base our conclusions directly on the biblical text and original source material, unfiltered by the opinions of others. If the scholars can read the original material and render opinions on it, so can you and I! Although their studies may be helpful from time to time, we need not slavishly depend on them to interpret Scripture for us, since God has promised to send His Spirit to give us insight if we are sincere seekers:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come (Jn. 16:13, ESV).

My goal in this paper is to look closely at details in Scripture itself that point to a clear-cut date for the Crucifixion. I believe that many commentators have eschewed their own careful exegetical work and have overlooked the immediate context of the passages from which they derive their chronological understandings, piggybacking instead on fashionable academic trends and adopting erroneous conclusions as a result. We can avoid these errors if we are sensitive to scriptural context on the one hand, yet at the same time embracing a whole-Bible perspective. This we will attempt to do below.

Luke’s Consecutively Ordered Events

Having a series of events presented in consecutive order would be a big help in establishing a timeline surrounding the Crucifixion. We have excellent cause to expect we can derive a reliable sequence of events from Scripture itself, because we have the records of a first-rate historian, Luke, to work with. He states in Luke 1:3 (NASB): “It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus...” Acts 1:1-2 begins in similar fashion: “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven...” A straightforward reading of these verses indicates that Luke’s intent in both books was to set forth a chronological, consecutive ordering of events.

Since a straightforward reading of the biblical text has never discouraged academics from questioning it, it is necessary to support the contention that Luke aimed for a chronological ordering in his account. As scholars are wont to do, some have argued in recent years that the apparent sense of the text is not the correct one; that Luke had no qualms about rearranging his material in logical order to tell his story. When a detailed study is done, however, it strongly supports the idea of explicit chronological ordering conveyed by the NASB translation. I commend to you a carefully done exegetical paper by Benjamin Fung, Aida Spencer and Francois Viljoen (2017), “What does kαθεξῆς in Luke 1:3 mean? Discovering the writing order of the Gospel of Luke,” In die Skriflig 51(1), a2218, online at https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v51i1.2218. It concludes that an in-depth study of the word kathexes in Luke 1:3, “in consecutive order” (NASB) or “an orderly account” (ESV), indicates chronological order was intended. As they write near the beginning of their lengthy analysis:

In Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek (Montanari 2015:1002) kαθεξῆς indicates ‘in succession, one after another, in order’. According to BDAG (2000:490) kαθεξῆς has a similar but more elaborative meaning, namely ‘pertinent to being in sequence in (1) time, (2) space, or (3) logic’. In the Bible kαθεξῆς usually refers to sequence of time, and when Luke uses kαθεξῆς to describe time, he describes chronological order, as will be demonstrated (emphasis added).

Summarizing their section on the etymology of kαθεξῆς, the authors observe:

In summary…in Luke 1:3 Luke intends to write one event after another according to their time of happening (next, or next in order to and down) for everything he has investigated (to the end). By using kαθεξῆς, Luke suggests that he writes his Gospel in chronological order.

It stands to reason that since Luke wrote Acts for the same recipient he directed his Gospel to, Theophilus, his declared chronological approach in the Gospel is reflected in Acts as well. He states in Acts 1:1-2, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven...” By beginning thus, it is clear that Luke views what he is about to relate in Acts as a continuation of what was set forth earlier in his Gospel. Acts is Luke’s second account for Theophilus, so we should expect it also to be “in consecutive order.” We have here solid grounds for taking the order of events as Acts presents them as the order in which they occurred. We will give Fung, Spencer and Viljoen the last word on this, extracted from their Conclusion:

Besides Luke 1:3, kαθεξῆς occurs four times only in Luke and Acts in the NT, and the usages in Luke 8:1, Acts 3:24 and 11:4 (i.e. 75%) refer to time sequence….Luke always uses ἑξῆς to describe a time sequence, whether referring generally to time or specifically to hour…(emphasis added).

The Timeline of Acts 1-9

With those preliminaries out of the way, we want to first determine the approximate amount of time required for the events that span Acts 1 through 9 to take place. This can only be done by actually reading the material and exercising judgment based on what the text says, not by theorizing based on a superficial observation of the number of chapters involved. The following timeline is extracted from those chapters, condensed for brevity. The NASB has been used.

From the Crucifixion at Passover to the Ascension – 43 days
Acts 1:3: “To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” After His Crucifixion on a Passover Friday, Jesus rose from the dead "on the first day of the week" (Mk 16:1-2, Lk 24:1), "on the third day" (1 Cor 15:3-4). This was followed by 40 days of post-Resurrection appearances to his disciples.

The Pentecost Harvest of 3000 – 50 days inclusive after Passover
Acts 2:1, 41: “When the day of Pentecost had come [50 days, counted inclusively, after Passover]…that day there were added about three thousand souls.”
[Total elapsed time from Passover ~ 7 weeks.]

Converts increase, Pentecost visitors don’t go home, people start selling possessions to help them
Acts 2:42-45, 47: “They [including many visiting Jews] were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need…And the Lord was adding to their number day by day…” [Since many new converts were Pentecost visitors from far away (vv. 9-11) who had come to Jerusalem with no intention of a prolonged stay, they had limited resources with them. Therefore, this selling and sharing began almost immediately after Pentecost to meet their needs. People were prepared to sell their possessions because there was widespread Messianic expectation.]
[Propose 3 weeks to see the need for donations, begin property sales, and set up distribution strategies. Total elapsed time from Passover ~ 10 weeks.]

Episode of the lame man, 5000-plus new converts; apostles jailed, let off with a warning
Acts 3-4: “And [shortly after the start of selling possessions] a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple [a very public spot, so many people were aware of him.]…Peter said, “…In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”…And all the people saw him walking and praising God…and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. As they [the apostles] were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them…And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day…But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men [not counting women/children] came to be about five thousand…On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes…began to confer with one another…And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them…“we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” [aggravating the Jewish authorities]…And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul…there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need…Barnabas…owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
[Propose this happens within 2 weeks of the start of the selling possessions, about 1 month after Pentecost. Total elapsed time ~ 12 weeks, or 3 months since Passover.]

Conversions continue, Jewish leaders feel threatened, apostles jailed and flogged
Acts 5: “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico [a crowd in a very public place would attract attention]…And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number…Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed….But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach. [No delay!]…The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name [after the healing of the lame man], and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us”…But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men…He [Jesus] is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”…But when they heard this, they [the High Priest and Sadducees] were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. [This evil intent on the part of the Jewish leaders emerges quickly.]…But a Pharisee named Gamaliel…gave orders to put the men outside for a short time…They took his advice; after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them….And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
[Propose the first arrest of the apostles happens about 5 months after Passover. Severity of punishment quickly escalates.]

Conversions continue, Stephen made a deacon, arrested and martyred
Acts 6-7: “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number [which was happening continually], a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews [the ones who came at Pentecost to Jerusalem from far away] against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task…and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith…And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen…And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council…And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers!...Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”…But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
[Propose Stephen’s death happens within 7 months of Passover.]

Great persecution begins, Saul takes a leading role, is converted
Acts 8-9: “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day [the very day of Stephen’s death] a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles….But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word....Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem….As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.”…Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus…”
[Propose Saul’s conversion happens within 9 months of Passover.]

Summary about the Timeline of Acts 1-9

Looking over this information, and making what seem to be reasonable deductions about how much time passes in view of the very fast growth of the Church (3000, 5000, “multitudes…were constantly added”) and rapidly escalating animosity of the Jewish religious leaders in the face of aggressive evangelizing by the apostles, there is no good reason to suppose that the events of Acts 1-9 took a year or more to occur. Not more than a few months would be necessary to bring the Jewish leaders’ antipathy to a boil, since the apostles adopted a very “in your face” attitude against the High Priest and the Sadducees, making it very reasonable for Saul’s conversion to have taken place in the latter part of the crucifixion year. It must be kept in mind, also, that these were the same Jewish leaders who had pushed for the death penalty against Jesus, predisposing them to have little tolerance for His followers. Not more than 9 months appears necessary after Passover of the crucifixion year for all of these events to have taken place. The honest skeptic without a chronological agenda can pad this time with a couple more months if they wish, but beyond that appears to be unrealistically generous.

