This article gives an brief overview of Jesus and his life. More detailed discussions of his life, ministry and influence can be found listed to the right.
The leading chronological questions connected with the life of Jesus are discussed in detail elsewhere (CHRONOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT; QUIRINIUS, etc.); here it is sufficient to indicate the general scheme of dating adopted in the present article, and some of the grounds on which it is preferred. The chief questions relate to the dates of the birth and baptism of Jesus, the duration of the ministry and the date of the crucifixion.
Date of the Birth of Jesus
Though challenged by some (Caspari, Bosanquet, Conder, etc., put it as late as 1 BC) the usual date for the death of Herod the Great, March, 4 BC (year of Rome 750), may be assumed as correct (for grounds of this dating, see Schurer, op. cit., Div. I, Vol. I, 464-67). The birth of Jesus was before, and apparently not very long before, this event (Mt 2). It may therefore be placed with probability in the latter part of the previous year (5 BC), the ordinary dating of the commencement of the Christian era being thus, as is generally recognized, four years too late. There is no certainty as to the month or day of the birth. The Christmas date, December 25, is first met with in the West in the 4th century (the eastern date was January 6), and was then possibly borrowed from a pagan festival. December, in the winter season, seems unlikely, as unsuitable for the pasturing of flocks (Lu 2:8), though this objection is perhaps not decisive (Andrews, Conder). A more probable date is a couple of months earlier. The synchronism with Quirinius (Lu 2:2) is considered in connection with the nativity. The earlier datings of 6, 7, or even 8 BC, suggested by Ramsay, Mackinlay and others, on grounds of the assumed Roman census, astronomical phenomena, etc., appear to leave too long an interval before the death of Herod, and conflict with other data, as Lu 3:1 (see below).
Date of Baptism
John is said by Luke to have begun to preach and baptize "in the fifteenth year of Tiberius" (Lu 3:1), and Jesus "was about thirty years of age" (Lu 3:23) when He was baptized by John, and entered on His ministry. If the 15th year of Tiberius is dated, as seems most likely, from his association with Augustus as colleague in the government, 765 AUC, or 12 AD (Tacitus, Annals i.3; Suetonius on Augustus, 97), and if Jesus may be supposed to have been baptized about 6 months after John commenced his work, these data combine in bringing us to the year 780 AUC, or 27 AD, as the year of our Lord’s baptism, in agreement with our former conclusion as to the date of His birth in 5 BC. To place the birth earlier is to make Jesus 32 or 33 years of age at His baptism--an unwarrantable extension of the "about." In accord with this is the statement in Joh 2:20 that the temple had been 46 years in building (it began in 20-19 BC) at the time of Christ’s first Passover; therefore in 780 AUC, or 27-AD (compare Schurer, op. cit., Div. I, Vol. I, 410).
Length of Ministry
The determination of the precise duration of our Lord’s ministry involves more doubtful elements. Setting aside, as too arbitrary, schemes which would, with some of the early Fathers, compress the whole ministry into little over a single year (Browne, Hort, etc.)--a view which involves without authority the rejection of the mention of the Passover in Joh 6:4--there remains the choice between a two years’ and a three years’ ministry. Both have able advocates (Turner in article "Chronology," and Sanday in article "Jesus Christ," in H D B, advocate the two years’ scheme; Farrar, Ramsay, D. Smith, etc., adhere to the three years’ scheme). An important point is the view taken of the unnamed "feast" in Joh 5:1. John has already named a Passover--Christ’s first--in 2:13,23; another, which Jesus did not attend, is named in 6:4; the final Passover, at which He was crucified, appears in all the evangelists. If the "feast" of Joh 5:1 (the article is probably to be omitted) is also, as some think, a Passover, then John has four Passovers, and a three years’ ministry becomes necessary. It is claimed, however, that in this case the "feast" would almost certainly have been named. It still does not follow, even if a minor feast--say Purim--is intended, that we are shut up to a two years’ ministry. Mr. Turner certainly goes beyond his evidence in affirming that "while two years must, not more than two years can, be allowed for the interval from Joh 2:13,23 to Joh 11:55." The two years’ scheme involves, as will be seen on consideration of details, a serious overcrowding and arbitrary transposition of incidents, which speak to the need of longer time. We shall assume that the ministry lasted for three years, reserving reasons till the narrative is examined.
