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Home » Bart D. Ehrman » Was Jesus killed BEFORE or AFTER the Passover meal? (New Testament Contradiction)

Was Jesus killed BEFORE or AFTER the Passover meal? (New Testament Contradiction)



Screenshot from 2018-04-14 15-46-46

This now takes us to the dating of Jesus’ execution. The Gospel of Mark, probably our earliest account, clearly indicates when Jesus was put on trial. On the preceding day, according to Mark 14:12, the disciples ask Jesus where he would have them “prepare” the Passover. This is said to happen on the day when the priests “sacrifice the Passover lamb,” or the day of Preparation for the Passover (the afternoon before the Passover meal). Jesus gives them their instructions and they make the preparations. That evening the start of the next day for them they celebrate the meal together (14:17-25).

At this special occasion ,Jesus takes the symbolic foods of the mean and endows with additional symbolic meaning, saying  “This is my body…this is my blood of the covenant” (14:22-24). Afterwards , he goes with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he is betrayed by Judas Iscariot and arrested (14:32, 43). He is immediately put on trial before the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin (14:53). He spends the night in jail; early in the morning the Sanhedrin delivers him over to Pilate (15:1). After a short trial, Pilate condemns him to death. He is led off to be crucified, and is nailed to the cross at 9:00 am (15:25). Thus in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is executed the day after the Preparation of the Passover, that is, on the morning after the Passover meal has been eaten

Our latest canonical account of this event is in the Gospel of John: the same persons are involved and many of the same stories are told. There are differences, though, and some of these are significant.  John’s account of the trial before Pilate, for example, is much more elaborate (18:29-19:16). In part, this is because in his version the Jewish leaders refuse to enter Pilate’s place of residence and send Jesus in to face Pilate alone. As a result Pilate has to conduct the trial by going back  and forth between the prosecution and the defendant, engaging in relatively length conversation with both before pronouncing his verdict.  What is particular striking, and significant for our investigation here, is that we are told exactly when the trial comes to an end with Pilate’s verdict : “Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover, and it was 12:00 noon” (John 19:14). Jesus is immediately sent off to be crucified (19:16). 

The day of the Preparation for the Passover? This is the day before the Passover meal was eaten, the day the priests began to sacrifice the lambs at noon. How could this be? In Mark, Jesus had his disciples prepare the Passover on that day, and then he ate the meal with them in the evening after it became dark, only to be arrested afterwards.

If you read John’s account carefully, you will notice other indications that Jesus is said to be executed on a different day than he is in Mark.  John 18:28, for example gives the reason that the Jewish leaders refuse to enter intro Pilate’s place of residence for Jesus’s trial. It is because they do not want to be ritually defiled, and thereby prevented from eating the Passover meal that evening (recall, in Mark , they would have eaten the meal the evening before the trial). This difference in dating explains another interesting feature of John’s Gospel.  In this account Jesus never instructs his disciples to prepare for the Passover, and he evidently does not eat a Passover meal during his last evening with them (he does not, for example, take the symbolic foods, and say, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”.) The reason for these differences should now be clear: in John’s Gospel, Jesus was already in his tomb by the time of this meal.

We seem to be left with a difference that is difficult to reconcile. Both Mark and John indicate the day and hour of Jesus’s death, but they disagree. In John’s account he is executed on the day on which preparations were bring made to eat the Passover meal, sometimes after noon.  In Mark’s account he is killed the following day, the morning after the Passover meal had been eaten, sometime around 9:00 am. If we grant that there is a difference, how do we explain it?











  1. Taken from Louay Fatoohi:

    (1) Was the arrest of Jesus on or before the Passover?

    The contradictions between the Gospels’ accounts of the crucifixion start as early as their specification of the date on which Jesus was arrested. All four Gospels state that Jesus was arrested and later crucified on the day of preparation (Mark 15:42; Matt. 27:62; Luke 23:54; John 19:31). This designates Friday, on which all preparations for the Sabbath had to be done as no work could be done on the holy day. But John disagrees with the Synoptic assertion that this Friday was the first day of the Jewish festival of the Passover, suggesting that it was the day of rest of the Passover, i.e. one day earlier. According to Jewish law, the lamb of the Passover is slaughtered in the evening of the 14th of Nisan, which is the first month in the Jewish calendar, and it is then eaten in that night (Exo. 12:1-8). As the Jewish day is reckoned from sunset to sunset, this night represents the start of the 15th of Nisan. The Synoptics claim that after having the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus was arrested later in that night, i.e. the night of the first day of the Passover (Mark 14:12-46; Matt. 26:19-50; Luke 22:754), and was crucified in the morning, that is on the morning of 15th Nisan. John states that after being arrested and questioned by the high priest, Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate very early in the morning on the day of rest of the Passover, clearly implying that he was arrested on the previous night (John 18:28). The crucifixion happened hours later, so it must have taken place on the 14th of Nisan. So John contradicts the Synoptic Gospels, placing the arrest and crucifixion one day earlier. According to John, the Friday of the crucifixion was the day of rest of the Passover, whereas the other three Evangelists make it the first day of the feast. So the agreement of the four that it was on a Friday hides a disagreement on when that Friday fell with respect to the Passover. John’s timeline of the crucifixion makes Jesus die at the same time of the slaughter of the Passover lambs. This works very well for his description of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” in the opening chapter of his Gospel (John 1:29, 1:36). John also applies to Jesus’ crucifixion, in the form of a prophecy, a description that the Old Testament applies to the Passover lamb (John 19:36), thus suggesting that in his crucifixion Jesus played the role of the true Passover lamb (see page 30). The fact that John’s dating of the crucifixion is in such agreement with his theology has made some scholars reject the historicity of his dating as deliberately manipulated and favor the Synoptic date (Sanders, 1995: 72). Interestingly, while Mark makes it clear that Jesus was crucified on the first day of the Passover, it also states earlier that when, two days before the Passover, the chief priests and the experts in the law were conspiring to kill Jesus they did not want to kill him “during the feast, so there won’t be a riot among the people” (Mark 14:2). This passage may belong to a different tradition which is in line with the Johannine chronology of the crucifixion. Not surprising, there have been attempts to harmonize the contradictory Gospel accounts. One popular attempt suggests that John used a different calendar from that used by the other three Evangelists. There is no evidence to support this suggestion, and there are strong arguments against it (Theissen & Merz, 1999: 159; also Vermes, 2005: 97-98). The one day difference between John and the other three Gospels has historical implications (p. 34).


  2. Taken from Louay Fatoohi:

    Mark and Matthew state that Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin on the Passover night and Luke makes it on the Passover morning, i.e. during a festival when trials cannot actually be held. Some scholars have argued against using the Mishnah for assessing Jesus’ trial because of its late redaction date of around 200 CE. But there are other 1st century sources, such as Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls, that confirm that it was illegal to hold trials on Sabbaths and feast days (Vermes, 2005: 100). (


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