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Background

I realise that the word παρασκευή has a wider range then just a reference to a day, for example Eph 6:15 is not a reference to a specific day however it is the understanding of this term in regards to a specific day that I wish to investigate.

Six times in the gospel accounts of the crucifixion we read that it was "the day of preparation" or something similar (Matt 27:62; Mar 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14; 31; 42) on each occasion the noun παρασκευή is used.

Some sources are very specific that this noun refers to the sixth day of the week (our Friday), for example:

literally preparation; in Jewish, NT, and early Christian usage, only of a definite day, the sixth day of the week, the term for the Friday preceding the Sabbath, when all preparation for the Sabbath had to be completed and after which no work was permitted (MK 15.42; LU 23.54; JN 19.31, 42) [Friberg, Analytical Lexicon]

and

The day that was used to prepare for the Sabbath on the following day.[(2014). Sacred Time. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.]

And

67.201 παρασκευή, ῆς f: a day on which preparations were made for a sacred or feast day—‘day of preparation, Friday.’ τῇ δὲ ἐπαύριον, ἥτις ἐστὶν μετὰ τὴν παρασκευήν, συνήχθησαν ‘on the next day, the day after the day of preparation, they met’ or ‘the next day, which was a Sabbath, they met’ Mt 27:62. The identification of παρασκευή with Friday became so traditional that it eventually came to be the present-day Greek term for ‘Friday.’[Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 653). New York: United Bible Societies.]

And see here

In the commentary cited above there is an interesting link to Josephus Ant 16:6: 2 which says:

“Caesar Augustus, high priest and tribune of the people, ordains thus:—Since the nation of the Jews have been found grateful to the Roman people, not only at this time but in times past also, and chiefly Hyrcanus the high priest, under my father,a Caesar the emperor, (163) it seemed good to me and my counsellors, according to the sentence and oath of the people of Rome, that the Jews have liberty to make use of their own customs, according to the law of their forefathers, as they made use of them under Hyrcanus, the high priest of Almighty God; and that their sacred money be not touched, but be sent to Jerusalem, and that it be committed to the care of the receivers at Jerusalem; and that they be not obliged to go before any judge on the Sabbath day, nor on the day of the preparation to it, after the ninth hour;b [Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson.]

However not all the lexicons agrees that that when παρασκευή it refers to the sixth day exclusively. for example Gingrich states:

preparation, i.e. day of preparation for a festival, Friday Mt 27:62; Mk 15:42 ; Lk 23:54; J 19:14, 31, 42.* [pg 150]

And

the day of preparation (for a Sabbath or feast):—day(1)[Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.]

If this term refers specifically to a Friday it would seem to me that this would put an end to the disputes about which day of the week Jesus Christ died.

Question

Does παρασκευή refer specifically to the sixth day of the week or could be used to speak of preparation day prior to a Sabbath or feast?

  • Interesting question, but I'm not sure the answer would have the settling power you suggest. See, e.g., H.K. Bond, "Dating the Death of Jesus: Memory and the Religious Imagination", New Testament Studies 59.4 (2013): 461-75, which doesn't directly discuss the semantics of παρασκευή, but considers a number of other factors in attempting to fix the day. – Dɑvïd Apr 2 '15 at 23:51
  • What are the options? Luke 23, for example, is pretty clear that it was the day before sabbath. – fumanchu Apr 3 '15 at 0:10
  • @david no it might not, most of those who come across that go for a Wednesday or Thursday are dispensational and to be consistent to their hermeneutic if the bible says Friday, it was Friday case closed. – Jonathan Chell Apr 3 '15 at 7:31
  • @fumanchu but John 19:14 says "the preperation day of the passover" – Jonathan Chell Apr 3 '15 at 7:32
  • @fumanchu Sabbath is Saturday for the Jews. There is no contradiction. Christians moved their Sabbath to Sunday in light of it being the day Christ rose from the grave. Also it can be noted of the day of preparation that the Passover lamb was killed at 3 in the afternoon. Which is when Christ was crucified. – Joshua Apr 7 '15 at 14:25
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Jewish holy days are also ‘Sabbaths’, even if they don’t fall on a Saturday. The Jewish Encyclopedia’s entry for Holy Days states:

Upon the six holy days in the Jewish calendar—the first and seventh days of Passover, the first and eighth days of Sukkot (Tabernacles), the day of Shebu'ot (Weeks), and the day of Rosh ha-Shanah (New-Year)—the Bible prohibits every kind of labor (Lev. xxiii. 7, 8, 21, 25, 35, 36). ... All kinds of work forbidden on the Sabbath are forbidden also on the holy days, except such work as is necessary for the preparation of food for the day of the festival.

Jewish holidays occur on the same date of the Jewish calendar annually. Since they often fall on a day other than Saturday or Sunday, their παρασκευή (‘day of preparation’) is often not a Friday. So, for example, in the year discussed by James Tabor in which the first day of Passover was a Friday and its παρασκευή on Thursday:

[A]s Jews know, the day of Passover itself is also a “Sabbath” or rest day—no matter what weekday it falls on. In the year 30 AD, Friday the 15th of the Jewish month Nisan was also a Sabbath — so two Sabbaths occurred back to back — Friday and Saturday.

Of the sources cited, then, only Friberg, and perhaps Baker, contradict the view that a 'day of preparation' may be a day other than Friday. Baker cites several additional sources (footnote 84) which also argue against a Friday-only definition. The majority, then, support the fuller definition which, Tabor states, every Jew already knows:

παρασκευή is the day of preparation before a sabbath rest day, which includes every Saturday AND selected Jewish feast days.

  • Marked down because (1) The evidence presented by the Baker commentary includes a lot more that stated, eg the quote from Josephus that I provided. (2) The evidence presented relates to how a Sabbath is defined and the conclusion relates to the 'passion chronology' specifically that is not the question being asked, the question being asked is about the meaning of a word παρασκευή - does it mean 'Friday' or does it refer to any preparation day. If the answer can be tweaked to be more on point I will remove my down mark :-D – Jonathan Chell Apr 4 '15 at 9:15
  • @JonathanChell, I’ve amended my answer: 1) I still think Baker’s argument invalid, but it does cite a few apparently concurring sources (though no rationale); this isn’t the place to dissect Baker, so I grant it. 2) I had commented on the Passion narrative issue tangentially, after stating my bolded conclusion, but I’ve now reduced and moved the Tabor quote into the main body where it strengthens my argument. Others can apply it to the Passion narratives discussion. Hope this is helpful. – Schuh Apr 5 '15 at 21:12
  • 1
    Perhaps it could be noted, for anyone who sees it and it perhaps confused, holy days and seventh day Sabbaths could be back to back prior to the calendar's standardization by Hillel II in the 4th century. Some calculated calendars will carry that back and tell you there was no Friday Passover, when there was. – Joshua Feb 19 '16 at 5:27
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Why would they call it "the next day, that followed the day of the preparation" if it was a "sabbath"? If it really was a Saturday sabbath, they would have said so.

Mat 27:62 Now the next day (G1887), that followed (G2076 G3326) the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,

"followed" (G2076 G3326) - is actually followed (G2076) successively (G3326), which could greatly denote that it is still currently the "preparation day", carrying over from the previous 3pm Thursday afternoon to the current heading 3pm Friday.

Lori Eldridge's extensive research seems to back up this claim. You can read it if you search for her web page "What Day of the Week Was Jesus Crucified?".

Jesus rose early on the third day literally.

A Jewish day is sundown (3pm) to sundown (3pm). Therefore, the Day of Preparation for a Sabbath is Thurs (3pm) to Fri (3pm). Likewise the Sabbath is Fri (3pm) to Sat (3pm) which would mean [Mark 15:42-44] begins Thursday evening after 3pm, when the Day of Preparation had finally just commenced.

Mar 15:42-44 And now evening having come, there upon(G1893) it was the preparation that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time.

Resting on the Sabbath begins Fri (3pm), so they prepared spices and fragrant oils between Jesus' burial and Fri (3pm).