Date of Christ’s Death
On the hypothesis now accepted, the crucifixion of Jesus took place at the Passover of 30 AD. On the two years’ scheme it would fall a year earlier. On both sides it is agreed that it occurred on the Friday of the week of the Passover, but it is disputed whether this Friday was the 14th or the 15th day of the month. The Gospel of John is pleaded for the former date, the Synoptics for the latter. The question will be considered in connection with the time of the Last Supper. Meanwhile it is to be observed that, if the 15th is the correct date, there seems reason to believe that the 15th of Nisan fell on a Friday in the year just named, 783 AUG, or 30 AD. We accept this provisionally as the date of the crucifixion.
The principal, and practically the only sources for our knowledge of Jesus Christ are the four Canonical Gospels--distinction being made in these between the first three (Synoptic) Gospels, and the . Nothing, either in the few notices of Christ in non-Christian authors, or in the references in the other books of the New Testament, or in later Christian literature, adds to the information which the Gospels already supply. The so-called Apocryphal Gospels are worthless as authorities; the few additional sayings of Christ (compare Ac 20:35) found in outside writings are of doubtful genuineness (compare a collection of these in Westcott’s Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, Appendix C; see also LOGIA).
Denial of Existence of Jesus
It marks the excess to which skepticism has gone that writers are found in recent years who deny the very existence of Jesus Christ (Kalthoff, Das Christus-Problem, and Die Entstehung des Christenthums; Jensen, Das Gilgamesch-Epos, I; Drews, Die Christusmythe; compare on Kalthoff, Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, English translation, 313 ff; Jensen is reviewed in the writer’s The Resurrection of Jesus, chapter ix). The extravagance of such skepticism is its sufficient refutation.
Of notices outside the Christian circles the following may be referred to:
There is the famous passage in Josephus, Ant, XVIII, iii, 3, commencing, "Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man," etc. It is not unlikely that Josephus had some reference to Jesus, but most agree that the passage in question, if not entirely spurious, has been the subject of Christian interpolation (on the literature and different views, see Schurer, Jewish People in the Time of Christ, Div II, volume II, 143 ff; in support of interpolation, Edersheim on "Josephus," in Dictionary of Christ. Biography).
The Roman historian, Tacitus, in a well-known passage relating to the persecution of Nero (Ann. xv.44), tells how the Christians, already "a great multitude" (ingens multitudo), derived their name "from one Christus, who was executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator of Judea,."
Also, in his account of Claudius, speaks of the Jews as expelled from Rome for the raising of tumults at the instigation of one "Chrestus" (impulsore Chresto), plainly a mistake for "Christus." The incident is doubtless that referred to in Ac 18:2.
The four Gospels, then, with their rich contents, remain as our primary sources for the knowledge of the earthly life of Jesus.
It may be taken for granted as the result of the best criticism that the first three Gospels (Gospel of Matthew|Matthew, Gospel of Mark|Mark, Gospel of Luke|Luke) all fall well within the apostolic age. The favorite theory at present of the relations of these Gospels is, that Mark is an independent Gospel, resting on the teaching of Peter; that Matthew and Luke have as sources the Gospel of Mark and a collection of discourses, probably attributable to the apostle Matthew (now commonly called Q) ; and that Luke has a third, well-authenticated source (Luke 1:1-4) peculiar to himself.
The present writer is disposed to allow more independence to the evangelists in the embodying of a tradition common to all; in any case, the sources named are of unexceptionable authority, and furnish a strong guaranty for the reliability of the narratives. The supreme guaranty of their trustworthiness, however, is found in the narratives themselves; for who in that (or any) age could imagine a figure so unique and perfect as that of Jesus, or invent the incomparable sayings and parables that proceeded from His lips? Much of Christ’s teaching is high as heaven above the minds of men still.