Paul’s Early Travels in Acts 8-12

We have just sketched out reasons why less than a year was necessary, from the Crucifixion to the conversion of Saul, for the clash between the disciples and the Jewish religious leaders to result in the scattering of the infant Church and Saul’s single-minded persecution of it. In order to establish a longer timeline in which to place one or more independently datable events, we now establish the sequence of places Paul visited in his early days as a Christian, from his conversion to his second trip to Antioch. All Scriptures that follow (ESV) are presented in consecutive order. Clarifying notes have been added in [brackets], while the places Paul visited are emphasized in bold italics.

Jerusalem, the starting point
Acts 8:1, 3: “And Saul approved of his [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles….But Saul was ravaging the church [in Jerusalem], and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”

1. Damascus #1
Acts 9:3-6, 8, 19: “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus... and suddenly a light from heaven shone around. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’...So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus...and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.” [This is the first major time marker in Paul’s Christian life: his conversion.]

2. Arabia
Gal 1:15-17a: “But when he who had set me apart...was pleased to reveal his Son to me [at his conversion, on his first visit to Damascus], in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me [his gospel was not influenced by people, but revealed by the Lord], but I went away into Arabia...”

3. Damascus #2
Gal 1:17b: “...And returned again [for the second time] to Damascus.” [Note that this passage does not say that Paul spent three years in Arabia! That is a common misconception. All it tells us is that Paul went there for an apparently rather short period of time, then returned.]

Acts 9:23, 25: “When many days had passed [in Damascus], the Jews plotted to kill him...but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall [of Damascus], lowering him in a basket.” [2 Cor 11:32-33: “At Damascus, the governor [ethnarch] under King Aretas [IV] was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.”]

4. Jerusalem #1
Acts 9:26-27: And when he [Saul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles

Gal 1:18: “Then after [Gk. meta] three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.” [This is the second major time marker in Paul’s Christian life: his first trip to Jerusalem after he had been a Christian for a total of three years, not three years since he got back from Arabia. The Greek preposition meta tells us this time period traces back to his conversion, as clarified below.]

Acts 9:29-30a: “And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists [at Jerusalem]. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this...”

5. Tarsus
Acts 9:30b: “...they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him [Saul] off to Tarsus [in Cilicia].”

Gal 1:21: “Then [until Barnabas sought him out] I went into the regions of Syria [Antioch] and Cilicia [Tarsus]. [Acts 21:39: Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia...]

Acts 11:19-22, 24b-25: “Now those who were scattered because of…Stephen traveled as far as…Antioch… preaching the Lord Jesus…and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this [large-scale Gentile conversions] came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch….And a great many people were added to the Lord [at Antioch]. So [because he needed help ministering to all the new converts] Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul

6. Antioch #1
Acts 11:26-28: “...and when he [Barnabas] had found him [at Tarsus], he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year [of ministry at Antioch] they [Barnabas and Saul] met with the church and taught a great many people. Now in these days [the year when Barnabas and Saul were at Antioch] prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be [in the near future] a great famine [which had not started yet, it was a prophecy] over all the [Roman] world (this took place in the days of Claudius [41-54 AD]).

7. Jerusalem #2
Acts 11:29-30: So the disciples [at Antioch] determined, every one according to his ability, to send [pre-emptive] relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it [the famine relief] to the elders [at Jerusalem] by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”

Gal 2:1: “Then after [Gk. dia] fourteen years I went up again [a second time] to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus [a Gentile] along with me.” [This is the third major time marker in Paul’s Christian life – fourteen years post-conversion, encompassing all his time as a Christian up to the end of his one year of Antioch ministry with Barnabas. The Greek preposition dia makes this clear, see below.]

Gal 2:2: “I went up [to Jerusalem] because of a revelation [not because of famine relief] and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles [this Gentile-centered gospel was the revelation], in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.” [Cf. Gal 1:12: “For I neither received it [the gospel he preached] from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” This revelation was Paul’s distinctive gospel message that applied specifically to Gentile believers. Labeling this trip merely a “famine relief mission,” as if that was its primary reason, denies Paul’s plain statement that it was driven by “a revelation” he needed to share. His goal for the trip was to convey his Gentile-centered gospel message privately to some of the leadership in Jerusalem “for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.” It was only because he already planned to go to Jerusalem that the pre-emptive famine relief was sent along with him, Barnabas and Titus. Think about it: if famine relief was the main motive for the trip, Titus’ inclusion makes little sense. But it does if we consider that he was Exhibit A of God’s new work among the Gentiles. If famine relief had been the main motive, it would most efficiently have been sent with the prophet Agabus and his companions when they returned to their home in Jerusalem after their Antioch visit.]

Acts 12:1-4: “About that time [when Barnabas and Paul left Antioch for Jerusalem] Herod [Agrippa I] the king…killed James the brother of John...proceeded to arrest Peter…during the days of Unleavened Bread [part of the Passover festival]...intending after the Passover [in just a few days] to bring him out to the people.”

Acts 12:6-7, 19a: “Now when Herod [Agrippa I] was about to bring him [Peter] out, on that very night…an angel of the Lord stood next to him…And the chains fell off his hands...And after Herod searched for him [Peter] and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death.”

Acts 12:19b-23: “Then he [Herod Agrippa I] went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there. Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and...asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. On an appointed day [for their meeting] Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them [in context, to the people of Tyre and Sidon]...And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” [buttering him up to curry his political favor] Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down…he [Herod Agrippa I] breathed his last [44 AD, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_Agrippa, which summarizes this current consensus of scholarship in its endnotes].”

8. Antioch #2
Acts 12:24-25: “But the word of God increased and multiplied. And [following the death of Herod Agrippa I] Barnabas and Saul returned [to Antioch] from Jerusalem when they had completed their service [for the Antioch church, in explaining to the elders at Jerusalem God’s work among the Gentiles there, and only secondarily delivering their famine offering], bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.”

Analysis of the Acts 8-12 Timeline

The above presentation of Paul’s early travels, from his conversion to his return to Antioch from his second trip to Jerusalem, is securely based on information taken straight from Scripture. Only the date of Herod Agrippa I’s death is drawn from outside sources, but it is confirmed by multiple classical writings reflected in the Wikipedia entry; indeed, one will find no serious dissent from the 44 AD date for Herod’s death anywhere, so strong is the evidence. Now we need to build upon this information and draw out its implications for determining the date of the Crucifixion.

First, however, a note about a possible complaint some may direct at this study concerning the King Aretas mentioned in 2 Cor. 11:32-33. Some scholars have alleged that Aretas would not have had authority to control an ethnarch in Damascus before about 37 BC, requiring Paul’s abrupt departure after his second trip there to have been in 37 AD or later. Such conjectures, however, were dismissed by well-respected scholar F.F. Bruce, whose opinion carries considerable weight. In Chronological Questions in the Acts of the Apostles, a November 1985 lecture at John Rylands University (online at https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/api/datastream?publicationPid=uk-ac-man-scw:1m1627&datastreamId=POST-PEER-REVIEW-PUBLISHERS-DOCUMENT.PDF), Bruce states:

Aretas IV was king of the Nabataean Arabs from about 9 B.C. to A.D. 40. It is widely supposed, though on doubtful grounds, that Damascus actually belonged to his kingdom for a few years before his death -- perhaps through a change of imperial policy at the beginning of the principate of Gaius in A.D. 37.8 His ethnarch who, according to 2 Corinthians 11:32, watched the gates of Damascus in an attempt to arrest Paul, was probably the head of the Nabataean colony in that city.9 Paul’s residence in Damascus, according to Galatians 1:17f., fell within the three years or so following his conversion, and that event must certainly be dated well before A.D. 40, the year of Aretas’s death. Even if Aretas did control Damascus from A.D. 37 until his death, Paul’s escape from the city is probably to be dated before A.D. 37. It is only in a very general way that the reference to Aretas helps us in our chronological quest (emphasis added).

Given the spotty state of our knowledge of the degree Aretas exercised hegemony over Damascus in the decade before his death – for he need not have been a Rome-approved ruler over Damascus to have had a loyal underling in a position of authority in the Nabataean colony there – it is not possible to use him as a solid anchor for Pauline chronology. We can, with F.F. Bruce, safely dismiss Aretas from consideration as a non-factor, and look to other, more reliable dating criteria instead, like the death of Herod Agrippa I that we will look at later.

