Preparation Day – Is There a Gospel Contradiction?
Preparation Day for a Sabbath can be a confusing Jewish tradition in the Gospels. Some critics point to John’s Preparation Day references to claim a Gospel contraction exists thereby casting doubt on the integrity of Gospel accounts about Jesus of Nazareth. In the first setting, Pilate was judging Jesus:
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 possibly suggest that Jesus was judged by Pilate on the Thursday before Passover which would indeed create a Gospel conflict. If true, this view would be inconsistent with John’s 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 reveals the context of the “Preparation Day” in verse 19:31 when he said the crucifixion occurred the day leading into the Sabbath, a Friday, stating that the Sabbath was set to begin at dusk. Keep in mind the Jewish day begins at sunset and the following sunrise begins the daylight portion of that same day – Friday, Passover, began at sunset the evening before starting with the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
For some, this may not completely address the seeming conflict posed by 19:14 obliging a longer explanation. A big clue is found in John’s parenthetical comment in 19:31 “for that Sabbath was a high day” or, depending on the translation, a “high Sabbath” or a “special Sabbath.”
All Festival holy days including the Passover, according to the Law of Moses, were to be regarded as a Sabbath, “an appointed time.” Bookend holy days were designated for Passover week, the first and last days of Passover. When the first holy day of the Passover fell on a Friday, it created a back-to-back Sabbath scenario, a “High Sabbath.”
Every year, Nissan 15 fell on a different day of the week and when it fell on a Friday, it presented a legal conundrum. According to the Talmud’s interpretation of the Law, people were meant to “enjoy” the Passover Festival.
Confounded by the strict weekly Sabbath restrictions, the enjoyment factor would be greatly diminished. It would actually be a hardship to require the people to go two days with back-to-back Sabbath work restrictions, not to mention farming activities involving livestock.
Defined in the Law of Moses, God’s commandment said the weekly Sabbath is a holy day prohibiting “all manner of work.” Talmud’s legal opinion expounded on the meaning 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.
Typically on the day of Nissan 15th, the Passover, people were customarily busy with other religiously required and traditional activities such as at the Temple with the offering of the chagigah sacrifice. The meat from it was to become the main course of the evening meal ending the first day of Passover, Nissan 15.
One seemingly common sense solution might be to use Thursday, Nissan 14, as the preparation day for the back-to-back Sabbaths; however, it was not that simple. The Passover commandment required all food from the Feast of Unleavened Bread that began Nissan 15, a Friday, to be consumed by midnight that night or else burned – no leftovers. Even all leaven was to have been removed from the house.
Furthermore, the second Chagigah sacrifice offered during the day of Passover could not be consumed until that evening. Consequently, there would be was no food for breakfast or lunch during Friday, the first day of Passover, unless there was a way around it.
Rabbis as the interpreters of the Law, the Jewish lawyers, identified 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.
English translations reflect this difference saying “servile work,” “laborious work,” “regular work,” “occupations” and “customary work.” JewishEncyclopedia.com explains the Passover holy day work restriction leniency:
“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.”
In the spirit of the Passover being a celebratory festival along with its legal flexibility, typical Preparation Day work for the weekly Sabbath was allowed by the Rabbis when a Passover Nissan 15 fell on a Friday Sabbath Preparation Day.
Wading through all the Jewish legalities, it boils down to John making 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, 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, the beginning of a new Jewish day, the Sabbath.
Does John’s reference to the preparation day create a Bible contradiction with the other Gospels?
Updated March 19, 2023.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
NKJV = New King James Version translation
Gospel references: Matthew 28, Mark 16; Luke 24, John 20
 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>
 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>
 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>
 Exodus 12; Numbers 28. “Happy Preparation Day.” Gail-Friends. photo. 2017. <https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-qEj69N9z6bM/WR87uOnqzcI/AAAAAAAAkvI/hcScRQ40VasvaY1QHdF7bI3C4ep9rsanACLcB/s1600/sabbath%2Bprep.jpg>
 Exodus 23; 31; Leviticus 23.
 Exodus 16.
 Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1382. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70. The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Book 3. Tract Pesachim Chapters VI, VIII, IX.
 Deuteronomy 16. Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826 -1889. The NTSLibrary. 2016. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>
 Leviticus 23; Numbers 28.
 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.
 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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