The Fourth Gospel
The Fourth Gospel stands apart from the Synoptics in dealing mainly with another set of incidents (the Jerusalem ministry), and discourses of a more private and intimate kind than those belonging to the Galilean teaching. Its aim, too, is doctrinal--to show that Jesus is "the Son of God," and its style and mode of conception are very different from those of the Joh 6:4-21). Where they do, the resemblance is manifest. It is obvious that the reminiscences which the Gospel contains have been long brooded over by the apostle, and that a certain interpretative element blends with his narration of incidents and discourses. This, however, does not warrant us in throwing doubt, with so many, on the genuineness of the Gospel, for which the external evidence is exceptionally strong (compare Sanday, The Criticism of the Fourth Gospel; Drummond, Character and Authorship of the Fourth Gospel; and see Gospel of John). The Gospel is accepted here as a genuine record of the sayings and doings of Jesus which it narrates.
Both Gentile and Jewish
In the Gospels and throughout the New Testament Jesus appears as the goal of Old Testament revelation, and the point to which all providential developments tended. He came, Paul says, in "the fullness of the time" (Ga 4:4). It has often been shown how, politically, intellectually, morally, everything in the Greco-Roman world was ready for such a universal religion as Jesus brought into it (compare Baur’s History of the Church in the First Three Centuries, English translation, chapter i). The preparation in Israel is seen alike in God’s revelations to, and dealings with, the chosen people in the patriarchal, Mosaic, monarchical and prophetic periods, and in the developments of the Jewish mind in the centuries immediately before Christ.
Old Testament Preparation
The age succeeding the return from exile witnessed a manifold preparation for the advent of Christ. Here may be observed the decentralization of the Jewish religious ideals through the rise of synagogue worship and the widespread dispersion of the race; the contact with Hellenic culture (as in Philo); but especially the marked sharpening of Messianic expectations. Some of these were of a crude apocalyptic character (see Apocalyptic Literature; Eschatology of the Old Testament); many were political and revolutionary; but some were of a purer and more spiritual kind (compare Lu 2:25,38). To these purer elements Jesus attached Himself in His preaching of the kingdom and of Himself as its Lord. Even in the Gentile world, it is told, there was an expectation of a great One who about this time would come from Judea (Tacitus, History v.13; Suet. Vespas. 4).
The Outward Situation
Of all lands Palestine was the most fitted to be the scene of the culminating revelation of God’s grace in the person and work of Jesus Christ, as before it was fitted to be the abode of the people chosen to receive and preserve the revelations that prepared the way for that final manifestation. At once central and secluded--at the junction of the three great continents of the Old World, Asia, Africa and Europe--the highway of nations in war and commerce--touching mighty powers on every hand, Egypt, Syria, Assyria, kingdoms of Asia Minor, as formerly more ancient empires, Hittite and Babylonian, now in contact with Greece and Rome, yet singularly enclosed by mountain, desert, Jordan gorge, and Great Sea, from ready entrance of foreign influences, Palestine has a place of its own in the history of revelation, which only a Divine wisdom can have given it (compare Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, Part II, chapter ii; G.A. Smith, Hist. Geog. of the Holy Land, Book I, chapters i, ii; Lange, Life of Christ, I, 246 ff).
