by the evangelist as purely figurative, and is therefore destitute of all historical meaning.
On the whole, the Baptism of Christ should probably be placed in A.D. 26-27; and as the Nativity was placed in 7-6 B.C. (at latest), this would make the age of Christ at his Baptism to be about thirty-two, which tallies well enough with St Luke’s general estimate.
4. The interval between the Baptism and the Crucifixion, or, in other words, the duration of the public ministry of Christ.
(a) Evidence of the Synoptic Tradition and of St Mark’s Gospel (ii. 23, vi. 39, xiv. 1).—The order of events in the primitive synoptic tradition appears to be faithfully reproduced in St Mark; and if this order is chronological, Christ’s ministry lasted at least two years, since the plucking of the ears of corn (April-June) marks a first spring; the feeding of the five thousand when the grass was fresh green (χλωρός: about March), a second; and the Passover of the Crucifixion a third: and these three points are so far removed from one another in the narrative that the conclusion would hold, even if the general arrangement in St Mark were only roughly, and not minutely, chronological. On the other hand, it may be true that an impression of a briefer period of ministry naturally results, and in early generations did actually result, from the synoptic account considered as a whole.
(b) Evidence of St Luke’s Gospel (ix. 51-xix. 28 compared with iv. 14-ix. 50; iv. 19).—Still stronger is the impression of brevity suggested by St Luke. The second and larger half of the narrative of the ministry is introduced at ix. 51 with the words, “It came to pass as the days of His assumption were coming to the full, He set His face firmly to go to Jerusalem,” under which phrase the evangelist cannot have meant to include more than a few months, perhaps not more than a few weeks; so that even if the earlier and shorter half of the account, which describes a purely Galilean ministry (“Judaea” in iv. 44, if it is the true reading, means Judaea in the sense of Palestine), is to be spread over a longer period of time, the combined narrative can hardly have been planned on the scale of more than a single year. St Luke himself may have understood literally, like so many of his readers in ancient times, the reference which he records to the “acceptable year of the Lord” (iv. 19 = Isaiah lxi. 2): see, too, above, 3 (a) ad fin.
(c) Evidence of St John’s Gospel (ii. 13, “the Passover of the Jews was near,” and 23, “He was in Jerusalem at the Passover at the feast”; v. 1, “after these things was a feast [or ‘the feast’] of the Jews”; vi. 4, “and the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near”; vii. 2, “and the feast of the Jews, the Tabernacles, was near”; x. 22, “at that time the feast of dedication took place at Jerusalem”; xi. 55, “and the Passover of the Jews was near”: besides iv. 35, “say ye not that there is yet a period of four months and harvest cometh? behold, I tell you, lift up your eyes and see the fields that they are white to harvest”). This catena of time-references is of course unique in the Gospels as a basis for a chronology of the ministry; and it is not reasonable to doubt (with Loisy, loc. cit., who suggests that the aim was to produce an artificial correspondence of a three and a half years’ ministry with the half-week of Daniel; but many and diverse as are the early interpretations of Daniel’s seventy weeks, no one before Eusebius thought of connecting the half-week with the ministry), that the evangelist intended these notices as definite historical data, possibly for the correction of the looser synoptic narratives and of the erroneous impressions to which they had given rise. Unfortunately, difficulties, either (i.) of reading, or (ii.) of interpretation, or (iii.) of arrangement, have been raised with regard to nearly all of them; and these difficulties must be briefly noticed here.
(i.) Readings (α) v. 1. ἑορτή A B D, Origen, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, Paschal Chronicle; ἡ ἑορτή אCLΔ 1-118, 33, the Egyptian versions, Eusebius, Cyril-Alex. (Irenaeus?). The balance of internal evidence—copyists being more likely to accentuate than to diminish the precision of a note of time—inclines, like the balance of external evidence, against the article, (β) vi. 4, τὸ πάσχα is read by all known MSS. and versions; but it has been argued by Hort (in Westcott’s and Hort’s New Testament in Greek, appendix, pp. 77-81) that four ancient authorities omitted the words, and that their omission simplifies the whole chronology, since “the feast” which was “near” in vi. 4 would then be identical with the feast of Tabernacles mentioned in vii. 2, and all the time-notices of the Gospel could be arranged to fall within the space of a single year, between the Passover of ii. 13 and the Passover of xi. 55. But of the four authorities alleged, Irenaeus (11. xxii. 3 [xxxiii. i]) and the Alogi (ap. Epiphanius, Haer. li. 22) were giving catalogues of Passovers “observed” by Christ (at Jerusalem), and therefore naturally omitted a mere chronological reference like vi. 4: Cyril of Alexandria, in so far as his evidence is adverse to the words, appears to be incorporating a passage from the Commentary of Origen, not extant in loc.; and the only writer who perhaps really did omit the words—with the view, no doubt, of reconciling the witness of the fourth Gospel with the then widely spread tradition of the single-year ministry—is Origen himself.
