Modern church tradition teaches that Jesus had a 3 1/2 year ministry, and cites the mentions of Passover in the book of John as the authority. But John is just one of four gospel witnesses. From the time Jesus’ ministry began, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of only one Passover, the year of his crucifixion. Outside of Scripture, the earliest surviving written church history, by Flavius Josephus, says the ministry of Jesus was about one year. The only data that suggests that Jesus kept four Passovers comes from the book of John, which appears to mention more Passovers than the other four sources.
The first Passover, in John 2:13, was when Jesus removed the leaven in his Father’s house in preparation for the days of Unleavened Bread. This was done in the form of removing the money changers from the temple. This was the first Passover of his ministry.
Proponents of the four Passover theory point to John 5:1 as being the second Passover, despite that it is not identified as such. To believe this was a Passover, we would have to determine that John found very little noteworthy activities of the Messiah for an entire year, since he would have had to gloss over an entire year, including two other annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem, in a few short chapters. Did the ministry of the long anticipated Messiah include a full year with no miracles, no important teaching, and no controversy?
The next mention is John 6:4. Yet again, John would have had to find nothing noteworthy in the life and ministry of Jesus for another entire year. In the life of the most studied, talked about, controversial man in this earth’s history, we’d have to assume there was a second full year with no significant events or encounters. Interestingly enough, the verse identifying this feast as Passover does not appear in the earliest manuscripts of the book of John. (For those who wish to investigate further, in the oldest fragment of the Critical Apparatus of the Nestle Aland, that verse was missing. Source: A Rood Awakening.)
There are also two glaring reasons that the feast in John 6:4 was not a Passover. We are told they were by the Sea of Galilee, but Jesus, and every other adult male, made the Jerusalem pilgrimage at the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. For this feast to be Passover would mean that Jesus and a huge assembly of obedient worshippers decided to defy God by staying in Tiberias, which is impossible for the sinless Lamb of God. What is equally unlikely is the mass defiance of the requirement to eat only unleavened bread at this time. The bread referred to in this passage is the Greek word Strong’s 740, artos. Artos is leavened bread. Unleavened bread is the Greek word Strong’s 106, azumos. So to consider John 6:4 a Passover, we have to 1) accept a verse not found in the earliest manuscripts,2) believe that the Messiah and his otherwise obedient followers defied God by not going to Jerusalem for the feast, and 3) that they further defied God by eating a type of bread that was forbidden during this time. It is far more likely that this verse represents a non-pilgrimage feast when leavened bread was eaten.
The next mention of Passover is John 11:55 and beyond. This is the Passover of the crucifixion, when he became our Passover, which is not in dispute.
So here are our two options:
- There were four Passovers mentioned in John but omitted by the three other gospel writers and early church historians; John failed to mention five other pilgrimage feasts during these years; one year Jesus and vast numbers of believers defied two of God’s commands by refusing to go to Jerusalem and failing to abstain from leaven; and John repeatedly found huge periods of Christ’s ministry to be so insignificant as to not be worthy of mention, or , more likely,
- The referenced feasts were not all Passovers.
Let’s consider the second option. John 2 is clearly the first Passover. Following the text and holy days chronologically, John 5 is most likely Pentecost, fifty days later. John 6 can’t possibly be a Passover due to the recorded activities, and is more likely the feast of Trumpets, which was not a pilgrimage feast. John 7 mentions the Feast of Tabernacles, which is two weeks after the Feast of Trumpets. John 10:22 names the Feast of the Dedication (Hanukkah), which is just over two months after the fall feasts. The remaining feast references found in John are at his second (and final) Passover.
Using the Bible standard of “two or three witnesses”, we should see if there are at least two other references in Scripture that would suggest a shorter ministry of the Messiah. Probably the most noteworthy is a reference to the exact time the Messiah would rule, found in Daniel 9:26. Here it states that the Messiah would be cut off after sixty two weeks, which is a little over a year, not three and a half years. Additionally, one of the requirements for the Passover lamb was that it had to be a “lamb of the first year” (Exodus 12:5). If Jesus fulfilled all of the requirements for a Passover lamb, he could not have been in his third year of ministry.
If your theology depends on a three and a half year ministry of Jesus, perhaps you should go back to your interpretation to see where you have made your error. The most important thing to remember when reading Scripture is that we must set aside our traditions and preconceived notions, and study to see what it really says. More often than not, you’ll be in for some interesting surprises.
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To study this topic in depth, watch Michael Rood present the Jonah Code: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAKgRyYfeko