It’s All About a Meal


Tradition says Jesus was crucified on Good Friday of Easter weekend. Not everyone agrees – some say that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified earlier in the week or even before the Feast of Unleavened Bread.[1] A meal plays a big role in determining when Jesus was crucified…and it may not be the one that first comes to mind.

JN 18:28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.(NRSV)

John says the priests were worried about becoming defiled which would then disqualify them from “eating the Passover” meal.[2] It is easy to draw the conclusion that “to eat the Passover” refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Playing this out farther, if the verse is referring to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it would mean Jesus was crucified on Nisan 14th before the Feast. In this scenario John 18:28 would then indeed be a contradiction with the other Gospel accounts saying Jesus was crucified and died on the first day of Passover. A conflict could serve to invalidate the Gospels’ credibility and by extension its position that Jesus is the Son of God.[3]

Many people may not be aware there were two other meal possibilities at the beginning of Passover called a chagigah addressed in the Talmud.[4] It is helpful to know the Jewish day begins at sunset and the following sunrise begins the daylight portion of that same day ending at dusk.

First of the two Passover meals was optional and was a supplement to the Feast of Unleavened Bread launching the Passover after sunset. If it was necessary to feed a larger party, the optional first chagigah sacrifice was offered earlier the afternoon on Nisan 14th in addition to the Pascal lamb sacrifice. It was to be treated the same as the Feast of Unleavened Bread where all meat was to be consumed by midnight or else any leftovers were to be burned.

A second, separate chagigah was to be offered and consumed the first day of Passover, after the Feast of Leavened Bread the previous evening. It was to be a peace offering to be offered on the first day of Passover, Nisan 15th.[5] The meat from the second chagigah meal was to be consumed over the course of two days and one night[6]

Jewish Law stipulated that a portion of the Passover Nisan 15th second chagigah sacrificial meat was to be given to the priest as a gratuity for his own chagigah Passover meal. The remaining meat was to be taken home by the offeror for his own personal chagigah meal.[7]

Priests were held to a higher Rabbinical standard with special rules that did not apply to the general populace. Entering Pilate‘s headquarters, the Praetorium in John 18:28, was one of those things that would place the priests in a state of ritual defilement.[8] Rabbinic ritual defilement could be absolved after sunset by means of a ritualistic purification bath.

Since the Feast of Unleavened Bread occurred after sunset, a ritually defiled priest that day could still partake of the meal that evening if he had performed a ritual purification bath. The second chagigah sacrifice occurred occurred during first day of Passover meaning a ritual purification bath later that evening would be too late.

Disqualification from performing their chagigah sacrificial duty on the first day of Passover meant the priests would not have received their lawful gratuity portion of the sacrificial meat – no meat for their chagigah meal on the first day of Passover.[9] As such, defilement worries in John 18:28 “to be able to eat the Passover” centered on the consequences involving the second chagigah meal by the Priests.

Logically, perhaps even much bigger, is why the defilement concern of John 18:28 does not refer to the crucifixion of Jesus on Nisan 14th. Earlier in the afternoon shortly after midday of Nisan 14th, upwards of a quarter million paschal sacrifices had to be performed at the Temple!

Offerings of the Pascal sacrifices preceding the Feast of Unleavened Bread was an all-hands-on-deck scenario where all the Priests served a vitally important role at the Temple requiring massive preparations with a packed and rigid schedule. Activities for the most popular annual Festival in all the land drew crowds of about 3 million.[10]

With this in mind, how conceivable is a scenario where high level priests pursued their vendetta against Jesus beginning after the evening dinner of Nisan 13th with an arrest, an inquisition and an aberrant trial overnight; Roman hearings the next morning; and ending with the crucifixion of Jesus at 9am on Nisan 14th … at the very same time tens of thousands of pascal lamb sacrifices were being prepared to be sacrificed at the Temple hours later? It would be like NFL Super Bowl event managers taking the day off on Super Bowl Sunday to attend to personal business.

Consider, too, the Roman factor – Passover was the one Jewish festival where the potentially troublesome crowd of millions of pilgrims worried the Romans more than any other.[11] How likely is it that Roman authorities would risk triggering a riot by crucifying Jews on the same day as their sacred paschal sacrifices at the Temple? Alternatively, the next day, the first day of Passover, Nisan 15, the crowds were dispersed by Jewish Law to their local housing accommodations to celebrate the Passover Festival with very minimal activity.

Did John’s reference to the priest’s defilement concern of missing the Passover meal actually pose a credibility issue with the other Gospels that said Jesus was crucified on the first day of Passover?


Updated July 25, 2023.

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NRSV = New Revised Standard Version translation

[1] Doig, Kenneth F. New Testament Chronology.  Chapter 18.  <>  Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book V.  <> “Sharing a Meal.” image. n.d. <>
[2] Wells, Steve.  The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. 2017. “423. When was Jesus crucified?”> “101 Bible Contradictions.”  Islamic Awareness. n.d. Contradiction #69.>
[3] Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Chapter 10. 1826 -1889. The NTSLibrary. 2016. < Encyclopedia.  2011. <>
[4] Leviticus 23:7-8; Numbers 28:18. Hebrew text, footnote #20.  CR Exodus 23:14. n.d. Hebrew text. “G5656.” Lexicon-Concordance. n.d. < Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson trans. Book 3, Tracts Pesachim, Chapter IV and Book 4, Tract Betzah (Yom Tob); Book 4, Tract Moed, Chapter II.. <>
[5] Leviticus 3.
[6] The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson.  1918.  Book 3, Tract Pesachim.  <>   Streane, A. W, ed. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud.  1891. Chagigah 7b.  <>
[7] Leviticus 7:29-32.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Chapters 5 & 11.  Streane.  A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud.  Glossary: “Chagigah.”
[8] Leviticus 22.
[9] Leviticus 22; Numbers 9. Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book III, Chapter X. Google Books.  n.d <>
[10] Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews. Book VI.. <>
[11] Antiquities. Book XI, Chapter IV; Book XX, Chapter V. Josephus. Wars. Book V, Chapter V.