The Passover Hypothesis, Reconciling John with the Synoptics (Part 2 of 2)

Liturgical ambiguity of the word Passover and our distance through time from the events, culture, circumstances, and language can cause us to lose sight of important nuances and distinctions such that some modern translators have ultimately forced a meaning not intended by the author.

Here are the 3 most often misunderstood key texts/phrases in John that falsely make people think John and the Synoptic Gospels are not speaking about the same dates for the Last Supper (Seder) and time of the Crucifixion:[1]

  1. John 13:1 “Before the feast of Passover”
  2. John 18:28 “To eat the Passover”
  3. John 19:14 “The preparation of Passover”

Remember, the 4 OPTIONS for the semantic range of “Passover” are:

#1 Lamb

#2 Meal

#3 Peace Offerings 7 Days

#4 Entire Week

  1. John 13:1 Before (pro de) the Feast of Passover

Numbers 28:16–17

16 ‘Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’S Passover. [i.e. the slaughter of the lambs Definition #1]

17 ‘On the fifteenth day of this month shall be a feast [Definition #2 eating of first lambs from the 14th with unleavened bread], unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days.’

Leviticus 23:5–6

5 ‘In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the LORD’S Passover [Def.#1]. 6 ‘Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.

In other words, the texts here clearly refer to an event that takes place on the later half of the biblical day of the 14th of Nisan called the “Lord’s Passover,” which involved specifically the slaughter of the first Pesach lambs. The 14th of Nisan is also before The Feast. Before The Feast would then indicate the date in reference is the 14th of Nisan, not the 13th as many falsely assume. The Feast begins at sundown at the going out of the 14th into the start of the 15th of Nisan (the first “meal” or “Feast” of 7 days of Unleavened Bread Feasting).

In other words, from biblical evidence alone, John 13:1 is easily understood as referring to a time before the FIRST MEAL (#2 definition) or Feast, which is identified with the 15th of Nisan, not the 14th. As already mentioned, that “meal” occurs at the close of the 14th into the 15th. Whether one may argue that some could have technically started to eat slightly before sundown on the 14th if their particular slaughter was first in line and their women had the meal ready early is irrelevant because the technical identification of each date (14th and 15th), and their respective requirements in the biblical text is clearly delineated. Scripture defines “the Feast” as the 15th, not the 14th (which only involves the slaughter command). Therefore, “Before The Feast” is clear and unambiguous language referring to a time shortly before the Feast of the 15th had begun. NOT, as some falsely claim pro de supposedly “requires,” referring to a time exactly 24 hours “before” the first “slaughter” of the first lambs (or Nisan 13).

Only the slaughter of the lamb (#1) occurs on the 14th of Nisan. While the language is clear, we cannot be dogmatic about the exact moment of the change from 14th to 15th, but must be realistic about how real life happens as the festival began for each as the lambs and meal were finished and served in each household. The language does, however, pin down with precise clarity the date referenced in John 13:1 without question.

Thus, John 13:1 should be understood as referring to a time “BEFORE” the “FEAST” of Passover (i.e. on the 14th of Nisan), which is the START of the preparations for the 7 Day “FEAST” of “Passover” (#4) otherwise known as the week of Unleavened Bread. Note that when the dates are understood in this manner, the events that John said occur on the 14th of Nisan are CONSISTENT with the Synoptic account.

See also Numbers 9:1–14 for further evidence of the language and distinctions in reference to the 14th of Nisan in contrast to the eating that follows on the 15th late into the night.

1 Thus the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying,

2 “Now, let the sons of Israel observe the Passover at its appointed time.

3 “On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall it at its appointed time; you shall observe (lit. “do”) it according to all its statutes and according to all its ordinances.”

4 So Moses told the sons of Israel to observe (lit. “do”) the Passover.

5 They observed (did) the Passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses, so the sons of Israel did.

6 But there were some men who were unclean because of the dead person, so that they could not observe (i.e. “do” or present in the Tabernacle their Passover lamb because of corpse contamination) Passover on that day; so they came before Moses and Aaron on that day.