Luk 23: 52-56 This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.

Then the prepared spices were finally brought to the tomb.

Mar 16:1 Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.

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  • Where does the "sundown (3pm)" definition come from? Sundown is about 6pm, especially near the spring equinox. – Ray Butterworth May 6 at 12:41
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"Preparation"
The NT uses two words which are translated "preparation:"

Given the ability to use either word to convey "preparation" the choice of παρασκευή to describe the day of Crucifixion and the avoidance of any other use has the effect of establishing a type of hapax legomenon. In other words, for the Gospel writers, παρασκευή was chosen to describe a unique day on the calendar.

Two additional factors in support of this:

  • Despite numerous events which occur on the Sabbath, there is no mention of preparing or preparation for the Sabbath. An argumentum ex silentio is not conclusive; however, if the public ministry of Jesus lasted 3-years there would be over 150 Sabbaths and days of preparation. It seems unlikely all four Gospel writers would avoid the word until the day of the Crucifixion.
  • Matthew, Mark, and Luke are state Jesus instructed the disciples to "prepare" the meal for the Passover. All three use the verb ἑτοιμάζω, not παρασκευάζω. Preparation for the Sabbath is primarily preparing meals. If the Gospel writers understood παρασκευή as the Sabbath routine, they could have used παρασκευάζω to describe preparation of the meal. Instead, the use of ἑτοιμάζω to prepare the Last Supper (and the avoidance of the verb παρασκευάζω throughout all four Gospels) serves to reinforce παρασκευή as a meaning unique to the day of Crucifixion.

Feast Days
The month of Nissan at the time of Passover includes 3 annual feasts and 1 or 2 weekly Sabbaths:

Nissan     Annual Event                           Weekly Sabbath
  14       Passover Sacrifice                  14 -- -- -- -- -- --
  15       Unleavened Bread - No work          -- 15 -- -- -- -- --
  16       Unleavened Bread                    -- -- 16 -- -- -- --
  17       Unleavened Bread                    -- -- -- 17 -- -- --
  18       Unleavened Bread                    -- -- -- -- 18 -- --
  19       Unleavened Bread                    -- -- -- -- -- 19 --
  20       Unleavened Bread                    -- -- -- -- -- -- 20 
  21       Unleavened Bread - No work          21 -- -- -- -- -- --

Thus "preparation" could apply to Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, or a weekly Sabbath. Even if limited specifically to the Sabbath, "preparation" would not necessarily identify the next day as the weekly Sabbath, because the next day (Nissan 15) was always a day of no work:

And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. (Leviticus 23:6-7) [ESV]

The Pharisees understood the first day of Unleavened Bread as the "Sabbath" after which the Feast of First Fruits was to be observed:

9 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, 11 and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12 And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD. (Leviticus 23)

Moreover, if "preparation" refers only to the weekly Sabbath, it still does pinpoint the 15th as that Sabbath since in a year in which the 16th was the weekly Sabbath, preparation would occur on the 14th of Nissan:

Nissan  Event                         
  14    Prepare for the "Sabbath" of Unleavened Bread & weekly Sabbath
  15    1st day of Unleavened Bread - No work
  16    Weekly Sabbath & Feast of First Fruits

Finally, the Feast of First Fruits required cutting the sheaf, which could easily be considered "work." In that case, and if First Fruits was observed on the 16th, "preparation" (i.e. "cutting") would take place on the 14th.

Unleavened Bread
The only observation for which there is a Scriptural basis of "preparation" is Unleavened Bread:

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. (Exodus 12:15)

Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. (Exodus 13:7)

According to the Mishnah, this was to be done before the Passover:

On the evening of the fourteenth [of Nissan] we check for leavened bread by candlelight.
(M. Pesachim 1)

Thus, the 14th was the day on which one always prepared for the "Sabbath" of the first day of Unleavened Bread, and for the 7-days of Unleavened Bread by affirming all leaven had been removed, and possibly cutting the sheaf for First Fruits, and, in some years, for a weekly Sabbath.