The Three and Fourteen Years

It is now necessary to support in some depth the contention that the mention of fourteen years in Galatians 2:1 refers to time elapsed since Paul’s conversion. Though some view this passage as referring to time that passed since his first trip to Jerusalem for his 15-day visit with Peter, making the total time since his conversion approximately seventeen years (3+14), the Greek text indicates otherwise. In contrast to Galatians 1:18, where the preposition meta, “with,” is used in reference to three years, the preposition used in 2:1 is dia, having the basic meaning of “through” or “during.” It conveys the sense of continuity with something discussed earlier, not supplemental information that independently follows after an event that already occurred. If Paul’s meaning was that fourteen years had passed from the time of his first visit to Jerusalem, the best choice of preposition would have been the same one he had already used in Gal 1:18, meta. That would have accurately conveyed that the fourteen years was an additional time period tacked on to the three years from his conversion already mentioned. See, for instance, Hebrews 4:8: “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on (meta)” – a day subsequent to Joshua’s. But instead, Paul purposely switched to the preposition dia. Since God is the God of the “jots and tittles,” there was a reason for this change!

That the fourteen years of Galatians 2:1 refers to time passed since Paul’s conversion is supported by various standard reference works. For example, the Expositor’s Greek Testament observes:

The author has shown by a rapid glance over the first thirteen years of his Christian life how independent he had been of human teaching at his conversion and subsequently. He now proceeds to record the true history of the negotiations which he had undertaken at Jerusalem in conjunction with Barnabas in the fourteenth year of his ministry [emphasis added].

Most impressive to me, due to the depth of his Greek exegesis, is the work of the inimitable Henry Alford, whose analysis of the Greek text of Galatians 2:1 is extremely precise and detailed. Some may disrespect him because his work was done in the nineteenth century, but the last time I looked, the principles of Greek grammar had not changed since his day. He says in part (https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/galatians-2.html):

Next, from what time are we to reckon? Certainly at first sight it would appear,­ from the journey last mentioned [i.e., the first trip to Jerusalem]…But why? Is the prima facie view of a construction always right?...Are we not bound, in all such cases, should any reason ab extra exist for doing so, to reexamine the passage, and ascertain whether our prima facie impression may not have arisen from neglecting some indication furnished by the context? That this is the case here, I am persuaded...

Alford then elucidates the same insight I obtained independently from the original Greek:

The ἔπειτα [epeita, “then” or “after”] in both cases [Gal 1:18 and 2:1] may be well taken as referring back to the same terminus a quo [point of origin], διὰ [dia] being used in this verse [2:1] as applying to the larger interval, or even perhaps to prevent the fourteen years being counted from the event last mentioned [1:18], as they would more naturally be, had a second μετά [meta] been used. What would there be forced or unnatural in a statement of the following kind? “After my conversion...my occasions of communicating with the other Apostles were these: (1) after three years I went up, etc. (2) after fourteen years had elapsed, I again went up, etc?”

Though Alford’s technical material is too long to quote in full here (see the link if interested), he goes into such analytical depth that in my estimation he makes a timeless, slam-dunk exegetical case for the fourteen years being reckoned from Paul’s conversion, and that this period encompassed the three years from his conversion to his first visit to Jerusalem. Those who can handle his copious Greek citations are encouraged to review his analysis.

Although I do not agree with the 33 AD point he starts measuring from (for reasons developed below), Tony Bartolucci has put together an excellent compilation of much more recent resources that confirm the soundness of Alford’s earlier work, basing his exegesis on the grammatical analysis made by Albert L. Lukaszewski and Mark Dubis in The Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament (Logos Bible Software, 2009). He concludes, in agreement with both my independent study and the work of Alford, that the periods of three and fourteen years are both measured from Paul’s Damascus Road conversion, with the longer period including the first within it. Here are two excerpts from that compendium, online at http://www.tonybartolucci.com/Sermons/Galatians%20Exegesis/Galatians%201.18-24.pdf:

[Regarding Gal 1:18] The words after three years do not merely refer to a lapse of time. They are argumentative. Paul is showing all through this section, his entire independence of the Jerusalem apostles. Therefore, the three years have reference, not to the time after his return from Arabia, but to the period of time after his conversion.... [Wuest, Kenneth S., Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).]

By the time we get to [Gal] 2:1 we are 14 years after his conversion. In total, Paul only spent 15 days in Jerusalem out of 14 years. [Bartolucci, 21, emphasis added; the copious notes on which this conclusion was based are found at http://www.tonybartolucci.com/Sermons/Galatians%20Exegesis/Galatians%202.1-10.pdf.]

I could add more support, but this will suffice. The most powerful argument in favor of extending the fourteen years of Galatians 2:1 back to Paul’s conversion is an objective one tied to the preposition changing from meta to dia within the immediate context. It was a purposeful change indicating that the references in Galatians 1-2 to the passing of three and fourteen years must refer to time measured from Paul’s conversion. Only a desire to accommodate a preferred chronological outcome requiring additional time can ignore this clear meaning of the Greek grammar. It gives us a sturdy skeleton which can be fleshed out with other people, places and dates.

The Timing of the Second Jerusalem Visit

Let us now recap what we have established so far. The time from the Crucifixion to Paul’s conversion was less than a year, likely about nine months. Then, the time from Paul’s conversion to his second trip to Jerusalem, in the company of Barnabas and Titus, was fourteen years. Let us keep these details in mind as we now come to a highly-debated (by scholars, anyway) issue: How to relate the trip to Jerusalem described in Galatians 2:1-10, to the trips to Jerusalem described in Acts 11:29-12:25 and 15. Which trip does Galatians 2:1-10 correspond with? In the above timeline of Acts 8-12, it was assumed that the natural sense of the texts indicated Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem in Acts 11:29-30 (the first being his brief 15-day visit with Peter) corresponded with the one described in Galatians 2:1-2. Not all scholars agree with this assumption, so it needs to be exegetically demonstrated.

We will begin by first taking a look at the situation described in Acts 15, which deals mostly with the meeting known as the Jerusalem Council. Then we will perform an analysis of Galatians 2:1-10 similar to that done with Acts 8-12, thereby establishing a timeline. Finally, we will compare the events described in Galatians 2:1-10 with the situations in Acts 12 and 15, and deduce the most straightforward way of reconciling these different records with each other.

The Situation in Acts 15

Sandwiched between the Jerusalem-based events of Acts chapters 12 and 15, we have the story of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas related in Acts 13 and 14. The events of the first missionary journey do not apply to our analysis here, so we will skip over those two chapters. Here is the compressed story from Acts 15, as given in the NASB:

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised…you cannot be saved.” And…the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue…and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate…James answered, saying, “…it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.” Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas…Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them…”For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter…After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work…they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left [Paul’s second missionary journey]…

The Situation in Galatians 2:1-10

Now we turn to Galatians 2. A critically important matter is how one goes about synchronizing the account in this chapter with information from Acts. Does it connect with the so-called “famine relief” trip that spans Acts 11:29 though 12:25, or with the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15? We begin by reading Galatians 2:1-10 (NASB), emphasizing a few important words for special attention:

Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in [to Antioch] to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage [following circumcision and the Mosaic Law]. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor – the very thing I also was eager to do.

Let us now examine in detail those important points.

“I went up again to Jerusalem” – “Again” tells us Paul had been to Jerusalem at least one time before. When? We know from Acts 9:26-27 that Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem was when he “met with Peter and James privately three years after his conversion” (Gal 1:18-19), so logically Galatians 2:1 is referring to the second Jerusalem visit introduced in Acts 11:29-30. Moreover, Barnabas was not involved in the Acts 9:26-27 visit as a traveling companion with Paul, but was a member of the Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 4:36-37, where he placed the proceeds from selling a tract of land at the apostles’ feet). This means that connecting “again” with Barnabas – as if it was a second trip made with Barnabas, effectively being Paul’s third trip to Jerusalem related in Acts 15 – is misinterpreting the passage. Besides, elsewhere when Paul wants to say he plans to do something that he had already done twice before, he does not ambiguously say “again,” but is very clear: “Here for the third time I am ready to come to you” (2 Cor 12:14). It is reasonable to expect he would have been similarly specific, if in Galatians 2 “again” referred to what was actually his third trip to Jerusalem.

