Dating Jesus: A Theoretical Presuppositional Analysis of the Historicity of the Death, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ

Presupposing the Authority of the Text

The purpose of this article is to attempt to find the day in which Jesus was born, crucified, buried, and resurrected from the Scriptures alone. One of the many fallacies that students of Scripture commit is attempting to make relevant the records and truth claims made throughout Scripture by supporting them with corroborating external evidences. It is called the evidential fallacy. Presupposing that Scripture is inspired of God and God-breathed as it claims to be,[1] we can also assume that the original autographs are thus infallible, immutable, and are as inerrant as the Author. Furthermore, to date, we have in knowledge of existence 5,838 manuscripts a witness to the destroyed or missing autographs. Biblical Scholars, such as Norman Geisler, William Nix, and Bruce Metzger, commit that they remain 99.5-99.6% pure to each other, strongly affirming their purity to the original autographs.[2]

Both Geisler and Nix noted that “when a comparison is made of the variant readings of the New Testament with those of other books which have survived from antiquity, the results are little short of astounding… In light of the fact that there are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, some 9,000 versions and translations, the evidence for the integrity of the New Testament is beyond question.”[3] They continued in their co-authored book From God to Us that though the manuscripts together contain some 200,000 variances, they occurred in only 10,000 places and are only variant for the most part in punctuation, spelling, and/or grammar.

Therefore, when we question the dating claims made within Scripture, we question the accuracy of the whole of Scripture together. So, we must prevent ourselves from desperately reaching for external evidence to corroborate Scriptural statements; but allow the text to speak and accept the testimony of the text with a presumption of accuracy. History is subject to changes as new observations are made and thus are less absolute and reliable.

It is important to remain unbiased and outside while interpreting the text.

Traditionally Assumed Date

The reason we begin with the death and resurrection before the birth is first due to the culture of the gospel writers. Birth is less significant than death, and especially so for the Messiah whose prophecies were mostly concerned with His death; Him being the substitutionary atonement for sin of the world. As a result, there is less significance shown in the gospels of His birth than His death. (Only two gospels include His birth, while all four record His death, for instance.)

Most traditionalists concur that Jesus was crucified on Friday April 3, 33. A.D. The main reason for this is due to the records of all four gospels claiming that He died mere hours before the beginning of the Sabbath (nightfall on a Friday). But I will show why I believe that this date is wrong.

The Hebraic Calendar – Night and Day

The Jewish calendar is a bit different from the Gregorian calendar internationally accepted today.

It is common knowledge that Pope Gregory XIII issued a papal bull called the Inter Gravissimas in 1582 establishing the self-named calendar. The establishment of the new calendar refined the Julian calendar by 0.002% correcting the length in the modern measured year.[4] The Julian calendar was a creation of an Alexandrian astronomer who was consulted by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C., replacing the Roman calendar. It included 365 days divided into 12 months with a leap day in February every four years, just as the Gregorian of today. However, it introduced an error of an added day every 128 years, requiring a shift backwards to adjust for the error.[5] Each of these calendars, including the Roman calendar are called solar calendars because they each indicate the position of Earth on its revolution around the Sun (or the apparent position of the sun moving on the celestial sphere).

The Jewish calendar, however, is a lunisolar calendar because it is measured from full moon to full moon with regard to the solar season (summer, winter, etc.)(12.4 months in a year). The calculation of days is based on a fixed twenty-four hours, but the beginning of each halachic day begins at the time of sunset. This comes from the Genesis account that began each day of creation with evening, and then morning[6] and the observation of Sabbath concurs.[7] Therefore, if we were referring to a day of the Jewish week, we would actually be referring to the previous evening and following morning in the Gregorian calendar. For instance, the 10th of November, 2015 (Gregorian) would be 29 Cheshvan 5776 (Jewish). If, however, we were referring to the 10th of November of the same year after nightfall, then we are actually be referring to 29th Cheshvan 5776, rather than the 28th.

