Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


Additional Links

MINISTRY.—The word ‘ministry’ as now used in English has two leading senses: (a) service rendered, and (b) an official class, especially ecclesiastical. The latter has no place in this discussion, which has regard to the public service rendered by our Lord during His life on earth. In this connexion it describes both the period of the service and its contents. The word comes from the Latin minister, properly an adjective, but in its substantive use signifying an ‘attendant’ or ‘servant’ who usually performed services of a personal and more or less menial nature. It was also sometimes used of public or religious functionaries. In Greek there are three words which more or less nearly correspond to the Latin minister, namely, διάκονος, λειτουργός, ὑπηρέτης. See preceding article.

i. The Nature of our Lord’s Ministry.—In the mind of Jesus Himself there lay the ideas of both sacrifice and service as the essential principles of His mission among men.

1. The first element to be noticed is service. This presents a threefold aspect: (a) It was notably and characteristically a ministry of teaching. The frequent mention of His teaching, the reports of His discourses and sayings, and the fact that He was often called ‘Teacher,’ emphasize as all-important this function of His ministry. The varied character, the weighty contents, the marvellous power and the sweet charm of His teaching, are familiar thoughts to students of His life. But we must remember also the arduous nature of this work. The bodily toil, the mental strain, the spiritual intensity, all were great; and these were increased by the constant opposition of critics and foes, and by slowness of comprehension on the part of His friends. (b) But incidental to and accompanying this work of teaching was Christ’s great ministry of help and healing. All the narratives show how large a place this occupied in His public life. Here, too, His labours were vast in sum, and made extraordinary demands—as many indications show—upon His sympathy and strength. (c) Closely related to His teaching, but not exactly identical with it, was our Lord’s ministry of founding His Church. The selection and training of His Apostles and other disciples, involving many details of precept in regard to both the principles and the positive institutions of the Kingdom of God, were elements of the first importance in the earthly work of Jesus.

2. The other element is that of sacrifice. This was no less prominent in the ministry of Jesus than service. (a) In the Synoptics there is a progress of thought in regard to the fact and meaning of His sufferings. After Peter’s confession near Caesarea Philippi, Jesus began to impress on His disciples the certainty of His approaching death (Matthew 16:16; Matthew 16:21); at the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah talked with Him of His ‘decease (ἔξοδος) which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:31); soon after (Matthew 17:22 f.) He again spoke of His coming death. The self-giving character of His sufferings is indicated in the manner in whch they are spoken of in Luke 9:22-24, Matthew 20:22, as compared with Luke 12:50; and the severity of this experience as being something more than death alone, however painful, is indicated in the passages noted, and powerfully enforced by the Agony in Gethsemane and the events of the Crucifixion. Finally, the atoning value of Christ’s sacrifice is pointed out in Matthew 20:28—the words ‘and give his life a ransom for many,’ and in the accounts of the Last Supper (Matthew 26:27-28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:19-20). (b) In the Fourth Gospel the sacrificial note is even more distinct. It appears in the announcement of the Forerunner (John 1:29; John 1:36), in the great saying to Nicodemus (John 3:14-16), in the discourse at Capernaum (John 6:32-33; John 6:48-51), in the parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11; John 10:15; John 10:17-18), in the remarks on the visit of the Greeks (John 12:20-33), and in the words of comfort to the disciples (John 15:13). (e) How strongly the Lord must have impressed this view of His ministry upon the minds of His disciples, is shown in utterances of Peter and of Paul in their addresses and in their Epistles, in the elaborate argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and in the representations of the Lamb in the Apocalypse.

ii. The Extent of our Lord’s Ministry.—In regard to the extent of the public ministry of Jesus, three main questions present themselves: How long did it last? How much territory did it cover? How much labour did it include?

1. Duration.—On the point of duration the principal things to be considered are the limits, the dates, and the resultant theories of scholars.