Palestine, in the Roman period, was divided into four well-defined provinces or districts--Judaea, with Jerusalem as its center, in the South, the strong-hold of Jewish conservatism; Samaria, in the middle, peopled from Assyrian times by mixed settlers (2Ki 17:24-34), preponderatingly heathen in origin, yet now professing the Jewish religion, claiming Jewish descent (compare Joh 4:12), possessing a copy of the law (Sam Pentateuch), and a temple of their own at Gerizim (the original temple, built by Manasseh, circa 409 BC, was destroyed by John Hyrcanus, 109 BC); Galilee--"Galilee of the Gentiles" (Mt 4:15; compare Isa 9:1)--in the North, the chief scene of Christ’s ministry, freer and more cosmopolitan in spirit, through a large infusion of Gentile population, and contact with traders, etc., of varied nationalities: these in Western Palestine, while on the East, "beyond Jordan," was Peraea, divided up into Peraea proper, Batanea, Gaulonitis, Ituraea, Trachonitis, Decapolis, etc. (compare Mt 4:25; 19:1; Lu 3:1). The feeling of bitterness between Jews and Samaritans was intense (Joh 4:9). The language of the people throughout was ARAMAIC (which see), but a knowledge of the Greek tongue was widely diffused, especially in the North, where intercourse with Greek-speaking peoples was habitual (the New Testament writings are in Greek). Jesus doubtless used the native dialect in His ordinary teaching, but it is highly probable that He also knew Greek, and was acquainted with Old Testament Scriptures in that language (the Septuagint). In this case He may have sometimes used it in His preaching (compare Roberts, Discussions on the Gospels).
The miserable story of the vicissitudes of the Jewish people in the century succeeding the great persecution of Mt 24:1; Joh 2:20), fortresses, cities (Sebaste, Caesarea, etc.)--and lavish magnificence of his royal estate and administration, could not conceal the hideousness of his crafty, unscrupulous selfishness, his cold-blooded cruelty, his tyrannous oppression of his subjects. "Better be Herod’s hog (hus) than his son (huios)," was the comment of Augustus, when he heard of the dying king’s unnatural doings.
Changes in Territory
The Religious Sects
In the religious situation the chief fact of interest is the place occupied and prominent part played by the religious sects--the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and (though unmentioned in the Gospels, these had an important influence on the early history of the church) the Essenes. The rise and characteristics of these sects can here only be alluded to (see special articles).
(1) The Scribes
From the days of Ezra zealous attention had been given to the study of the law, and an order of men had arisen--the "scribes"--whose special business it was to guard, develop and expound the law. Through their labors, scrupulous observance of the law, and, with it, of the innumerable regulations intended to preserve the law, and apply it in detail to conduct (the so-called "tradition of the elders," Mt 15:2 ff), became the ideal of righteousness. The sects first appear in the Maccabean age. The Maccabean conflict reveals the existence of a party known as the "Assidaeans" (Hebrew chacidhim), or "pious" ones, opposed to the lax Hellenizing tendencies of the times, and staunch observers of the law. These in the beginning gave brave support to Judas Maccabeus, and doubtless then embraced the best elements of the nation.
(2) The Pharisees
From them, by a process of deterioration too natural in such cases, developed the party of legalists known in the Gospels as the "Pharisees" ("separated"), on which Christ’s sternest rebukes fell for their self-righteousness, ostentation, pride and lack of sympathy and charity (Mt 6:2 ff; 23; Lu 18:9-14). They gloried in an excessive scrupulosity in the observance of the externals of the law, even in trivialities. To them the multitude that knew not the law were "accursed" (Joh 7:49). To this party the great body of the scribes and rabbis belonged, and its powerful influence was eagerly sought by contending factions in the state.
(3) The Sadducees
Alongside of the Pharisees were the "Sadducees" (probably from "Zadok")--rather a political and aristocratic clique than a religious sect, into whose possession the honors of the high-priesthood and other influential offices hereditarily passed. They are first met with by name under John Hyrcanus (135-106 BC). The Sadducees received only the law of Moses, interpreted it in a literal, secularistic spirit, rejected the Pharisaic traditions and believed in neither resurrection, angel nor spirit (Ac 23:8). Usually in rivalry with the Pharisees, they are found combining with these to destroy Jesus (Mt 26:3-5,57).
(4) The Essenes
The third party, the "Essenes," differed from both (some derive also from the Assideans) in living in fraternities apart from the general community, chiefly in the desert of Engedi, on the Northwest shore of the Dead Sea, though some were found also in villages and towns; in rejecting animal sacrifices, etc., sending only gifts of incense to the temple; in practicing celibacy and community of goods; in the wearing of white garments; in certain customs (as greeting the sunrise with prayers) suggestive of oriental influence. They forbade slavery, war, oaths, were given to occult studies, had secret doctrines and books, etc. As remarked, they do not appear in the Gospel, but on account of certain resemblances, some have sought to establish a connection between them and
GENEALOGY OF (JESUS) CHRIST
Of the house and lineage of David.
