Christian Churches of God

No. 19



Christ’s Age at Baptism


the Duration of his Ministry

(Edition 3.5 19920101-20050314-20071213-20220627)


The year of Christ’s birth has caused a deal of concern over time. It seems to have been deliberately hidden. This is probably so we could not ascertain with absolute certainty the exact year to avoid the celebration of pagan ritual associated with his birth. There are, however, a number of important facts that are linked to his birth and time of baptism.






Christian Churches of God

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(Copyright © 1992, 2000, 2005, 2007, 2022 Wade Cox)




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Christ’s Age at Baptism and the Duration of his Ministry


It has been stated most emphatically by some churchmen that the passage at Luke 3:23 indicates that Christ was exactly thirty years of age at his baptism. The passage is translated in the King James Version as:

“And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age.”


Moffatt translates this passage as:

“At the outset Jesus was about thirty years of age.”


The terms from which this is translated are two Greek terms. The first, from which the word began is derived, is the word DP`:,<@H (from archomai). This means midst of or to commence or commence in order of time. The prime root of the word is archo, to be first in political rank or power, in the sense of reigning over as part of the subset.


The second term is J< JD4V6@<J" (ètõn triákonta) or years thirty, the decade of thirty. Hence, the correct meaning is that Christ had commenced his thirties, or in other words, Christ was in his thirties, as we would say.


This expression has an elasticity some do not accord it, and hence by their very inflexibility introduce contradiction into the Scriptures where none need be.


An example of needless contradiction is found in this restriction to thirty and the requirement to have been born during the reign of Herod the Great, i.e. prior to Passover of 4 BCE, and born during the census of taxing of the whole world ordered by Augustus, and executed when Quirinius was Governor of Syria (Lk. 2:3). Now, Sulpicius Quirinius was elected Consul of Rome in 12 BCE, but was not appointed Legate of Syria until 6 CE, and died in Rome in 21 CE.


The actual words translated Governor of Syria mean when Quirinius “had supreme command”: Schürer holds that it is the same thing as the office of Governor (History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, vol. 1, p. 424).


Alleged recent archaeological evidence is stated to be that there was a census executed by Quirinius in 12 BCE, the year he was made Consul and given some responsibility for Eastern affairs. He in fact led an expedition against rebel mountaineers (the Homodenses or Homonadenses) in Alecia and for his successes received a tribute in Rome. The Homonadenses were a band of Cilician brigands located on the southern border of Galatia and referred to by Strabo. Quirinius spent 14 years subjugating them between 12 BCE and 2 CE. Because of his expertise he was to accompany Gaius Caesar eastward as his tutor in 2 CE.


Quirinius did in fact conduct a complete census in 6/7 CE himself, but it is quite impossible for this to have been the census at Christ’s birth (ibid., p. 423).


The office of Governor of Syria was held from 10/9 BCE to about 7/6 BCE by Sentius Saturninus, and from 7/6 BCE to 4 BCE by Quinctilius Varus. The latter suppressed the revolt in Palestine that broke out after Herod’s death. L. Calpurnius Piso is suggested by some as Legate from 4-1 BCE after which Gaius Caesar became Consular Imperium, probably with a normal Governor in Syria.


Schürer speculates that the probable predecessor to Sentius Saturninus was Titius, and also concludes from the Taxation legislation of Herod the Great, Phillip and Agrippa (and Agrippa II) that “Roman taxes could not possibly have been levied in Palestine during the reign of Herod and in consequence no Roman census was taken either” (ibid., p.430).


Schürer also rejects any grammatical construction that the census was the first census before (or earlier than) Quirinius was Governor of Syria (ibid., p. 42l). Moreover, the style and polish of Luke’s writing excludes the possibility of claiming grammatical usage.