(1) The limits of the public ministry of Jesus are properly placed between His baptism and His burial, leaving out at the beginning the thirty years of retirement and preparation at Nazareth, and at the end the forty days of occasional appearances after His resurrection. The determination of the time between is a hard problem.

(2) The principal dates to be determined in our Lord’s life are those of His birth, baptism, and crucifixion—the duration of the ministry depending upon the latter two, but involving the first. If it were possible to fix with certainty any two of these, the problem would practically be solved; or, if even one could be placed beyond doubt, it would be greatly simplified. But as a matter of fact scholars have never been able to decide positively on any one of the dates. A full discussion is not called for here (see art. Dates), but the salient points must be presented.

(a) For the Birth of Jesus, we know that it occurred in the reign of the emperor Augustus (Luke 2:1-6), and not long before the death of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1; Matthew 2:19). Herod died probably not later than b.c. 4, as is made out from statements of Josephus (see Dates), and thus it appears that by an early error (of Dionysius Exiguus, an abbot of the 6th cent.) the generally accepted era of Christ’s birth has been irrevocably fixed a few years later than the actual time. The probable date of the Nativity is somewhere between b.c. 6 and 4.

(b) For the Baptism, we know that it took place at some time within the ‘fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’ (Luke 3:1-2), for this was the time that John began to baptize, and Jesus was among those who received the rite at his hands (Matthew 3:13, Mark 1:9, Luke 3:21); but none of the accounts gives any definite note as to the exact point during the ministry of John when the baptism occurred. St. Luke states (Luke 3:23) that ‘Jesus when he began (presumably His ministry or teaching) was about thirty years old.’ But neither His exact age nor the exact point of His ‘beginning’ is indicated. The probability is that He was either just thirty, or from one to three years past that—hardly under thirty. So that here we have no certain number of years to add to the already uncertain year of the Lord’s birth. If we take b.c. 4 as the Birth date and add thirty years, it brings us to a.d. 26 as the probable year of the baptism; but if St. Luke’s ‘about thirty’ be extended two years, it would be 28. Now, as to the ‘fifteenth year of Tiberius,’ that was probably the year 28, but may have been 26. Augustus died in a.d. 14 (Aug. 19), and, if the beginning of the reign of his successor Tiberius be reckoned from that date, the ‘fifteenth year’ would begin in Aug. 28, and the baptism of Jesus would be at some time in the twelve months following. But it is possible that St. Luke dates the beginning of Tiberius’ reign from the time he was associated in the government with Augustus, i.e. in a.d. 12; and so the ‘fifteenth year’ could begin in Aug. 26. On this, however, it is proper to remark that the more common mode of reckoning would be from the actual sole reign, and not from the previous association of an emperor in the government.

(c) For the Crucifixion, we know that it occurred during the governorship of Pontius Pilate in Judaea (all the Evangelists), and this administration covered about ten years, from a.d. 26 to 36. Other data (see Dates) help to fix upon near the central part of this period as the time of the Crucifixion, between 28 and 31, more likely 29 or 30.

(3) These uncertainties have given rise among scholars to a number of different theories of the duration of our Lord’s ministry. It will be sufficient to mention three, among which choice, according to what seems to be the greatest probability, should be made.

