It is usually argued that the synoptic version of Jesus’ mission lasted less than a year while John’s gospel depicts a mission that lasted more than two years, crossing over three different Passovers. This is not technically true. The so-called short mission thesis is based on the lack of specific time markers in Mark, Matthew and Luke. Now, the absence of time markers may accurately reflect a short mission but its also possible that Mark may have removed time markers and Matthew and Luke simply accepted mark’s chronological arrangement. It’s also possible that John may have inserted time markers where none may have existed. Let me give an example of how this problem could have arisen.
Mark and John both tell the story of the miracle of the loaves, where Jesus fed five thousand people with just five loafs of bread and two fish, each saying that there were enough leftovers to fill twelve baskets. Mark gives no indication of when this happened. John says it occurred when Passover was near (John 6:4). They are both clearly describing the same incident. Did John add in the Passover announcement or did Mark remove.
In John 5, Jesus attended a festival in Jerusalem. After he attended the festival, the gospel says Jesus left Jerusalem and went to the Sea of Galilee with his apostles and met with them on a hill (John 6:1–3.). After the meeting, John announces the Passover was near and the events surrounding the miracle of the loaves occur. Following the announcement, the rest of John 6 reads as if the events all take place over a couple of days at most. At the beginning of John 7, we are told the festival of booths was near (John 7:2).
John gives us a scenario with three time markers. First there is an identified festival. Next Passover is near. Then Booths is near. Passover at that time fell on the 14th day of the first month. The first festival prior to Passover is Dedication. If that is the unidentified festival, it falls about three and half months before Passover. Booths occurs six months after Passover.
Following John’s chronology, after leaving Jerusalem for The Sea of Galilee, with the exception of the two or three days surrounding the miracle of the loaves, nothing in the mission occurs for about nine months. The question that arises is whether John inserted chronological markers where none had been in the sources, or did Mark remove the markers in narrating his gospel? The answer isn’t clear and one can go either way, depending on one’s preferred analysis.
In John, the Passover notice has a narrative relationship to the miracle of the loaves. Passover celebrates the Exodus. The miracle of the loaves suggests a Passover imagery, reminding the reader of how God provided the Jews with manna from heaven to eat. Further, after the miracle of the loaves, both Mark and John show Jesus walking across a stormy sea, possibly echoing a storm separating the sea that Moses and the Hebrews walked across when escaping the Egyptians.
The two-miracle sequence seems to reflect Passover themes. John places the miracles in the context of an upcoming Passover and in the course of his narrative later directly gives a speech about bread that directly references the manna from heaven in the Exodus story. Mark has no reference to the Passover.
Did Mark remove the chronological references to the three holidays because of the long period of time in which nothing happened, and he wanted to keep his story as a tight action sequence leading to the Passion account? Or did John insert the time markers because, as some scholars point out, John likes to tie holiday themes to events? If that’s the case, why does he fail to identify the holiday in John 5? It seems to me that there is no obvious answer to the question of whether the chronological markers were added or removed. Whichever way you go, it brings the two gospels into closer chronological harmony.