How Long Was Jesus’ Ministry?

A friend asked:

Tim, where do you come down on Jesus ministry being only One year in length and not three years ? Is there a source I can read more about it ?

The length of Jesus’ ministry is not a topic most Christians wonder about. They are universally taught that it was 3½ years long. What they do not realize without personal investigation is that this is only one traditional teaching of several possibilities ranging from 1 – 3 years in length.

I, too, did not realize this for decades as a believer…until meeting Michael Rood. He was teaching a ministry of Jesus of only about a year, or 62 weeks to be exact (70 if you include Jesus’ work up until Pentecost as a glorified man appearing intermittently). This fell in line with what Daniel 9 says about the Messiah being cut off after 62 weeks (Dan 9:26). While the weeks are traditionally interpreted as groups of seven years, not literal weeks of days, in prophecy, there often are dual fulfillments. This allows for both weeks of years and (normal) weeks of days to be intended by the passage. In other words, Jesus died after exactly 62 weeks in ministry as the ministering servant Messiah (from the day John baptized him when he was baptized by the Holy Spirit descending as a dove).

Origins of the 70 Week Ministry

When I asked Michael where he got this theory, he told me about a conference he went to where a couple scholars were teaching it. They claimed that the oldest Greek manuscript fragment for part of the Gospel of John had a different reading than most Bibles follow. I think it was John 6 which in most Bibles has:

John 6:4 (HCSB) Now the Passover, a Jewish festival, was near.

However, in this oldest fragment that the Critical Apparatus of the Nestle Aland had for that chapter, that verse was missing. If the oldest fragment preserved the original, then that verse was not original to John but added later by some scribe.

Michael Rood was intrigued but thought at the time that these scholars were just trying to be controversial to make a name for themselves. Later when he tried to resolve difficulties in The Chronological Gospels (his next book), this bit of trivia came in handy to resolve there being huge gaps in the narrative.

The gaps occurred because certain verses in John inserted extra Passovers without any account of Jesus observing them nor the other of the intervening three annual pilgrimage feasts which the Torah required all males to attend (Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles). If these Passover accounts were accurate, then Jesus would be breaking Torah which he said he came to fulfill and not to destroy. It would also simply be inconsistent with all the other festivals we see recorded that he always attended like the obedient Jew that he was.

Michael found that two of the four Passovers ascribed to Jesus’ 3½ year ministry were not defensible. John 6:4 did not exist and John 5:1 generic festival reference was not Passover as is normally assumed, but another festival. This left two Passovers, the one soon after the start of his ministry in John 2:23 and the one he died on. Thus, rather than a ministry of over three years, Jesus had a ministry of just over one year (62 weeks) just as some Church fathers had already said.

Why Getting Jesus’ Ministry Length Right Matters

Like Michael, I was not looking for an alternative theory for Jesus ministry either when I encountered it. It just fell into my lap and I accepted it as superior to the 3½ year ministry theory on that merit alone. I did not realize then how key it was that I learned this.

Years later in other research I found compelling research for the correct years of Jesus birth and death: Fall 3 BCE and Spring 30 AD, respectively. These years only leave room for a life span of 31 years, not the 33 years that you need to make a 3½ year ministry beginning at age 30 fit. Only a short one year ministry works. If I still believed the 3½ year ministry at the time of the discovery of those two data points, I probably would have rejected one of this as wrong when all along it was the 3½ year ministry that was wrong. (Note: when you find the difference between 3 BCE and 30 AD be sure to subtract 1 for no year zero! And another 1 because Jesus died six months before his birthday that year. If you don’t, you’ll end up with an age at death of 33 or 32 instead of 31.)

This year of 29 AD for the start of Jesus’ ministry was later confirmed when I discovered that Jesus’ ministry must begin in a Sabbath year. This is derived from his public reading of Isaiah 61:1-2, a declaration of a Sabbath year in Luke 4:18-20 at the start of his ministry. When I researched Sabbath year records, I found the best-supported theory had a Sabbath year fall from Spring 28 to Spring 29 AD (documented in my book). This Sabbath year cycle is the basis for all the many possible years of fulfillment of the 70th week on, since Jesus must return in a Sabbath year, the final year of the 70th Week. (In this way, his two comings are parallel. Both come in the Sabbath year end of one of the 70 Prophetic Weeks: the 62nd or 69th and the 70th respectively.)

If you want to learn more on Jesus one year ministry, check out Michael Rood’s Jonah Code.