Are the Gospels in Sync with the Passover?

 

Final days of Jesus of Nazareth took place during the annual Passover observance in Jerusalem surrounded by his trial, execution and Resurrection. Skeptics make the charge that the Gospels are not in sync with the Passover; there are contradictions.[1] Interwoven throughout the Gospels are 21 references to the Passover by name and 6 references to either “the feast” or “the festival.”

Passover began when Moses defied Pharaoh some 1500 years earlier in Egypt ending with the 10th plague, death of the firstborn.[2] Hebrews were spared when the angel of death passed over their homes bearing the blood of the sacrificial lambs over their doorposts.

God declared His act of salvation was to be observed annually by the Hebrews to “sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God” in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name.”[3] Yet to be revealed was the place.

Strict requirements for the Passover appear in the books of the Law of Moses – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.[4] A key distinction, Jewish days begin at twilight just after sunset while Western societies begin the new day at midnight.[6]

Passover began at twilight of Nissan 14 just after the Pascal Lamb had been sacrificed earlier that afternoon. At the onset of Nissan 15, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be eaten.[5]

Roasted lamb from the Pascal sacrifice became the main course.[9] The meal was literally a feast intended to feed 10 to 20 people, a festive and joyous occasion to celebrate God’s deliverance from bondage – freedom.[10] At midnight, any leftovers were to be promptly burned.

Sunrise brought the initial daylight hours of the first day of Passover, Nissan 15, along with the daily necessities still to come. People were busy with required and traditional activities including meals and more sacrifices.

Jewish Talmudic law defined the sacrifices for each day including the meal plan for the first day of Passover. An entire tractate in the Babylonia Talmud entitled Chagigah is devoted to addressing the various expectations and requirements.[11] Two “chagigah sacrifices” were associated with the Passover.[12]

As an optional festal offering, the first chagigah sacrifice was to be offered on Nissan 14 intended to supplement the Paschal sacrifice ensuring there would be enough meat to feed a large Passover company.[13] It was “in all respects equal to the paschal sacrifice itself” expected to provide for “the duty of enjoying the festival.”[14]

If this optional festal sacrifice was to be offered, it was to occur before the Pascal sacrifice so that there was no interruption between it and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.[15] Like the Paschal lamb, it had to be consumed by midnight with any leftovers to be burned.

Traditionally offered on Nissan 15, the first day of Passover, this second chagigah sacrifice was offered and the meal was called exactly that, the Chagigah. The sacrifice had a different purpose and rules than the first chagigah sacrifice. It was an obligatory, private “peace offering” to be offered by an individual at the Temple with the assistance of a Priest who became a beneficiary to it.[16]

A portion of this second chagigah sacrifice on Nisan 15 of Passover was to be given to God, a portion to the Priest as a tithe for his own meal, and the remaining portion of meat was to be taken home by the offerer for his own Chagigah meal.[17] For this reason, a priest had a vested personal interest to assist in the sacrifice.

Meat from this second chagigah sacrifice was to be prepared during the afternoon and served as the main course before of the first day of Passover evening.[18] The meal was to be consumed over the course of two days and one night – the first and second days of Passover, Nissan 15 and 16, and the night in between.

Things get interesting as it relates to the Gospels’ accounts describing the final hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, especially John 18:28.[19] Two references are the cause of contention – the meal and the defilement.

JN 18:28 “They did not go into the governor’s residence so they would not be ceremonially defiled, but could eat the Passover meal.”(NET)

The Feast of Unleavened Bread had been eaten, Jesus was later arrested that evening and put on trial during the night. Early that same morning of Nisan 15, Jesus was taken by the Jewish leadership to Pilate at the Praetorium where the priests refused to go inside.

Entering the Praetorium was one of those things that could place a priest in a state of ritual defilement. When the author added “so they would not be defiled,” this could only be referring to the second Passover chigigiah meal since it was after the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

John does not explain the reason for the defilement. One possibility is the Jewish legal concept known as “abortus,” touching a dead body or home that once contained a dead body (the presumption was that it was common practice for mourning Romans to display a dead body in a building).[20]

After sunset, a ritualistic purification bath by the priest before the Feast of Unleavened Bread would have absolved this type of ritual defilement that may have occurred day on Nisan 14. In this case, however, it would be too late to absolve a ritual defilement.