Schürer supposes that Quirinius was probably Legate of Galatia-Pamphylia during the war with the Homonadenses (from Strabo XII 6,5 (567) 9 Tat. Ann. III, 48); he says in 4-3 BCE (ibid., p. 259). However, there is no reason to exclude the earlier periods from 12 BCE. Indeed, it is quite possible that from 12 BCE or in 8 BCE Quirinius was exercising full command north of Syria, or temporary command in Syria after Sentius Saturninus. According to T.P. Wiseman, the last full citizen census taken before Quirinius became Legate of Syria in 6 CE was in 8 BCE, whilst Quirinius was Military Commander and Legate as supposed of Galatia-Pamphylia, as the rebels were in the southern area of Galatia.


In 4 CE Augustus had held a partial census, and the 6 CE census was to extend to include the provinces for the five-percent inheritance tax (Vicesima hereditatis).


The obvious difficulty with the argument for the 6 CE census referred to was when he was Governor of Syria. It is some 10 years after the death of Herod, and is therefore impossible.


Luke states that this was the census where “all the world should be enrolled”. After the removal of Archelaus, Palestine was added to Syria for administrative and taxation purposes, according to Josephus (A. J. XVIII, 1, 1, 2).


A census in 12 BCE or 8 BCE at the order of Augustus is a much larger affair than a Palestinian census, and it is obvious that Josephus is attempting to limit the census to 6 CE when Quirinius was Legate of Syria.


Acts 5:37 mentions the days of the taxing in conjunction with the uprising of Judas of Galilee. This uprising of Judas was after an uprising of Theudas and his 400 followers (v. 26).


The uprising of Judas of Galilee is dated at 6 CE by Schürer. Historians attribute the statements of Gamaliel as a Christian composition attributed to Gamaliel, and place the Theudas of Acts as Theudas the pseudo-prophet during the reign of the first Procurator sent to Palestine by Claudius, i.e. Cuspius Fadus 44- 46? CE.


Schürer dismisses the possibility of a Theudas prior to 6 CE (ibid., Vol. 1, pp. 456-457, note 6), and considers the authority of Acts slight. He obviously considers the taxation referred to in Acts as that taxation or census of Quirinius on his assumption as Legate of Syria in 6 CE. It is worthwhile noting that the sons of Judas the Galilean, James and Simon were ordered to be crucified by Tiberius Julius Alexander (?46-48 CE), Fadus’ successor.


It is quite possible that Acts refers to the taxing of 6 CE, but that taxing is not the same taxing as Luke refers to at Jesus’ birth.


A complete harmony emerges, however, if the date of the first general census ordered by Augustus and executed in the east by Quirinius is 12 BCE or even 8 BCE. Christ then becomes 39 or 35 years of age at his baptism, i.e. still in his thirties. There are then either eight or four years between his birth and Herod’s death. This allows for the searches, the flight to Egypt, the frustrations and problems of Herod’s family, squabbles of succession and other preoccupations to erupt into the slaughter of the Judean nobles during 5/4 BCE, and presents no difficulty with the harmony of all three biblical references. Curiously enough, Herod’s family and succession preoccupations and the lies and treachery of his offspring began at about 12 BCE, commencing what historians regard as the third and last phase of his rule.


The version by Tertullian throws some light on the matter, although he contradicts himself.


In his treatise Against Marcion, Tertullian says that the historical proof was that Christ was born when a census was taken in Judea by Sentius Saturninus (Adv. Marc., IV, 19, 10, ANF III, p. 378). Luke (ch. 2) says the agent in Judea was (Sulpicius) Quirinius. Tertullian mentions Saturninus again in De Pallio 1. This statement by Tertullian is weighed with those by Sancelemente and others who supposed that Saturninus was governor of Judea at the time of Christ’s birth, and placed the date at 747 A.U.C. Tertullian is inconsistent and, in Adversus Judaeus VIII, he allegedly gives 751 A.U.C as the year of Christ’s birth.


What he does say is that Christ was born on the forty-first year of the Empire of Augustus when he was reigning for 'xx and viii' (28) years after the death of Cleopatra (51-30 BCE). Augustus was held by Tertullian in this text to have survived after Christ was born for 'xv' (15) years. (He incorrectly totals this as 437 years and 6 months after Darius.)