2. “Taking Titus along” – Luke says nothing in Acts 15 about Titus being included in the group that accompanied Paul and Barnabas to the Jerusalem Council. Though an argument from silence, this was a notable omission if he was indeed part of that trip, because in Gal 2:3 Paul draws particular attention to him as an example of the grace of God saving Gentiles apart from keeping the requirements of the Mosaic Law: “But not even Titus...though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” This Lukan silence about Titus makes good sense if his visit took place not during the highly public Jerusalem Council, but during Paul’s earlier, second visit to Jerusalem when he met “in private” with only James, Peter and John to give them evidence of God’s work among the Gentiles. In fact, if we identify the visit with Titus with the “famine relief” trip in Acts 11:29-30, it provides a motivation for the indignant visit to Antioch of the Pharisaical brethren described in Acts 15:1-2, which directly led to holding the Jerusalem Council.

3. “Because of a revelation” – See the comments above under “Jerusalem #2.” This revelation, as already mentioned, should not be understood as the famine prophecy of Agabus (after all, Agabus and his companions, being Jerusalem natives, could just as well have taken the famine relief collection to Jerusalem themselves, saving Paul and Barnabas the trip and disruption of their important work at Antioch). When the overall context is considered, it makes far better sense to see this revelation as new information revealed by the Lord directly to Paul, the “apostle to the uncircumcised”: namely, that circumcision and other works of the Law do not apply to Gentiles as means of salvation, but only God’s grace in calling and regenerating. Paul’s gospel was that Gentiles are saved by faith alone, not by circumcision or keeping the Mosaic Law. Some commentators have pointed out that Peter received a revelation of sorts in Acts 10:9-16, and supposed this might have been the revelation Paul referred to; but why would Paul have felt obliged to go to Jerusalem in connection with a revelation that came to Peter, who was already in Jerusalem? The insight given to Peter was very limited, only addressing the bald fact that Gentiles could be saved: “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” It did not address the practical outworking of that insight, which the Lord’s revelation to Paul did. Remember, too, that Paul later raked Peter over the coals for hypocrisy:

nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we [Jews] have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified...I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (Gal 2:16, 21).

We are on firm ground in seeing the revelation given to Paul as directly connected with his above teaching, coming as it does just a few verses after Gal 2:1-10, that salvation is by faith alone.

4. “I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles...in private” – This mention that the matter was dealt with “in private” is in obvious conflict with the very public nature of the debate portrayed in Acts 15 (“When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them” (15:4); “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them...” (15:22);”and they sent this letter by them, “The apostles and the brethren who are elders...greetings” (15:23). This does not sound at all like something that took place “in private.” Thus, Acts 15 is a poor match for Gal 2:1-10, whereas Acts 11:29-12:25 – where Luke had hardly anything to say about Paul and Barnabas – fits the situation like a glove.

5. “Gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship” – This would have been the perfect place in Galatians 2 for Paul to have mentioned the apostolic letter issued as a result of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. But what do we hear about that letter? Silence. This is, quite frankly, very surprising if Galatians 2:1-10 was indeed addressing the Jerusalem Council events, simply because that letter is cited as a source of great encouragement to the believers: “And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement” (Acts 15:31). That the “right hand of fellowship” gets mentioned in Galatians 2, while the far more affirming apostolic letter gets no mention, is a powerful argument that Galatians 2:1-10 looks back to the private, low-key meeting with the Apostles depicted in Acts 11-12, not to the extremely public Jerusalem Council meeting in Acts 15.

6. “They only asked us to remember the poor – the very thing I also was eager to do” – In Acts 15, the request from “the church and the apostles and the elders” goes well beyond asking Paul and Barnabas to “only” remember the poor: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication...” (Acts 15:28-29). In the light of these four stipulations in the apostolic letter, if Acts 15 was the setting for Galatians 2:1-10, for Paul to say in Galatians that the only stipulation placed upon him was “to remember the poor” makes no sense.

The Situation in Acts 11-12

For completeness, we should ask whether Acts 11-12 adds anything to our knowledge about Paul’s travels. Hardly anything substantive can be added, beyond the superficial observation that Paul went to Jerusalem to consult privately with James, Peter and John, the “pillars” of the Jerusalem church, about the Gospel for the Gentiles he had received as a revelation from the Lord. Upon reflection, though, this dearth of material about the doings of Paul, Barnabas and Titus at this time is actually excellent evidence connecting Galatians 2:1-10 with Acts 12 rather than Acts 15, because if that trip dealt mostly with the sort of private consultation Gal 2:2 describes, it was more likely that Luke would have little to say about it.

Summary about the Timing of the Second Jerusalem Visit

Tying together these direct observations from Scripture about Acts 15, Galatians 2:1-10 and Acts 11-12, it should be apparent to the impartial reader that Galatians 2:1-10 best fits the background of Acts 11:29-12:25. Additional evidence that we are on the right track can be found in the support for this interpretation given by the ESV Study Bible, which takes into account the majority of current scholarship. It includes a chart in the Galatians 2 notes which ties together Gal 2:1-10 with Acts 11:29-30 (the “famine relief” visit), and Gal 2:11-14 with Acts 15:1-2a. This deduction is consistent with the mention in Acts 15:1 of the men who came down to Antioch from Judea – after the misnamed “famine relief” trip of Acts 11:29-12:25, and after the first missionary journey described in Acts 13-14 (Paul and Barnabas were back in Antioch by this time), but before the Jerusalem Council began. These men were probably those mentioned in Galatians 2:12, “For before certain men came from James, he [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” It all fits together. Since the events of Acts 15:2b-29 describe the Jerusalem Council, it follows that, if the events of Galatians 2:11-14 match up with what happened in Acts 15:1-2a (which preceded the Jerusalem Council), then the events of Galatians 2:1-10 also preceded the Jerusalem Council.

A few observations from other scholars are in order before moving on. Bartolucci’s aforementioned notes on Galatians 2 (p. 27) include the following quote drawn from Timothy George’s commentary on Galatians (The New American Commentary, Vol. 30 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994, 135-137): “The events of Gal. 2:1–10 parallel the “famine visit” Paul and Barnabas made to Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 11:25–30. This view has been convincingly argued by F. F. Bruce although it remains a minority opinion among commentators on the epistle.” Bruce’s analysis can be read online at https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/bjrl/problems-1_bruce.pdf, particularly pp. 305-307. Finally, in his article “The Epistle to the Galatians” posted at https://bible.org/article/epistle-galatians, Dr. Greg Herrick noted:

There is better evidence to suggest that Acts 11:27-30 is the visit related in Galatians 2:1-10. First, it is difficult to imagine that the decree preceded the events of Peter’s separation from the Gentiles and Paul’s rebuking him. Surely Peter, even though he possessed a vacillating spirit, would not have done such a thing after the Jerusalem church, that is, those who caused it the first time (Gal 2:12), had settled the issue. Second, it is further difficult to imagine that the Judaizers could have accomplished so much damage, as the letter to the Galatians indicates, if Galatians 2:1-10 refers to the Council. Third, Paul appears to be listing his visits to Jerusalem, in succession since his conversion. This would mean that Galatians 2:1-10 would be equivalent to Acts 11. Fourth, in Galatians 1:21 Paul says that he visited Syria and Cilicia. This occurred after his first visit (1:18) and before his second visit to Jerusalem (2:1). This most likely refers to the fact that Paul concentrated his missionary work in Tarsus and Antioch (after Barnabas ‘retrieved’ him from Tarsus) without going to any other centers. If this is true then, he did not evangelize in Galatia until after his second visit to Jerusalem and therefore, Galatians 2:1-10 must refer to the famine visit with evangelization of Galatia (Acts 13, 14) sometime later.

In summary, the only place to put Galatians 2:1-10 in reference to Acts is in the context of the “famine relief” visit described in Acts 11:29-30 and 12:25.