(ii.) Interpretation (α) iv. 35: which is to be taken literally, the “four months to harvest” (about January), or the “fields white to harvest” (about May)? It does not seem possible to rule out either interpretation; the choice between them will follow from the view taken of the general chronological arrangement of the Gospel. (β) v. i.: if “the feast” is read, a choice remains between Passover and Tabernacles (the definite article would not be very definite after all); if the more probable “a feast,” the greater feasts are presumably excluded, but a choice remains between, at any rate, Pentecost (May), Trumpets (September), Dedication (December) and Purim (February). Here again the decision will follow on the general chronological arrangement which may be adopted.
(iii.) Arrangement.—So far the amount of possible latitude left is not so great as to obscure the main outline of the chronology. For a first (ii. 13, 20), second (vi. 4), and third (xi. 55) Passover are established, with two indeterminate notices (iv. 35, v. 1) between the first and second, and two determinate notices (vii. 2 Tabernacles in October, x. 22 Dedication in December) between the second and third. But of late years an increasing desire has been manifested, especially in Germany and America, to manipulate the fourth Gospel on grounds of internal evidence, at first only in the way of particular transpositions of more or less attractiveness, but latterly also by schemes of thorough-going rearrangement. The former class of proposals will as a rule hardly affect the chronology of the Gospel; the latter will affect it vitally. The distinction here drawn may be illustrated from the earliest instance of the former and one of the latest of the latter. In 1871 Archdeacon J. P. Norris (Journal of Philology) wished to transpose chapters v. and vi.—ch. vi. was, like ch. xxi., a Galilean appendix, and was inserted by mistake at somewhat too late a point in the body of the Gospel—and to read “the feast” in v. 1, identifying it with the Passover which was near in vi. 4: in any case, whether “the feast” = Passover, or “a feast” = Pentecost, were read in v. 1, the transposition would not affect the two years’ ministry. In 1900 Professor B. W. Bacon (American Journal of Theology, p. 770) proposed a rearrangement of the whole Gospel, according to which the time-notices would occur in the following order: vi. 4, Passover is near; iv. 35, the fields white to harvest = May; v. 1, “a feast” = Pentecost; vii. 2, Tabernacles; x. 22, Dedication; xi. 55, Passover is near; xii. 1, Jesus at Bethany six days before Passover; ii. 13, Passover is near and Jesus goes up to Jerusalem (ii. 23, an interpolation) for the Passover of the Crucifixion; and the ministry would thus be reduced to a single year. Such a scheme does not lend itself to discussion here; but as far as evidence is at present obtainable, the conclusion that the fourth evangelist drew up his narrative on the basis of a two years’ rather than a one year’s ministry appears to be irrefragable.
Not only do the fourth and second Gospels thus agree in indications of a two years’ ministry, but the notes of the middle spring of the three (John vi. 4; Mark vi. 39) both belong to the feeding of the 5000, one of the few points of actual contact Detween the two Gospels.
The question, however, may still be raised, whether these time-indications of the two Gospels are exhaustive, whether (that is) two years, and two years only, are to be allotted to the ministry. Irenaeus (ii. xxii. 3-6 [xxxiii. 1-4]), in favour of a ministry of not less than ten years, appeals (i.) to the tradition of Asia Minor; (ii.) to the record in St John that Christ, who was thirty years old at the time of his baptism, was addressed by the Jews as “not yet [i.e. nearly] fifty years old”: but both his arguments are probably derived from a single source, Papias’s interpretation of John viii. 57. With this exception, however, all ancient writers, whether they enumerated two or three or four Passovers in the Gospel history, believed that the enumeration was exhaustive; and their belief appears correctly to represent the mind of the author of the Fourth Gospel, seeing that his various notes of time were probably in intentional contrast to the looser synoptic accounts. Moreover, the wide currency in early times of the tradition of the single-year ministry (Ptolemaeus,