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Tuesday, August 15, 2006 

The Date of Passover and the Pitfall of Inerrancy: Part 2

The Date of Passover and the Pitfall of Inerrancy: Introduction

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

Having presented a simplistic analysis of the evidence which points to a contradiction between the Synoptics and the Gospel of John concerning the Passover events, it is now time to present Kostenberger's solution.

There are two places where one can find Kostenberger's attempt to harmonize the Synoptics and the Gospel of John on this matter. The first one I want to look at is found in his contributatory essay in Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect entitled "Diversity and Unity in the New Testament." As I stated previously, Kostenberger's goal in this essay is to criticize New Testament Theologies which seek to emphasize the diversity of the theological perspectives in the New Testament. Therefore, Kostenberger has to tackle particular issues which many critical scholars have targeted as representing diverisity or contradiction in the NT. This includes the relationship between Jesus and Paul, development in Paul's thought, the Paul of Acts versus the Paul of the epistles and, germane to our discussion, the relationship between the Synoptics and the Gospel of John. It is in the context of discussing this relationship that Kostenberger tackles the "apparent" contradiction between the Synoptics and John concerning Passover. Here is the argument in full:

"The reason many have seen John as placing the Last Supper on Wednesday night with the crucifixion taking place on Thursday afternoon (when the Passover lambs would have been slaughtered in preparation for Passover later that evening) is the reference to 'the Day of Preparation of Passover Week' in John 19:14 (NIV [throughout this essay]; cf Jn 18:28). However, the solution to this apparent dilemma lies close at hand. In John 19:31, it is made clear that Jesus' crucifixion took place on 'the day of Preparation,' with the very next day being a 'special Sabbath' (i.e., the sabbath of Passover week). Thus, even in John the crucifixion takes place on Friday, with 'the day of Preparation' in John, as in Mark and Luke, referring not to the day of preparation for the Passover but for the sabbath (Mk 15:42; Lk 23:54; cf Josephus Antiquities 16.163-64). Moreover, since Passover lasted a week (in conjunction with the associated Feast of Unleavened Bread; Lk 22:1), it was apropriate to speak of the day of preparation for the sabbath as 'the day of Preparation of Passover Week' (though not of the Passover in a more narrow sense; Jn 19:14)." Kostenberger, Biblical Theology, p. 148

To briefly summarize, Kostenberger's argument here hinges on the phrase "the day of Preparation of Passover Week (NIV)" which he interprets not as the day of preparation of Passover understood as the time before the meal when the lambs are slaughtered but as a way of referring to the day of Preparation for the coming sabbath. He cites Mk 15:42, Lk 23:54, and Josephus' Antiquities 16.163-64 in support of this intepretation. Therefore, Jesus is crucified after the Passover meal and on Friday just before the sabbath in agreement with the Synoptic account.

Kostenberger argues likewise in his commentary on John. There he states:

"Some argue that paraskueue (Day of Preparation) refers to the day preceding Passover, that is, the day on which preparations for Passover are made (in the present case, Thursday morning). If so, then John indicates that Jesus is sent to be executed at the time at which Passover lambs are slaughtered in the temple. The Synoptists, however, clearly portray Jesus and his disciples as celebrating the Passover on the night prior to the crucifixion. Moreover, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Josephus all use paraskeue to refer to the day preceding the Sabbath. The term therefore should be taken to refer to the day of preparation for the Sabbath (i.e., Friday.)"

He continues:

"If this is accurate, then tou pascha means not 'of the Passover,' but 'of Passover week.' Indeed, 'Passover' may refer to the (day of ) the actual Passover meal or, as in the present case, the entire Passover week, including Passover day as well as the associated Feast of Unleavened Bread. "Day of Preparation of Passover week' is therfore best to be taken to refer to the day of preparation for the Sabbath (i.e., Friday) of Passover week (so, rightly, Carson 1991: 603-4; see also commentary at 19:31). Thus all four Gospels concur that Jesus' last supper was a Passover meal eaten on Thursday evening (by Jewish reckoning, the onset of Friday)." Kostenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), pp 537-538.

Once again we find that Kostenberger seizes on the phrase "day of Preparation of Passover" and interprets it as referring, not to the preparation of Passover day but as a sort of circumlocution representing the preparation day of the coming Sabbath. But Kostenberger still has to deal with the two other references which seem to indicate that Jesus did not partake of a Passover meal (and so by inference, was crucified before the meal). Recall John 18: 28 which states that the Jews would not enter the praetorium for fear of being defiled because this would have kept them from being able to "eat the passover." Kostenberger has a solution:

"The present reference may not be to Passover itself but to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which lasted seven days (note Luke 22:1: 'the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover'; see further commentary at 19:14, 31) and in particular to the feast-offering which was brought on the morning of the first day of the festival (cf. Num. 28: 18-19). 'Eat the passover' probably simply means 'celebrate the feast' (cf. 2 Chron. 30:21)." John, 524.