Caesar was killed in March 44 BCE and Octavian returned to Rome to succeed him in 42 BCE. Thus 56 years from 43/2 BCE take us to 14 CE, the year of his death.


Augustus is held to have ruled 44 years, and died in 14 CE. However, that is from the overthrow of Mark Anthony and Cleoptara. Tertullian says he ruled 56 years. Thus, on this account, Christ was born in the 41st year of his reign, and 28 years after the death of Cleopatra, i.e. in 2/1 BCE, over two years after the death of Herod which is biblically impossible. His account in Adversus Marcionem makes Christ’s birth in 6/5 BCE. Thus it would have to have been at the very end of the governorship of Saturninus, even if we make assumptions regarding the extension of the dates in question to September in 7/6 BCE. Thus Qurinius, who was on the border of Syria and Galatia at the time in the war against the brigands of the Cilician Homonadenses, must have been sent by Saturninus to Judea for this census in 6 BCE, and Christ was born in the following year in 5 BCE, on the accounts of Tertullian and Luke in the other ancient texts. 


Sentius Saturninus was governor of Syria from 744-748 (cf. ANF, ibid., fn. 3) or 10/9 to 7/6 BCE. Aug. W. Zumpt went to great lengths to prove that Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was indeed the governor of Syria at the time of Christ’s birth. The above scenario is the most likely.


Josephus names Volumnius with Saturninus (Consul in 19 BCE) (Jos. Ant., XVI, 9, 1, p. 280). However, in the Wars of the Jews (I, 27, 1) he calls Volumnius tou stratopedarchen and in I, 27, 2 he calls him epitropos. Thus Schürer holds (vol. 1, p. 257) Volumnius was an equestrian subordinate of Saturninus and a procurator of the province. Saturninus is also mentioned by Josephus in Antiquities XVI, 10, 8, (344); II, 3 (368); XVII, 1, 1 (6); 2, 1, (24); 3, 2, (57). The use of Qurinius by Saturninus was seemingly of the same type of legature in regard to the census in Judea at the time. Schürer does not canvas this view, a seemingly more obvious explanation. The records mention them both, as we see also with Volumnius and Saturninus above.


Herod’s death plays an important role in establishing the last possible date for Christ’s birth, as we know from Matthew 2:12 that the visit of the Magi ended with the wise men returning to their own country by a different route, so that they could avoid returning to Herod. Joseph was warned in a dream by the Angel of the Lord to depart into Egypt, as we read in Matthew 2:13-16:


“Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into. Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek .the young child to destroy him.


When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night and departed into Egypt.


And was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of  Egypt have I called my Son.


Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth: and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. (KJV)


Therefore, the period of the visit of the wise men and the expected birth of the Christ was up to two years before the slaughter at Bethlehem. That aspect may be reflected by Josephus in his account of the execution of the principal men of Judah by Herod in the period before his death.


Certainly this account comes many months before Herod’s death – and probably a period of two years – so that Christ was probably born within two years of the reported action at Bethlehem, at a time well before Herod’s death.


To include the flight into Egypt, the period involved could not have been less than one year. Historians attribute the death of Herod to the period of 1st to 14th of Nisan (28 March to 10 April) of 4 BCE on the following grounds:

1. Herod’s two successors were Archelaus and Antipas.


Archelaus, according to Dio IV 27.6, was deposed by Augustus in 6 CE in the tenth year of his reign (also A. of J. XVII, 13, 2(342) of Vita 1(5)) correcting the earlier statement of B.J.: II, 7, 3, stating the ninth year. (This was during the consulship of Aemilius Lepidus and L. Arvuntius.) He therefore began his reign in 4 BCE.


Antipas was deposed by Caligula in the summer of 39 CE. As there are coins dating from the 43rd year of his reign, his reign began therefore in 4 BCE.


2. From Josephus’ accounting of the periods of time, as the Mishnah suggests, from Nisan to Nisan for regnal years and part years, i.e. portions prior to Nisan are counted as full years; Schürer therefore locates Herod’s death between 1 and 14 Nisan 4 BCE.


