It is Holy Saturday and I am back. Reconfiguring my desktop was more time consuming than I had expected. It tied up my router making several hours-long data dumps. We don’t exactly have blazing fast internet. Also one day there was a family gathering. We have been going to church a lot this week, which is usual for Holy Week.
Today let me speak to the crucifixion as history. Of course, there is theological and devotional meaning to the crucifixion. But it was also a historical event. The Apostle’s Creed contains the phrase “crucified under Pontius Pilate”. The writings of Paul affirm that these events had been narrated to Paul at a very early date. The Gospel of John, although its final form is very late in the first century, claims that its earliest traditions come from an eyewitness. And, most primitive of all, the accounts of the Lord’s Supper show that the rite had to do with a sacrificed body and spilled blood from a time that could not have been more than a few weeks after the events.
You can date the time when Pilate was governor of Judea as 26 C.E. to 36 C.E. Pilate was a crony of Sejanus, who was an influential adviser to the emperor Tiberius. It is not exactly clear why Sejanus was deposed and executed in 31, but it must have left Pilate in a precarious position. His sponsor in Rome was considered a traitor. This would have given force to the appeal of the priests that if Pilate sided with Jesus he was no friend of Caesar.
This is why students of Roman history often favor the year 33 for the crucifixion. New Testament scholars often favor the year 30. The reason for this is Paul’s 17 year time span set out in the letter to the Galatians. There were 17 years (3 years before his first visit to Jerusalem and then 14 years to his return) between the call of Paul the Apostle and the conference in Jerusalem. If you try to harmonize Paul with the book of Acts, Paul’s call had to have been in the very early 30s. A year 30 crucifixion would best fit with this.
This reasoning assumes that the book of Acts is written in chronological order so that you can set up the scheme of three missionary journeys to put Paul’s ministry in order. Yet we know, by comparing Luke’s gospel to the others, that chronological order was not Luke’s primary way of ordering events. He seems to follow a more geographical order in both the gospel and Acts–from Galilee to Jerusalem and from Jerusalem to Rome. We do not have any other accounts parallel to Acts except for what we can glean from Paul’s letters. But it seems wrong to assume that Luke would suddenly become a stickler for precise chronological ordering of events when he wrote Acts.
Several scholars, therefore, have asked if the Apostolic Conference in Acts 15 might be out of order–if it might actually have taken place somewhat later in Paul’s ministry than Luke’s desire to put the event right in the middle of his book suggests. If the Apostolic Conference actually happened in, say, 51; then there is much more room for the year 33 to be the date of the crucifixion. Paul Jewett, I think, successfully argued this case in his A Chronology of Paul’s Life.
So I put the crucifixion in 33. And I think the downfall of Pilate’s sponsor and the crumbling of Pilate’s backing in Rome had something to do with his actions.
The historical event is the given behind the theological and devotional meaning of Good Friday. It was an actual event. You could have been there.