Conclusion
It is clear that even as early as the time of the Crucifixion, the custom was to refer to the combined periods of Passover and Unleavened Bread, as "Passover." This tradition is still observed. In other words, the Scriptural definitions of "Passover" and "Unleavened Bread" fail to accurately convey the vernacular of the people:

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. (Luke 22:1)

Luke is not giving a formal or Scriptural definition: he has recorded the custom. While everyone "knows" Passover is only the beginning of the combined observances, the initial event resulted in a tradition which obscures the name of the 7-days of Unleavened Bread.

Given the certainty of what must always occur on the 14th of Nissan, it seems reasonable to conclude the Gospels know this singular day of the year, as "preparation."

Nissan    Gospel Vernacular  Scriptural Name
  14      Preparation        Passover
  15      Passover           Unleavened Bread
  16      Passover           Unleavened Bread
  17      Passover           Unleavened Bread
  18      Passover           Unleavened Bread
  19      Passover           Unleavened Bread
  20      Passover           Unleavened Bread
  21      Passover           Unleavened Bread

This would also explain why the phrase is no where else used in the Gospels, despite the numerous Sabbaths which Jesus and the disciples observed. Thus, preparation for a weekly Sabbath, which is routine, does not require naming that day. However, the 14th of Nissan which is the singular day of Passover was called "Preparation" as a way to identify this day on which Scripture did require certain activities to prepare for the next 7-days in general and the next day in particular.

Finally, as shown above, this does not answer the question of whether Jesus was crucified the day before the weekly Sabbath.

  • This doesn't answer the question which is about the meaning of a Greek term, instead it seems to selectively proof text an opinion in regards to how long Jesus was in the tomb. Simply put if you insist that it must have been literally three days and three nights you set up a contradiction in scripture, for Jesus rose early on the third day, consider Luke 24:7, 21, 46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor 15:4 not the mention the fact that Jesus also prophesied this, see Matt 17:23 – Jonathan Chell May 16 '15 at 8:47
  • Added to this is the example of Esther that I believe the Pharisees and scribes would have been aware of, compare Esther 4:16 with 5:1. You are correct in that we must understand the texts in the same way that the original hearers would but you are wrong in how they would have understood it. – Jonathan Chell May 16 '15 at 8:51
  • I have added to my answer which answers your comments. I think the issue is not the meaning of the Greek term. It is the meaning of a day and the natural world and the command to observe the Sabbath provide the answer: 24-hours. – Revelation Lad May 16 '15 at 13:41
  • regardless of what you think the issue is, the question is about the meaning of the Greek term. I would be more then happy to discuss the period of time Jesus spent in the tomb but that would need to happen on a discussion board (I can be found on thecalvinistcafe.org/forum/index.php if you wish to discuss it ) this is a place to address specific hermeneutical questions though, and the question asked is about the meaning of παρασκευή – Jonathan Chell May 16 '15 at 15:47
  • You state the purpose of your question: "If this term refers specifically to a Friday it would seem to me that this would put an end to the disputes about which day of the week Jesus Christ died." You also seek resolution outside the context ("day of preparation") and outside the application (how much time would someone observing the Sabbath have to prepare). Since there is agreement Jesus was in the tomb on the Sabbath Day, how long did that day last? And if the Sabbath was and is a 24-hour period, how long would the days before and after last? The key is the Sabbath Day. – Revelation Lad May 16 '15 at 19:24
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How do we know once and for all WITHOUT A SHADOW OF A DOUBT that Jesus died on the SIXTH DAY OF THE WEEK or on what we call now as FRIDAY?

This is the key:

John 19:31, specifically mentioned that it was on the “day of preparation” AND that day was a “high day”. When John said “high day”, it means there were two or DOUBLE SABBATHS that happened on that particular date of the month (Nisan 15)and year. One was the “first day” of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-7) and the other one was, of course, the weekly seventh day Sabbath.

So even if the “day of preparation” may refer to the “preparation day” for the annual Sabbaths, as others may argue”, the fact remains that it was also the day of preparation for the OTHER SABBATH which is THE SEVENTH DAY OF THE WEEK.

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