7 Those men said to him, “Though we are unclean because of the dead person, why are we restrained from presenting the offering of the LORD at its appointed time among the sons of Israel?”

8 Moses therefore said to them, “Wait, and I will listen to what the LORD will command concerning you.”

9 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

10 “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If any one of you or of your generations becomes unclean because of a dead person, or is on a distant journey, he may, however, observe the Passover to the LORD.

11 ‘In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it (lit. “do it” or in other words “sacrifice” it); they shall [then] eat it (i.e. the Passover lamb; Def. #1) with unleavened bread and bitter herbs [i.e. as the twilight turns to night once their meal is cooked and ready, they shall then “FEAST” on it with U.B. as the 15th of Nisan commences].

12 ‘They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute of the Passover they shall observe it.

13 ‘But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet neglects to observe the Passover, that person shall then be cut off from his people, for he did not present the offering of the LORD at its appointed time. That man will bear his sin.

14 ‘If an alien sojourns among you and observes the Passover to the LORD, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its ordinance, so he shall do; you shall have one statute, both for the alien and for the native of the land.’ ”

  1. John 18:28 To eat the Passover

John 18:28, “Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”

Here many assume this “must” be a reference to the first Passover lamb eaten the night of the 14th into the 15th of Nisan. However, this is not required. If one understands all the other indicators, this reference can and is referring to the Pesachim or Shelamim offerings that were likewise called eating “the Passover.” Remember “the Passover” was eaten for 7 days because there was a 7 day “FEAST” in which offerings were given each night called “the Passover” elsewhere in Scripture.

Thus, there was NOT just one “Passover” to be eaten. There were many Pesachim (Passovers) to be eaten (#3) all week and all were called “the Passover” (i.e. all were called “the Pesach” in Hebrew or in Greek “the Pasca”) as noted in 2 Chronicles 30 & 35.

“Passovers” or “Pesachim” from the flock and herd don’t have to be directly called Shelamim (Peace) Offerings, because they were eaten during Passover week. In Dt. 16:2, Shelamim (indicated by the reference to BOTH the flock AND the herd, are clearly called “the Passover.”

Deuteronomy 16:2–3 (NASB95)

2 “You shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name.

3 “You shall not eat leavened bread with IT; seven days you shall eat with IT [i.e. with the Passover] unleavened bread [i.e. from the 15th to 21st of Nisan], the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.

See also 2 Chronicles 30 and 35, and Leviticus 3 and 7:11-21 re: Shelamim (Peace) offerings.

Extrabiblical references also support this understanding. In the Babylonian Talmud, Zevachim 99b, the writers explain the reference to Pesachim in Dt. 16:2 as follows asking, “what does Pesachim mean here?” They answer, it refers to the Shelamim peace offerings.

From this evidence it is clearly unnecessary to “require” the reference of Passover in John 18:28 to be referring “only” to the first Passover lamb (Def. #1) eaten on the evening of the 14th into the 15th of Nisan. Therefore, we can reconcile John perfectly with the Synoptics understanding Yeshua was crucified on that Friday the 15th of Nisan (on the first day of Unleavened Bread), having eaten the first Passover lamb with His disciples the night prior when all of Israel ate the first Passover lambs. Those that “led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium” but did not enter themselves so they might eat “the Passover,” was simply a reference to the fact that they would not want to defile themselves and be prevented from eating the Pesachim, which are Shelamim (Peace) offerings from the flock or herd, offered all 7 nights of Unleavened Bread.

  1. John 19:14 The preparation of Passover

This final text is the easiest to explain, but the biggest offender in terms of how it comes across in English when removed from its historic context and usage. In this case, Passover is again referencing definition #4 as in, it was the “Friday” of Passover week.

John 19:14 (NASB95)

14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!”

