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On the Last Passover and the day
of our Lord's crucifixion

Did the Lord eat the Passover supper?

The Crucifixion —Thursday or Friday?

Did the Lord eat the Passover supper?

This is a question that has been debated over and over again, and its solution, as I think will appear clearly from the following, depends upon dispelling some misunderstandings as to some of the terms that the Scripture uses. Obviously, the first thing to be done is go to the Scriptural record and see what it says in all the passages that have bearing on this, and which are obviously Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and portions of the Old Testament, and seek to interpret Scripture by Scripture.

Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover. ... Matthew 26:17-19

And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover? And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. And in the evening he cometh with the twelve ... Mark 14:12-17

Then came the day of the unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat. And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare? And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. Luke 22:7-16

Thus, the Scriptures state clearly, so far,

1.—- that it was the first day of unleavened bread,
2.—- the day when the passover was killed
3.—- and that He ate the passover with His disciples.

John's Gospel does not state that the Supper was the Passover, but neither does he give the Institution of the Lord's Supper. He is writing after the other Gospels were already known, and assumes their contents. And, when touching the Supper, he focuses rather on the family aspect of it all, and on the Servant and Priestly function of the Lord. Therefore, he does not mention that they had eaten the Passover. His purpose is different: he focuses on the supper as such and on the teaching at that supper (chaps. 1316) and the Lord's intercession for His own (chap. 17).

The problem lies in that there is not only silence, but that there are

Apparent discrepancies in John

Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world ... John 13:1

Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover. ... John 18:28

From these two texts, it seems that the supper was before the passover and that the Lord Jesus was crucified before the passover was eaten. So there is an apparent discrepancy here. Is it real?

The answer —-and it will be proven straight from the Bible—- lies in that the term passover is used of different things:

1.—- of the passover lamb, which was killed during the first day of unleavened bread, in the afternoon, and eaten that evening after sunset. This is what we have in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

2.—- of the passover feast and its sacrifices which were partaken of during the whole week, also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is what we find in John.

The solution in Scripture

In Numbers 28:16-25 we already see the command to hold The Feast of Unleavened Bread with certain special sacrifices each day besides those that were daily normative, and we can note the close association of the sacrifice of the Passover (on the fourteenth) with the next sacrifices (from the fifteenth till the twenty-first).

But it is in Deuteronomy and Acts where we have the main key to the apparent contradiction in John:

Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the Lord thy God: for in the month of Abib the Lord thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night. Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the Lord shall choose to place his name there. Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life. ... Deuteronomy 16:1-3

Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter [i.e., the Passover] to bring him forth to the people. Acts 12:1-3

We can observe in 2 Chronicles[1] the close association of the Seven Days with the Passover. But in Deuteronomy 16:1-3 itself the association is quite clear: the whole set of sacrifices to be eaten during the seven days is designated as it, i.e., the passover, in a general way: "Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the Lord shall choose to place his name there. Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith."

As we see in Acts 12:4, Herod intended to take Peter to the people (obviously for a public execution) after Easter. It clearly refers to "the days of unleavened bread" mentioned in Acts 12:3. Now, it is unfortunate that the King James Version uses the popular designation of Easter for these days, because it is used as a translation of the original pascha, that is, the same word translated elsewhere as passover.[2] Therefore, this is a clear example of the use of the word Passover to refer in a general way to the seven day period of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, connected with the Paschal Lamb, which was sacrificed on the day before this very same period, on the very day when the leaven was thrown out of all the houses (cf. Ex 12:15-20).

So, the whole celebration was designated in a general sense "the passover". Not only passover lambs were sacrificed, but also animals of the herd: oxen, for instance, to provide for the days of the Unleavened Bread. Eating the sacrifices of the week of Unleavened Bread was designated in a general way as eating the passover, as employed in John 18:28. It was a common designation. Therefore, John 18:28 does not refer to a desire that the Jews had of eating the Passover Lamb, which had been done the previous night, but of eating the passover in the sense of partaking that day of the sacrifices of the herd eaten every day of the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread (the passover feast).

