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John, Elijah and the time of Christ's birth

Discussion in 'Eschatology - Endtimes & Prophecy Forum' started by aChristian, Apr 16, 2002.

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  1. aChristian

    aChristian Member

    Some believe that Christ must have been born in about 2 BC. They usually do so because Luke 3:23 tells us that Jesus was "about 30" when he started his ministry, and 30 years before 29 AD, "the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar" ( Luke 3:1 ), was the year 2 BC. However, most New Testament historians tell us Christ's birth must have occurred between the years 6 and 4 BC. They tell us this because Herod the Great, who sought to kill the new born Jesus by ordering the killing of all children 2 years old and under, is known to have died in 4 BC. And the Bible indicates Herod died after ordering these murders. ( Matt. 2 ) So, if Herod died in 4 BC and died after Christ's birth, then Jesus must have been born before 4 BC.

    The evidence confirming Herod's death in 4 BC consists partly of a lunar eclipse which the Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us occurred near the time of Passover in the year Herod died. ( Astronomers have dated this eclipse to March 11, 4 BC. ) But there is also much other evidence confirming the fact that Herod died in 4 BC. An article presenting much of this evidence can be read here: http://doig.net/NTC04.html

    In support of their 2 BC date for Christ's birth, some contend that astronomers have improperly identified the eclipse Josephus referred to in the year Herod died. They say that the eclipse he spoke of is one which occurred on January 8th of 1 BC, despite the fact that this date is not "near the time of Passover." Their reluctance to agree with the historical record seems to be entirely based on the fact that if Jesus was born in about 5 BC, as most Bible encyclopedias now tell us, he would have been about three years past the age of 30, which Luke tells us Jesus was "about" ( Luke 3:23 ) when he began his ministry, "in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar." ( Luke 3:1 )

    I believe the solution to this problem can be found by taking a closer look at the word Luke used in Luke 3:23 which has been widely translated as "about." That Greek word is "hosei." Bible historians who date the birth of Christ to about 5 BC believe that Luke's saying that Jesus was "about 30" in 29 AD allows room for us to understand that Jesus could have been 2 or 3 years past 30 when he began his ministry. They also tell us that "hosei," the word Luke chose to use before the number 30, actually indicates a greater indefiniteness than the Greek word "hos" which Luke used elsewhere to convey the thought that the number he mentioned may not have been exactly as stated. And, Greek lexicons indicate that "hosei" may have actually been used here by Luke to mean more than just "about." They show that Luke may have used this Greek word to say that Jesus was then beginning his ministry "as if" he were 30, "as though" he were 30, "like" he was 30 or since he "had already been" 30. Why? Because Jewish men usually began their service to God at age 30 and were not permitted to do so before that age.

    Those who believe that Christ was born in 2 BC argue against such understandings. However, I have found what I consider to be strong biblical evidence which clearly shows that Christ must have been born in the Fall of 5 BC. I believe the Bible very clearly indicates that John the baptist began his ministry 3 and 1/2 years before Jesus began his ministry. If this is true, and Jesus began his ministry in the fall of 29 AD, as most New Testament historians tell us, then John must have begun his ministry in the Spring of 26 AD. And since John was a Levite, and Levites according to the Jewish law began their service to God at age 30 (Numbers 4:1-3, 21-23, 29-30, 34-35, 46-49), then John must have been born in the Spring of 5 BC. And since John was about six months older than Jesus, as scripture indicates (Luke 1:36), then Jesus must have been born in the Fall of 5 BC.

    So, I believe Christ's birth can be properly dated by accurately identifying the length of time John preached before he baptized Christ. And if we find that he did so for three and a half years then we can confidently assign a 5 BC date to Christ's birth. I am now thoroughly convinced that John began his ministry three and a half years before Jesus Christ's ministry began. How did I become convinced of this? By answering the following questions.

    Why was John the baptist prophetically referred to as Elijah? (Malachi 4:5,6; Matt. 11:12-14; 17:10-13; Luke 1:17) Why was he compared to Elijah rather than some other prophet such as Elisha or Jeremiah or Isaiah or Ezekiel or Daniel or Zechariah or any one of Jehovah's many other prophets of years gone by? Though John denied that he really was Elijah (John 1:21), he clearly went to great lengths to copy part of Elijah's prophetic ministry. To make it quite plain exactly what he was doing, John even dressed like Elijah. (2 Kings 1:8; Matt. 3:4; Mark 1:6) Why?

