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When was our Lord Jesus Christ crucified?


The Gregorian calendar date of Friday April 1, AD 33 (which corresponds to the Julian calendar date of Friday April 3, AD 33) has been proposed as the day our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified.  In this study an attempt will be made to determine if this date is supported by the information found in the Bible.  Before going into any detailed calculations, we first need to establish what the Bible teaches in regard to the timing of Jesus' crucifixion.  We can establish three important facts from the Bible:
 
1) Jesus was crucified on the latter half of the 14th day of the 1st month (Nisan 14), the day the Passover was killed (Exodus 12:6, John 18:28, 18:39, 19:14, Mark 15:25-34)
 
2) Jesus ate the Passover (last supper) with his disciples on the evening of the 13th day (Luke 22:15, John 13:1), not the evening of the 14th day (John 18:28)
 
3) Jesus was crucified on a Friday, the day before the Saturday Sabbath (Luke 23:54, John 19:31)
 
Now given Jesus crucifixion is related to the feast day of Passover, which occurred on the 14th day of the 1st month, it is necessary to calculate what would have been the first day of the Biblical new year (i.e., Nisan 1) for the year AD 33.  Since Biblical months are related to the timing of the new moon, and new years are related to seasons, with the Biblical year aligned to spring, which is itself related to the vernal equinox, the following dates have been obtained from astronomical calculations for the year AD 33 (note: all dates below are Gregorian calendar dates):
 
> The AD 33 vernal equinox* occurred on Sunday March 20 at approximately 5:00 pm Jerusalem Standard Time (JST)
> The pre-equinox lunar conjunction** (dark moon) occurred on Thursday March 17, 12:38 pm JST
> The post-equinox lunar conjunction** (dark moon) occurred on Friday April 15, 9:09 pm JST
 
    References:
Vernal Equinox Reference
 

The next issue we are faced with is exactly how does one determine the start of the new year and new month given the above information for the vernal equinox and lunar conjunction.  Below is a summary of the methods used to determine a new year and new month:

New Year: there are two different ideas for when a new year begins.  The first argues the new year begins with the first moon conjunction after the vernal equinox (i.e., the post-equinox moon conjunction).  The second argues it begins with the moon conjunction closest to the vernal equinox (but not more than 14 days earlier, i.e., one that would not result in Passover occurring prior to the vernal equinox). 
 
New Month: there are two different ideas for when a new month begins.  The first argues a new month begins the day immediately following the moon conjunction.  The second argues it begins the day following the time of the moon conjunction plus 24 hours (the 24 hours allows time for an observable crescent moon to form). 
 

As can be seen, the determination of new year and new month is not obvious, and various methods are possible.  So which methods should we use?  Unfortunately the Bible doesn't address these fine points directly.  If one searches the internet, as well as Jewish and Christian history, one will find lots of opinion, but very little if any Biblical rationale for the methods finally selected.  In this study a simple approach is chosen, which is to test each combination of new year and new month method, and see which of them satisfies the Biblical information regarding our Lord Jesus Christ's crucifixion.  Below is a summary of each of these possibilities:

Method 1: New year using post-equinox moon conjunction and new month starting day immediately following the moon conjunction
Method 2: New year using post-equinox moon conjunction and new month starting day following the moon conjunction plus 24 hours
Method 3: New year using closest moon conjunction and new month starting day immediately following the moon conjunction
Method 4: New year using closest moon conjunction and new month starting day following the moon conjunction plus 24 hours
 

The analysis below uses each of the four methods above to determine what day of the week corresponds to the 14th day of the 1st month of the Biblical Calendar.  Now the criteria used to judge which of these four methods is Biblically valid is that they MUST yield a date for Nisan 14 in AD 33 that is a Friday (the day before the Saturday sabbath when Jesus was crucified).  If this criteria is not met, then we know for sure that particular method is not Biblically valid!  Here are the analysis results for each of the four methods:

 
Method 1 (year starting post-equinox moon conjunction and month starting day immediately following moon conjunction):
> Vernal equinox AD 33 = March 20
> Post-equinox moon conjunction = April 15 at 9:09 pm JST
> 1st day of 1st month = April 16 at 6pm - April 17 at 6pm
> 14th day of 1st month = April 29 at 6pm - April 30 at 6pm
> Jesus crucified afternoon of April 30 (a Saturday)
> This would result in Jesus being crucified on a Saturday instead of Friday (the day before the Saturday sabbath), inconsistent with
   Luke 23:54, John 19:31
> CONCLUSION: this possibility is EXCLUDED!
 
