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 (
Date of Baptism
John is said by Luke to have begun to preach and baptize "in the fifteenth year of Tiberius" (
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
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
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
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 (Matthew, Mark, 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 (
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
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" (
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
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 (
The miserable story of the vicissitudes of the Jewish people in the century succeeding the great persecution of
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,"
(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 (
(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 (
(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 andand Jesus. In reality, however, nothing could be more opposed than Essenism to the essential ideas and spirit of Christ’s teaching (compare Schurer, as above, Div. II, Vol. II, 188 ff; Kuenen, Hibbert Lects on National Religions and Universal Religions, 199-208; Lightfoot, Colossians, 114-79).
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 (
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 (
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 (
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(1922), 259-262; J. G. Machen, of Christ (1930), 203-209; E. Stauffer, Jesus and His Story (1960), 22-25.
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 (
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 (
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 (
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.