The chronology of the public life offers a number of problems to the interpreter; we shall touch upon only two, the duration of the public life, and the successive journeys it contains.
There are two extreme views as to the length of the ministry of Jesus: St. Irenæus (Against Heresies II.22.3-6) appears to suggest a period of fifteen years; the prophetic phrases, “the year of recompenses”, “the year of my redemption” (Isaiah 34:8; 63:4), appear to have induced Clement of Alexandria, Julius Africanus, Philastrius, Hilarion, and two or three other patristic writers to allow only one year for the public life. This latter opinion has found advocates among certain recent students: von Soden, for instance, defends it in Cheyne’s “Encyclopaedia Biblica”. But the text of the Gospels demands a more extensive duration. St. John’s Gospel distinctly mentions three distinct paschs in the history of Christ’s ministry (2:13; 6:4; 11:55). The first of the three occurs shortly after the baptism of Jesus, the last coincides with His Passion, so that at least two years must have intervened between the two events to give us the necessary room for the passover mentioned in 6:4. Westcott and Hort omit the expression “the pasch” in 6:4 to compress the ministry of Jesus within the space of one year; but all the manuscripts, the versions, and nearly all the Fathers testify for the reading “En de eggysto pascha heeorteton Ioudaion”: “Now the pasch, the festival day of the Jews, was near at hand”. Thus far then everything tends to favour the view of those writers and more recent commentators who extend the period of Christ’s ministry a little over two years.
But a comparison of St. John’s Gospel with the Synoptic Evangelists seems to introduce another pasch, indicated in the Fourth Gospel, into Christ’s public life. John 4:45, relates the return of Jesus into Galilee after the first pasch of His public life in Jerusalem, and the same event is told by Mark 1:14, and Luke 4:14. Again the pasch mentioned in John 6:4 has its parallel in the “green grass” of Mark 6:39, and in the multiplication of loaves as told in Luke 9:12 sqq. But the plucking of ears mentioned in Mark 2:23, and Luke 6:1, implies another paschal season intervening between those expressly mentioned in John 2:13 and 6:4. This shows that the public life of Jesus must have extended over four paschs, so that it must have lasted three years and a few months. Though the Fourth Gospel does not indicate this fourth pasch as clearly as the other three, it is not wholly silent on the question. The “festival day of the Jews” mentioned in John 5:1, has been identified with the Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Expiation, the Feast of the New Moon, the Feast of Purim, the Feast of Dedication, by various commentators; others openly confess that they cannot determine to which of the Jewish feasts this festival day refers. Nearly all difficulties will disappear if the festival day be regarded as the pasch, as both the text (heorte) and John 4:35 seem to demand (cf. Dublin Review, XXIII, 351 sqq.).
The public life of Jesus: his journeys