The chronology of the Week of Passion raises a number of questions. The most important are:
- Jesus speaks about His resurrection with the image of Jonah who was in the fish for three days and three nights. However, in the traditional interpretation, the crucifixion is dated on Friday and the resurrection on Sunday. This seems contradictory.
- There seems to be a difference between the portrayal of Matthew, Mark and Luke on the one hand and John on the other when it comes to the moment of the crucifixion.
- In classical chronology, the Last Supper is dated on Thursday evening, and is a Seder meal (meal on the evening of the 14th of Nisan where the Passover lamb is eaten). In other words, the Passover lamb was sacrificed on Thursday. From the idea of the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice by Jesus, it would be obvious to assume that the last supper was not a Seder meal, and the Passover lamb was sacrificed on Friday. Then Jesus would have given his life at the same time as the lambs were slaughtered in the temple.
Numerous studies have been conducted seeking solutions to these apparent problems with the chronology of Passion. Various authors assume that John and the other three synoptics contradict each other, and then choose either one or the other view. I have two objections to this line of thought. The first objection is that I assume that God's Word - even though it is not a history book - does not contain historical inaccuracies. Certainly not when it comes to such obvious things when it comes to the question of what day Jesus was crucified and rose again. My second objection is more scientific: if the evangelists had made such gross errors in their representation of history, then it is very difficult to understand that their writings were so relevant to the early Christians - who should also have known the facts from oral tradition. would have been authoritative. In other words, if it contained untruths, these writings would not have been accepted, multiplied and distributed as the Word of God. For this reason too, it is not likely that the Gospels contain errors in the representation of the history of the Passion Week.
It turns out that with some knowledge of first century Jewish traditions there is actually no problem at all.
2. The texts
The Passover lamb was slain on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan. This Lamb was then eaten in the evening, when it was already the 15th of Nisan. After all, the day begins at evening and continues until the beginning of the next evening. This meal is called the Seder meal. It is in connection with this meal that Jesus celebrated the Last Supper (Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-17; Luke 22:7-16). Although the eating of the Lamb is not mentioned in the Gospels, everything indicates that it did take place. After all, Jesus asks His disciples to prepare the Passover meal. There is also talk of 'singing the hymn' (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26), an element of the Seder celebration. Until the Middle Ages, the Lord's Supper (Eucharist) was celebrated in church with unleavened bread (matzos), which also indicates that in tradition the Last Supper has always been seen as a Seder meal. So Jesus was crucified on the 15th of Nisan.
Here we apparently see a difference with the dating by John. He indicates that the Passover had not yet been eaten on the morning of the day Jesus was crucified (John 18:28). John thus indicates that Jesus was crucified at the moment the Passover lamb was slaughtered in the temple. The following text also seems to indicate this:
1 Cor. 5:7 Put away the old leaven, and be as new lump. For you are like unleavened bread because our Passover lamb, Christ, has been slain.
Jesus died about the ninth hour, which is 3 o'clock in the afternoon for us (Matt. 27:45-50; Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46). Then He was taken down from the cross and buried, to be embalmed after the Sabbath (Matt. 27:57-28:1; Mark 15:42-16:2; Luke 23:50-24:1). This means that He died shortly before the Sabbath. Embalming was considered work that was not permitted to be performed on the Sabbath. The Sabbath arrived on Friday evening, so Jesus died on Friday afternoon.
Mark and Luke also mention that it was the day of preparation (Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; cf. Matt. 27:62). This again seems to point to Friday, the day on which preparations for the Sabbath were made.
The expression in Joh evokes more discussion. 6:28 PM and 7:14 PM. In Joh. 18 states:
John 18:28 Jesus was brought from Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was still early in the morning. They themselves did not go in, lest they defile themselves before the Passover meal.
Also in Joh. 19 talks about the preparation for the Passover:
John 19:14 It was about noon on the day of Passover preparation.
In addition, John also mentions that it was the day of preparation for the Sabbath (John 19:31; cf. John 19:42). This would mean that this (Friday) day was the day the lamb was slaughtered. Other linguistic solutions are also conceivable, for example that the expression 'the day of preparation for the Passover meal' does not mean the 14th of Nisan, but rather the Friday in the week of Passover. This doesn't sound very convincing, and is even very unlikely. It is notable that John specifically states that the moment Pilate says “Here is He your King” was around noon. That is the precise moment when each householder brought the lamb into the temple to be slain. John further mentions that that Sabbath was a great one (John 19:31). That gives the impression that it was not just any Sabbath. This also seems to indicate that Saturday was a special Sabbath because it coincided with a holiday. It can also be pointed out that John mentions that the prophecy has been fulfilled that 'not a bone of His will be broken'. This prescription applied to the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12) and shows again that John indeed draws a clear parallel between the Passover lamb and Jesus. For the Jews this was only convincing if Jesus actually died on the 14th of Nisan.
For the sake of completeness, it can be noted that John also mentions the last supper (John 13). This is remarkable, because if John sees Friday as the 14th of Nisan, then this would mean that Jesus celebrated the Passover meal on the evening of the 13th of Nisan, a day early. It is inconceivable that on the 13th of Nisan one could already have access to a Passover lamb that had been slaughtered according to the rules in the temple.
In summary, Matthew, Mark and Luke as well as John indicate that Jesus' Passover meal took place on Thursday, and that Jesus was crucified on Friday. The difference is that the first three synoptics see Thursday as the 14th of Nisan and Friday as the 15th of Nisan, while John sees Friday as the 14th of Nisan, and therefore Thursday as the 13th of Nisan. But nevertheless, we must assume that Jesus had access to a Passover lamb to eat. How can this be reconciled?