Acts 12 and the Death of Herod Agrippa I

Now we turn to the main issue covered by Acts 12, the affairs of Herod Agrippa I. Here is the critical thing to note: Everything described in this chapter takes place during the time Paul and Barnabas were in Jerusalem during his second visit there, the visit discussed in Galatians 2:1-10. Acts 11:30 informs us of the departure from Antioch of Paul, Barnabas and Titus for Jerusalem, while Acts 12:25 reports their return to Antioch. Between these two bookends we have the story of the events leading up to the death of Herod Agrippa I. This means that the death of Agrippa I, known without doubt from classical histories to have taken place in AD 44, solidly anchors in time Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem.

What little scholarly debate that exists about the death of Herod Agrippa I centers around whether it occurred before or after the Passover of 44 AD. Where one comes down on that question affects whether or not one affirms, following the plain sense of Acts 12, that the death of Herod Agrippa I was in the same year that Peter was imprisoned. The unbelieving skeptics’ view, following one interpretation of classical literature, is that Agrippa died during the dies natalis games celebrating the founding of Caesarea. Those games took place in March, before the Passover, so adopting this view directly conflicts with the situation portrayed in the Scriptures. It forces one to divorce Paul’s second journey to Jerusalem from the year of Herod’s death, placing it a year afterwards.

Yet, the entire passage in Acts 12 reads smoothly as an uninterrupted unit: from the death of James the brother of John, through Peter’s arrest during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to the death of the guards blamed for Peter’s escape, to Herod’s ill-fated trip to Caesarea where he died. F.F. Bruce has suggested that the games at Caesarea were not the problematic dies natalis games, but those celebrating Claudius’ birthday on August 1 (Suetonius, Claudius, 2.1; Bruce, Chronological Questions, note 16). This fits the situation well, and for what it’s worth, the Wikipedia information on the death of Herod Agrippa I follows this understanding (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_Agrippa). Josephus (Antiquities 19.8.2/343) merely says the death of Agrippa I was in the context of some “shows in honor of the emperor,” without being more specific. Others have suggested the games of the Augustalia were in view, a festival celebrated October 12 in honor of Emperor Augustus.

The bottom line is, we just don’t know for certain, as far as the classical sources or Josephus are concerned, what was the precise occasion for Herod Agrippa’s visit to Caesarea. But we do know that Scripture paints a perfectly clear picture that Agrippa’s death was simultaneous with the time Paul, Barnabas and Titus were in Jerusalem during Paul’s second visit there. We have no reason to doubt this, unless we value the uncertain interpretations of classical scholars over the plain sense of the Word of God.

Conclusions

It is time to bring this study to a close. Much more could have been written, but the length would have been too great. We have learned the following things:

1. The death of Herod Agrippa I took place at Caesarea in 44 AD, during a festival probably held between August and October. This is a solidly-attested date from history.

2. Agrippa’s death was in the same year that the apostle Paul visited Jerusalem for the second time, in the company of Barnabas and Titus, for a private meeting with the leaders there to present the gospel God revealed to Paul for preaching to the Gentiles.

3. Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem was in his fourteenth year as a Christian. Per Jewish and Roman custom this was probably reckoned inclusively, in the same way we showed last month that Scripture counts the days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

4. Counting back fourteen years from 44 AD using inclusive reckoning, we conclude Paul was saved in 31 AD, possibly even late 30 AD depending on how much time was spanned by the events of Acts 1-9.

Accordingly, the most likely date for the Crucifixion, so far as the scriptural and astronomical clues we have examined are concerned, is Friday, April 7, 30 AD.

In closing, the data on which this determination is based was derived from a straightforward, plain-sense understanding of Scripture, rather than one which elevates the results of secular scholarship over the biblical record. Such scholarship nowadays depends greatly upon studies of classical histories and how to interpret them, along with questioning whether the plain sense of the biblical text is the right sense. Even otherwise conservative scholars have stumbled over this as they have sought to gain a hearing in the academic world. But we need to be reminded that skepticism about the plain sense of Scripture goes back to Satan’s words to Eve in the Garden: “Yea, hath God said…?” (Gen 3:1). When scholars do this we must exercise great discernment, lest we be led astray from God’s revealed truth.

In a future installment of this ongoing study, I hope to address how the date of Herod’s death, when understood through the lens of Scripture rather than in dependence on dubious interpretations of the writings of Josephus and other classical authors, is likewise consistent with a 30 AD Crucifixion. It even ties in precisely with the prophecy of the “Seventy Weeks” of Daniel 9:24-27.

[Article slightly revised 4/8/18 to fix a few minor errors and typos.]

DANIEL9 DanielBanner

This is the first in an ongoing series of articles on Messianic chronology centered around understanding the "Seventy Weeks" prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27. In this article we will focus on the Passover and its impact on the day we choose for the date of Christ's Crucifixion.

In August 2017, I undertook a wide-ranging study of various aspects of biblical chronology and eschatology. This study, now referred to as The Daniel 9:24-27 Project because seeking to understand those verses got me started, was motivated by my desire to settle, to my satisfaction alone, exactly what God had revealed in Scripture about end-times matters. Because I attended seminary back in the 1980s, I am quite aware that this area of study has generated a lot of opinions and discussion! Very significant “isms” of the evangelical world—premillenialism, amillenialism, postmillennialism, and various shades of these—find their origin in differences in how the books of Daniel and Revelation are understood. Since so many books and Internet websites have undertaken to promote the views of their authors on these matters, not all of whom are equally determined to let the written Word of God have the last word, I decided to do my own from-scratch research with nothing but an open Bible in front of me.

Taking on this project has had a real impact on my life. The continual exposure to the Word it requires has deepened my prayer life, strengthened my faith, and awed me as I have seen, again and again, how every “jot and tittle” of the biblical text reflects the inspiration of the Holy Spirit behind it. Timelines started in one book, touched on in another, and finished in yet another all tie seamlessly together. Surely this would not have been possible without the Living God acting behind the scenes to bring His Word into the world through a variety of people from different times and backgrounds.

But others over the years have said as much, and merely repeating this observation does little to edify others. Specific examples are needed. Therefore, in this article I will look at a few from my ongoing research that illustrate the faith-encouraging, deep interconnections among different passages of Scripture. They shed light on one another in the same way that a gifted human author gradually develops a plot line that deepens and grows in complexity as the chapters pass.

Given the daunting task I set for myself, to try to understand the full range of eschatology-related topics covered in Scripture, there are many subjects I could tackle! In this study I will share just a very narrow slice of my research, a part that ties in with determining the date of the Crucifixion. I have found that a close study of the term “Passover” and matters related to it profoundly illustrates how intricately the Lord God has tied together the books of the Bible, where one part far removed from another explains and illuminates an obscure detail elsewhere that is otherwise almost inscrutable.

My larger goal is for the study to clarify how part of the prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27 has already been exactly fulfilled in history, and then, God willing, to go on to a consideration of aspects which still remain to be unveiled as the time of the Messiah's return gets closer.

Much Ado Over Eclipses

The need for brevity here prevents undertaking a comprehensive overview of the options for the date of the Crucifixion, so let us focus on just differentiating between the two main candidates: April 7, 30 AD or April 3, 33 AD. We will restrict our examination to these two dates because they are the only ones between 29 and 36 AD when the Passover began on a Friday evening (dates as assigned by Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Table 179):

  • Monday, April 18, 29 AD
  • Friday, April 7, 30 AD
  • Tuesday, March 27, 31 AD
  • Monday, April 14, 32 AD
  • Friday, April 3, 33 AD*
  • Wednesday, March 24, 34 AD
  • Tuesday, April 12, 35 AD
  • Saturday, March 31, 36 AD

* It should be noted that the chart at http://www.judaismvschristianity.com/passover_dates.htm, claiming to use U.S. Naval Observatory data, gives the date of Nisan 14 in 33 AD as Saturday, April 4. I use Finegan for the purposes of this paper because he is widely regarded as authoritative, and his date was accepted by Humphreys and Waddington. Should Finegan’s date be shown to be wrong, this study will need to be revisited.