Shortly before Herod’s death there was an eclipse of the moon. The eclipse is referred to by Josephus (in A. of J., XVII, ch. 4). There are two eclipses calculated for this period: one in 5 BCE and one in 4 BCE. The eclipse in 4 BCE is on 13 March, which accords with the record of Josephus. Josephus records that the High Priest, Matthias, was replaced by Joseph, the son of Ellemus, as High Priest (due to ritual uncleanness from a dream). This was on a fast of the Jews. The fast of Esther fell on 13 March 4 BCE, and this coincides with the recording of the eclipse. There is no record of an eclipse in 3 BCE or 2 BCE, and only in 5 BCE on 15 September and in 1 BCE on 9 January were there eclipses of the moon visible in Jerusalem. Herod died shortly after this eclipse and before the Passover of 4 BCE. The Marcus translation of Josephus has more notes on this section than the Whiston translation and is more helpful. Schürer, at any rate, deals with this in detail at his History (Vol. 1, pp. 326-328).


If the two-year period of the Magi at Matthew 2 is taken into account, Christ therefore could not have been born later than Passover 6 BCE. When Joseph returned from Egypt he found Archelaus reigning in Judea, so the return from Egypt would have been in the first year of Archelaus’ reign, i.e. in 4 BCE.


From Luke we know that Mariam, erroneously called Mary, went up to Jerusalem after her purification under the Law with Joseph to present the child to the Lord, and to offer the customary sacrifice (Lk. 2:22-24). This preceded the flight into Egypt. Luke does not mention the flight into Egypt; he merely states that they returned to Nazareth. The period of purification for a male child is 40 (+1) days (8 to circumcision and then thirty-three days) (Lev. 12:1-4; cf. the paper Purification and Circumcision (No. 251)).


Therefore, Christ could not have been born later than February 4 BCE even if Joseph had left for Egypt on the day of Herod’s death. This he clearly did not do, as there was no prospect of his death when they left, and Joseph lived in Egypt until an Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph when Herod died. Clearly, Christ could not possibly have been born in the year 4 BCE, and from the date of the taxing and the two-year period between the coming of the Magi and the killing at Bethlehem two years were involved. This period, together with a flight into Egypt prior to Herod’s death, indicates that Christ is unlikely to have been born after the Passover 6 BCE. The years of census, therefore, are the only other major clues.


Because of Herod’s death by Passover 4 BCE, Christ could not have been less than 31, and in view of the other biblical information it is likely that he was at least 35 or 39. For him to have been less than 31 he must have been born in 6 CE, and the translation means the third decade, i.e. mid-20s (i.e. 22), but this is impossible as it contradicts a Gospel and the requirement to be 25 years old to enter the service of the Temple and to be thirty to teach.


The earliest probable date is 8 BCE with the last full census before Herod’s death, making Christ 35 years old at the beginning of the year 27/8 CE.


It is possible, however, that Quirinius could have ordered a complete census in 12 BCE to establish control of Galatia, Cappadocia and Syria in the war against the brigands, as robbers had also operated earlier from Trachonitis when Augustus bestowed it on Herod in 24/23 BCE. He may well have exercised full military command of the area until M. Titius became Legate of Syria.


He could also have done so as military commander under the Legate Saturninus and before Varus in 8/7 or 7/6 BCE, as part of the general census ordered by Augustus.


The historians Gerlach, Quandt and Hahn explain Zumpt’s assertions with the view that Qurinius was sent to Syria with Quinctilius Varus (6-4 BCE) as extraordinary legate, and undertook the census as such (see also Schürer vol. 1, p 424). Thus, on this view he arrived in 6 BCE at the time of Varus’ replacement of Saturninus.


Sanclemente presented such a view by putting it that Qurinius has been sent to Syria as special legate equipped with a higher authority than the Syrian legate of the time, namely Saturninus.