The genealogy in Matthew.
Certain distinctive features stand out in Matthew’s genealogy. Two high points in OT revelation figure prominently in the list—David and Abraham, both men being partners to God’s covenants with Israel. Matthew intended that the pedigree of Jesus stand out sharply at the very beginning of his gospel, and it holds the first place of honor. His genealogy is structured in three sets of fourteen generations each. He arrived at this scheme through selection and omission in accord with OT practice. The device served to aid the memory, and indicated the main line of descent without sacrificing accuracy. Matthew may have chosen the number fourteen because it matches the numerical value of David’s name in Heb. letters, but this is no more than a theory. Another peculiar feature of Matthew’s list is the inclusion, almost incidentally of four women—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Rahab was a Canaanite from Jericho, Ruth was a Moabitess, and Tamar and Bathsheba were famous chiefly for their participation in public scandal. Quite apart from the character and nationality of these women, the very occurrence of their names in an official Jewish genealogy is a distinct feature. Undoubtedly, Jesus was known by His enemies as the son of an illegitimate union. He was known as the son of Mary, not Joseph (Mark 6:3), which in a male society was a dishonorable title. Later Jewish tradition developed the malicious rumor. Therefore, Matthew, desiring to offset the gossip, inserted with some relish the names of some OT characters whose reputations were not beyond reproach, but who were instrumental in the Messianic line. In Jesus’ case, however, the rumors arose to counteract the miraculous character of His birth by a virgin. Jesus is presented in Matthew’s genealogy as a legal male descendant of David through adoption by Joseph, and heir to the Davidic throne.
The genealogy in Luke.
The Lukan genealogy is less official and legal in form. It is not placed at the beginning of the gospel, but is tucked away in the third ch., after the baptism of Jesus. The order is inverted, proceeding backward in time from Joseph to Adam, and includes almost twice as many entries. The most startling feature of the list is its total dissimilarity to Matthew’s in the period between Joseph and David, with only two names common to both (other than Joseph and David), namely, Shealtiel and Zerubbabel. Luke traced his line through Nathan, son of David, and named Heli as grandfather of Jesus, whereas Matthew traced his line through Solomon, the royal son of David, and named Jacob as grandfather.
Two solutions to the discrepancy.
Attempts have been made from earliest times to resolve the apparent contradiction. Assuming no colossal mistake in either gospel, two valid explanations are possible. Either both lists are properly those of Joseph but reckoned in a different way, or one is the family tree of Mary, not Joseph. Annius of Viterbo (c. 1490) proposed a theory that whereas Matthew gives the legal descent through Joseph, Luke presents the physical descent through Mary; a method that can be traced back to the 5th cent. a.d. Certainly, Mary is the chief figure in the birth narrative of the third gospel, and belongs herself very prob. to the house of David (1:27; 2:4). The article that is universally used in the list for each entry is noticeably absent from the name of Joseph (3:23), which leads to the interpretation that the list proper begins with Heli, not Joseph. Joseph’s name is introduced into the list only to fill in the gap between Jesus and His grandfather Heli. The text would read thus: “Jesus, being the son (as it was supposed, of Joseph) of Heli, etc.” Luke’s list would be the register of Mary’s family, beginning with Heli her father. This theory is attractive, but suffers from the suppression of Mary’s name in the list. It is, however, clearly possible, and would provide a simple solution to the problem of the double genealogy. The fact that Mary was related to Elizabeth, a daughter of Aaron, is not an insuperable difficulty if we suppose this relationship came through the mother rather than the father. The main weakness is in the failure of Luke to make this point explicit if that was his intention. The theory could be strengthened by supposing that Mary had no brothers, and that Joseph became the son and heir of Heli by virtue of his marriage to Mary.
