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Sunday, August 13, 2006 

The Date of Passover and the Pitfall of Inerrancy: Part 1

In this post I want to present the basic problem that exists between the Synoptics and the Gospel of John concerning the date of Passover and Jesus' crucfixion:

1.) The Synoptics present Jesus' last meal with his disciples as a a Passover meal which means his crucifixion occured on Passover Day proper after the meal.

That Jesus last meal with his disciples was the Passover meal is indicated clearly by the following passage:

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, "Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?" And he sent two of this disciples, and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, 'The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?' And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us." And the disciples set out and went to the city, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover. (Mk 14:12-16; cf Mt 26:17ff and Lk 22:7ff)

What follows is the Lord's Supper. Though from time to time some have tried to show that this meal really wasn't a Passover meal (due to the absence of the lamb and such), most are convinced otherwise, especially because of the preceding context which I just quoted.

2.) The Gospel of John indicates that Jesus' last meal was not a Passover meal and that Jesus was crucified just prior to when the Passover meal would have been eaten, i.e., when the lambs were slaughtered in preparation for the meal.

Here are the key passages:

Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And during supper... (Jn 13:1-2)

What follows this introductory material in chapter 13 of John is the one meal that the author(s) do present that Jesus had with his disciples. However, there is absolutely no indication that this meal bears the distinctives of a Passover meal. Moreover, given the introductory sentence ("Now before the feast of the Passover") it seems best to conclude that this is not a Passover meal. But if this is not enough evidence for some, consider the next passage:

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was early. They themselves did not enter the praetorium, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the passover. (Jn 18:28)

In this passage we see clearly that the Jewish authorities had not yet eaten the Passover meal and wished to do so later, thus they would not enter the praetorium (because of the Gentile presence) for it would have rendered them unclean and so unfit to eat the passover meal.

And then finally:

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. (Jn 19:13-14)

Here we have Jesus' crucifixion taking place on the Day of Preparation of Passover, prior to Passover Day proper. Jesus is crucified at the time the lambs are prepared for the evening meal (cf. Mk 14:12, Ex 12:8).

The discrepancy should now be clear. In a nutshell, the Synoptics and John differ concerning a key moment during Jesus' final week. The Synoptic witness is that Jesus did in fact have a Passover meal with his disciples and so was tried and crucified after this meal. In contrast to this, the Gospel of John does not have Jesus sharing a Passover meal with his disciples because he is crucified just prior to when the meal would have been participated in, namely, on the Day of Preparation for Passover when the lambs are slaughtered for the evening meal.

The issue is, admittedly, a bit more complex than my brief analysis might indicate. This is because to make sense of the conflict between the Synoptics and John, it requires a certain understanding of the Jewish calendar. But I want to stave off a more complex analysis until I have presented Kostenberger's "solution" to this problem which I will do next post.

What significance did the historical Jesus place upon his instituting the Eucharist during a Passover meal?

Good post, Chris. (No need to apologize for not interrupting your other series … I do that all the time!)

I'm looking forward to this, Chris. Your argument seems strong, but of course I feel that if I were to admit such a thing, I've sold the farm on the Bible.

Maybe you'll present some other alternative ideas of inspiration as you discuss this problem.


That is something that I will take up another time. For the moment, it is irrelevant to what I'm trying to show.


Thanks as usual.


I understand your reticence. Most people want to hold onto inerrancy because they fear that if they cannot accept one part of the Bible as true, then they cannot accept any of it. I will certainly try to address this at the end of this series. Perhaps when you see the ridiculous exegetical attempt to "fix" this problem by Kostenberger you will be convinced.

Presumably, if Jesus placed any significance upon the Passover meal, then one inspired Biblical writer felt free to override the wishes of Jesus, and change the meaning that Jesus wanted people to grasp.

The solution to this was given by John Gill and John Lightfoote hundreds of years ago in their commentaries. The passover in Deut. 16:2 is the passover of the flock and the herd. On the night of passover only the flock was to be used (Exodus 12). During the feast of passover the herd was eaten. What you read in John 18 is the same event covered in Deut. 16:1-8. It is the meat that is eaten from the sacrifices offered by the priests in the temple. It is the animals from the herd that the priests would eat during passover week. This eating occured at the temple not at home like the passover lamb or goat. By the passover here is meant the "Chagigah." As the Jewish commentators explain it. According to Deut. 16:7, the Israelites were to boil their offering and eat it at passover. In contrast the lamb was roasted.

Also the bible is clear that Preparation Day refers to the day before the Sabbath. So what we have here is Preparation Day of the passover. The crucifixion took place at the time the Jews should have been at their daly sacrifice preparing for that particular day which was their "Chagigah" or grand feast.

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