Schürer (ibid.) assumes that the words of Luke, that he had supreme command, mean precisely: when he was governor over Syria. However, he may indeed have had supreme command of the forces in Asia Minor for the war against the Homonadenses, and had military command over Galatia and Syria.  That explanation allows all accounts to be in harmony. The views of all historians are that he had this command in 6 BCE at the end of Saturninus’ rule and before or at the beginning of the rule of Varus. It is thus argued that the census was ordered in the last half of 6 BCE, and took well into 5 BCE to implement.


In 23 BCE Augustus sent M. Agrippa, his intimate friend and counsellor, to Syria, and in 21 BCE his son-in-law. His title was the Deputy of Caesar beyond the Ionian Sea (Josephus, A. of J., XV, 10,2) and he possessed expansive powers more than an ordinary Legate. He did not, however, go on the island of Lesbos at Mytilene from 23-21 BCE. He returned to Rome where he was busy in the West for four years. In 16 BCE he returned to the East where he remained until 13 BCE, and he exercised his official power through Legates. The person actually exercising power in the East, and in particular Syria, is unknown, but given Quirinius’ military command and elevation to Consul in 12 BCE, it is most likely that he would have exercised military command until M. Titius assumed control of Syria, and we know he had done so by 10 BCE, as Josephus mentions him as Governor at the time of Herod’s quarrel with his sons. This and the later succession disputes of Herod’s family may well have been sparked off by the birth of Christ, or even his anticipated birth, according to the prophecy, as there is plenty of evidence amongst the religious communities of the expectation of the Messiah of Aaron.


The birth of Christ, as early as 12 BCE, would still be perfectly correct within all the known records and the Gospels, and a further possibility of the activities in 8 BCE cannot be overruled.


No world census is known to have occurred at 6 BCE or 5 BCE. Luke’s information is fairly precise. The census may well have been in accord with Augustus’ requirements, especially in view of the problems in Galatia-Pamphylia, Syria and Judea. Any attempt to dogmatically assert Christ’s age at 30 at his baptism produces unnecessary conflict in the Gospels and the Bible generally.


To determine when Christ was baptised and from then when he began his ministry, and what the significance of the timing of the ministry was, we must commence with the ministry of John the Baptist.


We know from Luke 3:1 that John “began to preach in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius”, which cannot have commenced any earlier than October of the year 27 CE if the civil calendar in use in the East was used. Tiberius commenced to reign on 17 September 14 CE, and the year 27 CE is arrived at only if the month of September is counted as the first year and the second year commences in October 14 CE. This then commences the 15th year in October 27 CE. John’s call for repentance probably commences from Atonement of that year, and continued until Passover of 28 CE when he was arrested. We know that Christ was baptised some time after October 27 CE, and before the Passover of 28 CE.


Christ’s baptism preceded the official commencement of his ministry and a number of activities took place after his baptism, prior to the commencement of his ministry at the imprisonment of John the Baptist.


From Luke 3:21, we know that Christ was not among the first that John baptised, but rather he was baptised after the majority; therefore, his baptism was some time after October 27 CE – possibly well into 28 CE.


The sequence of time from his baptism includes the day of this baptism, then a fast of 40 days and 40 nights. He returned to John the Baptist and recruited his disciples over 3 days (Jn. 1:35-45). On the third day was the marriage at Cana where he performed the miracle of water into wine (Jn. 2:1). He then went to Capernaum where he abode “not many days” (Jn. 2:12). Then the Passover was at hand.


Therefore, the time period between Christ’s baptism and the Passover of 28 CE covered an absolute minimum of 44 days, plus ‘a few days’ (say 6). From the text in Luke chapter 3 we see that his baptism and the Temptation in the wilderness all took place before his declaration at Atonement of the Acceptable Year of the Lord. Therefore the timing of the Fifteenth year of Tiberias must be calculated from 1 Abib according to the years of Kings and not Tishri. So, at baptism he was also the minimum of 31 years of age and probably older.


