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The Crucifixion Date:
On Which Day Was Jesus Crucified?

When examining the four crucifixion accounts as they are presented in the New Testament, it is difficult to identify a single event upon which all four Gospel writers agree. Even the date of the crucifixion is an issue of contention among the four Gospels.

A perfunctory examination of New Testament texts reveals that the Books of Matthew 1 Mark 2 and Luke 3 all agree that the Last Supper was actually a Passover Seder. Bearing in mind that Jesus was crucified on the very next day following the Last Supper, that would mean that according to all three synoptic 4 Gospels, Jesus was crucified on the first day of Passover, or the 15 day of the first th Jewish month of Nissan (for example, if tonight were a Passover Seder, tomorrow would then be the first day of Passover).5

The author of the Book of John, however, completely contradicts this crucial element of the crucifixion story as they are presented in the first three Gospels. The author of the fourth Gospel maintains that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover, or the 14th day of Nissan. The Book of John identifies the date of the crucifixion in the following manner:

“Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover… Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.”

(John 19:14-16)

The implications of this stunning contradiction cannot be overstated. Both claims cannot possibly have occurred. These conflicting claims cannot be explained away with the well-worn assertion that each Gospel writer expressed his own unique perspective. Jesus was either crucified on the eve of Passover, which is the 14th day of Nissan, as John contends, or on the first day of Passover, which is the 15th day of Nissan, as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke maintain. Jesus could not have been crucified on both days.

Was the first Good Friday the first day of Passover? According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it was; according to John it was not.

As a result of the Gospel conflict over the crucifixion date, numerous other aspects of John’s Passion Narrative differ radically from that of the synoptic Gospels. Therefore, the details in John’s description of what transpired during the Last Supper had to be entirely different from the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

For example, John could not include a Passover Seder in his version of the Last Supper because according to his reckoning of the date of the crucifixion, the night of the Last Supper fell on the night of the 13th day of Nissan, which means Passover had not yet begun. Accordingly, no aspect of the Seder ceremony occurs in John’s Last Supper. In fact, in John’s Gospel, no Communion takes place during the Last Supper (John chapter 13) – no eating of the matzo or drinking of the wine occurs. Because according to his version of the story the festival of Passover began Friday evening, the night of the crucifixion. Therefore, John’s account of the Last Supper contains no ceremonial holiday supper at all; he only describes Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples.

Moreover, the opening words of John’s 13 th chapter begins, “Now before the festival of the Passover…” This is a striking introduction to John’s Last Supper narrative because it contradicts Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s account, which all claim that the momentous night wasn’t “before the festival of Passover.” Rather, according to the synoptic Gospels, it was the first night of the holiday of Passover.

What is more, according to John, when Judas Iscariot mysteriously leaves the Last Supper with the moneybag, the disciples immediately assume that he is taking money to purchase food for the “festive meal” (13:29). Why would the disciples presume that Judas is going to purchase food for the holiday feast if, according to the first three Gospels, they had just eaten the festive meal?

Furthermore, John’s story describes how, when the Jews were handing Jesus over to Pontius Pilate to be crucified on the morning of the crucifixion, “They [the Jews] themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.”6 (John 18:28) Why were these Jews concerned about not being able to eat the Passover? According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke they had already consumed the lamb the night before because the Passover Seder took place the previous evening. This is not a problem for John because the fourth Gospel states that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover, so that this statement is only consistent with his story. In contrast, the synoptic Gospels never mention in their accounts the fear the Jews had of entering the home of Pilate. Such concern would be preposterous because in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s crucifixion story, the Jews had already eaten the Passover lamb the previous night.

The first question that immediately comes to mind is why would John change the crucifixion date from the 15th day of Nissan to the 14th day? Why did the author of the fourth Gospel feel compelled to have Jesus crucified on the eve of Passover rather than the first day of Passover, as the synoptic Gospels claim?