    I have found there is really only one way to answer these questions. The answers are found by studying the prophetic life of Elijah. Specifically, the part of his prophetic life which we read about in 1 Kings chapters 17 and 18. There we find that, during the reign of King Ahab, Elijah prophesied that in northern Israel there would "be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except by my word." (1 Kings 17:1) Elijah's prophecy proved true when a long drought followed causing a severe famine in the land. At the end of those "few years" Elijah introduced a long awaited and greatly needed shower of rain to Israel.

    Nowhere in the Old Testament are we told exactly how many years passed before Elijah ushered in the rain Israel had so long been waiting for. However, the New Testament provides us with this information twice. First, in Luke 4:25, Jesus himself told us that, "In Elijah's time the sky was shut for three and a half years." Later James told us that, "Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed and the heavens gave rain." (James 5:17,18)

    Why does the New Testament tell us exactly how long Elijah served as God's prophet while the people of his land waited for rain? I believe it does so in order to provide us with the chronological information we need to determine the time of Christ's birth.

    For just as Elijah served as a prophet of God for three and a half years while the people of Israel were longing for rain to come to their land, John the baptist prophesied "the coming of the Lord" while the people of Israel were longing for the Messianic rain to come to them. This Messianic "rain" was prophesied to come to Israel in the 72nd Psalm. There we read in part, "Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal Son with your righteousness. He will judge your people in righteousness and your afflicted ones with justice. He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. All nations will be blessed through him and they will call him blessed." (Ps. 72: 1, 2, 6, 11, 17)

    With this Messianic prophecy in mind, it seems clear why the New Testament informs us of exactly how long Elijah prophesied while waiting for rain to fall on Israel. Why? So we today can understand that the latter day "Elijah," John the baptist, prophesied "the coming of the Lord" for exactly three and a half years before he introduced the long awaited and greatly needed Messianic "rain" to the Jewish people. (John 1:29-31)

    Now, no doubt some will ask, "Doesn't the Bible tell us that John the baptist began his ministry in 29 AD, 'in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar'? And if it does, since Jesus also began his ministry in 29 AD, doesn't that prove that John's ministry could have only been about six months long, since it began in the same year that Christ also began his ministry?"

    I believe the answer to both of these questions is, "No." The Bible does not tell us that John the Baptist began his ministry in "the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar" which was 29 AD. It only tell us that in that year "the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert." (Luke 3:1, 2) Now, the traditional thinking has been that "the word of God" there referred to instructed John to begin "calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way of the Lord.' " (Luke 3:4) The problem with this understanding is that it is only an assumption. And considering other information given to us in scripture, it does not appear to be a valid one. The Bible does not record any instructions given by God directly to John, telling him either how he should conduct his ministry or when he should begin it. It also seems unlikely that God would have ever given John such instructions.

    Why does this seem unlikely? Because scripture indicates that John was informed from the time he was an infant what God wanted him to do and when God wanted him to do it. Luke tells us that before John's birth his father Zechariah was informed by an angel that his future son had been chosen by God to minister to the people of Israel in a very important way. Zechariah was told that the child he was to name John would, "make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:17) Zechariah later spoke to his son John, saying in part, "You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most high; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins." (Luke 1 :76, 77) Clearly, Zechariah understood that his son John had been chosen by God to prepare the people of Israel for the coming of their long awaited savior. It is also clear that Zechariah explained to his son exactly what kind of ministry God had chosen him to perform.

    But what indication do we have that John did not need personal instructions from God telling him when he should begin his special ministry? The Bible provides us with the answer to this question. For it tells us that John was from the priestly tribe of Levi. (Luke 1:5-14) And according to the law of God recorded by Moses, all Levite men "at the Lord's command" were to begin their service to God at thirty years of age. Certainly John, who received instructions in the Law from his father Zechariah, was well aware of this command of the Lord recorded in scripture. John also must have known that all the men in his family had begun their service to God at this same time in their lives. These things being so, we can see that John would have required no personal instructions from God telling him either what He wanted John to do or when He wanted John to do it.