We know from Matthew chapter 4 that Christ did not commence preaching until after John the Baptist had been imprisoned, when he moved to Capernaum (vv. 12-13). Verse 17 specifically states: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. The sequence from verses 18-22 indicates that Peter, Andrew, James and John were called after the imprisonment of John the Baptist, but this is a harmonistic arrangement of the story flow to assist the sequence from verse 23. This sequence is present at Mark 1:14-20, and verse 21 follows on to the entry to Capernaum.


We know from John 2 that Jesus performed the miracle of the water into wine before his ministry commenced (cf. Jn. 2:4). His “time (or hour) had not come”; and he had his disciples present with him, and this was prior to his visit to Capernaum.


From John 1:35 we know that Andrew, the brother of Peter, was a disciple of John and turned to follow Christ. He took Peter to Christ telling him he had found the Messiah (Jn. 1:41), who named him Peter (Cephas). Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:14-20 are therefore simplifications of the detailed story of the calling of the first disciples. It is most likely from John that they had indeed been called and possibly baptising prior to this point, and that this was a summons which commenced the actual work.


John 2:22 shows that after the wedding at Cana in Galilee, Jesus and his disciples went into the country of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptising, although he himself did not baptise (Jn. 4:2). John the Baptist was also baptising at Aenon near Salim, and this was near the Passover of 28 CE (Jn. 2:13).


Moffatt places this section in a sequence transposing John 3:22-30 in between John 2:12 and 13, as John had not yet been cast into prison in this section; but as Jesus began to perform miracles on the Passover he takes this to indicate that John was imprisoned at that time. Matthew is quite emphatic that Christ did not commence to preach until after John had been imprisoned. Indeed, Christ could not have commenced to preach earlier than the Passover of 28 CE or the Gospels are in disagreement, and the Word of God is compromised.


The Authorised text of John’s Gospel, if taken in sequence, indicates that he entered the Temple on the Passover of 28 CE performing miracles, and then retired into the countryside of Judea where his disciples baptised whilst John baptised at Aenon. The Authorised text therefore demonstrates that Christ’s actual preaching was less than two years, commencing after the Passover of 28 CE.


Christ preached until the Passover of 30 CE, when he was arrested and crucified. He died in the late afternoon of 14 Nisan/Abib, which fell on Wednesday 5 April 30 CE. The supposed date of 25 April in 31 CE is too late, and the Passover had not fallen that late for many centuries (see the paper Timing of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection (No. 159)).


This would be consistent with the sequence of the Sign of Jonah, as Jonah did not commence to preach until he had entered Nineveh on the first day’s journey. Jonah preached to Nineveh for slightly less than three full days, and Nineveh was given forty days to repent and did repent. Judah was given slightly less than (but say) three years of the ministry of John the Baptist (equal to the first day’s journey into Nineveh) and two years of Christ’s ministry on the year-for-a-day principle (equals two days). On the same principle Judah was given 40 years to repent. They did not do so and were destroyed from Atonement 70 CE to 1 Abib 71 CE, completing the sign of Jonah in its second phase (see the paper The Sign of Jonah and the History of the Reconstruction of the Temple (No. 013)).


The assertion that Christ’s ministry was three-and-a-half years is a late assertion and is definitely non-scriptural. It obscures the true signs of Christ’s ministry and limits correct understanding. The assertion is centred on another false interpretation of Scripture relating to the construction of the Temple and the seventy weeks of years. Indeed, this insidious doctrine has seen the text of Daniel 9:25 tampered with in the Authorised Version to construe meaning around this period, commencing from a fictitious date in the reign of Cyrus Macrocheir, called Artaxerxes I by the Greeks.


The Sign of Jonah is the only sign given to Christ’s ministry. It is not just confined to the three days and three nights in the tomb and the resurrection, but rather encompasses the entire plan of the construction of the Temple and the seventy weeks of years. It has further significance arising from Ezekiel’s vision at chapter 1 and the sequence of the four Cherubs. The period of Jubilees allowed for the period of the Advent of the Messiah of Aaron and the Messiah of Israel as an extension of the Sign of Jonah.