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, but it had already been eaten.

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.[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, this optional first chagigah sacrifice was in addition to the Pascal lamb sacrifice and to be treated the same with any leftovers to be burned by midnight.

A second, separate chagigah was to be offered and consumed the first day of Passover, after the Feast of Leavened Bread the previous evening.[5] That meal was to be consumed over the course of two days and one night.[6]

Jewish Law stipulated the second chagigah was to occur on the first actual day of Passover Nisan 15th. The remaining sacrificial meat was to be given to the priest 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 by means of a ritualistic purification bath.

Since the Feast of Unleavened Bread occurred after sunset, a priest ritually defiled the day of Nisan 14th could still partake of the Feast of Unleavened Bread if he performed a ritual purification bath before sunset. The second chagigah sacrifice occurred during first day of Passover meaning a ritual purification bath that evening would be too late because the sacrifice occurred during that day.

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 own chagigah meal on the first day of Passover.[9] 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 over a meal does not infer the crucifixion of Jesus occurred on Nisan 14th. According to Josephus, earlier in the afternoon shortly after midday of Nisan 14th upwards of a quarter million paschal sacrifices were 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 people.[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 overnight trial; Roman hearings the next morning; and ending with the crucifixion of Jesus at 9am, Nisan 14th , at the very same time tens of thousands of pascal lamb sacrifices were to be sacrificed at the Temple that same day? 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 worried the Romans more than any other because it drew to Jerusalem the potentially troublesome Jewish crowds of millions of pilgrims.[11]

Alternatively, the next day, the first day of Passover on Nisan 15, the crowds were dispersed. Jewish Law stipulated Jews were to be in their local housing accommodations to celebrate the Passover 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 June 5, 2024.

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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.