John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 2:13-14, How Long Did Jesus Preach?

And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

//Three years, right? Jesus’ ministry lasted for three years.

But do you know where we get this idea? It comes from the Gospel of John. Today’s verse tells how, at Passover time, Jesus drove the money changers out of the Temple. John then narrates two more Passover celebrations, with the third one culminating in Jesus’ death. Three years, then, right?

The problem is that all three of the other Gospels contradict this. They all narrate only about one year for Jesus’ ministry, after which Jesus travels up to Jerusalem and dies during Passover.

The question, then, is this: Did John mean for his Gospel to be read chronologically? In an earlier post, I described how John uses the Jewish feasts as a backdrop for his stories of Jesus, and suggested that a chronological reading misses the point. Like the book of Revelation, another document in the Johannine corpus, the order of events may be thematic rather than chronological. The Temple cleansing in today’s verse, for example, surely occurred in Jesus’ final Passover; not two years before! It is, in fact, the trigger for the arrest of Jesus.

Could there have been two attacks on the Temple by Jesus, one two years before the other? Or should we recognize John’s literary creativity in reordering the events, and side with the other three Gospels for about a one-year ministry?

I vote for the latter.

(More about this topic can be found in my latest book, John’s Gospel: The Way It Happened)

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5 Comments

  1. You rarely miss a meme to examine and challenge! Good work.

    From a logistics point of view, the recorded works and words of Jesus could have have been accomplished (albeit with a fair bit of effort)within a year or so, particularly with the way he implemented the 70 in Luke 10. How about trying to retrace the ministry in a one year time frame? Is it possible to chronologically tell the story?

  2. Lee Harmon

    You mean, develop a composite gospel and tell the story in a year? That’s a good question. I tell John’s story in a year with my book, but of course I leave out an awful lot from the Synoptics, including the 70.

    Since John is the oddball, I guess it boils down to how much of John is meant as history and how much as parable. Your thoughts?

    • I’m not sure what you mean when you are asking me what I mean! :)

      I’m suggesting a summarized synoptic of Jesus’ ministry plotted out within a one year (or so) time frame, including his geographic travels. Obviously there would have to be some reasoned assumptions but I do wonder if something like that could be done.

      It makes a lot of sense that his ministry was one year simply based on the amount of information that was collected, plus the fact that the rulers of the day probably would let him carry on for three years when a lot of people are thinking he was the political messiah.

  3. Lee Harmon

    lol. By “composite Gospel” I mean smashing the four of them into one somehow, and then seeing how long it takes chronologically to tell the story.

    Regarding your last point, I think it’s quite valid. Whether Jesus’ ministry lasted one year or three, I think the point is that he didn’t challenge the big city (Jerusalem) more than once. This is sort of the story of a small-town sage who (maybe) succeeds too well, and has to go big or go home. So off he heads to the Temple for a showdown with the system.

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