A defiled priest on Nisan 15 could not perform any sacrifice that day. As a consequence, he would not receive his lawful portion of the chagigah sacrificial meat for his own meal.

Are the Gospel references to the Passover during the final days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth in agreement with Jewish Law defined in the Old Testament, the Tenakh, and the Talmud?

 

Updated November 12, 2023.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Wells, Steve. <u>The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible</u>. 2017. “423. When was Jesus crucified? <http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/passover_meal.html>  “101 Bible Contradictions.” Islamic Awareness. n.d. Contradiction #69. <https://www.islamawareness.net/Christianity/bible_contra_101.html>  “Passover.” SVGmall.com. image. n.d. <https://svgmall.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Passover-PNG-Free-Download.jpg?v=1619147248>
[2] Exodus 8-12. Roth, Don. “What year was the first Passover?” Biblical Calendar Proof. 2019. <http://www.biblicalcalendarproof.com/Timeline/PassoverDate>
[3] Deuteronomy 16. NASB.
[4] Exodus 12; Leviticus 23; Numbers 9; Deuteronomy 16. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>
[5] Exodus 12; Leviticus 23; Numbers 9; Deuteronomy 16. Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826-1889. “The Roasting of the Lamb.” pp 66 – 67, 71-72. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>
[6] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 71.
[7] Deuteronomy 16. Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The Roasting of the Lamb.” p 75.
[8] Gill. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible. John; chapters 18-19 commentary.  <https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-18.html> Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 70-71, 76, 79, 81-82.  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. and commentary William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus.1850. Book VI, Chapter IX.3.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. p 1324. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Life%20and%20Times%20of%20Jesus%20the%20Messiah.pdf
[9] Talmud Bavli. Sefaria. Trans. William Davidson. n.d.  <https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Talmud>
[10] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The Three Things.” pp 70-71.
[11] Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1324.
[12] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter VI. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t03/psc09.htm> Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1324.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 70-71.  Gill. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible. John chapters 18 & 19 commentary.
[13] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter V.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 79.
[14] Leviticus 3. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1383-85. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70.  Streane, A. W, ed.  A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. 1891. Chagigah 7b, Gemara. Pages 35 – 36. <http://www.archive.org/stream/translationoftre00streuoft/translationoftre00streuoft_djvu.txt>
[15] Leviticus 7.  Streane. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. Glossary:  “Chagigah.” pp 147-148.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 41, 82.
[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.
[17] Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-2 3; John 18-19.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1382, 1384. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70. The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3. Tract Pesachim. Chapters VI, VIII, IX.
[18] NASB.
[19] Numbers 9. CR Mark 14:12.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p. 83. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. “Introduction to Seder Tohoroth.” #2. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/tohoroth.html> “Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[20 ] Leviticus 22:4-8. CR Numbers 9:6-12; 19:11-13. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1383-1385.  “The First Day of the Feast” pp 82-83, 85, 130-131, “Appendix.” pp 130-131. “Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12358-priest Streane. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. Glossary:  “Chagigah.”  p 148.

Preparation Day – Did John Contradict Himself?

 

Preparation Day is mentioned several times in the Gospels, but two verses in John seem to create a conflict. Some critics point to these 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.[1]

Does John contradict himself within just 16 verses? In the first reference, 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)

In this scenario, “Preparation Day” seems to have preceded the Passover because it implies Jesus was judged by Pilate before the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 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)

Scriptures define the time when the Hebrew people “prepared” the day before the Sabbath, traditionally called the “Preparation Day.”[2] After escaping Egypt, God set an example of this preparation by providing the Hebrews in the desert twice the amount of manna on the sixth day, but nothing on the seven day.[3]

Ex 16:22-23 Now on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one…”This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.”

Occam’s Razor theory suggests that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. While preparing for the Sabbath is spelled out in Exodus, several clues can be found within these two verses and God’s Law.