Method 2 (year starting post-equinox moon conjunction and month starting day + 24 hours after moon conjunction):
> Vernal equinox AD 33 = March 20
> Post-equinox moon conjunction = April 15 at 9:09 pm JST
> 1st day of 1st month = April 17 at 6pm - April 18 at 6pm
> 14th day of 1st month = April 30 at 6pm - May 1 at 6pm
> Jesus crucified afternoon of May 1 (a Sunday)
> This would result in Jesus being crucified on a Sunday instead of Friday (the day before the Saturday sabbath), inconsistent with
   Luke 23:54, John 19:31
> CONCLUSION: this possibility is EXCLUDED!
 
Method 3 (year starting with closest moon conjunction and month starting day immediately following moon conjunction):
> Vernal equinox AD 33 = March 20
> Closest moon conjunction = March 17 at 12:38 pm JST
> 1st day of 1st month = March 17 at 6pm - March 18 at 6pm
> 14th day of 1st month = March 30 at 6pm - March 31 at 6pm
> Jesus crucified afternoon of March 31 (a Thursday)
> This would result in Jesus being crucified on a Thursday instead of Friday (the day before the Saturday sabbath), inconsistent with
   Luke 23:54, John 19:31
> CONCLUSION: this possibility is EXCLUDED!
 
Method 4 (year starting with closest moon conjunction and month starting day + 24 hours after moon conjunction):
> Vernal equinox AD 33 = March 20
> Closest moon conjunction = March 17 at 12:38 pm JST
> 1st day of 1st month = March 18 at 6pm - March 19 at 6pm
> 14th day of 1st month = March 31 at 6pm - April 1 at 6pm
> Jesus crucified afternoon of April 1 (a Friday)
> This would result in Jesus being crucified on a Friday (the day before the Saturday sabbath), in agreement with Luke 23:54,
   John 19:31
> CONCLUSION: this possibility is INCLUDED!
 

Now from the above results for AD 33 we see that only one of the four methods described provides a date for Passover, Nisan 14, that is a Friday, and that is the fourth method listed.  So if AD 33 is the correct year for Jesus' crucifixion, then we know the rules specified by method four above to determine Nisan 1 are the Biblically valid ones!  However before we make this our final conclusion we also need to consider the possibility that Jesus wasn't crucified in some other year besides AD 33.  For example, there are other Bible scholars who argue that Jesus may have been crucified as early as AD 29, or as late as AD 36, so we must analyze these years before going further.  But before doing so, one might ask, why limit the range of years to AD 29 through AD 36?  The reason for this comes from the Biblical citation found in Luke 3:1,
 
Luke 3:1-3 KJV
1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
 

Here in Luke 3 we find the Bible dates the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist.  And it was at this time that Jesus began his ministry, immediately after being baptized by John the Baptist.  Below is a summary of the commonly recognized dates for the rulers mentioned in Luke 3:1,
 
Tiberius Caesar ruled AD 14-37, so his 15th year would be AD 29
> Pontius Pilate governed AD 26-36 (this is the Pilate to whom Jesus was sent prior to his crucifixion)
> Herod Antipas tetrarch of Galilee 4 BC - AD 39
> Philip II (brother of Herod) tetrarch of Ituraea thought to die in AD 34
 

Based on these dates, we find that Luke 3:1, the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, would have been AD 29.  From the account in Luke 3 we know this is the year Jesus was baptised and began His ministry, and so is not a likely year for His crucifixion, but this year will be used as the earliest possible crucifixion year for this study.  Now the other limit on the year Jesus could have been crucified would be the reign of Pontius Pilate, who the gospels account clearly record Jesus appearing before prior to His crucifixion, and the latest that could have occurred would be the year AD 36.  Thus, based on Luke 3:1-3, we can establish eight possible years in which Jesus could have been crucified, i.e., anywhere from AD 29 to AD 36. 
 
The next step is to do the same analysis for each year from AD 29 to AD 36 as was done for AD 33 above, again using each of the four possible methods listed to determine the date of Nisan 14, and seeing which ones land on a Friday.  The results are tabulated below:
 

Analysis of years AD 29 to AD 32
 

 ** Note: Biblical days span two modern calendar days, so that "4/1 - 4/2" means "4/1 at 6pm to 4/2 at 6pm"
 

Analysis of years AD 33 to AD 36
 
 
** Note: Biblical days span two modern calendar days, so that "4/16 - 4/17" means "4/16 at 6pm to 4/17 at 6pm"
 

Analysis Summary:
 
A RED highlight in the above chart indicates an excluded day of the week for Jesus crucifixion (not being a Friday), while a GREEN highlight indicates a permissible date (i.e., a Friday).  From these charts it can be readily seen that the only years which satisfies a Friday crucifixion are AD 30, AD 33 and AD 36.  The years AD 29, 31-32 and 34-35 are Biblically excluded because none of the four possible methods of calculating a New Year and New Month result in a Friday crucifixion for the 14th day of the 1st month.
 
