The fifteenth year of Tiberius. There are various ways of counting the years of an emperor's reign; and doubt often exists which way is intended, when a date is given.
Luke might reckon the years of an emperor as beginning always from the anniversary of the day on which power was conferred on him. That mode of reckoning seems to have been always used by the emperors of the first century. In that case the fifteenth year of Tiberius's rule in the provinces began near the end of AD.25, on the anniversary of the day when he originally received collegiate authority in the provinces. But that method was rarely, if ever, used by the general public or by historians in the East.
There was, however, a different method which was usually employed by many historians and chronologists, and was officially used by the emperors of the second and third centuries. The first year of the emperor was estimated to run from the day on which he assumed power to the conclusion of the current year; then the second year of the emperor began on the first day of the following current year.
If that reckoning was followed by Luke, we should have to inquire what system of years he followed, whether he counted the years as beginning on the Roman system from 1st January, or on the most usual Greek system in the Aegean lands from 23rd September, or on a common Syrian system from 18th April. On these three systems the fifteenth year of Tiberius might begin either 1st January, BC.25, or 23rd September, 25, or 18th April, 25.
But according to every system it will be found that the first Passover of Jesus' teaching was the Passover of AD.26: the only difference which they make to the reckoning is that John's preaching might be made to begin a little earlier on some than on other systems.
It is unfortunate that, in his admirable article on the |Chronology of the New Testament,| Mr. C. H. Turner sometimes disregards the principle admitted by most of the recent chronologists -- that when any event was taken as an era, the years were not reckoned beginning from that day, but the year 1 was reckoned as the current year within which the event occurred, as for example in the Asian year beginning 23rd September, the year 1 of the Actian era was the year ending 22nd September, B. C.31, although the battle of Actium was fought as late as 2nd September, 31 (so that the year 1 of this era came to an end three weeks after it began). This principle has been proved repeatedly in the last few years, and many difficulties, formerly found in reckoning ancient dates, disappear as soon as it is applied. Mr. Turner follows the old method, that the year 1 runs for twelve months from the epoch-making event (e.g., that the first year of Herod's reign lasted for 365 days from the day of his accession, and so on). Thus he is beset by the difficulties that result from it: e.g., he declares that Josephus contradicts himself when he says that Antigonus died |on the day of the Great Fast in the consulship of Agrippa and Gallus (BC.37), twenty-seven years to a day since the entry of Pompey into Jerusalem in the consulship of Antonius and Cicero (BC.63)|. Josephus, indeed, has admitted not a few faults and slips into his historical works; but it is surely going too far to say that the two reckonings given in this sentence contradict one another. There is no contradiction, if one counts like Josephus. According to Mr. Turner's reckoning, the lapse of twenty-seven years after (circa) 30th September, 63, brings us to 30th September, 36, but it brought Josephus only to 30th September, 37; and his two statements (made side by side in his text) agree exactly.
According to Niese in Hermes, 1893, p.208 ff., Josephus in reckoning the years under the Roman emperors employed a solar year of the Julian type, but reckoned according to a Ty1ian (and perhaps common Syrian) method so that the year began from I Xanthicus, 18th April. Josephus also, as Niese holds, in order to avoid making the last year of one emperor coincide with the first year of his successor, reckoned the final year of each emperor as continuing, to the end of the current year, and made the first year of his successor begin only on 18th April following his accession. This was necessary if the years of the emperors were to be used in a continuous chronological system. In this way, the year 1 of Tiberius began on 18th April, AD.15, and the year 22 continued to run till 17th April, AD.37 (though the reign really lasted from 19th August, A.D.14, to 16th March, AD.37, i.e., twenty-two years, six months, twenty-eight days). Similarly, the year 1 of Nero began only on 18th April, AD.55, full six months after he really began to reign.
Mr, Turner points out that Eusebius followed a similar (but not identical) method, counting the years of every emperor from the September after his succession.
Orosius either employed a reckoning of this character or was misled by some authority who did so; and hence he makes the tenth year of Claudius include an event that happened in 51, and we must suppose that he means the fourth year of Claudius to be AD.45, and the ninth, AD.50 (see St. Paul the Traveller, pp.68, 254, where I did not perceive what was the explanation of Orosius's statements and called them errors).