The April 3, 33 AD date has received a lot of good press in recent years, but this has been due less to careful exegesis than to the popularizing of a lunar eclipse study by Colin Humphreys and W.G. Waddington in 1983, a study developed further in their 1985 paper, “The Date of the Crucifixion” (JASA 37, pp. 2-10, online at http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1985/JASA3-85Humphreys.html). That study concluded there was a “blood moon” that day, which they tied in with the Joel 2 prophecy quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21). Since NASA calculated that there was a lunar eclipse on Friday, April 3, 33 AD, but not on any other candidate for the Crucifixion date, the authors claim only that date works.

But there is a fly in the ointment. Since NASA’s research, showing that there was indeed a lunar eclipse that day, is taken as completely solid and provides the starting point for their study, shouldn’t the related research of particular scientists working for NASA be regarded likewise? NASA scientist Bradley Schaefer studied the question of the visibility of the eclipse on April 3, 33 AD, and arrived at conclusions that do not reinforce the case Humphreys and Waddington have promoted. Schaefer and his work have thus been consigned to the doghouse by all who have taken the Humphreys and Waddington analysis to heart. Schaefer, in a technically sound peer-reviewed paper with a lot of math that is far over my head, came to the conclusion that the lunar eclipse of April 3, 33 AD would have been barely noticeable on the horizon just as the moon rose that evening, with a normal full moon gracing the sky through the heart of the night. That day in Jerusalem, he said, the eclipse at twilight would have been partial, at most briefly occluding no more than 59% of the disk of the full moon, such that the leakage of light from the unshadowed part of the moon that night would have washed out any “blood moon” phenomenon (Schaefer, Lunar Visibility and the Crucifixion, p. 59, online at http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1990QJRAS..31...53S). As he put it, it would have been like trying to notice an “8 watt red light bulb next to a megawatt searchlight” (Schaefer, p.65). That is a quite graphic description of the difficulty in seeing this eclipse. He also observed that the eclipsed moon could only be noticed by the naked eye when it was at least 3.4 degrees above the horizon, and by that time the darkest umbral shadow would have completely left the moon, or occluded less than 1% of the lunar disk (Schaefer, p. 64).

Some defenders of Humphreys and Waddington have objected that Schaefer failed to take into account “triple refraction” of the lunar light through the atmosphere, which would have lengthened, and thus reddened, the wavelengths of the light, and theoretically approximated a “blood moon.” At first glance that argument seemed to carry some weight, but then I thought: If the light being refracted through the atmosphere was mainly from the “searchlight” of the 41% unoccluded part of the full moon, the net effect would still have been just the normal amber coloration of the rising moon, nothing out of the ordinary. It also struck me that it was rather difficult to imagine a qualified NASA scientist, whose specialty was analyzing lunar phenomena, would have forgotten to fully account for atmospheric refraction in his peer-reviewed paper. How likely is that? (And this is assuming, for argument’s sake, that Schaefer was wrong in his calculations that the umbral occlusion of the moon would have essentially ended before it was high enough in the sky to be noticed.)

For these reasons, I am inclined to dismiss the lunar eclipse argument as having any significance in determining the day of the Crucifixion. But what about Peter’s quote of the prophet Joel? Surely that has a bearing on whether there was a blood moon, science be hanged? The quote in full reads (ESV):

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
(Acts 2:17-21, quoting Joel 2:28-32a)

Was Peter’s quote from Joel 2, which he said was a fulfillment of what the crowd was hearing that day (i.e., the hubbub of speaking in foreign languages issuing from the house where the disciples had gathered), indeed focused just as strongly on the “moon shall be turned to blood” aspect (as Humphreys and Waddington assume) as on the “pouring out my Spirit” part? For this to be true, “the moon to blood” would have to apply not to what was being heard that Pentecost day (the issue Peter was directly addressing), but to a partial eclipse “blood moon” supposedly briefly seen 50 days previously—after Jesus was already in the tomb and people had largely dispersed to their homes, and by arguably an entirely different group of people than on Pentecost—rather than to the cacophony of sound his audience was wondering about. Every interpreter of Scripture will have to make up their own mind how likely this was. For my part, accounting for what Dr. Schaefer wrote about how minimal the eclipse’s visual impact at Jerusalem probably was and my perception that his analysis is scientifically reliable, I think it is quite acceptable exegesis to view the mention of the “blood moon” as a yet-unfulfilled part of the Joel prophecy that did not apply to the situation at hand. It happened to be part of the larger context of the quote and for that reason was included, notwithstanding that it was not directly applicable to the Pentecost situation, because Peter wanted to get past it to the important, and very applicable, challenge the prophet closed with: “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

What Do the Scriptures Say?

At any rate, for now I want to set aside the whole eclipse debate and look to the Word alone. Does it tell us anything that helps us choose between April 7, 30 AD and April 3, 33 AD for the date of the Crucifixion? I believe it does, but it is not immediately obvious. We first have to go back to the Old Testament to see how God set up the first Passover, then how the Jews subsequently celebrated it. There are four important passages we need to look at.

Exodus 12

Our first passage records the inception of the Passover, on the night when the angel of the Lord struck down all of the first-born in the land of Egypt, but “passed over” and spared the Israelites with the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. Exodus 12 records the story (ESV):

This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household….Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight….They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn….It is the LORD's Passover (Ex. 12:2-11, emphasis added).

The takeaways here are that on the first month of the Jewish religious year, which is called Nisan, on the fourteenth day of the month as that day begins at twilight (the Jewish day begins around 6 pm in the evening), the Passover lamb was to be killed. It was kept in the household from Nisan 10 until Nisan 14 began, so the slaughtering of the lamb was just after the onset of Nisan 14. Then, that same evening of the start of Nisan 14, the lamb was to be eaten as part of a meal that included unleavened bread. Remember that according to Scripture, the lamb was both killed and eaten on Nisan 14. It was not killed ahead of time on Nisan 13 for eating on Nisan 14, nor was it killed on Nisan 14 and then eaten on Nisan 15. In fact, such carrying over of the Passover meal to another day was expressly forbidden: “you shall let none of it remain until the morning.” These words tell us that the meal was eaten before the daylight portion of Nisan 14 dawned. Moreover, it was a meal involving the eating of unleavened bread, a detail having a bearing on understanding other matters later.

Leviticus 23

Next, consider this information gleaned from Leviticus 23:

These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the LORD's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work….On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work (Lev. 23:4-8).

Numbers 28

Numbers 28 is similar, for brevity we will leave out the details about the sacrifices:

On the fourteenth day of the first month is the LORD's Passover, and on the fifteenth day of this month is a feast. Seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work….And on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work (Num. 28:16-18, 25).

These two passages establish some additional facts for us. One we already learned from Exodus 12: that Nisan 14 was the assigned day of “the LORD’s Passover,” which specifically referred to the day of the Passover seder—the meal of the lamb sacrificed at twilight as that day began and eaten with unleavened bread. To this we add an additional fact, the next day—Nisan 15—would be the start of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. Even though “the LORD’s Passover,” the seder meal of Nisan 14, was also a day of eating unleavened bread (see Exodus 12 above) similar to the seven days of the Feast, the inclusion of the Pachal Lamb in the meal on Nisan 14 set it apart as separate from the rest of the Feast. Thus, Nisan 14 was a day of unleavened bread, but it was not technically part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread that starts on Nisan 15. The expressions “days of unleavened bread” or just “unleavened bread,” unmodified by the words “Feast of,” were the way the Jews joined Nisan 14 and 15 as two parts of a single, larger festival period called simply “the Passover.” Used that way, it referred to an eight-day period. This is an important point to keep in mind when we look at the Passover in the New Testament.

Also observe, this Feast of Unleavened Bread would begin and end with a “holy convocation” on which work was not to be done. In other words, two special Sabbaths bookended this Feast, known as “high” Sabbaths because the festivals were known as “high days.” Unlike the normal weekly Sabbath that was always observed on the seventh day of the week (Saturday), such high Sabbaths could land on any day of the week. This was because the dates of the month Nisan were determined via a lunar calendar, such that Nisan 15 landed on different days of the week in different years.

