|TIBERIUS - Year 15||
Luke 3:1, the fifteenth year of Tiberius
There are several views on the date that was the 15th of Tiberius. Pentecost discusses FIVE views in his masterful work, THE WORDS AND WORKS OF JESUS CHRIST (§§20-23, page 80). However, it seems that there are two main ones, with the others being considered minor.
William Hendriksen bypasses the minor views and discusses only the two main
But the fifth factor provides us with an analogy that helps us understand
Luke’s perspective in mentioning the 15th year of Tiberius.
In other words, Luke’s perspective on the “reign” of Annas indicates that he would view the reign of Tiberius in a similar manner. That is, viewing his co-regency with Augustus as functionally reigning. Thus, the “reign” of Tiberius through co-regency with Augustus would have started in A.D. 11, making his year 15 to be A.D. 26. Of course, the debate centers around the issue of exactly WHEN the reign of Tiberius began. Those who hold to view (b) begin the reign of Tiberius on August 19, A.D. 14, at the death of Emperor Augustus. Accordingly, John’s ministry would have begun in A.D. 28 or even 29.
Hendriksen gives 3 arguments in favor of this, and 3 counter-arguments in his footnote #166 on page 198.
166. Arguments in favor of theory (b): (I) The starting point for Luke's fifteenth year (Luke 3:1) must be A.D. 14, and not an earlier date, for "the princeps never dated his reign from the time when the great Augustus was still alive, nor do other sources for that era." (2) The indirect threat of the Jews to appeal to Caesar against Pilate John 19:12) would not have been likely before the fall of the anti-Semite Sejanus in October of the year A.D. 31. The pro-Jewish policy of Tiberius did not begin until after that date. Therefore A.D. 30 cannot be correct as the date of Christ's crucifixion; neither can A.D. 26 be correct as the date for the beginning of John's ministry. These dates are too early.
(3) Eusebius (Chronicon ii, ed. Migne, p. 535) states that Christ suffered "in the 19th year of the reign of Tiberius," i.e., in A.D. 33. This also makes the date for the beginning of John's ministry (and the date for the beginning of Christ's ministry) considerably later than A.D. 26. This is only a summary. For the argument fully stated see P. L. Maier, Pontius Pilate, Garden City, N.Y., 1968, pp. 364, 365; also that author's article "Sejanus, Pilate, and the Date of the Crucifixion," Church History XXXVII (March, 1968), pp. 3-13. Regardless of whether or not one is convinced by these arguments, it must be admitted that Maier's book on Pilate is very informative and interesting. The professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University has already written much that is definitely worthwhile. Note, for example, his splendid article, “The Empty Tomb as History," Christianity Today, Vol. XIX, No. 13 (March 28, 1975). And as to Luke 3:1, 2, etc., the reader should by all means study what Maier himself says about it, and not depend solely on my attempt to summarize his views. Read also the fine article by H. H. Rowdon, “The Historical and Political Background and Chronology of the New Testament" in A New Testament Commentary, by C. D. Howley, F. F. Bruce, H. L. Ellison, eds., Grand Rapids, 1969, pp. 57-66. That article leans toward Maier's view, that is, in the direction of theory (b).
The following counter-arguments, however, deserve consideration: Anent (1). "We get nowhere by considering how Tiberius himself counted the years of his reign or how these years were generally counted. What matters is how Luke counted them." Thus Greijdanus, who, as is pointed out in the text, believes that Luke was thinking of actual, not merely formal, years of reign, as his reference to Annas-Caiaphas clearly indicates.
Anent (2). In view of the well-known suspicious character of Tiberius, who did not refrain from putting to death anyone who was reported to be aiming to seize power, the argument with respect to the emperor's change of policy from anti-Jewish to pro-Jewish is rather weak. See the article on Tiberius in Encyclopedia Britannica, 19.69, Vol. 21, pp. 1105, 1106, and consult the works mentioned in the Bibliography at the close of that article.
(3). There is in existence the much earlier testimony of
Tertullian (Against Marcion I.xv), that "the
Lord has been revealed since the twelfth year
of Tiberius Caesar." This testimony, which, as generally interpreted, refers
to Jesus' baptism and the beginning of his public ministry, when he was indeed
"revealed" to the people, harmonizes beautifully with theory (a), but cannot
be reconciled with theory (b). (Page 198)
First of all, “In Luke 3:1, 2 the analogy with the Annas-Caiaphas reference
confirms that conclusions that Luke is thinking of the actual reign of
Tiberius, which began with the latter’s coregency, and that he is not
thinking of Tiberius’ sole rulership which began at the time of the death of
Vol. I, p. 149. So also Lenski, op. cit.,
p. 109; and see W. Manson, op. cit.,
Secondly, according to Josephus, Antiquities XV.380, Herod the Great began to build Jerusalem’s temple in the eighteenth year of his reign (which began in 37 B.C.), hence in the year 19 B.C. According to the testimony of the Jews, as recorded in John 2:20, when Jesus attended the first Passover of his public ministry that temple had been in the process of building for forty-six years. This would make the date for that Passover A.D. 27. Therefore the beginning of Christ’s ministry could well have been the latter part of A.D. 26 and the Baptist’s first public appearance could have occurred a half year earlier.
