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Thursday, August 17, 2006 

The Date of Passover and the Pitfall of Inerrancy: Part 3

The Date of Passover and the Pitfall of Inerrancy: Introduction

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

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

Before engaging in my critique of Kostenberger's "solution" I want to show where Kostenberger misunderstands the discrepancy. Recall these words:

"The reason many have seen John as placing the Last Supper on Wednesday night with the crucifixion taking place on Thursday afternoon..." Biblical Theology, p. 148

And again in his commentary on John:

"Some believe that John places the supper on 14 Nisan, Wednesday evening, with Jesus' crucifixion occuring on Thursday afternoon..." John, p. 401

At every point that Kostenberger presents this discrepancy he does so by saying that the issue is that some believe John has Jesus eating the Last Supper on Wednesday with his crucifixion on Thursday in contrast to the Synoptics who portray each event a day later. However, the day of the week is not what is actually in dispute because the author of John does present Jesus' crucifixion on the eve of the Passover in agreement with the Synoptics:

"Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high day, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away." Jn 19:31

Kostenberger, therefore, is at least right when he concludes that all four gospels present Jesus being crucified on a Friday just prior to sundown (which would commence the Sabbath). The problem is that John has Passover Day falling on the same day as the Sabbath. To comprehend what I'm saying one needs to first understand how the Jewish Calendar worked in regards to the Passover. John P. Meier explains:

"Now, according to the Jewish way of calculating liturgical days at the time of Jesus, sundown would mark the beginning of a new day, the fifteenth of Nisan, Passover Day proper. This type of calculation for liturgical days is already witnessed in the OT (e.g., for the Day of Atonement in Lev 23:27, 32) and is explicitly applied to Passover in the Book of Jubilees 49:1 (written in the 2nd century B.C.): 'Remember the commandment that the Lord commanded you concerning Passover, that you observe it in its time, on the fourteenth of the first mont [Nisan], so that you might sacrifice it before it becomes evening and so that you might eat it during the night on the evening of the fifteenth from the time of sunset.'" John Meier, A Marginal Jew: Vol 1, p. 389.

In other words, the normative rule was that the Passover lambs were to be slaughtered on the 14th of Nisan and then at sundown to be eaten when Passover day proper began, which would then be the 15th of Nisan. Normally, the 14th of Nisan would occur on a Thursday (with the day beginning at 6 p.m. on Wed and ending at 6 p.m. on Thrs) and the 15th on a Friday (with Friday beginning at 6 p.m on Thrs). However, every now and then in order to adjust the lunar calendar to the actual solar year the Jews would have to add a leap year into their calendar which sometimes resulted in Passover day occuring on the same day as the Sabbath which is precisely what John indicates happened. (cf. Meier, p. 402)

To reiterate, the issue is not that the synoptics and John disagree as to what day of the week Jesus was crucified on but disagree concerning whether or not the date of his crucifixion was the 14th of Nisan or the 15th of Nisan. Now in so far as my argument goes, this is not an important observation because the crucial issue is whether or not John presents Jesus as being crucified on the Day of the Preparation of Passover, regardless of the day of the week or the date of the month.

Nevertheless, I bring this to attention to show that this betrays to me that Kostenberger has not sufficiently researched this issue. For if he had read and had been interacting with scholars who disagree with his position he would have seen that the larger issue involved the Jewish calendar itself and not the day of the week.

Next time, I will present my fuller critique of Kostenberger's "solution."

Hi Chris,

Fascinating discusssion.

The following appears to be from Meier with your approval, or your rewrite.

"Normally, the 14th of Nisan would occur on a Thursday (with the day beginning at 6 p.m. on Wed and ending at 6 p.m. on Thrs) and the 15th on a Friday (with Friday beginning at 6 p.m on Thrs)."

I am quite perplexed as to what is the nature of the lunar-solar calender of 1st century Judaism that is supposed to be described here. Please explain how you posit a fixed day (ie. Nissan 14 being on a Wed. sunset, Nissan 1 on a Thursday sunset) for the start of a lunar month ? Even being the first month of the year would not account for this.

The phrasing of the statement does not seem to allow for this being a reference to one particular determined year ("normally..") especially as we know that the crucifixion year is a matter of its own heavy-duty discussion (in fact, the preferred determination is often influenced by the understanding of the Passover chronology).

(There is also the issue of multiple competing Passover determinations, as in the later Karaite/Rabbinical controversies, however that can be put aside in the context of the question above.)

Granted, perhaps I am misunderstanding or missing something ... however, if not, your admonition (with my rephrasing) to understand the issues and background and literature and calendar questions better, before going into a fascinating and deep study like Passover chronology, would appear to have multiple application.


Steven Avery
Queens, NY

Hey Chris,

I'm a bit late to the game but I've been studying this lately (reading through Andrew Lincoln's commentary and other material). Here's my 2 cents.

What do you make of the notion that Passover is not (for 1 c Jews) just one day, although one could use PASXA for that one day; it is also a festival, and there's evidence that PASXA functions for the whole bit? PARASKEUE in Jewish koine means Friday, essentially; so the natural meaning of PARASKEUE in regard to PASXA is perhaps as Koestenberger suggests, Friday of the Passover Feast (it does not lose its "Friday-ness" as Sabbath is still observed, per 19:31. (He's not alone in this, it's quite common suggestion.)

On Jn 18:28 which you mentioned in a previous post, purity would be required for the whole week, yes? One could not be impure for any part of Passover week/"the feast of Passover"; including the chagigah, a festival lunch the day after the lamb; entering the praetorium would have rendered them ineligible for this. Why would this be illegit?

John doesn't draw attention to the sacrament (so to speak, anachronistically but relevant for modern discussion), but to Jesus himself.

One other note, not very powerful but perhaps suggestive. If Jn is as late as most critical scholars would claim (which is possible), then it is difficult to imgagine how someone could make changes in a way which would result in a 'falsification effect' of three very important Xian documents. Lincoln has author of John reworking much synoptic tradition, which is possible, perhaps even probable. It's far easier to argue that--in the eyes of the first audiences, who would have had firsthand access to Jerusalem/Jewish festivals pre 70, and who put his Gospel in the collection with the three others--it was read as being more or less a legit reading of things along the lines of Synoptics.


Thanks for the helpful comments. Look for my criticisms in an upcoming post in this series.

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