And what about John 13:1 which seems to indicate that the last meal depicted in this passage was not a passover meal because it says "now before the feast of passover."? Once again, Kostenberger:

"Some believe that John places the supper on 14 Nisan, Wednesday evening, with Jesus' crucifixion occuring on Thursday afternoon, when the lambs are slaughtered at the temple in preparation for Passover. A closer look at the relevant passages, however, shows that none of these actually conflicts with the Synoptic accounts. The opening words thus place the footwashing immediately prior to the Passover meal that is about to begin." 401-402

Here is Kostenberger's solution in proposition form:

1.) The phrase "day of preparation of Passover" (Jn 19:14) refers to the preparation of the coming Sabbath and not to the preparation of Passover day proper when the lambs are slaughtered for the evening meal.

2.) The reference in Jn 18:28 to the desire of the Jews to "eat passover" most probably is a round about way of saying that they wish to "celebrate the feast" and so does not necessarily refer to Passover meal proper.

3.) The time reference in Jn 13:1 does not indicate that the meal in chapter 13 is not a passover meal but rather is meant to show that the footwashing occurs before the Passover meal that occurs in the chapter.

4.) Therefore, there is no contradiction between the Synoptics and the Gospel of John concerning the date of Passover. They all agree that Jesus had a Passover meal with his disciples and was crucified subsequent to this meal on Passover day proper.

I will criticize Kostenberger's "solution" in the next post.

Am I missing something here? If so, sorry - but isn't it simply a matter of asking the right question? John isn't interested in reproducing history here, but the meaning of the history! He knows full well Jesus was crucified on Friday. Does he care about being "historically inaccurate"? Not a bit! He has John the Baptist point to Jesus right at the outset of the gospel and say, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the wold". Then he carefully constructs his narrative to have Jesus crucified at the precise moment when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the temple ... It's theology here, isn't it? Why on earth do we waste the time and energy on endlessly picking over this stuff? If we were halfway decent theologians, we'd be far better biblical scholars - especially over John's gospel! This facile reduction of "truth" to "having-happenedness" is a modern, post-enlightenment and ultimately faithless dead end. Let's get over it and move on!


You have jumped the gun concerning my posts. The point you are rightly making about John not being concerned with history because he wishes to emphasize the theological point that Jesus was the Lamb of God was where I was leading to. I agree that time is often wasted on this kind of stuff but you must understand my purpose: I'm trying to show why those who insist on a type of inerrancy that naively equates inspiration to every historical detail miss theological statements such as these precisely because they are too busy trying to figure out ways to reconcile problems such as these. This is where the wasted time comes in. There is no "lets get over it and move on" until fundamentalists give up this notion of inerrancy which leads to bad exegesis and causes them to miss crucial theological statements such as John makes.
By the way, how was studying under James Dunn? He is by far one of my favorite NT scholars and I sure wish I had been born much earlier so that I could have had the privelage of studying under him.

Hi Chris,

I have a concern that this following is worded in a way that might imply sloppy or improper writing by John, misunderstanding the Judaism of the time, or special pleading by Andreas Kostenberger.

2.) The reference in Jn 18:28 to the desire of the Jews to "eat passover" most probably is a round about way of saying that they wish to "celebrate the feast" and so does not necessarily refer to Passover meal proper.

In fact, John Gill shows this as being an excellent and accurate analysis of the ancient Hebraic understanding, writing hundreds of years ago.

John 18:28
"that they might eat the passover"

pure and undefiled; not the passover lamb, for that they had eaten the night before; but the "Chagigah", or feast on the fifteenth day of the month ...

by the passover here is meant, the "Chagigah", or feast kept on the fifteenth day of the month, as it is sometimes called: in De 16:2 it is said, "thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd": now the passover of the herd, can never mean the passover lamb, but the passover "Chagigah"; and so the Jewish commentators explain it; "of the herd", says Jarchi, thou shalt sacrifice for the "Chagigah"; and says Aben Ezra, for the peace offerings; so Josiah the king is said to give for the passovers three thousand bullocks, and the priests three hundred oxen, and the Levites five hundred oxen, 2Ch 35:7 which Jarchi interprets of the peace offerings of the "Chagigah", there called passovers; and so in 1 Esdres 1:7-9 mention is made of three thousand calves, besides lambs, that Josias gave for the passover; and three hundred by some other persons, and seven hundred by others: the passage in Deuteronomy, is explained of the "Chagigah", in both Talmuds {c}, and in other writings {d}; so besides the passover lamb, we read of sacrifices slain, xop Mwvl, "in the name of" the passover, or on account of it {e}; and particularly of the calf and the young bullock, slain for the sake of the passover {f}: and now this is the passover which these men were to eat that day,

{c} T. Hieros. Pesacb. fol. 33. 1.
T. Bab. Pesachim, fol. 70. 2.

Other Writings
{d} Maimon. Korban Pesach. c. 10. sect. 12. Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora, pr. neg. 349.

Chagigah "in the name of the Passover"
{e} Misn. Pesachim, c. 6. sect. 5.

"For the sake of the Passover"
{f} T. Bab. Menachot, fol. 3. 1.


So what is made to look as an interpretation of convenience above is actually a well-supported Hebraic understanding from ancient Judaism.

Please, let's make sure we do our homework well, and not improperly imply errors or dubious contentions when they are in fact very well supported.

I realize that you may have simply made your comments in an offhand way, but surely we have an obligation to show the type of background that John Gill gives, if the implication is as above in (2).

Steven Avery
Queens, NY

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