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The Synoptics (Mark 14:12; Matt. 26:17, Luke 22:7) and John 19:31 seems to understand "preparation" differently.

As per Discussion here holy days like Passover can still be called Sabbath even though it does not fall on Saturday. (See the answer provided by schuh)

So, when did Jesus died: on the day of preparation of Passover (Not necessarily Friday) or on the day of preparation of sabbath (Friday)?

  • Presumably the μεγαλη η ημερα referred to by John 19:31 ('high day' as the KJV calls it) means that the day following the death of Jesus was both the Passover and a sabbath. I assume this is the crux of the question - the meaning of μεγαλη η ημερα. – Nigel J Apr 26 at 7:51
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    Jesus died on a Wednesday before sunset and rose Saturday before sunset. Here is a video you might enjoy. youtu.be/EmtyYqq11Qc – Nihil Sine Deo Apr 26 at 15:43
  • @NigelJ The "great day", I believe, is the 8th and last day of Sukkoth, not the day before anything else: [Jhn 7:37 ESV] (37) On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Please see: jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14103-sukkot-feast-of#anchor9 – Ruminator Apr 27 at 23:01
  • @Ruminator John 19:31 makes it clear that the 'high day' μεγαλη η ημερα was the day before the sabbath. Ergo, the μεγαλη η ημερα was a Friday. The great day was not only a sabbath it was also an 'high day'. – Nigel J Apr 28 at 1:18
  • @Nigel J I do not discount the possibility that the 'high day' referred to the seventh day. – user21676 Apr 28 at 9:06
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  • All the most authoritative lexicons consistently state that παρασκευή (paraskeué) means the day of preparation before the weekly Sabbath, eg, BDAG, Friberg (Analytical Lexicon), Souter, Newman, W E Vine, etc. (There are some less well-known lexicons that beg to differ.)
  • "High Day" occurs only in John 19:31. If Friday (at twilight) was the time for the Passover sacrifice, then the following day would be the first day of the feast of unleavened bread which would naturally make that Sabbath both the weekly Sabbath and an annual feast day; so naturally it would be extra special, or a "high day".
  • Even in modern Greek, παρασκευή (paraskeué) still means Friday.
  • παρασκευή (paraskeué) occurs in six places, Matt 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:14, 31, 42. The phraseology in the synoptic Gospels make it clear that Jesus died on Friday. John 19:31 also makes this clear unless we make a special pleading for the use of this word here.

Thus, the simplest way to understand John 19:31 is simply to say that it was the day of preparation (Friday) of Passover week. Thus, in this case, Friday was the preparation day for both the weekly Sabbath which also fell on one of the annual festivals, which made it a special (or "high") Sabbath. The NLT captures this well:

It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was Passover week). …

The HCSB also has a similar rendering:

Since it was the preparation day, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a special day).

Thus, the short answer to the question is, "both" preparation for the weekly Sabbath and the Passover celebrations. As if to confirm this, we have the testimony of Luke 24:22 where Cleopas and his friend said, on Sunday evening, it was the third day since Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. If Jesus had been crucified on Wednesday or Tuesday (as some assert) then it would be at least the fifth day.

The Pulpit commentary observes at John 19:31:

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation; that is, the day before the sabbath (Mark 15:42). This note of time certainly blends both the synoptists and John in the assurance that the crucifixion took place on a Friday. It was also, according to the previous statement, the preparation of the Passover, which, we have seen, is better understood in that literal sense than in the sense of "the Friday of Passover week." Consequently, there was a twofold sanctity about that particular sabbath, seeing that the sabbatic rest of the day following the Paschal meal coincided with the ordinary weekly sabbath; (for great, or high, was the day of that sabbath) (cf. Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:7; and notes on John 13:1; 18:28; 19:14). It was a "great" and "high" day in a sense far more profoundly impressive than any that could be derived from the ceremonial enactments of the Hebrew code. The sabbath of his rest came at length. The toil, the agony, are over, the whole world is transformed during its hours into his resting-place. There has been no such sabbath since the creative Word rested from all his work.