2 Chronicles 35

Finally, 2 Chronicles 35 gives us insight into the way the Jews practiced the Passover seder (the meal of the lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs eaten on Nisan 14):

Josiah kept a Passover to the LORD in Jerusalem. And they slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the first month….And they roasted the Passover lamb with fire according to the rule; and they boiled the holy offerings in pots, in cauldrons, and in pans, and carried them quickly to all the lay people….So all the service of the LORD was prepared that day, to keep the Passover and to offer burnt offerings on the altar of the LORD, according to the command of King Josiah (2 Chron 35:1, 13, 16).

This passage makes clear that the Jews in Josiah’s day understood Exodus 12:2-11 as teaching that both the killing and the eating of the Passover lamb were to take place on Nisan 14. Why am I emphasizing these things? Because they are not so crystal clear when we see how things are written up in the Gospels. It appears God deliberately hid these bits of background information about the Passover deep in obscure places of the Old Testament so that only people motivated to know His truth would find it.

The Passover in the Gospels

Now, what is so confusing in the Gospels? Basically, there are multiple ways the term “Passover” can be understood, and apart from the OT background above it is a murky business. It sometimes refers only to the Passover seder meal day of Nisan 14 when the lamb was sacrificed, while in other places it combines Nisan 14 together with the days of the Feast beginning on Nisan 15 and emphasizes their common focus on eating unleavened bread. When understood broadly this way, the general terms “Unleavened Bread” or “days of Unleavened Bread” are used. The rule is, if the time period is called “the Feast of Unleavened Bread,” it refers only to the seven days beginning on Nisan 15.

Let us now look at the events surrounding the day Christ died with these insights, beginning with Matthew.

Matthew 27

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover (Mt. 26:17-19).

Observe the mention of “the first day of Unleavened Bread.” This is not specifically the Feast of Unleavened Bread lasting seven days beginning on Nisan 15, but the first of eight days in which unleavened bread is to be eaten. Thus, the day in question is Nisan 14, the day for the Passover seder meal. That this is the proper understanding is confirmed by the words “prepare…to eat.” They refer to slaughtering the lamb just as Nisan 14 begins at evening, and along with it preparing the unleavened bread and bitter herbs which are part and parcel with the meal as laid out in Exodus 12.

Mark 14

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed [i.e., on Nisan 14], His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?” “…go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?’ And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there.” The disciples went out and came to the city, and found it just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover (Mk. 14:12-16).

These verses do not include the Greek word for “feast,” heorte, as in Luke 22:1 below (“Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching”). As noted earlier, the truncated expression, “Unleavened Bread” without “the feast of,” is the broad use described in Exodus 12:18 that includes the Passover seder meal of Nisan 14 (“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening”). Therefore, “first day” as used here refers to Nisan 14, not to the first day of the strictly-defined (in Exodus 12, Numbers 28 and Leviticus 23) Feast of Unleavened Bread that starts on Nisan 15. The focus of Mark 14:12 is not on the festival as a whole, but specifically on the group meal of the Paschal Lamb along with unleavened bread. Since the room was already “furnished and ready,” the only preparing needed was the meal. Peter and John (see Luke 22) could handle the slaughtering of the lamb and cooking everything just between the two of them.

Luke 22

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover….Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover (Lk. 22:1, 7-13).

The emphasized words give the keys to understanding this passage, which corresponds perfectly with what Matthew and Mark reported. Luke begins by talking about the formally-defined Feast of Unleavened Bread held from Nisan 15-21 inclusive, then his focus switches to Nisan 14, the day the Passover lamb was slaughtered and on which unleavened bread was eaten for the first time as part of the complex of Passover-related events. “Prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it” means just what it says—kill the lamb as Nisan 14 begins and also bake the unleavened bread, so the meal can be eaten.

John 13

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him…(John 13:1-2).

Here we have the expression, “Feast of the Passover.” “Feast of” should be understood as a technical term, marking this as a mention of the Feast of Unleavened Bread starting on Nisan 15, of which the Passover seder meal on Nisan 14 was part of the whole complex of events. Since the verse continues with mentions of the “hour” of His departure (the Crucifixion), the reference to “during supper,” and the betrayal of Judas which we know took place in the wee hours of the night on Nisan 14, the supper mentioned must be one and the same as the Passover seder described in the other Gospels.

The Proper Place for Typology: The “Last Supper” Question

The words “during supper” in John 13 brings us to another matter that should be discussed. Some have proposed that the “Last Supper” was a different meal than the Passover seder (notwithstanding that Scripture knows nothing of the expression “Last Supper”; the term is entirely a human invention). The idea that there might have been a “Last Supper,” a meal separate and different from the Passover seder, arises from the mistaken perception that this meal was prepared on Nisan 13 and eaten on Nisan 14, but the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb took place around 3 pm on Nisan 14 and was actually eaten on Nisan 15. By this understanding, and with a very rigid view of the typology of Christ as the Passover Lamb, it is said that the type/antitype relationship breaks down if Christ did not die at the exact same time as the Passover lambs.

But we have already seen above that Old Testament passages indicate that on the original Passover, the lambs were slaughtered and prepared as Nisan 14 was just beginning, on the heels of Nisan 13 in the early evening, not at 3 pm in the afternoon of Nisan 14. It is not as if the Passover typology breaks down, for we have seen the OT teaching is that the lambs were sacrificed on Nisan 14, the same day that Jesus suffered and died.

I am indebted to Keith Hunt (http://www.keithhunt.com/passover5.html) for pointing out several areas where typology cannot be pushed too far in equating the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb at the seder meal with the sacrificial death of Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”:

1. Jesus' blood was spilled at the cross, outside the city of Jerusalem, not in a house, as was the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:7 with the last chapters of the gospels).

2. The Passover lamb was slain by having its throat cut (the usual way to kill a sacrificial lamb or goat in Israel). Jesus was not slain in this manner as the gospels make plain.

3. Jesus' blood was not used in any specific way, it fell to the ground. The blood of the Passover lamb of Exodus 12 was used in a specific way (verse 7).

4. The lamb of Ex. 12 was roasted with fire (verse 8, 9).  Jesus was not killed by being burnt at the stake, but was crucified on a cross (see the gospels).

5. Nothing of the Passover lamb was to remain. That which was left over was to be burnt by fire (verse 10). The Messiah's body was not to see corruption (Ps. 16:10).

6. Jesus was beaten, bruised, buffeted, spit upon, and scourged, so He was greatly marred (Isa. 52:13, 14; 53:5, 7, 10). The Passover lamb was not treated this way before it was sacrificed in death.

7. Jesus was killed along with others (two others to be specific as the gospels show) - Isa. 53:12. The Passover lamb was the only one killed on the 14th for the Passover service and meal. The lamb of Ex.12 was not killed with one or more lambs during that service. There was one lamb killed for each group, not two or three.

8.  So severely beat (sic) was Jesus that it was foretold: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint....” (Ps. 22:14). This did not happen to the literal physical Passover lamb.

9.  Jesus was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12, 13; Mt. 26:14-16; 27:3-10). Nothing of this typology was done with the Passover lamb of Exodus 12.

It is possible to push the search for analogies too far. We have repeatedly seen above that the meal to be eaten is plainly called “the Passover” in the Gospels, and we should not use humanly-devised typology relationships to say that the plain sense of the biblical text is misleading and a different “Last Supper” is meant. I want to close this part of the study with one more quote from the amazingly lucid Keith Hunt, recorded at http://www.keithhunt.com/passover6.html:

Typology is good. Typology is used by God, but typology like some aspect of parables, BREAKS DOWN at points and is not necessarily meant to be carried over into the hundredth degree of everything stated or given.

The Passover lamb was slain and died at the BEGINNING of the 14th day. Jesus died towards the END of the 14th day. Was Christ to die at the beginning of the 14th like the Passover lamb did? No! There is NO SCRIPTURE in Exodus 12 that dogmatically asserts the Messiah was to die at the beginning of the 14th, just as there is no scripture to say He was to be put to death by being burnt at the stake, or roasted, as was the Passover lamb.

Typology is good if you use it CORRECTLY! It is like what Paul said about the law. “But we know that the law is good, IF a man use it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8).

Typology is also good IF you use it typologically lawfully and correctly!

Clearing Up Confusion in the Gospel of John

Returning to the Gospel accounts, we now look at some confusing passages in John:

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover (Jn. 18:28).