Before we go into this further, let's first look at the three-day period between crucifixion and resurrection.
3. Three days
Different expressions are used in Greek for the time between crucifixion and resurrection:
- ‘dia’ = in three days (Matt. 26:61; Mark 14:58)
- ‘meta’ = after three days (Mark 8:31)
- ‘en’ = in three days (Matt. 27:40; Mark 15:29; John 2:20)
- without preposition = on the third day (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mark 9:31; 10:34; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7,46; Acts 10:40 ; 1 Cor. 15:4)
- after three days and three nights, following the image of Jonah (Matt. 12:40; see Jonah 1:17)
For us, these time indications contradict each other. But in Hebrew thought all these descriptions fit a crucifixion on Friday and a resurrection on the third day, on Sunday. The third expression in particular, 'after three days and three nights', is often used to propose a different chronology of the Passion week. However, that is unnecessary.
There is another interesting example from the Old Testament. In Esther 4:16 we read that Esther calls on her uncle Mordecai and all the Jews to fast for three days, day and night. She will do the same with her handmaids and then she says she will go to the king. However, Esther 5:1 says that on the third day she gets up and goes to the king!
In short, the mention of the image of Jonah is no reason to deviate from the reading that Jesus was crucified on Friday and rose again on Sunday.
4. Sadducees and Pharisees
We know that there was a difference of opinion between the Sadducees and Pharisees regarding the date on which the Feast of Firstfruits - which was connected to the Passover - and the Feast of Weeks should be celebrated. It concerns the prescription from Lev. 23:
Lev. 23:5-14 On the fourteenth day of the first month the Passover offering is prepared in honor of the LORD at twilight. And on the fifteenth day of that month the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins in honor of the LORD: you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days. You must celebrate the first day together as a holy day; you are not allowed to work. Each of the seven days you shall present an offering to the LORD. The seventh day you shall observe together again as a holy day, and even then you shall not work.'” The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, 'When you are in the land that I am giving you, and you reap the harvest there, you shall bring the first sheaf of your barley harvest to the priest. The priest shall lift up the sheaf before the LORD, so that it may be accepted as an offering. The priest must lift up the sheaf on the day after the Sabbath. On the day the sheaf is presented, you shall also offer a ram a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD, with its grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of wheat flour mixed with olive oil, as a fragrant offering. the LORD pleases, and its wine offering of a quarter of a hin of wine. Until the day this gift is brought to your God, you shall not eat bread, roasted grain, or fresh grain. This provision will remain with you forever, generation after generation, wherever you live.
In Lev. 23:11 speaks of the day after the Sabbath. But here an ambiguity arises. Does it mean the day after the Saturday after the 15th of Nisan? Or is meant the 16th of Nisan, regardless of the day of the week. After all, the 15th day was also a 'Sabbath' in the sense of a holiday that was exempt from work. In the Old Testament the word Sabbath can have both meanings. The Pharisees observed the 16th of Nisan regardless of the day of the week. The Sadducees, however, kept Sunday.
Another point of attention is determining the beginning of the month. The month started with a new moon. The Sanhedrin determined when a new month began. As soon as two witnesses report to the Sanhedrin that they saw a small crescent moon in the sky right after sunset, the Sanhedrin declares that a new month has begun. However, under no circumstances should a month be shorter than 29 days or longer than 30 days. It will be clear that there has sometimes been discussion about the exact start of the new month.
The suspicion is that in the year in which Jesus was crucified, there was a difference of opinion between the Pharisees and Sadducees about the beginning of the month. Then the Pharisees would have kept Thursday as the 14th of Nisan and the Sadducees would have kept it as Friday. The majority of the population followed the Pharisees, but in the Sanhedrin, which determined the calendar, the Sadducees had the majority. This means that Passover lambs were slaughtered on both Thursday and Friday. And so Jesus was able to eat the Passover lamb Seder meal with His disciples on Thursday evening, and He was crucified on the day that Passover lambs were also slaughtered.
The suggestion that has been made is that the Sadducees deliberately moved the beginning of the month forward one day in the year that Jesus was crucified, so that the 16th of Nisan would fall on a Sunday. With this, both groups would slaughter the Passover lamb on the same day. However, the Pharisees did not accept this shift, and stuck to their own observation of the new moon. It is a hypothesis for which there is no evidence, but we can imagine something about it.
Although there is no hard evidence that Pharisees and Sadducees had different day counts in the year Jesus died and rose, this is the simplest explanation for the differences between the Gospels. We know that most years Pharisees and Sadducees did not celebrate the Feast of Firstfruits, nor the Feast of Weeks, on the same day. We read this in extra-biblical literature (Jubilees, 1 Enoch and the Talmud). This means that we must assume that the associated sacrifices were offered in the temple on two different days. On one day for the followers of the Pharisees and on the other day for those of the Sadducees. It is certainly conceivable that the Passover festival was not always celebrated at the same time by the two groups. Matthew, Mark, and Luke follow the Pharisees' view of the day count, while John follows the Sadducees.
Jesus celebrated the Last Supper on Thursday evening, the evening after the 14th of Nisan when the 15th of Nisan began. On Friday the 15th of Nisan He was crucified and on Sunday the 17th of Nisan He rose again. The Sadducees used a different counting of days, so that according to that counting, He was crucified on Friday, Nisan 14, on the day the Passover lamb was slain, and rose again on Nisan 16, when the Feast of Firstfruits is celebrated. Because the Pharisees and Sadducees used a different day counting, Jesus was able to have a Passover lamb at his disposal the night before He died to celebrate the Seder meal with His disciples.