This is also seen in the prophetic passage of Ezequiel 45:21, thus:

In the first [month], in the fourteenth day of the month, ye shall have the passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten. Ezequiel 45:21

Again we see that the passover is taken to mean the seven day feast as a whole,

Keil says, in his Commentary on Deuteronomy 16:1-3:

Israel was to make ready the Passover to the Lord in the earing month (see at Ex 12:2). The precise day is supposed to be known from Ex 12, as in Ex 23:15. ... (to prepare the Passover), which is used primarily to denote the preparation of the paschal lamb for a festal meal, is employed here in a wider signification, viz. "to keep the Passover". At this feast they were to slay sheep and oxen to the Lord for a Passover, at the place, etc. In v. 2, as in v. 1, the word "Passover" is employed in a broader sense, and includes not only the paschal lamb, but the paschal sacrifices generally, which the Rabbins embrace under the common name of chagiga; not the burnt-offerings and sin-offerings, however, prescribed in Num 28:19-26, but all the sacrifices that were slain at the feast of the Passover (i.e., during the seven days of the Matzoth, which are included under de name of pascha) for the purpose of holding sacrificial meals. This is evident from the expression "of the flock and the herd"; as it was expressly laid down, that only a yearling animal of the sheep or goats, was to be slain for the paschal meal on the fourteenth of the month in the evening, and an ox was never slaughtered in the place of the lamb. But if any doubt could exist upon this point, it would be completely set aside by v. 3: "Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith." As the word "therewith" cannot possibly refer to anything else than the "Passover" in v. 2, it is distinctly stated that the slaughtering and eating of the Passover was to last seven days, whereas the Passover lamb was to be slain and consumed in the evening of the fourteenth Abib (Ex 12:10). ...[3]

So also in Luke we have the same use, in chapter 2, verses 41-43:

Now his [Jesus'] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the Child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. ... Luke 2:41-43

The phrase should be observed: "And when they had fulfilled the days, ..." ¿Which days? The context is very clear, the days of the feast of the passover, which is taken as all the period of the paschal sacrifice of the lamb, and the seven days of unleavened bread and the sacrifices associated with them, according to Deuteronomy 16:1-3.

And finally, we have the statement in Luke that should make this point evident, clear and final:

Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover. ...Luke 22:1

Therefore, when John refers in chap. 13:1 to "before the feast of the passover", and in 18:28 to the fact that the accusers of the Lord Jesus "went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover", in 13:1 he is referring not to the Passover Supper but to the seven days of the Feast connected with it, and in 18:28 to the sacrifices of that day in which the Lord was crucified, as prescribed in Numbers 28:16-25, identified as passover in a general way in Deuteronomy 16:1-3, and thus spoken of.

The Crucifixion —Thursday or Friday?

Concerning the day when the Lord was crucified, whether it was Friday or Thursday, the following should be noted:

First, we have the question of the Resurrection of the Lord being "three days and three nights," "after three days" or "at the third day" after His death, which obviously has to do with which day He was crucified (He died on the same day He was crucified, as we can see from all the Gospel narratives). To elucidate this, we should follow the usus loquendi of that time and nation, the way they used it, and not our own understanding.

What would an American think if he heard a Catalan say to another Catalan: "D'avui en vuit portarem la família al Zoo. [Eight days from today we will take the family to the Zoo.]"? If we were on the 2nd of the month, he would count and say: Ah!, he is taking his family to the Zoo on the 10th. Right? Wrong!! His Catalan friend would rightly understand the 9th. You see, we Catalans count our days inclusive, like the Jews. But the Jews had other conventions as well, and we should not reason from our ways to decide on these issues, but should follow their conventions. Now, if we follow their conventions, and the plain meaning of Scripture, the Lord was crucified on Friday. But besides we have the clear statements of the Scripture.

Secondly, we have seen that "the Passover" as a common designation included the seven day period of the Unleavened Bread. Now, in Scripture we have a few times a particular day mentioned, the Preparation day (paraskeuhv), which was the Friday, when the Jews did all their preparation for the Sabbath (that it is so is made clear by Mark to his gentile readers in this very connection in Mk 15:42: "And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath ...").[4]

So, the Preparation of the Passover was not, as it is sometimes wrongly understood, "the day when they prepared the passover" (which had been the previous day). Rather, the Preparation of the Passover meant "the Preparation Day of the Passover Feast", i.e., the day before the Sabbath of the Passover, or Passover Friday! It was the day before the Sabbath (cf. again Mark 15:42), not a Sabbath (i.e., an extra Sabbath), but the Sabbath, i.e., the normal costumary Sabbath, the Seventh Day of the Week. This Sabbath was also "an high day" because it was the Sabbath of the Passover Feast, i.e., of the seven-day period as seen in Deuteronomy 16:1-3. It was because of the Sabbath that was going to begin that the bodies were taken down from the crosses; and it was thus that the women "returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment" (Luke 23:56), "and when the sabbath was past", the women went early (no hint that more than a sabbath took place, i.e., it was the costumary Sabbath, but with a special solemnity because of being within the Passover week, and therefore with special sacrifices and Temple activities, "an high day").

