Significant chronological disparities exist between St. John's telling of the life and death of Jesus and those of the synoptic gospels. For instance, St. John discusses a lot of Jesus' ministry, while the synoptics focus on the final year prior to his death. The synoptics place Jesus' death at 15 Nisan, while St. John places it at 14th Nisan (John 18:28 seems to make it clear that these dates cannot be reconciled through counting the days or times differently).

What might the purpose be of St. John's conflicting chronology? Might he have intended to demonstrate something to us metaphorically/allegorically/mystically by intentionally altering the chronology?


3 Answers 3


One common argument is that in John's gospel, but not in the synoptics, Jesus is referred to as the "lamb of God" (John 1:29 and 1:36) and in John but not in the synoptics Jesus dies at the same time as the passover lambs are slaughtered. For example, below is a quote from Ehrman's "Jesus, Interrupted", though this argument is certainly not original to him.

“Some have pointed out that Mark also indicates that Jesus died on a day that is called ‘the Day of Preparation’ (Mark 15:42). That is absolutely true — but what these readers fail to notice is that Mark tells us what he means by this phrase: it is the Day of Preparation ‘for the Sabbath’ (not the Day of Preparation for the Passover). In other words, in Mark, this is not the day before the Passover meal was eaten but the day before the Sabbath; it is called the day of ‘preparation’ because one had to prepare the meals for Saturday on Friday afternoon.

“…in Mark, Jesus eats the Passover meal (Thursday night) and is crucified the following morning. In John, Jesus does not eat the Passover meal but is crucified on the day before the Passover meal was to be eaten. Moreover, in Mark, Jesus is nailed to the cross at nine in the morning; in John, he is not condemned until noon, and then he is taken out and crucified….

“…I will point out a significant feature of John’s Gospel – the last of our Gospels to be written, probably some twenty-five years or so after Mark’s. John is the only Gospel that indicates that Jesus is ‘the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.’ This is declared by John the Baptist at the very beginning of the narrative (John 1:29) and again six verses later (John 1:35). Why, then, did John – our latest Gospel – change the day and time when Jesus died? It may be because in John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice brings salvation from sins. Exactly like the Passover Lamb, Jesus has to die on the day (the Day of Preparation) and the time (sometime after noon), when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple.

“In other words, John has changed a historical datum in order to make a theological point: Jesus is the sacrificial lamb. And to convey this theological point, John has had to create a discrepancy between his account and the others.”

So John's timing emphasizes the connection between Jesus's death and the death of the lambs.

Of course, there are other possibilities. Some argue that the two accounts can be reconciled. Others argue that Mark is the one modifying the original chronology and that John gets it right. Roughly this theory is that there was a very early narrative of the passion (possibly oral, possibly in Aramaic) which followed John's chronology. The author of Mark either misunderstood what "day of preparation" meant (mistaking preparation for Passover with preparation for the Sabbath) or purposefully changed the narrative so that the Eucharist was the Passover Seder. (Note that John doesn't have the establishment of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.) But I wanted to give an answer to the narrow question you asked: why might John have wanted to change the chronology to make a spiritual point.


The are some scholars who think this is a conflict as they suppose the passover is being eaten on conflicting days, but a simple answer is that there is no conflict. A simple solution is that John 18:28 is not referring to the evening passover meal which Jesus ate the previous evening but the daytime passover feast that followed the next day:

And here both the Old Testament and Jewish writings show, that the term Pesach, or ‘Passover,’ was applied not only to the Paschal Lamb, but to all the Passover sacrifices, especially to what was called the Chagigah, or festive offering (from Chag., or Chagag, to bring the festive sacrifice usual at each of the three Great Feasts).’ According to the express rule (Chag. 1. 3) the Chagigah was brought on the first festive Paschal Day. ('The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah', by Alfred Edersheim, Vol 2.567)

This really is a very reasonable and simple solution as the Jewsih leaders would not have been prevented from eating the passover meal if they had become unclean. The rabbinic rule was that if they became unclean they could bath and then 'could partake the passover meal' as it would not have been time to eat until the evening (i.e. the next day in which they would be clean). However, if they became defiled it is only true regarding the next day's meal. They specifically would not have been able to partake of the first festive Paschal Day feats as it occurred before evening while they would have still been unclean without any means to become clean in time.

Alfred Edersheim concludes confidently that this is the only possible meaning despite the many controversies on the point that would make it appear controversial.

