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Preparation Day – Is There a Bible Contradiction?

A confusing Jewish tradition is the Preparation Day – is there a Bible contradiction between John and the other Gospels? Some critics point to John’s Preparation Day references to claim a Gospel contraction thereby casting doubt on their integrity and their accounts about Jesus of Nazareth.[i] In the setting of when Pilate was judging Jesus, John wrote:

JN 19:14 “Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”” (NKJV)

John seems to suggest that Jesus was judged by Pilate on the Thursday before Passover which would indeed create a Gospel conflict. In fact, it would be inconsistent with his own second reference a few verses later:

JN 19:31 “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain 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.” (NKJV)

Occam’s Razor theory suggests that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. John seems to clearly reveal his definition for the “Preparation Day” in this verse as being the day leading into the Sabbath – a Friday – not the Thursday before the Passover.

For some, this may not completely address the apparent conflict posed by verse 14 obliging the longer explanation. A big clue is found in John’s parenthetical comment “for that Sabbath was a high day” or, depending on the translation, a “high Sabbath” or a “special Sabbath.”[ii]

All Festival holy days, according the Law of Moses, were to be regarded as a Sabbath, “an appointed time.”[iii] Bookend holy day were designated for Passover week, the first and last days of Passover.[iv] When Nissan 15, the first holy day of the Passover, fell on a Friday it created back-to-back Sabbaths. 

God’s commandment defined the weekly Sabbath as the holy day prohibiting “all manner of work.[v] The Jewish Talmud legal opinion expounded on this Law defining what was or was not considered work – rules notoriously enforced by the Pharisees in the Gospels.

Work prohibitions ran the gambit from cooking, drawing water, walking, carrying, making fires, feeding livestock, harvesting, etc. To avoid such violations, preparatory work for these tasks had to be completed before sunset Friday evening – the day of preparation for the Sabbath.[vi]

On the typical Nissan 15 first holy day of Passover, the people were customarily busy with other required and traditional activities. In the morning was the Chagigah sacrifice where the meat from it was to be prepared and eaten toward the end of the day. That evening was the traditional ritual of a barley reaping in preparation for the Wave Sheaf or the Omer offering the second day of Passover to celebrate the Feast of First Fruits of the harvest.[vii]

When Nissan 15 Passover fell on a Friday, it presented a legal conundrum. According to the Talmud interpretation of the Law, people were meant to “enjoy” the Passover Festival. The enjoyment factor was confounded by the strict Passover meal limitations further complicated by the legal work restrictions imposed by the two consecutive day Sabbaths.

A common sense solution would be to use Thursday, Nissan 14, as the preparation day for the back-to-back Sabbaths. After all, there was also a preparation day in advance of any designated holy day.  For this high Sabbath Passover, it was not that simple.

Double food preparations on Nissan 14 to cover two days was not an option because of the Passover commandment that said all food from the Feast of Unleavened Bread had to be consumed by midnight or else burned – no leftovers.[viii] Requiring the people to go without cooked meals for two days (all day Friday and Saturday) due to work restrictions, not to mention work responsibilities piling up especially for farming activities, would be a negative experience rather than a positive one.

Rabbis were interpreters of the Law, Jewish lawyers, and they found some legal wiggle room. Festival Sabbath language in the Law of Leviticus and Numbers used the Hebrew word abodah meaning “labor” interpreted by Rabbi Sages to be a more lenient work restriction than the weekly Sabbath “all manner of work. [ix] English translations reflect the difference saying “servile work,” “laborious work,” “regular work,” “occupations” and “customary work.”[x]

In the spirit of the Passover being a celebratory festival and with this legal flexibility, work exceptions were allowed by the Rabbis for a Friday, Nissan 15, Passover holy day to prepare for the weekly Sabbath. JewishEncyclopedia.com explains the Passover holy day work restriction leniency:[xi]

“The general purpose underlying these laws is to enhance the joy of the festival, and therefore the Rabbis permitted all work necessary to that end, while guarding against turning it into a working-day.”

Wading through all the Jewish legalities, it boils down to John having made references in verses 14 and 31 to two different times of the same “preparation day” based on different scenarios. Verse 14 is in the context of the Friday morning of Passover when the full day of High Sabbath preparation activities were still ahead – “the Preparation Day of the Passover.”

Verse 31 is in the narrower context of the very same Friday where the imminent sunset would begin the weekly Sabbath and its much stricter rules – “because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath.” This is why Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were in a hurry to bury the body of Jesus before sunset, the beginning of a new Jewish day.

Does John’s reference to the preparation day create a Bible contradiction with the other Gospels?

REFERENCES:

NKJV = New King James Version translation
Gospel references:  Matthew 28, Mark 16; Luke 24, John 20

[i] Wells, Steve.  The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. 2017. “423. When was Jesus crucified?”  http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/passover_meal.html rel=”nofollow”</a>  “101 Bible Contradictions.”  Islamic Awareness. n.d. Contradiction #69. <http://www.islamawareness.net/Christianity/bible_contra_101.html rel=”nofollow”</a>
 [ii] NIV, NASB, NLT, NKJV.  Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book V, Chapter 15. <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm>
 [iii] Exodus 31:12-17; Leviticus 23:1-44.  The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson.  1918. Book 1, Sabbath, Chapter I; Book 2, Tract Erubin; Book 3, Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter IV. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm>   Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  “Shabbath.” <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/shabbath/index.html>  “Shabbat” and “Festivals.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. < http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com>
[iv] Exodus 12; Numbers 28.
[v] Exodus 23, 31; Leviticus 23.
 [vi] Exodus 16.
[vii] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book V, Chapter 14.  “’Omer (= “sheaf”).”  JewishEncyclopedia.com.   
 [viii] Deuteronomy 16.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826-1889. Chapter 11. <http://philologos.org/__eb-ttms/default.htm
[x] KJV, NET, NIV, NASB, NLT, NRSV, NKJV. Net.Bible.org. Hebrew text, footnote #20 for Numbers 28:18.  Strong.  “`abodah <5656>.”  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
 [xi] The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3, Tracts Pesachim, Chapter IV and Book 4, Tract Betzah (Yom Tob).  “Holy Days” and “Festivals.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.

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