44. All these considerations show that while the general order of events in the life of Jesus may be determined with a good degree of probability, we must be content to remain uncertain concerning the place to be given to many incidents and to more teachings. Such uncertainty is of small concern, since our unharmonized gospels have not failed during all these centuries to produce one fair picture, to the total impression of which each teaching and deed make definite contribution quite independently of our ability to give to each its particular place in relation to the whole. The degree of certainty attainable justifies, however, a continued interest in the old study of harmony, because of the more comprehensive idea it gives of the ministry depicted in the partial narratives of our several gospels.
45. The length of the public ministry of Jesus was one of the earliest questions which arose in the study of the four gospels. In the second and third centuries it was not uncommon to find the answer in the passage from Isaiah (lxi. 1, 2), which Jesus declared was fulfilled in himself. “The acceptable year of the Lord” was taken to indicate that the ministry covered little more than a year. The fact that the first three gospels mention but one Passover (that at the end), and but one journey to Jerusalem, seems at first to be favorable to this conclusion, and to make peculiarly significant the care taken by Luke to give the exact date for the opening of Jesus’ ministry (iii. 1, 2). In fact, the second century Gnostics, relying apparently on Luke, assigned both the ministry and death of Jesus to the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar,—an interpretation which may have given rise to the widely spread, early tradition, found, for example, in Tertullian (Ante-nicene Fathers, in. 160), which placed the death of Jesus in A.D. 29, during the consulship of L. Rubellius Geminus and C. Fufius Geminus.
46. The theory that the ministry of Jesus extended over but little more than one year is beset, however, by difficulties that seem insuperable. The first is presented by the three Passovers distinctly mentioned in the Gospel of John (ii. 13; vi. 4; xii. 1). The last of these is plainly identical with the one named in the other gospels. The second gives the time of year for the feeding of the five thousand, and agrees with the mention of “the green grass” in the account of Mark and Matthew (Mark vi. 39; Matt. xiv. 19). John’s first Passover falls in a section which demands a place before Mark i. 14 (compare John iii. 24). Hence it must be shown that this first Passover is chronologically out of order in the Gospel of John, or the one year ministry advocated by the second century Gnostics, by Clement of Alexandria, by Origen, and of late years by Keim and others, is seen to be impossible. The fact that at this Passover Jesus cleansed the temple, and