In a prior post (see here), I announced a new blog series designed to address problematic passage in the Bible. This new series will feature guest posts from other evangelical scholars and is largely a response to the series by Peter Enns’ entitled, “Aha moments: biblical scholars tell their stories.”
The contributor for this installment is Darrell Bock (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen). Darrell is the Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and the author of numerous books. A few notables are: Who Is Jesus?, Acts (Baker Exegetical Commentary), and Luke (Baker Exegetical Commentary).
One of the more famous and most discussed differences on chronology in the gospels deals with the timing of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Here is a difference often trumpeted forth as a clear error between the Synoptics and John. This is the very issue raised by Daniel Kirk in his contribution to Pete Enn’s “Aha moments” series. However, things are not so simple.
Here is the problem in a nutshell. In Mark 14:12 we are told the supper took place on the first day of unleavened bread when they sacrificed the Passover lamb (also Luke 22:15 goes in this direction referring to this Passover). Part of what is taking place here is that the Passover (14 Nisan) and unleavened bread (15 Nisan and following for a week) were celebrated one right after the other, so that both names became attached to the feast (Josephus, Jewish War 5.99, speaks of the feast of unleavened bread on 14 Nisan). The very way in which these dates and feasts are handled shows proximate dating could be used. As a popular designation, one could refer to the whole period as either Passover or Unleavened Bread. The problem comes in that John 19:14 and 31 have Jesus crucified on the Passover preparation day which appears to be the day after the meal the Synoptics portray as the Passover meal. This is a complex problem as a detailed study by Howard Marshall shows.
Several proposals exist to deal with the difference without seeing an error. Some posit the use of two calendars or of differences in the reckoning of a day with each gospel writer selecting a different reckoning. This is possible, but there is no clear evidence for a difference in calendar at this point in Second Temple history (though we do have some evidence for it later in certain cases) nor is it clear that the evangelists reckoned days differently, although they could have done so. So this solution can explain the difference, but it is not clearly demonstrable either. Others argue that the Synoptics are correct, and that the day of preparation in John 19 refers not to the Passover day but the sacrifice of the Sabbath of Passover week (which was the next day with a Friday crucifixion). Again this option is possible, but it is not the most natural reading of these texts from John. Others, favoring John’s chronology but accepting the Synoptic sense of the meal, suggest that the meal has a Passover feel to it or was presented like a Passover even though it was not technically a Passover meal offered on the official day. Once again, this could work, but there is no direct evidence for doing this kind of a thing.
So where does this leave us? Two approaches could work. The early sacrifice might explain what is taking place or reading John’s Preparation as referring to the Sabbath preparation in the shadow of the Passover. If the latter is the point, then John is saying that Jesus is crucified in the mix of the Passover season, not on the day of Passover. This can work in the sense that the entire period is associated with the Passover. A modern analogy would be that people celebrate Christmas office parties all the time and it is not Christmas. Such associations are popular in orientation and not technical. So Jesus is crucified in the midst of the Passover season with his death connected to a Passover meal and so he is seen as crucified with a Passover significance. It may be that rather than trying to work out all the details of how this works technically, we are better off to see the season being appealed to in a popular ancient manner and the association made that way. The point should give us pause in not over-literalizing as we read some of these texts. So one or a combination of the solutions noted above could well be answers to the charge of a clear error but being able to show it is more difficult. If less technical approach is taken then we are dealing with a popular reckoning in a generalized ancient chronological approach as a key to understanding what is taking place. Also what we have in not an error but the application of a season that ran many days to events tied to Jesus’ death. All of this is quite plausible given the significance of this season in the Jewish calendar and its shadow on the Jesus event.
 The following is an update of a discussion I gave in “Precision and Accuracy: Making Distinctions in Cultural Context That Give Us Pause in Pitting the Gospels Against each other,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? ed. by James Hoffmeier and Dennis MacGary (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), pp. 367-81, esp. 379-80. This was but one of several examples I considered in this article.
 Verse 14 is explicit in mentioning the Passover preparation day, while v 31 speaks only of the day of preparation.
 I Howard Marshall, “The Last Supper,” in Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus, WUNT 247 (eds. Darrell L. Bock and Robert L. Webb: Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2009) 481-588, esp. 549-60.
 Harold Hoehner, “Chronology,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 120-21. David Instone-Brewer, “Jesus’ Last Passover: The Synoptics and John, Expository Times 112 (2001): 122-23.
 M Zebaḥ 1:3 seems to suggest a debate about when to sacrifice all of these lambs and allows for an early start. One must recall that we are speaking of sacrificing several thousand lambs on this day. Technically the early offerings were called peace offerings, but they were tied to the Passover as well. Instone-Brewer’s work notes this issue.
 Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus. Translated by Norman Perrin. NTL (London: SCM, 1966), 81-82.
 Scot McKnight, Jesus and His Death (Waco: Baylor University, 2005), 271-73.
Derek Vester says
This has been a very helpful series. Thanks to all involved. I’ve even (and sometimes especially) enjoyed the comments section. Keep up the good work. Soli Deo Gloria!
