Some Notes on the Chronology of Christ’s Earthly Life

Usually it is said that Christ began his public ministry at the age of 30 (Lk. 3, 23) and was crucified and rose from the dead after three years, as can be calculated from the Gospels, at the age of 33. This has been taken to mean that he was born in the Year ‘0’ and died and rose in the Year 33. This is not the case. Apart from anything else, the Year 0 did not exist. Moreover, nearly all scholars now agree that Christ was born somewhere between 4 ‘BC’ and 8 ‘BC’. Can we be any more precise?

Here we examine the chronology of Christ’s life on earth in the light of the traditional Orthodox date of His birth, 5,508 since the Creation. This date is of course purely symbolic. The figure 5,500 refers simply to the tradition that as Adam fell in the middle (‘at noon’, for there was the noonday demon) of the sixth day (Friday), so Christ died for us and for our salvation in the middle of the sixth day (Friday), being crucified at noon (the sixth hour, Lk. 23, 44) and then giving up his spirit at 3.00 (the ninth hour, Matt. 27, 46; Mk. 15. 34). As a day is a thousand years, according to the Apostle Peter (2 Pet. 3, 8), five and a half days makes the number 5,500.

However, what interests us is not the symbolic 5,500, but the 8. It indicates that Christ was born in what mistaken Western dating calls 8 ‘BC’. Here it must be understood that in that mistaken system of dating, there was no Year 0. Therefore, that chronology goes from I BC to 1 AD in one year. In other words, if Christ was born in 8 ‘BC’, it means that He was born eight years before the end of 1 AD, not eight years before the end of ‘Year 0’.

We do not know Christ’s date of birth – though that too makes no difference to our salvation. The 25th December, as is well-known, is also purely symbolic and was chosen only because it is connected with the winter solstice of the northern hemisphere. Thus, some speculate that God was born as man in the summer, or at least between April and October, of not May and September, shepherds were in the fields with their flocks when he was born (Lk. 2, 8), so clearly there was no snow and it was not cold. (We recall how cold it still was in Jerusalem at Christ’s crucifixion in April, for ‘Peter was warming himself,’ (Mk. 14, 67). Christ was born in a shepherd’s cave/home/sheepbarn outside the village of Bethlehem, as there ‘was no room for them in the inn’ (Lk. 2, 7). The then village of Bethlehem (meaning ‘The House of Bread’), is 6 miles south of Jerusalem (meaning perhaps ‘The City of Peace’).

Later (see below) Wise Men (not ‘kings’) followed a ‘star’ and came from the East to give Christ presents (Matt. 2, 1-2). No number is mentioned but it is presumed, as Tradition relates, that there were three Wise Men because they came with three presents (Matt. 2, 11). The Wise Men had been guided to the house where the Christ-Child was by a light in the sky, called ‘a star’ (Matt. 2, 9). However, it is clear that this was not a star, since stars are so high in the sky that they cannot be followed and they cannot come and ‘stand over where the young Child was’ (Matt. 2, 9). The Church believes that this was not a star, but the same light of the Holy Spirit as guided the Israelites in the wilderness.

The use of the word ‘house’ clearly means that the Wise Men came after Christ was born. They did not come to the cave of His birth, but to a ‘house’ (Matt. 2, 11), where the Child lived with His Mother. Indeed, the lapse in time between the Birth and the arrival of the Wise Men would explain why, as the Apostle Matthew relates, Herod the King then ordered all male children under the age of two who lived in the region of Bethlehem to be killed (Matt 2, 16). This suggests that the Wise Men came to Christ about two years after He had been born.

Later in history the Wise Men were taken symbolically to represent the three Continents of the Old World, Asia, Africa and Europe (the New World too was and is populated only by those from the Three Continents of the Old World). However, the Gospels simply say that they all came ‘from the East’ (Matt. 2, 1), which is taken as meaning the Persian Empire, perhaps Babylon, where the science of astronomy/astrology was advanced. After all they were also called by the Persian word, ‘Magi’, meaning astronomers/astrologers.

Now Herod almost certainly died in or around 4 ‘BC’. Since he had already tried to kill Christ, and so killed all children under the age of two (traditionally 14,000), this means that Christ was born in 6 ‘BC’ at the very earliest. However, even that presumes that Herod died immediately after his massacre of the innocent children. We do not know that that was the case. Some time may have elapsed between the Massacre of the Holy Innocents and the death of Herod. All we know is that Herod died after an excruciatingly painful, putrefying illness.

Meanwhile, Herod failed to kill Christ because His Mother had fled with their guardian Joseph to Egypt (Matt. 2, 13), 120 miles to the south-west of Jerusalem, that is, several days’ walk. Tradition says that they stayed in Egypt for two years, though the Gospel says only that they returned when Herod had died (in 4 ‘BC’). If they did stay in Egypt for two years then Christ could easily have been born in 8 ‘BC’.

In order to avoid further persecution from Herod’s son, the new and ferocious ruler Archelaus, Christ was taken to live in Nazareth (Matt. 2, 22-23), a mountainous hamlet 93 miles due north of Jerusalem towards Galilee, the home of His guardian Joseph (Lk. 2, 4 and 39). The name Nazareth may mean ‘a watchtower’, which one might expect to find in a mountainous area. Here Christ grew up.

Later, during Christ’s public preaching, we hear of another place where he lived called Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Thirty miles to the north-east of Nazareth, it means ‘village of comfort’ and is situated 100 miles to the north-north-east of Jerusalem. The Gospels refer to Capernaum, which was big enough to have a synagogue (Mk. 1, 21) and a Roman centurion (Lk. 7, 2 and 5 and Matt. 8, 5) and so a garrison, as ‘His own town’ (for example, Matt. 1, 9). This suggests that Christ had some time earlier moved to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee from Nazareth. At the very least, He centred the last three years of his life, the period of His public ministry, there.

If Christ was born in 8 ‘BC’ and was crucified at the age of 33, then he must have started his public preaching in 24 AD before he became 31. This means that April 27 AD would mark His Crucifixion and Resurrection at the age of 33, a few months before his 34th birthday. This is during the time of Pontius Pilate, the fifth governor of Roman Judea, who served under the Emperor Tiberius from 26 to 36 AD. Pilate’s cowardly fear of the mob is more understandable if he were a newly-appointed governor, still unsure of himself.

Some have tried to date the Crucifixion by finding the date of an eclipse. Of course, there was not an eclipse at Christ’s Crucifixion, for no eclipse lasts for three hours: ‘And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour’ (Mk. 15, 33). That event was metaphysical, not an eclipse. There is also the mystery of when the Jewish Passover fell on a Saturday/Sabbath, as it did in the year of Christ’s Crucifixion (Jn. 19, 31), for it was Sunday, the first day of the week when it was discovered that Christ had risen (Matt. 28, 1; Mk. 16, 2; Lk. 24, 1). Here different researchers provide different dates for the Jewish Passover. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty here, some suggesting that the Passover did not fall on a Saturday at any time between 26 and 36 AD.

This then is our suggestion for the chronology of Christ’s life on earth, that He lived from 8 ‘BC’ to 26 AD. It would mean of course that today we are not in the Year 2022, but in the Year 2029 AD. Here are only suggestions, in effect a defence of the traditional Orthodox Christian date. These suggestions are not and cannot be categorical. Probably we shall not know when Christ was born as man in earthly time until after the General Resurrection. These are mysteries as yet unrevealed; they are, literally, beyond time.