Three Festival holy days were also to be regarded as a Sabbath, an “appointed time.” Only the Passover was to be observed on a specific day, Nisan 15.[4]

Greek text uses the word paraskeuh meaning “preparation” further defined as “the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath, Friday.”[5] In most English Bible versions, John 19:14 is translated as “… for the Passover” while others say “… of the Passover.”

John 19:31 has a parenthetical comment, “for that Sabbath was a high day.” The original Greek word for “high” is megas meaning “great,” yet out of 44 translations only 15 versions translate the word as “great,” none of which are the mainstream versions.[6]

Another clue is the Greek text word sabbaton, the Sabbath, where there is no other meaning. Defined in the Law of Moses, God’s commandment said the weekly Sabbath is a holy day prohibiting “all manner of work.[7]

Prohibitions of work 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. The Talmud expounded on the meaning by detailing what was or was not considered “work” – rules notoriously enforced by the Pharisees.

Customarily on the first day of Passover, Nisan 15, people were busy with other religiously required and traditional activities. Every year Nisan 15 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. 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 abide by two days of strict Sabbath work restrictions for Friday and Saturday, not to mention farming activities. 

Festival Sabbath language in the Law of Leviticus and Numbers used the Hebrew word abodah meaning “labor” that was interpreted by Rabbi Sages to be a more lenient work restriction than the weekly Sabbath of “all manner of work.” English translations reflect this difference saying “servile work,” “laborious work,” “regular work,” “occupations” and “customary work.”[8]

When Nisan 15 fell on a Friday Sabbath Preparation Day, it was considered to be a special day when the Sabbath work restrictions were somewhat relaxed. In the spirit of the Passover intended by God to be a celebratory festival, the Babylonian Talmud addressed the scenario.[9]

“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 [10]

Wading through the analysis of Greek text clues, the Talmud and the Bible’s definition of the preparing for the Sabbath, Johns two references refer to the same “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 morning, “the Preparation Day of the Passover.”

Verse 31 is in the narrower context of the very same day. 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 November 14, 2023.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

Gospel references: Matthew 28, Mark 16; Luke 24, John 20.

[1] Wells, Steve. The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. 2017. “423. When was Jesus crucified?”  http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/passover_meal.html rel=”nofollow”&lt;/a>  “101 Bible Contradictions.” Islamic Awareness. n.d. Contradiction #69. <http://www.islamawareness.net/Christianity/bible_contra_101.html rel=”nofollow”</a>
[2] 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. “Happy Preparation Day.” Gail-Friends. image. 2017. <https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-qEj69N9z6bM/WR87uOnqzcI/AAAAAAAAkvI/hcScRQ40VasvaY1QHdF7bI3C4ep9rsanACLcB/s1600/sabbath%2Bprep.jpg><http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>  “Happy Preparation Day.” Gail-Friends. image. 2017. <https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-qEj69N9z6bM/WR87uOnqzcI/AAAAAAAAkvI/hcScRQ40VasvaY1QHdF7bI3C4ep9rsanACLcB/s1600/sabbath%2Bprep.jpg>
[3] Exodus 20:8-10, 31:15; Leviticus 23:3. “G4521.” Lexicon-Concordance. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/4521.html> BibleHub.com. Parallel. <https://biblehub.com/john/19-31.htm> CR Exodus 16:23-26; Mark 15:42.
[4] Exodus 23:14-19; Leviticus 23:1-8. “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/. 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>
[5] John 19:14. NetBible.org. Greek text. n.d. <https://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Joh&chapter=19&verse=14> “G3904.” Lexicondordence.com. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/3904.html>
[6] John 19:31. Netbible.org. n.d. Greek text. n.d. <https://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=3173>  “G3173.” Lexicon-Concordance. n.d.<http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/3173.html>
[7] Netbible.org. n.d. Hebrew text. “H4399.” Lexicon-Concordance. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/4399.html>  CR Exodus 31:15, 35:2.
[8] 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>
[9] 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>
[10] “Holy Days.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7814-holidays>