    But if "the word of God" which "came to John in the desert in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar" did not instruct John to then begin his ministry, what did God then tell him? I believe that the evidence shows that the pronouncement of God, referred to in Luke 3:1, 2, which then "came to John in the desert" is the same pronouncement of God recorded for us in Matt. 3:17. There we find the words God spoke immediately following John's baptism of Jesus Christ. Matthew tells us that at that time "a voice from heaven said, 'This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.' " Though God may have spoken to John in the desert on more than one occasion, the only time the Bible records in detail a "word of God" there coming to John was this "word of God" which came to John at the time of Christ's baptism. Since God's word spoken at this time divinely confirmed the identity of the long awaited Messiah, it seems reasonable to believe that this very important pronouncement was the "word of God" referred to in Luke 3:1, 2, which "came to John in the desert in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar."

    According to this understanding, Luke 3:1, 2 does not tell us that John the baptist began his ministry "in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar," but rather that John's ministry culminated in that year with his baptism of Jesus Christ. By understanding Luke chapter three in this way we find that John did not necessarily begin his service to God in 29 AD. We also find that Luke chapter three does not limit the time John prepared the way for Christ to only a few months. Rather, it allows us to understand that John began his ministry 3 and 1/2 years before introducing a greatly needed "rain" to Israel (Ps. 72: 1, 2, 6, 11, 17), just as Elijah had done before him. (1 Kings 17, 18)

    With this understanding of Luke 3:1, 2 in mind, we can also appreciate why Luke so carefully recorded the time of the event he was then referring to, and by so doing attached such great importance to it. Because in Luke 3:1, 2 Luke was not telling us when John the baptist began his ministry. Rather, he was recording for posterity the exact time that Jesus Christ began the most important service to God and mankind that has ever been rendered.

    To confirm this understanding is correct there is one more point that should be made. That is, that if Luke's words recorded in Luke 3:1,2 were intended to date the beginning of John the baptist's ministry, then Luke attached more historical significance to the ministry of John than he did to the ministry of Jesus Christ. For in Luke 3:1, 2, in an effort to help us accurately determine the time of the event he was there recording, Luke painstakingly listed seven different contemporary historical public figures by name, and five separate geographical regions which were controlled at the time by the five governmental officials on his list. If, as has been suggested, Luke 3:1, 2 is referring to the time John the baptist's ministry began, Luke went to great lengths to tell us the time John began his ministry but made no attempt at all in his gospel to tell us of the time when Christ's ministry began.

    There is only one sensible explanation for Luke's seemingly confused sense of priority. That is, to understand that in Luke 3:1, 2, Luke was not recording the time when John the baptist began his ministry. Rather, as stated earlier, he was recording the time when Jesus Christ began his public service to God.

    As a final thought in support of this understanding, I will point out that Luke tells us that in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, when "the word of God came to John" it came to him while he was already "in the desert." There John served God as "a voice crying in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord.' " In other words, Luke 3:1, 2 tells us that when the word of God came to John, in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, John's ministry had already begun. And I believe all the facts from history and scripture combine to show that it had begun three and a half years earlier, in the Spring of 26 AD. And if that is the case, and if John began his ministry upon turning 30 years old, as all Levite men did, then John was born in the Spring of 5 BC. And since he was about six months older than Jesus, Jesus must have been born in the Fall of 5 BC.
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  2. Phoenix

    Phoenix Senior Member

    That's a great article aChristian, you wrote this-are you a historian ? Is that your website in the link ?
  3. davo

    davo Member

    Thankyou aChristian, that is an excellent post :clap:
  4. aChristian

    aChristian Member


    Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I wrote that article. I am a historian by education but not presently by occupation. Hopefully that will soon change. I am presently working on a book that will deal with many aspects of both biblical and secular history. I hope to find a publisher for it. The web site I Iinked readers here to is not my own but is that of a friend.


    Thanks to you also. I hope you will find this information helpful.
  5. GW

    GW Veteran

    Great article indeed. Keep it up.

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