How long was Jesus' public ministry?


I hear constantly, from apologists and evangelists, that Jesus public life of ministry–preaching the good news and healing–lasted for three years. I remember that there was one of the four canonical gospels that give a one-year chronology and three that allow for a three-year chronology. Can anyone help me out? Did Jesus spend three years or one year in his public ministry proclaiming that the Kingdom of God, or heaven, is at hand, healing the sick, casting out demons, and instructing his disciples?


I just watched the “Fearless” documentary. It’s about healing, actual physical healings, and lots of them, by the power of the name of Jesus–I recommend it to all, it does cost,–and the people in the film assume a three year ministry for Jesus.


From what I understand he couldn’t start until 30 years of age and would have retired at 50. Since I generally understand He died at 33, that would be three years. However, at twelve years old He astonished and He is still alive today.



Isn’t this the sort of thing you learn in seminary?


Amen. I agree. He is still alive–and pretty darn active. I was just wondering about the time lines in the four gospels. I remember that the chronology of one of them only had him active for one year prior to his crucifixion. I could go to the Bible and figure it out for myself, but I’m lazy. In order words, in one of the four gospels, since he died at 33, then he would have started his public life at 32.
But do we really know, does it say anywhere in any of the gospels that he was 33 when they killed him?


It is. And I read it somewhere while I was there, but that was 30 years ago. Do you know which of the four have a time line of one year?


You seem like a fun person. Well, it takes about 9 months to birth a child. I’d say 9 months to a year each. Except St. John was close to Mary so he got a little longer amount.


I mean no offense, but I think you should be having these conversations with your Bishop or spiritual director. The chronology of the Gospels, especially the New Testament, is not something that should be lacking for a priest. I know a few young men in seminary and they all spend extensive time in the gospels. Perhaps getting one of Scott Hahn’s textbooks would be of help. His Didiche series is ecellent.

Both Matthew and Luke contain the nativity, so they are not a year. John contains the most about St. John (obvi) so that leaves Mark which realy gets going during the feeding of the 5000.


Thank you, sincerely.


John mentions three separate Passovers (2:13, 6:4,12:1) indicating a timespan ranging from a little over two years to over three years. The Synoptic gospels mention only a single Passover, which suggests that Jesus’ ministry could have lasted as little as a single year, but in all three the chronology is difficult to determine. They weren’t written with that kind of narrative structure in mind.


i have to ask , are you a practicing Priest? Do you minister in a Parish.


I don’t think he’s a priest. It’s not uncommon for posters on Christian blogs, both Protestant and Catholic, to call themselves Fr this or Fr that. I mean, you’re not really a basilica, are you?


We are all members of the Body of Christ, the mystical body of the Church. In that respect we are all Basilicas and Cathedrals, and Churches.
However, it might be nice to get a definitive answer from this chatter.
I tend to agree with you.

Lets wait and see


From this article:

The date of the beginning of Christ’s ministry may be calculated from three different data found respectively in Luke, iii, 23; Josephus, “Bel. Jud.”, I, xxi, 1; or “Ant.”, XV, ii, 1; and Luke, iii, 1. The first of these passages reads: “And Jesus himself was beginning about the age of thirty years.” The phrase “was beginning” does not qualify the following expression “about the age of thirty years,” but rather indicates the commencement of the public life. As we have found that the birth of Jesus falls within the period 747-749 A. U. C., His public life must begin about 777-779 A. U. C. Second, when, shortly before the first Pasch of His public life, Jesus had cast the buyers and sellers out of the Temple, the Jews said: “Six and forty years was this temple in building” (John, ii, 20). Now, according to the testimony of Josephus (loc. cit.), the building of the Temple began in the fifteenth year of Herod’s actual reign or in the eighteenth of his reign de jure, i.e. 732 A. u. c.; hence, adding the forty-six years of actual building, the Pasch of Christ’s first year of public life must have fallen in 778 A. u. c. Third, the Gospel of St. Luke (iii, 1) assigns the beginning of St. John the Baptist’s mission to the “fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cwsar”. Augustus, the predecessor of Tiberius, died August 19, 767 A. u. c., so that the fifteenth year of Tiberius’s independent reign is 782 A. U. C.; but then Tiberius began to be the associate of Augustus in A. u. c. 764, so that the fifteenth year reckoned from this date falls in A. u. c. 778. Jesus Christ’s public life began a few months later, i.e. about A. U. C. 779.
(3) The Year of the Death of Christ

According to the Evangelists, Jesus suffered under the high-priest Caiphas (A. U. C. 772-90, or A.D. 18-36), during the governorship of Pontius Pilate (A. U. C. 780-90). But this leaves the time rather indefinite. Tradition, the patristic testimonies for which have been collected by Patrizi (De Evangeliis), places the death of Jesus in the fifteenth (or sixteenth) year of Tiberius, in the consulship of the Gemini, forty-two years before the destruction of Jerusalem, and twelve years before the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles. We have already seen that the fifteenth year of Tiberius is either 778 or 782, according to its computation from the beginning of Tiberius’s associate or sole reign; the consul-ship of the Gemini (Fufius and Rubellius) fell in A. U. C. 782; the forty-second year before the destruction of Jerusalem is A.D. 29, or again A. U. C. 782; twelve years before the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles brings us to the same year, A.D. 29, or A.U.C. 782, since the conversion of Cornelius, which marks the opening of the Gentile missions, fell probably in A.D. 40 or 41.
(4) Jesus died on Friday the fifteenth day of Nisan



