The New Testament era began about 4 BC. That’s approximately the year when God sent the angel Gabriel to the Hebrew priest Zacharias, the young Hebrew virgin Mary, and her espoused Hebrew husband Joseph. All of the events happened in the kingdom of Judea, when Herod was king. These and other facts brought out in the New Testament Gospel accounts give us excellent insight to the timing of the events, but can we trust the Gospel accounts as true historical documents? How do we know the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are really the Word of God? Even if we can trust the Gospel accounts as originally written, how do we know the copies we have in our New Testament today are the same as the original Autographs written more than 1,900 years ago?
Do you see what’s at stake here? Christianity is based on the Person of Jesus Christ and the Revelation of Jesus Christ is based on what we read about Him in the New Testament. If we cannot trust the New Testament, we cannot trust Christianity. If we cannot trust Christianity, we cannot trust Christ. If we cannot trust Christ, we cannot trust God. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the trustworthiness of the New Testament.
Based on the information we have from the Gospel accounts, Jesus was most likely born between 6 and 4 BC. Herod was king of Judea when Jesus was born and most historians believe Herod died about 4 BC. We know from Matthew 2 that Herod spoke with wise men from the East who came to Jerusalem searching for the one “born King of the Jews.” This troubled Herod, so he asked the wise men to find the Child and then let him know where he could visit the Child to “worship Him also.” The wise men found Mary and Joseph and the Child Jesus, but were “divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod.” An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt and “stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” Joseph did as he was told and stayed in Egypt “until the death of Herod.” If Herod died in 4 BC, then the birth of Jesus would be 4 BC or earlier.
Based on the information we have in Luke’s Gospel account (Chapter 3), John the Baptist began his ministry “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests.” The Roman world used the reigns of their Caesars as calendar notations, so we have a pretty good idea about when John the Baptist began his ministry. Using all of the historic data available from the lives of these ancient people, we come up with an approximate date of 26 – 29 AD. Tiberius Caesar began his co-regency with Augustus Caesar about 12 AD. Tiberius assumed sole regency upon the death of Augustus in 15 AD. The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar could have been 26 AD or as late as 29 AD. All of the other rulers Luke mentioned support the dating of 26 – 29 AD for the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry.
According to all of the Gospel accounts, John the Baptist began his ministry before Jesus began His. Luke wrote that Jesus began His earthly ministry “at about thirty years of age.” If Jesus was born in 4 BC and began His ministry at the exact age of 30, that would have been in the year 26 AD, which would fit within the dating for John the Baptist’s ministry dates. The fact that Luke wrote Jesus began His ministry “at about thirty years of age,” could mean the Lord was 30, 31 32, or even 33 when He was baptized by John the Baptist. All of the information Luke presents fits well with the historical information available. The accuracy of Luke’s history in both of his Letters to a friend named Theophilus (Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts) is an important part of knowing whether we can trust the accuracy of the New Testament.
In our next study, we will look at when and how the New Testament was written and used during the 1st century AD.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”