Hours are measured in Scripture by the time of the sun on the local surface of the earth. For instance, if the text claims that something happened at the fifth hour of the day, they are counting from the break of the morning sun five hours (approximately 11AM). Most accurately assume the sunrise in Israel to be around six in the morning. Of course, it is impossible to measure from the sunrise of a recorded date in history, especially one as distant as the crucifixion of Jesus. However, the time should be accurate within the range of an hour.

Analyzing the Dates

Passover

Within Scripture, there are specific holidays that were required to be observed by the Israelites according the Mosaic Covenant laws. Of these that are of importance to this topic is the Passover (Pesach). Moses accounts for the enslavement of Israel in Egypt, the ten plagues that God performed to show His glory to His people, and the eventual exodus from the land.

[Exodus 12:2, NASB] “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.”

Israel just entered a vernal equinox established by God. We know this because God was about to instruct Israel to prepare for the Passover. These preliminary days are referred to as the days of preparation: “On the tenth of [the first] month they are each on to take a lamb for [each household]… Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old… You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight” (Ex 12:3-6). So here, we read there are three days of preparation before the lamb is killed just before sunset on the third day.

The first month in the Jewish calendar as derived from Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) is called Nisan. Nisan 1 is marked by the new moon. According to the text, Nisan 10 would be the start of the days of preparation where they would select an unblemished year-old male lamb for the Passover. On the 13th of Nisan, shortly before sunset, the Lamb would be killed and consumed after sunset on the 14th of Nisan. “Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat [the lamb]. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs… whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire.”[8] Josephus, the Jewish historian, recorded in Wars that the Passover lamb was traditionally killed between 3 and 5PM, which is consistent with 6AM to 6PM daylight time. Thus, while the lamb was killed before sunset, the lamb was consumed after sunset. Any of it that was left over would be destroyed the following day.

Therefore, Passover began with the days of preparation on from 10-13 Nisan. On the twilight of 14 Nisan, the lamb would be killed, and consumed on 14 Nisan just after sunset.[9] The second evening, also the first day of Unleavened Bread, would include a second feast.[10] Passover would thus be concluded seven days after the lamb was first sacrificed and consumed (21 Nisan). The first and last day of Unleavened Bread was considered High Sabbath (15 and 21 Nisan) which took place the day after Passover and day eight.[11] This Sabbath was to be treated just like the weekly Sabbath rest, only it was in consideration for the Passover, rather than the weekly purpose, and so was a “higher” Sabbath than the weekly rest.

Resurrection

As aforementioned, arguments circulate that Jesus died on April 3, AD 33. To be clear, the Bible does not explicitly specify the precise date of Jesus’ birth, death, or resurrection and this is not an essential truth. However, this is still knowable and not unimportant, considering that the clues for the dates would otherwise be irrelevantly included within all four gospels. But in most arguments I have heard assume an AD 33 date and calculate forward from the date John the Baptist began his ministry as suggested by the “fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.”[12] Others, begin with relative dates beginning at His birth from the date of King Herod the Great’s death in historically recorded 4 B.C.

However, the argument we would make would start from a place of explicit statements from Scripture and by result begin from His resurrection and calculate backwards. In doing so, we can assert a more focused range of possible dates for His birth.

[Matthew 28:1-2, NASB] “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.”

[Mark 16:1-2, NASB] “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen… Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.”

[Luke 24:1-2, NASB] “[O]n the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women who had come with Him out of Galilee] came to the tomb brining the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.”

[John 20:1, NASB] “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb when it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.”

From these texts we can surmise that Jesus was found risen on the first day of the week. The first day of the week according to the Jewish calendar is from Saturday sunset to Sunday evening. But we also know that the two women came just before or just at dawn. That means that Jesus could have risen at any time between the early evening of Saturday to the early morning of Sunday. Traditionally, it is assumed that He rose on Sunday morning, however, it is entirely possible that He rose on Saturday after nightfall and the discovery of His resurrection was all that took place the following Sunday morning (still the same Jewish day).