  • You said if Friday (at twilight) was the time for the passover sacrifice then the next day would be the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. How do you explain the fact Jesus Christ and his disciples observed the passover the night before, and that Leviticus 23 explicitly says passover and the first day of unleavened bread are on different days (days which start at sunset)? – Jack Apr 27 at 16:43
  • There were varying practices. What I do know is Jesus was the Passover Lamb (John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7)! He was crucified on the day that normally killed the Passover. Sunday was three days later (Luke 19:31) by inclusive reckoning. Sabbath was therefore the high day. Now, if Jesus was to be crucified on Passover, then he had to celebrate the night BEFORE he died - quite simple really! – user25930 Apr 27 at 20:26
  • By your reckoning he was already dead and buried before the passover even arrived. – Jack Apr 27 at 20:51
  • Not at all - he would have died about 3pm (as per John's account) and that gave time for Joseph to notice the death, ask Pilate for the body and place it in the tomb before sunset on Friday. 3 pm was the time of the afternoon sacrifice. – user25930 Apr 27 at 20:56
  • I am not sure but I think you meant a verse other than Luke 19:31 above. (By the way your comments about Luke 24 below were very helpful.) – Jack Apr 27 at 20:57
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Jesus Christ was crucified on the day of preparation for the First Day of Unleavened Bread, and it was not the sixth day of the week (which we call Friday).

Passover was supposed to be celebrated at the evening of the 14th of Nisan and the First Day of Unleavened Bread followed on the next evening (the 15th).

Leviticus 23:4-8 (YLT)

...

'These are appointed seasons of Jehovah, holy convocations, which ye proclaim in their appointed seasons:

in the first month, on the fourteenth of the month, between the evenings, is the passover to Jehovah;

and on the fifteenth day of this month is the feast of unleavened things to Jehovah; seven days unleavened things ye do eat;

on the first day ye have a holy convocation, ye do no servile work;

and ye have brought near a fire-offering to Jehovah seven days; in the seventh day is a holy convocation; ye do no servile work.'

Some of the confusion stems from the fact that the Jews were celebrating passover on the wrong day. They jammed it into the start of the First Day of Unleavened Bread on the 15th of Nissan.

You can see this in some of the passages John wrote.

John 2:13

...

And the passover of the Jews was nigh, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,

...

John 6:4

...

and the passover was nigh, the feast of the Jews.

...

John 11:55

...

And the passover of the Jews was nigh, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the passover, that they might purify themselves;

...

John 18:39

...

... and ye have a custom that I shall release to you one in the passover [the Jews' passover - remember Jesus Christ and his disciples had already celebrated passover the previous evening]; will ye, therefore, that I shall release to you the king of the Jews?'

...

John 19:14

...

and it was the preparation of the passover [the Jews' passover - again, Jesus Christ and his disciples had celebrated passover the previous evening], and as it were the sixth hour, and he saith to the Jews, 'Lo, your king!'

...

So even though the Jews were preparing for what they called the passover, they had really already missed it by a day. The period of time they were preparing for was the First Day of Unleavened Bread, even though they called it Passover.

Also, the Passover is not even technically a sabbath. There is no command to rest on that day. The word sabbath means rest. "Sabbath rest" is redundant. The command to observe the First Day of Unleavened Bread does come with a command to rest - it is a sabbath.

Read Leviticus 23:6-7 again:

...

and on the fifteenth day of this month is the feast of unleavened things to Jehovah; seven days unleavened things ye do eat;

on the first day ye have a holy convocation, ye do no servile work [i.e. rest, it is a sabbath];

...

So the day the Jews were preparing for was definitely an annual sabbath regardless of what they called it. However, the day Jesus Christ was crucified and also the day of preparation we are considering could not have been the day before the 7th day of the week (which we call Friday) if we assert the resurrection took place on Sunday. Jesus Christ himself said he would be dead for 3 days and 3 nights.

Matthew 12:39

...

And he answering said to them, 'A generation, evil and adulterous, doth seek a sign, and a sign shall not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah the prophet;

for, as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.

...

Mark 16:4

...

'A generation evil and adulterous doth seek a sign, and a sign shall not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah the prophet;' and having left them he went away.

...

Luke 11:29-30

...

And the multitudes crowding together upon him, he began to say, 'This generation is evil, a sign it doth seek after, and a sign shall not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah the prophet,

for as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also shall the Son of Man be to this generation.

...

John 2:19-23

...

And he answering said to them, 'A generation, evil and adulterous, doth seek a sign, and a sign shall not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah the prophet;

for, as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.

'Men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, for they reformed at the proclamation of Jonah, and lo, a greater than Jonah here!

...

Here is what the book of Jonah says about the length of time Jonah was in the belly of the fish - just to be complete.

Jonah 1:17

...

And Jehovah appointeth a great fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah is in the bowels of the fish three days and three nights.

This length of time that Jesus Christ would be in the ground was the only piece of proof He gave to show He was who He said He was.

John 20:1 (CSB)

On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark. She saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

...