Nota Buyinit says
So…the trouble is that Exod makes pretty clear that you’re supposed to “prepare” the lamb on the same day you eat it, i.e. on Pesach. And there is no historical or textual evidence supporting the notion that Pesach was regarded as a “season” (one could make that case for Sukkot, but not Pesach). The other thing is that John is pretty darned explicit he’s referring to a specific day, not a season. Similarly, there is no evidence there was a 1-day off Jewish calendar circulating at the same time.
I honestly think we’re trying to force our data to fit our models of scripture here. That’s backwards theologizing.
steve hays says
i) As to what “you’re supposed to do,” it’s not as if Jesus felt bound by the ceremonial law. That’s something he set aside from time to time, when it conflicted with higher obligations.
ii) Since, moreover, the ceremonial law was fulfilled in the person and work of Christ, inasmuch as he himself is the ultimate paschal lamb, to which the Passover pointed, I think your objection misses the larger point of the Last Supper.
iii) Finally, Roger Beckwith has a good discussion of the issue:
If one is not content to posit a contradiction between John and the Synoptists (a position which has its own difficulties, not the least of them being the indications that John himself knows, and sometimes follows, the Synoptic chronology [See below, pp293-294]), various possible ways of reconciling them are worthy of consideration.
“The Preparation of the Passover” (Jn 19:14) is a phrase which naturally recalls the rabbinical expression “the Eve of the Passover,” meaning Nisan 14, “The Passover” itself being Nisan 15. However, the rabbinical form of language is curiously at variance with the OT, where it is Nisan 14 that is “the Passover,” and Nisan 15 is the first day of “Unleavened Bread” (Lev 23:5f; Num 28:16f); and there is no clear example of the rabbinical phraseology in the NT. So, as the “Preparation,” paraskeue, commonly means Friday (the preparation for the Sabbath), and as the word is used twice in this sense in the very same chapter of John (Jn 19:31,42), it seems better to understand “the Preparation of the Passover” as meaning “the Friday of Passover week”–either the Friday of the Jewish week (from Sunday to Saturday) within which Passover fell that year, or, perhaps better, the Friday within the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, though of as a single festival (cp. Mk 14:1; Lk 22:1).
“Eat the Passover” (Jn 18:28) is more difficult, for there is no doubt that it would usually mean “eat the Passover lamb.” But since it turns out, in light of the foregoing evidence, that this interpretation would make John contradict himself about the chronology, a less usual interpretation becomes a distinct possibility. The sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and the meal which followed, were only the first (though the most important) of the many sacrifices and sacred meals which took place throughout the Passover and Unleavened Bread, and had done so since OT times. In the first century, it was held that the command not “to appear empty” before the Lord at the pilgrim feasts (Exod 23:15; 34:20; Deut 16:16) had a precise meaning: it meant each male Israelite bringing a burnt offering and a peace offering, in addition to the Passover lamb; and this obligation is the subject of the tractate Hagigah in the Mishnah. Those referred to in Jn 18:28 as wanting to remain ceremonially clean so as to “eat the Passover” are the chief priests and the Pharisees (cp. v3). The Pharisees would have been very scrupulous about the Hagigah duty, and as it involved a peace offering, which necessarily included a sacred meal, they would certainly have wanted to remain ceremonially clean so as to be able to eat it. Even more would this have concerned the chief priests, since a share of every peace offering went to the priest who offered it. Moreover, the peace offering might be an ox from the herd, rather than a lamb or goat from the flock.
The question, therefore, faces us, was it possible to use phrases like “to sacrifice the Passover” and “to eat the Passover” to cover these other sacrifices and sacred meals as well? In OT times, Deut 16:2f shows that it was, and as the OT was the Bible of Judaism, and the Pentateuch was reckoned its most important part, it was always possible for Pentateuchal phraseology to be echoed or copied. What Deut 16:2f says is:
“Though shalt sacrifice the Passover unto the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the Lord shall choose to cause his name to dwell there. Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it (i.e. with the Passover); seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread with it, even the bread of affliction.”
Here the phrase “sacrifice the Passover” is actually used, and the phrase “eat unleavened bread with the Passover” (and therefore “eat the Passover” itself) is clearly implied; and in both cases the reference is to what goes on for seven days, and includes the sacrificing and eating of oxen from the herd as well as lambs and kids from the flock. The usage is found again in the Hebrew of 2 Chron 30:22, in the account of Hezekiah’s Passover, where the literal meaning is
“So they ate the festal sacrifice (i.e. the Passover, v18) for the seven days, offering sacrifices of peace offerings, and giving thanks to the Lord, the God of their fathers.”
Moreover, the earliest example occurs in biblical Greek as well, since Deut 16:2f is literally translated in the Septuagint (whereas 2 Chron 30:22 is paraphrased). R. Beckwith, Calendar and Chronology, Jewish and Christian (E. J. Brill 1996), 290,294-296. Cf. Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul (Concordia 2011), 276ff.
Ferdie Mulder says
Michael Kruger, can you please include or have an extra series on Christian scholars with “aha” moments that brought them to a more evangelical theology? I’m thinking of the likes of Alvin Plantinga who left Harvard for Calvin college; becoming one of the most respected and influential Christian philosophers if the 20th century …
Pavel E. says
This article is now available in Spanish here: http://verdadeseternas.com/canon-fodder/la-ultima-cena-antes-o-despues-de-la-pascua/