Crucifixion

This allows us to suppose that Jesus resurrected at any time between Saturday after sunset to Sunday before sunrise – the beginning of Yom Rishon. Let’s move on!

Most automatically assume that He was dead and buried on Friday due to tradition or even a misunderstanding of the text. But we are not restricted to assuming Him dead and buried before weekly Sabbath on Friday.

[Matthew 26:17-18, NASB] Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare You to eat the Passover?” And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, ‘My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.’’”

[Mark 14:12-16, NASB] On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?” And He sent two of His disciples and said to them, “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.

[Luke 22:7-13, NASB] Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.” They said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare it?” And He said to them, “When you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters. And you shall say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples’ And he will show you a large, furnished upper room; prepare it there.” And they left and found everything just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover.

[John 13:1-2, NASB] Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would 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, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him…

Clearly this meal of which He is partaking with His disciples is the Passover Seder on the first day of Unleavened Bread. Many claim that this is the day before Passover reasoning that Jesus is our Passover Lamb and thus must have been crucified and dead at the same time that the Jews were slaying the lamb for Passover. And they can support this with verses which explain that the Pharisees did not want to have Jesus killed “during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.”[13] Still others assert that the meal eaten was Erev Pesach (the eve of Passover and not the actual Passover meal). However, after Jesus was crucified, the Jews asked Pilate that the legs of the three crucified that day be broken “so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the [high] Sabbath.”[14]

Conclusion

When we calculate three days backwards from the night of His resurrection, we do not arrive on a Friday as has been traditionally affirmed, but on Thursday; specifically, Thursday after nightfall. Thus, Thursday nightfall would mark the high Sabbath, and that previous Wednesday night would have been Passover Seder. Thus, we would assume that since Jesus ate the Passover Seder with His disciples, it would have been a Wednesday night; the same night He would have been arrested soon afterwards, tried, and ultimately crucified the following Thursday morning, which is still the day of Passover. So it appears, according to the text, that the final week of Jesus’ life in the flesh would have looked something like this:

Time of Jesus’ death:
Thursday, April 5 A.D.30 (14 NIssan 3791), 3pm (approx.), 

Time of LIFE!:
April 9, A.D. 30 (18 Nissan 3791), early morning.

Have a Happy Resurrection Day this year!!


REFERNCES

[1] 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20

[2] Metzger, Bruce M. “Trends in the Textual Criticism of the Iliad, the Mahabharata, and the New Testament.” Journal of Biblical Literature 65.4 (1946): 339.

[3] Geisler, Norman L., and William E. Nix. From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible. Chicago: Moody, 2012.

[4] Time and Date AS. “The Gregorian Calendar.” Time and Date. Stavanger, Norway. Steffen Thorsen, 2015.

[5] Time and Date AS. “The Julian Calendar.” Time and Date. Stavanger, Norway. Steffen Thorsen, 2015.

[6] Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31

[7] Leviticus 23:32

[8] Exodus 12:7-10

[9] Leviticus 23:4-5; Numbers 28:16

[10] Leviticus 23:6; Numbers 28:17

[11] Leviticus 23:7-8; Numbers 28:18, 25

[12] Luke 3:1

[13] Matthew 26:5-6; Mark 14:1-2

[14] Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:31

By |2018-03-30T09:38:15+00:00April 11th, 2017|arguments, blog|0 Comments

About the Author:

Aaron Gilmore is a Christian Apologist and is the founder and president of Bereans Aflame founded in 2014. He is husband and father to four children and serves diversely in his local church. Currently, he heads the IT Department at a Dallas-Fort Worth vocation center instructing students in IT certifications. He is a student at Lamar University in Texas studying for his B.S. in Communications. He plans to continue his education and attend Southern Evangelical Seminary for his Masters of Divinity in Apologetics, and ultimately his Doctorates in Philosophy.