Now a key question that needs to be asked is if a AD 30 or AD 36 crucifixion were possible based on the knowledge that Jesus began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1).  That is, is there enough time from the start of Jesus' ministry in AD 29 for Him to complete all the events listed in the gospels so that He could have been crucified the following year on either April 5th or May 4th (note there are 2 possible dates in AD 30)?  Before looking into this further, we can more accurately determine the earliest possible start date for Jesus' ministry if we know the exact dates that correspond to Tiberius Caesar's 15th year.  Historical records show that Tiberius began his reign following the death of Caesar Augustus, who died on August 19, AD 14, thus Tiberius' first year commenced August 20, AD 14 and ended August 19, AD 15.  This would then place his 15th year from August 20, AD 28 to August 19, AD 29.  So we see that the earliest possible start date for Jesus' ministry would actually be in AD 28, on the first day of Tiberius' 15th year, or August 20, AD 28.  From this we can determine that the most amount of time available for Jesus' ministry would have been about 21 months, spanning August 20, AD 28 to May 3, AD 30.  Now if it could be shown from the gospel accounts that Jesus' ministry exceeded 21 months, or roughly 2 years, then we could exclude AD 30 as a possible year for Jesus' crucifixion, which would leave only AD 33 or AD 36 in the tabulation above.  So now we must determine the minimum length of Jesus' ministry!
 

Determining a Minimum Length of Jesus Ministry:
 
From the gospel of John it is possible to determine a minimum length of Jesus ministry.  The following events should be considered:
 
> Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist (John 1:28-33)
> Jesus performs his first sign at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1), following which he goes to Jerusalem for the
   Passover feast (John 2:13)
> Jesus returns to Galilee following the Passover feast in Jerusalem (John 4:45)
> Jesus goes to Jerusalem again for another feast, possibly the feast of Tabernacles (John 5:1)
> Jesus returns to Galilee again (John 6:1), soon after which another Passover is near (John 6:4), and Jesus feeds 5000 (John 6:10)
> Jesus still in Galilee and feast of Tabernacles is near (John 7:2), later Jesus goes to Jerusalem for this feast (John 7:10)
> Jesus still in Jerusalem at time of feast of Dedication, it is now winter (John 10:22)
> Jesus visits Bethany (near Jerusalem) and raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1)
> Jesus comes to Ephraim, and another Passover is near (John 11:54-55)
> Jesus returns to Bethany 6 days before this Passover (John 12:1)
> Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-15)
> Jesus hour had come, he would be crucified at this Passover (John 13:1, John 18:28, 18:39, 19:14)
 

From the above accounts, we know Jesus was baptized prior to the Passover of John 2:13, a Passover he celebrated in Jerusalem.  Jesus then returned to Galilee for a time but then returned to Jerusalem again in order to celebrate another feast (possibly of Tabernacles).  After this he returned to Galilee, and the Passover of John 6:4 arrived, one where he remains in Galilee and feeds 5000.  Later Jesus returns to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles, where Jesus remains for the winter and the feast of Dedication.  Following that Jesus spends time in Bethany and Ephraim before coming a final time to Jerusalem for the Passover on which he was crucified.  Thus, we can set a minimum duration of Jesus ministry as one that spans at least 3 Passovers.  If Jesus was in fact crucified at Passover AD 30 (April 5th or May 3rd), then the Passover of John 2:13, being two years earlier, would have been in the spring of AD 28.  However we already saw that Jesus' ministry could not have begun earlier than August 20, AD 28, the start of Tiberius Caesar's 15th year.  Based on this the year AD 30 can be excluded as a possibility for Jesus' crucifixion.
 
What about AD 36?

There aren't any theologians that espouse Jesus was crucified in AD 36 because that would result in His ministry being on the order of 6 1/2 years.  In addition this would put Jesus 3 years older than if crucified in AD 33, making Him over forty years old.  Finally, in the Luke 3:1 citation, it indicates Herod's brother Philip was still alive, and the date of his death is generally believed to have been in AD 34, so it's quite doubtful Jesus could have been crucified later than that, and thus it's very doubtful AD 36 could be when Jesus was crucified. 

Luke 3:1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,

> Philip II (brother of Herod) tetrarch of Ituraea thought to die in AD 34


Conclusion:

It has been shown that AD 33 is the only year that satisfies all the relevant scriptures for the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Other possible years can be excluded based on either not satisfying a Friday Passover crucifixion, or for being too early to allow a sufficient length for Jesus' ministry.  It has also been shown that the appropriate method for determining a new year is to use the moon conjunction that occurs closest to the vernal equinox, and that the first day of a new month is one that follows the moon conjunction plus 24 hours (time to permit a visible formation of a crescent moon).  It has been shown that other possible methods of calculating new years and new months do not provide for a Friday Passover on the 14th day of the 1st month for AD 33, and can therefore be excluded.