We can therefore quite understand that, not on the eve of the Passover, but on the first Paschal day, the Sanhedrists would avoid incurring a defilement which, lasting till the evening, would not only have involved them in the inconvenience of Levitical defilement on the first festive day, but have actually prevented their offering on that day the Passover, festive sacrifice, or Chagigah. For, we have these two express rules: that a person could not in Levitical defilement offer the Chagigah; and that the Chagigah could not be offered for a person by some one else who took his place (Jer. Chag. 76 a, lines 16 to 14 from bottom). These considerations and canons seem decisive as regards the views above expressed. There would have been no reason to fear ‘defilement’ on the morning of the Paschal Sacrifice; but entrance into the Prœtorium on the morning of the first Passover-day would have rendered it impossible for them to offer the Chagigah, which is also designated by the term Pesach. ('The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah', by Alfred Edersheim, Vol 2.568)

I have found similar conflicts between the gospel accounts shown to be just optional viewpoints. Of all the claimed contradictions I have encountered, I honestly do not recall one that was not removed through a slight change in perspective. I do not think there are any contradictions in the Bible (outside of minor copyist mistake in some manuscript transcriptions).


The perceived confusion between the synoptic gospels and the account by St. John lies with the OBSERVATION of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That is, the Law of Moses discriminates between the 14th of Nisan from the 15th of Nisan.

Exodus 12:17-18 (NASB)
17 You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance. 18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.

The OBSERVATION of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is commanded on the 14th of Nisan. Thus there are EIGHT days until the 21st of Nisan, when the feast concludes.

Leviticus 23:6 (NASB)
6 Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.

The Feast begins on the 15th of Nisan. Thus there are SEVEN days until the 21st of Nisan, when the feast concludes.

In other words, the synoptic gospels are viewing "the first day of Unleavened Bread" not as the 15th of Nisan (the Feast itself), but the 14th of Nisan, which is the OBSERVATION day of the Feast. That is, the synoptic gospels indicate that Jesus OBSERVED the Passover on the 14th of Nisan.

For example, Matthew 26:17 says the following -

Matthew 26:17 (NASB)
17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”

Is this this the 15th of Nisan, which is the Feast of Unleavened Bread? No, it is not; it is the early hours of the 14th of Nisan (evening of the preceding day), which is the OBSERVATION day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That is, the 14th of Nisan is the "Day of Preparation," which is the day that the Passover Lamb was sacrificed. Why do we know this? Matthew 27:62 says the following -

Matthew 27:62 (NASB)
62 Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate...

The day of preparation is the 14th of Nisan (please see also Mark 14:12; Mark 15:42; and Luke 22:7). Therefore the day AFTER the Day of Preparation is in fact PASSOVER, or the "first day" of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In other words, the pharisees approached Pilate on the actual Passover Day (15th Nisan), because Jesus was placed in the grave on the eve of Passover (he was buried before Passover started at dusk the previous day, 14th of Nisan).

In summary, there is a slight nuance between the OBSERVATION of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 12:17-18), which continues for eight days, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:6), which continues for seven days. This nuance is the cause of the confusion of the PERCEIVED discrepancy of dates between the synoptic gospels and the gospel of Saint John. That is, the synoptics are benchmarking their timing of the "first day" of the OBSERVATION of the Feast based on Ex 12:17-18, and Saint John is benchmarking his timing from the actual FEAST DAY based on Lev 23:6.

  • 1
    The chronology of Matthew is somewhat unclear. Your argument would be stronger if you used Mark or Luke instead.
    – Noah
    Jun 6, 2013 at 17:36
  • Okay - I added Mk 14:12; Mk 15:42; and Lk 22:7 to show that the Day of Preparation was the "first day" of the OBSERVATION of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the 14th of Nisan).
    – Joseph
    Jun 6, 2013 at 18:25
  • I'm not sure I understand what you're saying in reference to Mk 14:12. It seems to me like you're saying that "On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed" is referring to a time the evening before the Passover lambs are sacrificed? Is that right?
    – Noah
    Jun 6, 2013 at 18:48
  • The Passover Lamb was sacrificed on the "Day of Preparation." On the very early hours of this day (14 Nisan) Jesus "OBSERVED" the Passover (in accordance with Ex 12:17-18). Several hours later Judas betrayed him. The same day (early morning hours) he was tried, and then crucified. Before dusk of that very same day (14 Nisan), he was entombed, since Passover was only a few hours away, which "doubled" as a High Sabbath Day (Luke 23:54). Remember: the "first day" of the OBSERVATION of the Feast (14 Nisan) is NOT the "first day" of the Feast itself (15 Nisan) -- and therein lies the confusion.
    – Joseph
    Jun 6, 2013 at 19:10
  • I created a room: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/9134/…
    – Dan
    Jun 6, 2013 at 19:21

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