That Jesus died on Friday is clearly stated by Mark (xv, 42), Luke (xxiii, 54), and John (xix, 31). The few writers who assign another day for Christ’s death are practically lost in the multitude of authorities who place it on Friday. What is more, they do not even agree among themselves: Epiphanius, e.g., places the Crucifixion on Tuesday; Lactantius, on Saturday; Westcott, on Thursday; Cassiodorus and Gregory of Tours, not on Friday. The first three Evangelists are equally clear about the date of the Crucifixion. They place the Last Supper on the fourteenth day of Nisan, as may be seen from Matt., xxvi, 17-20; Mark, xiv, 12-17; Luke, xxii, 7-14. Nor can there be any doubt about St. John’s agreement with the Synoptic Evangelists on the question of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. The Supper was held “before the festival day of the pasch” (John, xiii, 1), i.e. on 14 Nisan, since the sacrificial day was computed according to the Roman method (Jovino, 123 sqq., 139 sqq.). Again, some disciples thought that Judas left the supper table because Jesus had said to him: “Buy those things which we have need of for the festival day: or that he should give something to the poor” (John, xiii, 29). If the Supper had been held on 13 Nisan this belief of the disciples can hardly be understood, since Judas might have made his purchases and distributed his alms on 14 Nisan; there would have been no need for his rushing into the city in the middle of the night. On the day of Christ’s Crucifixion the Jews “went not into the hall, that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the pasch” (John, xviii, 28). The pasch which the Jews wished to eat could not have been the paschal lamb, which was eaten on 14 Nisan, for the pollution contracted by entering the hall would have ceased at sundown, so that it would not have prevented them from sharing in the paschal supper. The pasch which the Jews had in view must have been the sacrificial offerings (Chagighah), which were called also pasch and were eaten on 15 Nisan. Hence this passage places the death of Jesus Christ on the fifteenth day of Nisan. Again, Jesus is said to have suffered and died on the"parasceve of the pasch", or simply on the “parasceve” (John, xix, 14, 31); as “parasceve” meant Friday, the expression “parasceve of the pasch” denotes the Friday on which the pasch happened to fall, not the day before the pasch. Finally, the day following the parasceve on which Jesus died is called “a great sabbath day” (John, xix, 31), either to denote its occurrence in the paschal week or to distinguish it from the preceding pasch, or day of minor rest.


Well, short answer is that the synoptic gospels (Mark especially) could be read as implying that Jesus’ ministry lasted for only more or less a single year, since it mentions only one Passover. Based on this, as well as what is seen as clues within the synoptics - for example, in Mark 2:23-28 grain is eaten raw, which suggests early summer; in 6:39 it is spring since the grass is green; Jesus then goes to Jerusalem for Passover in 11:1, presumably during the same spring as chapter 6 - there is an idea that Jesus’ ministry in the synoptics actually lasted only for more or less a year: between one early summer or late spring and the next spring.

John’s, on the other hand, mentions three Passovers (Jesus’ ministry begins and ends in one), which would imply more or less a two year period (three if you’re being generous). Besides Passover, John also mentions an unspecified “feast of the Judaeans” in 5:1, while chapter 7 is set during Sukkoth, aka the Feast of Booths (cf. verse 2) and 10:22ff is set during Hannukah, aka the Feast of the Dedication.

Late March-late April (Spring): First Passover (2:13)
??: Unnamed feast (5:1)

(One year has elapsed)

Late March-late April (Spring): Second Passover (6:4)
Late September-late October (Autumn): Booths (7:1ff.)
Late November-late December (Winter): Dedication (10:22ff.)

(Two years have elapsed)

Late March-late April (Spring): Third Passover (11:55ff.)

While one may argue that the ‘one year ministry’ version is more compatible with Josephus’ references to some other contemporaneous prophetic figures (most of whom had very short careers) as well as with Jesus’ itinerant lifestyle and His disciples’ lack of formal occupations, which some people think would not work as well in the long run, one has to remember that Matthew, Mark, and Luke often arrange their (episodic) material differently, and so, even these clues are not exactly helpful in determining how long Jesus was out in public.


The idea that Jesus’ ministry lasted for three (to be more exact, three and a half years) actually doesn’t come from any gospel at all (though just like I said, you could arrive at the conclusion that Jesus had a (little more than) three year ministry if you read John’s gospel a certain way). It comes from a particular interpretation of Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks (9:24-27).

"Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.”

Some early Christian writers interpreted the ‘he’ who will make sacrifice and offering cease to refer to Jesus, and the “half of the week” (three and a half days) in which this ‘he’ will do so to refer to Jesus’ ministry: so three and a half years.


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