Questions From Readers
● How many Passovers occurred during Jesus’ earthly ministry?
The combined evidence of the Gospels is that there were four Passover celebrations and that Jesus’ ministry was thus three and a half years long.
No one of the Gospels specifically mentions four Passovers. In fact, Matthew, Mark and Luke (often called the Synoptic Gospels) do not mention any Passover except the final one at which Jesus died. It thus is necessary, as in other matters, to combine the details provided by all the Gospel accounts.
John 2:13 refers to a Passover near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Since he was baptized in the fall of 29 C.E., the Passover of John 2:13 must have been in the spring of 30 C.E. John’s Gospel also mentions a Passover at John 6:4 and the final one Jesus attended before he died. (John 13:1) But there is good reason to hold that there was yet another Passover, coming between those mentioned in John 2:13 and John 6:4. How so?
After the Passover in 30 C.E., Jesus preached in Judea for a time and then headed north to Galilee, doing so when there were yet four months till harvesttime. (John 4:35) Though John, in chapter four, introduces only the start of Jesus’ lengthy Galilean ministry, we read at John 5:1: “After these things there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” What festival was that?
As an aid in determining what festival this was, we can note that all the Gospels relate the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 persons at Bethsaida. (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15) Both the reference in John 6:4 to an approaching Passover and Mark’s mention that the grass was green indicate that this miracle occurred in the springtime. But the accounts by Matthew, Mark and Luke place this miracle deep into Jesus’ Galilean ministry, on his third tour of the region. The Synoptic Gospels relate too many events for all of them to have occurred in less than a year between the beginning of the Galilean ministry and the Passover of John 6:4.
In the article “Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ,” Harold W. Hoehner observes: “One problem with an addition of a year between the Passovers of John 2:13 and Joh 6:4 is that there is no mention of an additional Passover by John. This is an argument from silence and [it is noteworthy that] not all the feasts are mentioned in John, for example the Feast of Pentecost. Also, the Synoptic accounts require another year between the Passovers of Joh 2:13 and 6:4.”—Published in Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 131, April-June 1974, pages 147-162.
However, if the festival mentioned at John 5:1 was itself a Passover, there would have been time for the events. Furthermore, some manuscripts at John 5:1 speak of it as “the festival,” which would likely mean the Passover. And the Passover was a festival for which Jews were required by the Mosaic law to go up to Jerusalem, as John 5:1 says Jesus did.
This indicates, then, that the earthly ministry of Jesus involved not three but four Passovers. Concerning various theories about the length of Jesus’ ministry, Harold W. Hoehner adds: “The three-year ministry of Jesus from the first Passover to the passion Passover is the most viable option. Of course, since Jesus’ baptism and public ministry preceded the first Passover, the total length of His ministry would be about three and a half years.” And this is exactly the length indicated by Daniel’s prophecy of “seventy weeks” of years.—Dan. 9:24-27.
Regarding the final ‘week of years,’ Daniel wrote: “He [“Messiah the Leader”] must keep the covenant in force for the many [circumcised Jews and proselytes] for one week [of seven years]; and at the half of the week [after three and a half years] he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease [by means of his death that fulfilled the Law].” (Dan. 9:27) Accordingly, Jesus was baptized and anointed with God’s spirit as the Messiah in 29 C.E. He died in the spring of 33 C.E., after a ministry of three and a half years.