But it is clear that Josephus did not employ this kind of reckoning for the Jewish rulers before Christ. It is more probable that he used either the Jewish sacred year beginning 1st Nisan (usually some time in March) or the Roman year beginning 1st January. For our purposes it will make no difference which system we follow (though there are, of course, many cases in which it might make the difference of a year); and as it will be simpler to use the Roman and modern reckoning from 1st January, we shall show the dates on that system.
1. Herod's reign de jure began from a decree of the Senate passed in the consulship of Domitius and Pollio BC.40, during the 184th Olympiad which ended at midsummer in that year. Year 1 of Herod's reign de jure ended on 31st December BC..40: year 37 of Herod's reign de jure ended on 31st December, BC.4.
(If the decree was passed at a Senate meeting of 1st January or 1st February, and the Jewish reckoning from 1st Nisan be followed, the years of Herod's reign would all be carried back one year, so that the year 37 would end on 18th April, BC 4; but it is improbable that the decree was passed at these first two Senate meetings.) Herod died in the thirty seventh year of his reign de jure, i.e., in the year BC.4, immediately before the Passover, and perhaps (as Lewin reckons) on 1st April.
2. Pompey entered Jerusalem on the Great Fast about the end of September, BC.63. In reckoning from this event, year 1 is the year ending 31st December, BC.63; year 27 is the year ending 31st December, BC.37; Herod succeeded as de facto king on the same fast day, twenty-seven years after Pompey entered Jerusalem, i.e., about the end of September, BC.37, in which year the consuls were Agrippa and Gallus. Year 1 of Herod's reign de facto ended 31st December, BC.37; year 18 of Herod's reign de facto ended 31st December, BC.29; year 34 of Herod's reign de facto ended 31st December, BC.4.
Herod died in the year 34 of his reign de facto, i.e., in the year BC.4. This agrees exactly with the previous result.
Now the Temple began to be built in the eighteenth year of Herod, i. e.,BC.20. In reckoning from this event (John 2:20), the Jews would presumably count according to their own system of sacred years beginning 1st Nisan. There is therefore a doubt what was the first year of the building of the Temple. If the building began in January-March, BC.20, the first year would end at 1st Nisan 20, and would begin from 1st Nisan, BC.21; but if the building began in April or later, the first year would end at 1st Nisan in BC.19. We take the latter as more probable. Then the year 1 of the building of the Temple begins on 1st Nisan, BC.20; year 46 of the building of the Temple begins on 1st Nisan, AD.26.
The Jews disputing with Jesus at the Passover in the middle of Nisan AD.26 would therefore on their system of reckoning call it the 46th year. |Forty and six years has this temple been in course of building (and is still building).|
It is apparent how many uncertainties are caused in ancient chronology, through the variety of systems of reckoning the year, and other variations in different cities. We have not indicated nearly all such causes of doubt. For example, as M. Clermont Ganneau says, the Seleucid era was reckoned from 1st October, BC.312, but the era of Damascus was reckoned from 23rd March of the same year.
A different explanation of Luke's chronology may be approved by some, and it therefore deserves a place here. I am not aware that it has been advocated; but in all probability it has found some supporters, like every other possible view on this subject.
It is founded on the theory -- which some think highly probable -- that Luke considered the teaching of Jesus to have extended only over a little more than twelve months, beginning shortly before the Passover in one year and ending with the Passover of the following year. On that theory one might interpret the fifteenth year of Tiberius's reign in the usual way, from his assumption of power after the death of Augustus, 19th August, AD.14. If, as many historians did, Luke reckoned the first year of Tiberius to end on 31st December, AD.14, and the fifteenth year to begin 1st January, AD.28, the baptism of Jesus would have to be placed early in that year, and the crucifixion at the Passover of 29. If, on the other hand, he reckoned the first year of Tiberius from 19th August, AD.14, to 18th August, AD.15, then the baptism of Jesus would have to be placed early in 29, and the crucifixion in AD.30; but we have already set aside this supposition as less probable.
According to this method of explanation it would be necessary to suppose that in 3:23 Luke depended on an excellent authority, who knew both the correct age when Jesus began his teaching and the fact that the teaching lasted three years and a few months; but in 3:1-2 he depended on his own reckoning, founded on his false impression that the teaching lasted only one year and a few months. The fact would remain clear and certain that the crucifixion took place in AD.29, and the teaching really began in the early spring of 26 (exactly as we have placed them).
There seems to us to be no necessity for supposing this partial error on Luke's part.