Preparation Day – Is There a Gospel Contradiction?
Preparation Day mentioned several times in the Gospels is the traditional day when the Hebrew people “prepared” for the Sabbath the following day when they were otherwise not allowed to do such work activities. Some critics point to two Preparation Day references in John to claim a Gospel contradiction exists thereby casting doubt on the integrity of Gospel accounts about Jesus of Nazareth.
Pilate was judging Jesus in first reference in John’s account of the crucifixion:
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)
In a scenario where “Preparation Day” preceded the Passover, Jesus was judged by Pilate before Passover. If true, this view would be conflicting with John’s own second reference to the “Preparation Day” preceding the Sabbath 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 reveals his context of the “Preparation Day” in verse 19:31 when he said the crucifixion occurred the day leading into “the Sabbath” making it a Friday. Keep in mind the Jewish day begins at sunset and the following sunrise begins the daylight portion of that same day – Passover began at sunset the previous evening starting with the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
For some, this may not completely address the seeming conflict obliging a longer explanation. A clue to unraveling this conundrum appears in verse 19:14 with the wording “…of the Passover.” It does not say for the Passover.
Two more clues appear in verse 19:31. First, John says “the Sabbath,” a reference that is typically understood to be the weekly Sabbath, a Saturday. Specifically defined in the Law, the Sabbath is based on the creation concept that God rested on the seventh day.
A second clue is found in John’s parenthetical comment in 19:31 “for that Sabbath was a high day.” The original word from John’s Greek text for “high” is megas which means “great” yet out of 44 translations, only 15 versions translate the word as “great,” none of which are the mainstream versions.
Defined in the Law of Moses, God’s commandment said the weekly Sabbath is a holy day prohibiting “all manner of work.” The Talmud expounded on the meaning by detailing what was or was not considered “work” – rules notoriously enforced by the Pharisees.
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.
In addition to the weekly Sabbath, according to the Law of Moses the three Festival holy days were also to be regarded as a Sabbath, an “appointed time.”All came to be known by the names the “Passover,” initiated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread; “Shavuot,” the Feast of Harvest or Pentecost; and “Sukkot,” the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles.
Every year Nissan 15th fell on a different day of the week and when it fell on a Friday, it created a back-to-back Sabbath scenario presenting a legal conundrum. According to the Talmud’s interpretation of the Law, people were meant to “enjoy” the Passover Festival. Customarily on the first day of Passover, Nissan 15th, people were busy with other religiously required and traditional activities.
Confounded by the strict weekly Sabbath restrictions, the enjoyment factor for a Friday Passover seemed to be greatly diminished. In a back-to-back Sabbath scenario, it would actually be a hardship to require the people to go two days of strict Sabbath work restrictions, not to mention farming activities involving livestock.
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.” English translations reflect this difference saying “servile work,” “laborious work,” “regular work,” “occupations” and “customary work.”
To that end, the Talmud addressed when the first day of Passover fell on Preparation Day for the weekly Sabbath. In the spirit of the Passover intended by God to be a celebratory festival, Rabbis determined that when Nissan 15th fell on a Friday Sabbath Preparation Day, it was a special day when the Sabbath work restrictions were somewhat relaxed.
“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.” – Jewish Encyclopedia 
Wading through all the Jewish legalities, it boils down to John making crucifixion day references in both verses 19:14 and 19:31 to the same Friday “preparation day,” but under two different scenarios:
Verse 14 is in the context of an event marking the specific day when Pilate presented Jesus to the crowd that Friday morning, “the Preparation Day of the Passover.”
Verse 31 is in the narrower context of the very same day, a Friday. 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.” It is the reason Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were in a hurry to bury the body of Jesus before sunset.
Do the two references in John to the “preparation day” create a Bible contradiction?
Updated July 16, 2023.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Gospel references: Matthew 28, Mark 16; Luke 24, John 20.
 Exodus 16:22-23, 29. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book V, Chapter 15, pp 1382-1392 & pp 1393-1421. <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm> Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Chapter 10. 1826 -1889. The NTSLibrary. 2016. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf> “Happy Preparation Day.” Gail-Friends. photo. 2017. <https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-qEj69N9z6bM/WR87uOnqzcI/AAAAAAAAkvI/hcScRQ40VasvaY1QHdF7bI3C4ep9rsanACLcB/s1600/sabbath%2Bprep.jpg>
 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>
 Exodus 20:8-10; Leviticus 23:3. Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Book 1, Tract Sabbath, Chapters 1-10.”Sabbath.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6359-friday “Sabbath and Sunday.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14115-sunday-and-sabbath Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson trans. Sabbath, Book 1, Chapter I; Book 2; Erubin, Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter IV, VI, VIII. 1918. <https://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm#t03 Soncino Babylonian Talmud. “Shabbath.” <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/shabbath/index.html; “Shabbat” and “Festivals. Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com
 John 19:31. Netbible.org. n.d. Greek text. <https://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=3173> “G3173.” Lexicon-Concordance. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/3173.html> BibleHub.com. Parallel. <https://biblehub.com/parallel/john/19-31.htm
 Exodus 20:10, 31:15. Netbible.org. n.d. Hebrew text. “G4399.” Lexicon-Concordance. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/4399.html> CR Exodus 31:15, 35:2.
 Exodus 23:14-17; Leviticus 23:1, Numbers 28:1. “Festivals,”“Holy Days,” “Passover,” ”Shabbat.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com> “The Three Annual Feasts of God.” BibleView.org. n.d. <https://bibleview.org/en/bible/moses/3feasts/.
 Leviticus 23:7-8; Numbers 28:18. Net.Bible.org. Hebrew text, footnote #20. CR Exodus 23:14. Netbible.org. n.d. Hebrew text. “G5656.” Lexicon-Concordance. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/search6.asp?sw=5656&sm=0&x=0&y=0 Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson trans. Book 3, Tracts Pesachim, Chapter IV and Book 4, Tract Betzah (Yom Tob); Book 4, Tract Moed, Chapter II.. <https://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm#t03> KJV, NET, NIV, NASB, NLT, NRSV, NKJV.
 Special Shabbots.” Jewish Virtual Library 2008. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/special-shabbats> “Special Sabbaths.” TorahResource. n.d. <https://torahresource.com/resources/weekly-parashah/special-readings/special-sabbaths/> Posner, Menachem. Chabad.org. “13 Special Shabbats on the Jewish Calendar.” 2019. <https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4333597/jewish/13-Special-Shabbats-on-the-Jewish-Calendar.htm
 “Holy Days.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7814-holidays>