Since it takes place later on Nisan 14 after the Passover seder had already been eaten by all the Jews just after the close of Nisan 13 (following the prescriptions in Exodus, Leviticus, etc.), this verse must refer to the remaining festival meals of unleavened bread still to come, beginning with the high Sabbath meal of the coming evening, Nisan 15. There is no conflict here; “the Passover” in this verse refers to the entire Feast of Unleavened Bread, precisely as Luke 22:1 defined it: “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover.”

Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” (Jn. 19:14).

Since “day of preparation” consistently refers to the day before a Sabbath to get ready for it, that is how the expression should be understood here. John later (19:31, see below) mentions that the Sabbath in question was a “high” Sabbath. This means it was the Nisan 15 Sabbath connected with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. So this reference is not to slaughtering the Passover lamb and cooking the seder meal (which had already been done the evening before), but to getting ready for the upcoming high Sabbath that was part of the Passover-related festivities.

The Day of Preparation

At this point an observation on another source of potential confusion is called for: the words “prepare” and “day of preparation.” Whenever we find “day of preparation” mentioned in the Gospels, it refers to getting ready on the day before a Sabbath. The term has nothing to do with the day for slaughtering and cooking the Passover lamb, but to the day before a Sabbath. In the Old Testament, the Jews were instructed in the wilderness to gather manna each day, but not on the Sabbath, when no work was to be done. They were to prepare for the Sabbath by collecting on Friday a double supply of manna sufficient to cover the regular Sabbath as well. There was extra work to be done that day to get ready for the day when no work could be done. We need to beware lest we confuse preparing the Passover seder to eat with the “day of preparation.” The two things were quite distinct, and context makes it clear which is which.

The Jewish Use of Inclusive Dating

Apart from the question of whether there was a “day of preparation” preceding a Nisan 15 high Sabbath that did not land on a Saturday, it is theoretically possible for two Sabbaths to occur between Nisan 14 and the “first day of the week” when the Resurrection took place. This has been the crux of the debate between which date to choose for the Crucifixion. Sabbatarian calendars on the Internet, for example http://www.marieslibrary.com/PDF_Articles/JesusCalendar30AD.pdf, place the Passover of 30 AD on Wednesday, April 5 rather than the usual Friday, April 7. By their reckoning, Thursday (Nisan 15) was the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a high Sabbath of no work. Then Friday, Nisan 16, was the day of preparation for the regular Sabbath, on which it is supposed the women "bought" (purchased in the market) spices to anoint Jesus, but did nothing else. They just went to the market, purchased supplies, then went home to wait until the rest of that day and the Sabbath the followed it were over. Then the next day, Nisan 17, was the regular Saturday Sabbath, with the Lord rising from the dead during the early hours of Nisan 18, which would have been Sunday, April 9.

But isn’t that Wednesday-to-Sunday period too much time? Not by the calculations used by sabbatarian groups. They hold that Matthew 12:40 takes care of the problem: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Many, if not most, modern Americans would understand this passage, if read in isolation, as speaking of the passing of three full days—i.e., 72 hours. By tying this way of understanding Mt. 12:40 in with the idea of two Sabbaths between Wednesday and Sunday, a seemingly reasonable case can be made for the Crucifixion taking place in 30 AD, with the empty tomb being discovered the first day of the week. This superficially seems to work.

Except, a closer look shows it does not. We still have to deal with the matter of inclusive dating. Inclusive dating simply means that a measured period of time is reckoned to include the day the counting begins from. Consider, for example, the time covered by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. One Sabbath—the first day of the feast—is on Nisan 15. Using inclusive counting, Nisan 15 is also the first day of the Feast, making Nisan 21 the final, seventh day of the Feast. Other considerations also show the Jews used inclusive counting. The apostle Paul wrote:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…(1 Cor. 15:3-4).

He was raised on the third day. What day of the week was that? We have multiple Scriptures that unanimously declare it was “early on the first day of the week”:

And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb (Mk. 16:2).

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared (Lk. 24:1).

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb (Jn. 20:1).

The only way we can connect the first day of the week, Sunday, with the third day of entombment of Jesus’ body, is if Saturday (the regular Sabbath) was the second day of entombment, and Friday (Nisan 14) was the first day of the three-day count. This means the Resurrection took place early in the morning of a Sunday, Nisan 16.

But what about John 19:31? This verse tells us,

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.

On the surface this seems to complicate matters, seemingly indicating that the Sabbath in question was not the regular Saturday Sabbath of 33 AD, but the special Sabbath of Nisan 15 in 30 AD. But when we look closely at the calendar of 33 AD and understand that the Jews counted days inclusively, such that the “three days and three nights” of Mt.  12:40 was a Jewish idiom that in no way sets aside the inclusive counting norm, we see something fascinating: in the year 33 AD, the high Sabbath mandated by the Feast of Unleavened Bread landed on Saturday—the same day as the regular Sabbath! This allows John 19:31 to stand as written, “that Sabbath was a high day,” and not conflict in any way with inclusive counting back from the first day of the week that places the Crucifixion before the end of the day on Friday, Nisan 14, the day of “the LORD’s Passover.” It does conflict, however, with the sabbatarian understanding that Nisan 15 was on Thursday, April 6 in 30 AD.

[Addendum, 8/12/2018: Justin Martyr, in chapter 67 of his First Apology (ca. AD 155-157), wrote: "For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples..." (emphasis added). This is confirmation that at a very early date, the Church recognized the Roman "day of Saturn," i.e. Saturday, as the day that immediately followed the day of the Crucifixion. It also confirms that Sunday was the "third day" when the risen Lord appeared to His disciples. This is further solid historical evidence against any claims the Crucifixion took place on a Wednesday. Only a Friday crucifixion fits with what Justin Martyr wrote.]

Conclusions

It is time to wrap this up. We have seen that Old Testament passages about the Passover shed tremendous light on understanding otherwise confusing mentions of it in the Gospels. The Bible is truly a book that explains itself, a sure sign of the hand of God superintending over its writing that covered centuries. There are no conflicts between any of the Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion week, and the timeline of events taking place on Nisan 14 in particular is quite clear when the Old Testament passages cited are allowed to guide how we interpret things.

Despite this edification, however, I must confess some disappointment. I had entered into this study with the expectation that all researchers would work from a common calendar, and in my search for a calendar for 30 AD I settled upon one offered by the website http://www.cgsf.org/. Only after I had done a considerable amount of work did I realize, in a state of shock, that the calendars used there did not match up with those used for 30 AD by most of the evangelical world! The Church of God website gives the Passover of 30 AD on Wednesday, April 5. In contrast, the usual scholarly sources in the evangelical world uniformly place the Passover of 30 AD on Friday, April 7. So, too, does the United States Naval Observatory data at chart at http://www.judaismvschristianity.com/passover_dates.htm.

This difference in calendars has a tremendous impact on the research done so far. I had hoped to be able to show, from Scripture alone, that April 3, 33 AD was the only viable option for the date of the Crucifixion, because having the high Sabbath of the Passover week coincide with the regular Sabbath on Saturday that year makes everything “click.”  If Nisan 14 in 30 AD corresponded with April 5, taking account of inclusive dating would rule that year out, leaving April 3, 33 AD as the only viable choice.

Now, however, I am a bit wiser, if not much closer to my goal. When Nisan 14 of 30 AD is assigned not to April 5 but to April 7, we also have a combined high/regular Sabbath day on Saturday, April 8. Most of the arguments covered in this study that favor April 3, 33 AD thus apply equally well to April 7, 30 AD. The only real difference that I can see at this time is the impact of the lunar eclipse argument of Humphreys and Waddington. It would seem to rule out 30 AD as a possible Crucifixion date if it was strong. However, I am satisfied from my study so far that it is a weak argument that gives us no firm basis for choosing 33 AD over 30 AD for the Crucifixion. I wish it did, but in the face of the research by Schaefer I am not prepared to accept it.

So, the work continues in search of a better basis for making a choice between those two years. I am actually rather pleased that I can still view 30 AD as a candidate for the Crucifixion date, because it works much better with other conclusions that have come out of my eschatology research! But that is a story for another day.

(This article was slightly revised March 31, 2018.)

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ABRT 24 | 4/13/2019