This standard Sabbath was therefore within and happened almost at the beginning of "the Feast", deriving its special solemnity from the fact of being the sabbath of the Feast. It should not be confused with the special day of rest and holy convocation which marked the end of the Festal period, the seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which had a special character in itself of "day of rest", and which, depending on the year, would coincide with a normal Sabbath or not, but which had the character of a Sabbath (Num 28:25). This special final day of the Feast had no connection at all with the standard Sabbath that the Lord spent in the tomb, and which was right by the beginning of the Feast. The solemn day of holy convocation marked rather its end.

Therefore, the Lord was crucified on Friday, the very same day in which He was taken down from the cross when that day (the day of the Preparation of the Passover, the Friday of the Passover) was hastening to its end. It was on a Friday that the Lord was buried. The Jews counted a fraction of a day as a whole day (a day and a night) to all legal purposes. So Friday was the first day the Lord spent in the tomb. Saturday was the second day. And on that first day of the week which followed the Sabbath day, which was therefore the third day —-in the diverse ways the Jews had to reckon and communicate and get understood amongst themselves—- the Lord Jesus arose from the dead. Even if He spent only a small fraction of that day in the tomb, it was legally counted as a whole day.

Then, the women went early on "the first day of the week" —-and found that the Lord had risen!! Hallelujah!


1. Moreover Josiah kept a passover unto the Lord in Jerusalem: and they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. And he set the priests in their charges, and encouraged them to the service of the house of the Lord, and said unto the Levites that taught all Israel, which were holy unto the Lord, Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel did build; it shall not be a burden upon your shoulders: serve now the Lord your God, and his people Israel, and prepare yourselves by the houses of your fathers, after your courses, according to the writing of David king of Israel, and according to the writing of Solomon his son. And stand in the holy place according to the divisions of the families of the fathers of your brethren the people, and after the division of the families of the Levites. So kill the passover, and sanctify yourselves, and prepare your brethren, that they may do according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses.

And Josiah gave to the people, of the flock, lambs and kids, all for the passover offerings, for all that were present, to the number of thirty thousand, and three thousand bullocks: these were of the king's substance. And his princes gave willingly unto the people, to the priests, and to the Levites: Hilkiah and Zechariah and Jehiel, rulers of the house of God, gave unto the priests for the passover offerings five thousand small cattle, and five hundred oxen. So the service was prepared, and the priests stood in their place, and the Levites in their courses, according to the king's commandment. And they killed the passover, and the priests sprinkled the blood from their hands, and the Levites flayed them.

And they removed the burnt offerings, that they might give according to the divisions of the families of the people, to offer unto the Lord, as it is written in the book of Moses. And so did they with the oxen.

And they roasted the passover with fire according to the ordinance: but the other holy offerings sod they in pots, and in caldrons, and in pans, and divided them speedily among all the people. And afterward they made ready for themselves, and for the priests: because the priests the sons of Aaron were busied in offering of burnt offerings and the fat until night; therefore the Levites prepared for themselves, and for the priests the sons of Aaron.

And the singers the sons of Asaph were in their place, according to the commandment of David, and Asaph, and Heman, and Jeduthun the king's seer; and the porters waited at every gate; they might not depart from their service; for their brethren the Levites prepared for them.

So all the service of the Lord was prepared the same day, to keep the passover, and to offer burnt offerings upon the altar of the Lord, according to the commandment of king Josiah.

And the children of Israel that were present kept the passover at that time, and the feast of unleavened bread seven days.

And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah was this passover kept. 2 Chronicles 35:1-19 Back to Text

2. ASV, JND and NABS, amongst others, give the normal translation of "Passover", not "Easter". Pavsca appears in the New Testament in the following passages: Matthew 26:2, 17, 18, 19; Mark 14:1, 12 (twice), 14, 16; Luke 2:41; 22:1, 7, 8, 11, 13, 15; John 2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55 (twice); 12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14; Acts 12:4; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:28. Back to Text

3. Keil, C. F., in Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, "The Fifth Book of Moses" (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprint 1986), vol. 1, pages 374-375 of the Fifth Section. Back to Text

4. By the way, in modern Greek, Friday is parasceve! This word appears in the NT in the following passages: Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42. Back to Text

For further reading:

Anderson, Sir Robert, "The Paschal Supper", in The Coming Prince (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, Nineteenth Edition, 1975), pages. 106-118.

Edersheim, Alfred: The Temple —-its Ministry and Services as they were at the time of Christ, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, Reprint 1983), especially pages 389-401.

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Nombre original de fichero: passover.rtf - preparado el martes, 27 octubre 1998, 22:08

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