THE TWO GENEALOGIES
Adapted from A Guide to the Gospels (London 1948) by W. Graham Scroggie
The second possible explanation considers the Lukan genealogy to be the family tree of Joseph, as Matthew’s is. Both gospels stress that Joseph was of the house of David (Matt 1:16; Luke 1:27; 2:4). It is natural to suppose that both writers intended to provide Joseph’s ancestry. Matthew’s purpose was to trace the line of official succession to the Davidic throne, whereas Luke’s informal aim was to enumerate the actual physical ancestors of Joseph back to David. This solution was originally proposed by Julius Africanus (c. a.d. 220) in a letter to Aristides, as reported by Eusebius (Euseb. Hist. 1:7). Julius believed that the law of levirite marriage could be invoked to remove the tension between the two lists—that Joseph was really the son of Heli, with Heli and Jacob as uterine brothers, born of the same mother but of different fathers. If either one had married the widow of the other, Joseph could be reckoned in that sense a son of either. A neat twist can be put on the theory by identifying the two grandfathers of Joseph (Matthan in Matthew, and Matthat in Luke). In that case, Heli might have married the widow of a childless Jacob, and begotten Joseph, in which case Joseph would be the actual son of Heli, but the legal heir to Jacob. In both lists then, the ancestry of Jesus is traced through Joseph, his legal father. Because Matthew wished to present the successive heirs to David’s throne, he began with David’s ancestry and worked forward to Jesus. Because Luke wished to record the actual line of physical descent, he began with Joseph and worked backward through his actual ancestors. The chief weakness of the second explanation is the series of happy coincidences required to make it function.
A final solution to so intricate a question may never be found. Enough is known, however, to show that the apparent discrepancy between the two genealogies is not insoluble.
A. T. Robertson, A
LORD (CHRIST) (יהוה, H3378, אֲדֹנָ֕י; Aram.: אָדוֹן, H123, מָר; ὁ κὐριος, Lord, master).
The Gr. word for lord (kyrios), like its Heb. counterpart (’adônai), embraces the thoughts of power, firmness and competency. It also includes the ideas of lawfulness. When used in the LXX to tr. the two Heb. words for God, YHWH and ’adônai, names of relationship, it describes God in general as the sovereign of the universe, and in particular as the master of mankind, and as the One who has the right to exercise such authority.
Kyrios is found also in the NT. It was used here, as in the OT, to designate the sovereign God in relationship to His creation (Matt 1:20; 11:25; Luke 4:18).
The ideas of firmness and strength inherent in kyrios were also important to the Early Church. When a Christian, therefore, called Jesus “Lord,” he meant further that he had a foundation upon which to build his life. En kyriō, “in the Lord,” is the frequently recurring phrase best conveying this idea (Rom 8:39; 1 Cor 7:22).
It is worth recalling, however, that the gospels are post-resurrection documents, whose writers wrote from the perspective of Easter. To them Jesus was a teacher par excellence, but more than that, He was their sovereign Lord. Perhaps, then, the evangelists chose kyrios as a title even for the historical Jesus because it could reflect both the superficial understanding of the masses who saw in Him only a Jewish rabbi, and at the same time the later and more profound perception of the believing community who recognized in Him God become man.
Although the Church hailed Jesus as Lord, it also recognized that this role of His was a delegated one. They understood that when He would bring all enemies under His feet, he would then surrender His lordship and subject Himself to the One who subjected all things to Him so that the Triune God might be supreme (1 Cor 15:27, 28).
L. Cerfaux, “Le titre et la dignite royale de Jésus,” Révue des Sciences philosophiques et théologiques, XI (1922), 40-71; XII (1923), 125-153; W. Foerster and G. Quell, κύριος, G3261, (1933) in G. Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the NT, trans. and ed. by G. W. Bromiley; W. Bousset, Kyrios Christos (4th ed., 1935); E. Schweizer, Lordship and Discipleship (1960); R. C. Nevius, “Kyrios and Jesous in St. Luke,” AThR, XLVIII (1966), 75-77.