(a) The short period theory. This assigns but a little over a year to the ministry. According to it, the Baptism probably occurred early in the year 29, that is, during the fifteenth year of Tiberius, reckoning that to have begun in Aug. 28, and the Baptism to have taken place early in the year following. The first Passover (John 2:13) came soon after, and the last Passover just a year later. Between these two Passovers lay the whole ministry, hence this theory is called the bipaschal view. To obtain this result, the feast of John 5:1 is held not to be a Passover; the text of John 6:4 is regarded as incorrect (on slight documentary evidence), and read as omitting ‘of the passover,’ and so leaving this also an unnamed feast. After disposing of these two feasts, the order of feasts mentioned in John is fixed as follows: Passover (John 2:13), a.d. 29; Pentecost (John 5:1), nameless or omitted (John 6:4), Tabernacles (John 7:2), Dedication (John 10:22), and Passover (John 11:55), spring of a.d. 30. With this scheme derived from the Fourth Gospel, the data furnished by the Synoptics is made to harmonize by slighting the indications of a time of nearly ripe grain (Matthew 12:1, Mark 2:23, Luke 6:1), which it is hard to locate if there were only two Passovers in the whole series of events. But this theory is defended (see von Soden in Encyc. Bibl.) on the following grounds: (i.) That the correct interpretation of the ‘fifteenth year’ of Tiberius is from the date of his sole reign, and therefore is a.d. 28–29. (ii.) The events of the Gospel narrative are too meagre to have extended over more than a year. (iii.) This view was held by many of the Fathers as early as the 2nd century. The only one of these grounds that has any real force is the first, and as to that it may be replied that we are not compelled to put the Crucifixion in 30, and thereby limit the time to one year. The second ground is entirely subjective—to many other scholars it seems far too short a time for all the events (with their implications of others and of intervals) to have taken place. As to the third ground, it may be said that the Fathers were not unanimous, and they had only the same data for forming opinions that modern and more accurate chronologers have. Besides its inadequacy to account for all the facts, this theory deals in an arbitrary way with the text of John 6:4 and with the indication furnished by the incident of the grain fields (Matthew 12:1 etc.).

(b) The long period theory. This holds that there were four Passovers in the ministry, and is hence called the quadripaschal theory. It dates from Eusebius in the 4th cent., and is held by many modern scholars. This takes the unnamed feast of John 5:1 to be a Passover, holds to the commonly received text of John 6:4, puts the Baptism early in 27 and the Crucifixion in 30, thus making the ministry extend over three years. But there is difference of arrangement of details even among those who hold this view, and it is not at all certain that the feast of John 5:1 can be fixed as a Passover.

(c) The medium period theory. This holds that the feast of John 5:1 is not a Passover, and that there were only three Passovers in the ministry—so the tripaschal theory. As to what feast it was, and as to the arrangement of all the details, there is much difference among the advocates of the medium period. But from a year and a half to two and a half is the time allowed by those who reject both the other theories. If the Baptism occurred in the autumn of 28 or early spring of 29, then to get in three Passovers it will be necessary to put the Crucifixion in 31—to which there are serious objections. But if the Baptism was in 26–27, then the Crucifixion could be assigned to 29, which is not improbable. It must be said in view of all these difficulties, that no positive convictions in regard to the duration of the ministry are, in the present state of knowledge, tenable, but the probabilities are upon the whole in favour of a ministry of more than one and less than three years’ duration.

2. Localities.—In regard to the topographical extent of our Lord’s ministry we have a much simpler question to deal with. His labours extended throughout Palestine, and on a few occasions to contiguous lands. (a) Judaea, in several different places, and more especially Jerusalem, witnessed some of His most important deeds and teachings. (b) Galilee, however, was the principal scene of His teaching and healing work. The Lake and its cities,—Capernaum with others,—Nazareth, Cana, and other towns and a number of villages, the plains and mountains of populous Galilee shared in the deeds of His busy life. Two certainly, and probably three, separate tours of the whole of Galilee are mentioned: (1) Matthew 4:23, Mark 1:39, Luke 4:44; (2) Luke 8:1; (3) Matthew 9:35, Mark 6:6,—though it is possible that (2) and (3) are the same. (c) In passing through Samaria several times (John 4:4 ff., Luke 9:52 f., Luke 17:11) He paused to perform some work of mercy. (d) Into Phœnicia, ‘the region of Tyre and Sidon,’ He went at least once (Matthew 15:21, Mark 7:24). (e) Several visits to districts contiguous to Galilee, to the east and north, are mentioned, namely, the visit to Gerasa or Gadara during His Galilaean ministry (Matthew 8:28, Mark 5:1, Luke 8:26), to Decapolis (Mark 7:31), to the unknown Magadan (Matthew 15:39) or Dalmanutha (Mark 8:10), and Caesarea-Philippi (Matthew 16:13, Mark 8:27). (f) In regard to the region beyond the Jordan commonly known as Peraea, there are interesting notices, but some uncertainties. The first notice is in the account of John’s baptism as taking place at Bethany beyond Jordan (John 1:28). Much later there was a ministry of uncertain duration in Peraea (John 10:40, Luke 13:22; Luke 13:32), and still later a journey through the same region on His last visit to Jerusalem (Matthew 19:1, Mark 10:1).