Let’s look at this text in more detail in the Greek.

14 ἦν (it was) δὲ (now) παρασκευὴ (Preparation Day; Friday) τοῦ πάσχα (the Passover), ὥρα ⸂ἦν ὡς⸃ ⸀ἕκτη. καὶ λέγει τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις· ἴδε ὁ βασιλεὺς ὑμῶν.[2]

Historically, the word παρασκευὴ (paraskeue) was a well-established term referring to the weekly preparation day or what we today call Friday. In other words, when this word was used in Greek in Scripture, it was the equivalent at that time of the author saying, “Now it was the Friday of the Passover” (Def. #4 as in the Friday of Passover week).

Luke 23:54 (NASB95)

54 It was the preparation day (paraskeue = Friday), and the Sabbath was about to begin.

John 19:31 (NASB95)

31 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation (paraskeue = Friday), so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, for that Sabbath was a high day, asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

See also: Mt 27:62, Mk 15:42, and John 19:14, 42.

The second example above from John 19:31 is the most telling of all, because if the timeline suggested here is accurate, and the 14th of Nisan was on Thursday, which means the first Sabbath of Unleavened Bread week was Friday (paraskeue); then this means Saturday would be the special First Fruits wave offering of the Barley harvest (occurring on the 16th of Nisan or the day after the first Sabbath of Unleavened Bread (which is occurring here on Friday the 15th of Nisan). In other words, Thursday was the slaughter of the first lambs and that night was the Last Seder (or Last Supper), and Friday was the first Sabbath of Unleavened Bread, meaning Saturday would be the First Fruits of the Barley harvest when the priests would perform the wave offering.

The people would have revolted if they came up to observe the wave offering of that year’s harvest (remember, no one could eat the harvest of the new year until after the wave offering) only to see the Dt. 21:22-23 curse come upon the land. They would have blamed Pilot and rioted. Pilot would not have risked such an incident.

Deuteronomy 21:22–23 (NASB95)

22 “If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.”

Thus, we see that there is no reason to assume that John 19:14 is referring to the day before the 14th of Nisan, or the day before the “slaughter” of the first lambs of Passover. That day is never referred to as a “preparation day” using the Greek term paraskeue. Rather, paraskeue is simply a reference to what we call Friday. As such, here again the book of John is consistent with the Synoptic Gospels.

Yeshua was crucified and buried on the Friday the 15th of Nisan (on the First Day of Unleavened Bread), was in the grave that evening before sundown, and was raised ON the third day, sometime before sun-up on Sunday (remember Sunday began Saturday night at sundown).

On the road to Emmaus, the disciples confirm that Sunday was the third day since these things had taken place.

Luke 24:21 (NASB95)

21“But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened.

Friday, Day 1 Crucified and Buried

Saturday, Day 2 In the Grave

Sunday (according to biblical time “Sunday” would begin Saturday at sundown), Day 3 ON the 3rd day He rose from the dead!

[Remember, the miracle and “sign” of Jonah is the resurrection]

 

 

[1] Insights below gleaned from Dr. Brant Pitre’s book, Jesus & the Last Supper, Chapter 4, The Passover Hypothesis.

[2] Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Jn 19:14.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. As I was reading this, I was thinking, “This sounds a lot like it came from Dr. Brant Pitre’s research.” And then I get down to the bottom and in the first footnote….Behold!……I see the name Dr. Brant Pitre. Things that make you go hmmmmm.

  2. Gary Elkins says:

    Tim Hegg at Torah resource is pretty much been saying the same thing. My guess is that it is based off mr. Petrie’s work on this, which Tim is mostly familiar with.

    This is the best explanation so far that I have read and is consistent with the other three Gospels. However my question is is it possible that John called the Sabbath during Passover week a great Sabbath on account of it was also the day of first fruits

  3. Gary Elkins says:

    The previous comment should have said which Tim Hegg is most likely familiar with

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