3

John places the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walking on water, and the Bread of Life Discourse which follows at a time before Passover:

Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. (John 6:4) [ESV]

Many note the difficulty of this timing; calling the accuracy of the text and/or John's knowledge of Judaism into question. C.K. Barrett notes Hort's concerns:

The authenticity of these words was suspected by Hort, though they are contained in all MSS. and VSS. and the only evidence against them is patristic...Hort concludes "The supposition that τὸ πάσχα formed no part of the original text must remain somewhat precarious in the absence of any other apparent corruption of equal magnitude and similarly attested by all know MSS. and VSS. But as a considerable body of patristic evidence points to the absence of the words in at least some ancient texts, and the internal evidence is unfavourable to their genuineness, while the chronology of the gospel history is fundamentally affected by their presence or absence, it has seemed right to express suspicion, and to justify it at some length." 1

Israel Abrahams' analysis of the customs led him to conclude the Passover was past:

Everything points then, to a date soon after the Passover. 2

Under some circumstances the Passover could be celebrated on the 14th of the second month (Numbers 9:6-14). This is called Pesach Sheni. The objections, such as the availability of barley loaves (6:9) and the people not being in Jerusalem are resolved if John is referring to the second month Passover. Also, the chronology and period of time the Gospel covers would be unchanged.

In the Bread of Life Discourse there is a comparison with the manna which fell for 40 years in the wilderness. It begins with:

So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:31-32)

Interestingly, a connection between the manna and the second month Passover exists:

...on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness...So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD... (Exodus 16:1-2, 6-7)

Once Pesach Sheni is established, a "remembrance" of when the manna begin to fall would come soon after. If John were writing after the destruction of Jerusalem, he could reasonably call the 14th day of the second month as "the Passover of the Jews."

Has John retrospectively recognized the Bread of Life Discourse took place at the time of Pesach Sheni?


Notes:
1. C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, S.P.C.K, 1962, p. 228
2. Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, Cambridge University Press, 1917, p. 11

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  • I'm sorry, but what is the difficulty with the verse's timing? The lack of availability of barley?
    – Ruminator
    Aug 14 '18 at 17:18
  • @Ruminator Barley is one factor. Much green grass is another. I think the biggest issue is the number of people, including Jesus who are in Capernaum. Passover and Unleavened Bread would be a time where most Jewish people would go to Jerusalem. Aug 14 '18 at 18:25
  • I think it might be good to add the case for it being a problem because it certainly isn't obvious.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 14 '18 at 18:36
  • Why do you wish to question the timing as stated?
    – user25930
    Aug 14 '18 at 22:26
  • It wasn't necessary for it to have been 'in season' to get such grain - Joshua 5:12.
    – user21676
    Aug 15 '18 at 1:32
1

The text says that passover is "near", not that it is the night of passover. The word used is "engys". Here is BDAG

② pert. to being close in point of time, near ⓐ of the future: καιρός Mt 26:18; Rv 1:3; 22:10. Of summer (Herodas 3, 45 ὁ χειμὼν [winter] ἐγγύς) Mt 24:32; Mk 13:28; Lk 21:30. Of a festival J 2:13; 6:4; 7:2; 11:55. Of God’s reign Lk 21:31. Of the parousia Phil 4:5; 1 Cl 21:3; B 21:3. Of death Hs 8, 9, 4. ἐγγύτερον ἡμῶν ἡ σωτηρία, ἢ … our salvation is nearer than … Ro 13:11. Abs. soon ἐ. τὸ ἔργον τελεσθήσεται will soon be completed Hs 9, 10, 2. ⓑ of the past ἔγγιστα a very short time ago 1 Cl 5:1.

The issues raised also don't do much to dispute this timing. E.g.

  • Why are there people about, when they should be in Jerusalem? Well, if it's "near", then roads would be crowded with travellers to Jerusalem, as the main transit arteries from the north to Jerusalem passed through Capernaum, as it says in Mark 6.31: "For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.". The issue is why wouldn't Jesus and the twelve be in Jerusalem, which only creates a problem for dating this event right at passover, which is not what the text says.

  • Why is there green grass? Many commentators view Mark's "green grass" comment as a supporting piece of evidence for John's dating, not something that contradicts it. See, e.g. "The grass is rarely green in Galilee but it is usually greenest in spring after the summer rains at the time of the Passover". https://reasonablefaithadelaide.org.au/the-feeding-of-the-5000/

  • How can they eat barley? Barley was eaten all year long throughout the Roman Empire. It was used as rations for soldiers. Like all other grain crops, it was not eaten solely when it was harvested (as was the case with fresh fruit), as grains were stored.

So we are left with textual evidence, e.g. are there early manuscripts that omit the statement that passover was "near". No, all MSS of John attest to this. So a plain reading of the text is justified -- this happened "around the time" of passover but not on the night of passover.

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