Thirdly, it is agreed by several scholars that the events surrounding Christ’s
birth as described in Matt. 2 indicate that the birth itself occurred shortly
before the death of Herod the Great. That king died on or before April 4 of
the year 4 B.C. Therefore acceptance of late 5 B.C. as the date of Christ’s
birth is not unreasonable. If with this result we compare Luke 3:23 – “Now
Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry,” we again
arrive at the close of A.D. 26 as the date of the beginning of that ministry,
and at a date of a half year earlier (see Luke 1:36) for the beginning of
John’s ministry. A. B. Bruce, though not taking a definite stand in this
debate, points out that the date A.D. 26 – rather than A.D., 28/29 – “agrees
with Luke 3:23.” (168. The Synoptic Gospels [The Expositor’s Greek Testament,
Vol. I, the section on Luke, pp. 458-651 of that volume],
no date, p. 480.).
Though there are various ways in which the force of these arguments can be whittled down, and, as stated earlier, absolute certainty is impossible, I believe it has been shown that up to the present time the traditional view – that is theory (a) – has not been annihilated. (page 199).
Pentecost, in discussing the date of the crucifixion offers some arguments against view (a) as being most probable, but they are easily countered.
This leaves only two plausible dates for the crucifixion, namely,
A.D. 30 and 33. There are a great number of scholars who hold to A.D. 30 as
the date of Christ's crucifixion. However, if one accepts John's ministry
beginning in Tiberius' fifteenth year, A.D. 28/29 (Luke 3:1-2), then Christ
would have had a ministry of only about one year. There are those who follow
Ramsay by stating that one must reckon from the time of the decree when
Tiberius became co-regent with Augustus. This would make the commencement of
John's ministry around A.D. 25/26 and Jesus' ministry shortly thereafter. This
view is untenable for the following two reasons. First, there is no evidence,
either from historical documents or coins, that Tiberius' reign was ever
reckoned from his co-regency. On the contrary his reign is always reckoned
from the time he became sole ruler after Augustus' death on
August 19, A.D. 14.
This has already been answered by recognizing that Luke is not reckoning according to the secular standard. He is viewing it from the standpoint of the FUNCTIONAL reign of Tiberius.
Pentecost is making an assumption when he states that the Jews had in mind “the temple edifice.” This of course is another point of debate, but many scholars reject the assumption made by Pentecost.
Merrill F. Unger writes of Herod’s temple in ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE NEW TESTAMENT, page 99. “This magnificent enterprise was begun in 20-19 B.C., and although the sanctuary proper was finished in a year and half, the larger plan envisioned by the monarch was not completed until A.D. 64. In Jesus’ day the Pharisees declared that the temple already had been in the process of construction for forty-six years (John 2:20).”
J.W. Shepard in his classic THE CHRIST OF THE GOSPELS, translates John 2:20 as "Forty-six years this temple was abuilding and will you raise it up in three days?” (emphasis mine). (page 95).
A.T. Robertson confirms, “As a matter of fact, it was not yet finished, so distrustful had the Jews been of Herod.” (WORD PICTURES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, The Fourth Gospel, verse 2:20).
William Hendriksen in THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, New Testament Commentary, page 125-126 adds some details.
“Because of their unbelief and darkened minds they now point to the fact (note 64 – Note the Aorist [tense]. Though it had taken forty-six years, yet the entire building process over all these years is here viewed as one fact) that the temple has been in process of building for forty-six years. (For chronology see Fl. Josephus, Antiquities, Bk. 15, xi; E. Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, sec. ed. I, I, 438; and our Bible Survey, pp. 61, 415.) Herod the Great began to reign in the year 37 B. C., and, according to Josephus, began building the temple in the eighteenth year of his reign; hence, in the year 20-19 B.C. So, in the Spring of 27 A.D. the Jews could say that it had already taken forty-six years to build their temple. It is interesting to note that this grand structure was not finished until . . . just a few years before it was destroyed by the Romans!
In conclusion, the weight of probability lies with view
(a). It seems that the only reason one would reject (a) in favor of (b) is an
insistence that the year of the crucifixion must be 33 A.D. instead of 30 A.D.
However, it seems to me that one cannot start with a preferred crucifixion
date and go BACKWARD to establish the date of Tiberius' 15th year. And yet,
once one accepts a particular year for Tiberius' 15th, it is reasonable then
to use that to help establish the year of the crucifixion.
©Ron Wallace, http://www.biblefragrances.com.
Anyone is free to reproduce this material and distribute it,