You might (might) be able to argue that the span of time from Friday to Sunday was three days (even though you can't even count the day part of Sunday since it was still dark when Mary made it to the tomb and Jesus was already resurrected by that point in time), but there is no way to get three nights out of that interval.

So to answer your question more succintly... Jesus Christ was crucified on the preparation of a particular annual sabbath day which the Jews called the Passover but Leviticus calls the First Day of Unleavened Bread (the Jews missed Passover by a day). It is possible for the First Day of Unleavened Bread (15th of Nisan) to fall on a weekly sabbath, but in this year that Christ was crucified, the First Day of Unleavened Bread (15th of Nisan) did not fall on a weekly sabbath. The day the Jews were preparing for was not the 7th day of the week (which we call Saturday), and the day on which they were making the preparations was not on the sixth day of the week (which we call Friday).

Edit:

To whoever downvoted this answer - at least leave a comment explaining why. Jesus Christ celebrated the Passover the evening before the day being called the preparation for the Passover. This answer is the only one so far that addresses this inconsistency.

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It's amusing to see all the hoops some jump through to avoid a plain contradiction between gospels.

According to Mark, the gospel considered earliest, Jesus eats the Passover meal with his disciples in the evening, and is arrested that night. In the morning, he is put on trial and quickly crucified (Mark 15).

According to John, the gospel considered latest, Jesus also has a last supper with his disciples, and is crucified the next day. Which day? The day of Preparation for the Passover, when the lambs were slaughtered (John 19:14).

Why would the John gospel have Jesus crucified a day earlier? Bart Ehrman points out that John is the only gospel where Jesus is called "the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29), and again "Behold, the Lamb of God!" (John 1:36). For John, Jesus is the sacrificial lamb. So having him crucified on the same day the lambs were slaughtered makes more theological "sense".

A related issue concerns the time of day of the crucifixion. Mark 15:25 has Jesus crucified at "the third hour", meaning 9 am. But in John, it was "the sixth hour" (12 noon) when he was turned over by Pilate. Again, there appears to be a theological reason for the change: Passover lambs were normally slaughtered in the afternoon.

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Most answers to this question will be based on the presumption that the Crucifixion was on a Friday. Using the Bible to support what one already believes is known as eisegesis.

If we drop as many preconceived ideas as possible, and look only at what the Bible says, and what history says about the context of the times, we can deduce a different, and perhaps more reliable, idea of the situation. That is known as exegesis.

I recently posted a more detailed explanation of a similar question, Was there a special Sabbath in addition to Passover when Jesus was crucified? in Christianity.SE. I'll summarize it here:

The main evidence (assuming Scripture must be consistent) is:

We know from Mark 16:1 ("when the sabbath was past [they] bought sweet spices") and Luke 23:56 ("[they] prepared spices and ointments and rested the sabbath day"), that there were two sabbaths shortly after Jesus's crucifixion. The women waited until after the high sabbath to buy and prepare spices the next day, and then waited until after the normal weekly sabbath to take them to the tomb.

And the conclusion is:

That means that:

  • The weekly sabbath was on Saturday.
  • The spices were bought and prepared the day before, on Friday.
  • The high holiday sabbath was the day before, on Thursday.
  • The Day of Preparation was the day before, on Wednesday.

It contradicts tradition, but if the Bible isn't going to contradict itself, Jesus must have been crucified on the Day of Preparation for the annual Passover sabbath, not on the day of preparation for the weekly Sabbath.

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    If Jesus rightly ate the passover on Tuesday, and was crucified on Wednesday, that is, on the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, that would make Thursday, the second day of the feast, to have been essentially called a high holy day for no reason. The argument you make is also based on one interpretation of Mark 16:1, that there must have been two sabbaths since they couldn't have bought spices both before and after the sabbath; yet this is in fact possible, but more probable that Mark 16:1's aorist tense referred to their purchase on Friday. – user21676 Apr 26 at 22:44
  • You are assuming that "the last supper" was the official Passover meal. It wasn't. That happened the following evening, following the "preparation" for it. – Ray Butterworth Apr 27 at 1:54
  • Disagree completely - Luke 22:15. – user21676 Apr 27 at 2:28
  • You could make you case sound more compelling if you find some to agree with you among the ante Nicaean fathers. – user25930 Apr 27 at 5:46
  • Further, how does one reconcile the reference in Luke 24:22 where Cleopas and his friend said, on Sunday evening, it was the third day since Jesus’ trial and crucifixion? If Jesus had been crucified in Tuesday, Sunday would be the fifth day! – user25930 Apr 27 at 12:19

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