3. Labours.—The extent of our Lord’s ministry is also to be regarded from the point of view of the labours He performed during its course. (a) The actual labours recorded by the Evangelists are considerable in sum. (b) That these were only samples and specimens of His work is distinctly and repeatedly implied. (c) Pointed allusions to the magnitude of His work are frequent (Matthew 4:23; Matthew 4:25, Mark 1:32; Mark 1:34, Luke 4:14-15, and many similar passages). (d) There are many indications of the insistent demands upon His attention (e.g. Mark 1:35-37; Mark 2:1-2; Mark 3:7-9; Mark 3:20 and similar ones), of His weariness and need of rest (John 4:6, Mark 4:35 ff; Mark 6:30-32, and others), once of the anxiety of His relatives (Mark 3:21-31). (e) The enormous amount of His unrecorded labours is distinctly asserted (John 21:25).

The following conspectus may serve to present in clearer view some of the points already discussed:


The Thirty Years.

Birth to Baptism.

Bethlehem. Egypt. Nazareth.

b.c. 5 or 4 to a.d. 26 or 28.


Opening Scenes.

Baptism to First Miracle.

Beyond Jordan. Wilderness. Judæa. Cana of Galilee.

26 or 28.


Earlier Ministry.

First Miracle to Beginning of Work in Galilee.

Capernaum. Jerusalem. Samaria.

Between 27 and 29.


Central Ministry.

Preceding Events and First Tour in Galilee.

Nazareth. Capernaum. Other Cities of Galilee.

Probably 28, 29.



Events connected with Second Tour in Galilee.

Cities and Villages of Galilee. Gadara. Nazareth.



Third Tour, and Departure from Galilee.

Cities and Villages. The Lake. Capernaum. Tyre and Sidon. Decapolis. Cæsarea Philippi.


Later Ministry.

Close of Galilæan Ministry to Triumphal Entry.

Galilee. Judæa. Peræa.

Probably 29 or 30.


Closing Scenes.

Triumphal Entry to Crucifixion and Burial.

Jerusalem and vicinity.


The Forty Days.

Resurrection to Ascension.

Jerusalem. Galilee. Olivet.

iii. Results of our Lord’s Ministry.—When we attempt to sum up the results of our Lord’s ministry, we have to distinguish between those which were gathered during His life and those which have been maturing through the centuries following.

1. During His life.—Briefly, we should here have in mind: (a) the multitudes who were reached by His personal influence both in His teaching and His healing; (b) the number of particular adherents won, including the Twelve and all other disciples mentioned in the Gospels, together with those mentioned or alluded to in the early chapters of Acts; (c) the training of the Twelve for their work after His departure; and (d) the establishing of the institutions of the Kingdom of God—preaching, the ordinances, the Church.

2. Since His ascension.—The history of Christianity for nineteen centuries only partially describes the outcome of Christ’s short ministry upon earth. It is indeed a commonplace, but withal a glorious truth, to say that no other term of service in any man’s life, whether longer or shorter, was ever so potent an influence or so formative a force for all that is best in human affairs.

Literature.—The Lives of Christ, esp. Andrews. The Life of our Lord; Broadus, Harmony of the Gospels, with Notes on dates by A. T. Robertson; art. ‘Chronology’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (Turner) and in Encyc. Bibl. (von Soden), and the literature adduced; art. in The Biblical World (Chicago) for Dec. 1905, by Professor Votaw.

E. C. Dargan.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ministry'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Prev Entry
Next Entry