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John 19:31 says Jesus died before a High Sabbath. If we assume that High Sabbath is one of the seven annual Sabbaths then it'd be that the High Sabbath fall's on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread which according to Leviticus is the 15th of Nisan. But Luke 22:7 clearly states that the feast of Unleavened bread took place and then goes on to talk about the Last Supper.

So how did Jesus die after the feast of Unleavened bread and also before the High Sabbath? I am aware of the interpretation that there are two different calendars. Another explanation is to say that it was the second High Sabbath, which comes at the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But that of course means that Jesus would have quite a while after the Last Supper.

So simply asked: how do I interpret this supposed contradiction?

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Dealing strictly with Luke 22:7:

Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. (KJV)

The holy Days of Unleavened Bread last for over a week, so there isn't any single "day" of unleavened bread.

Luke could be specifying which specific day of the festival, the day when the lambs are killed.

But it could have a more general meaning. Luke was writing to the non-Jewish Greeks (just as Mark wrote to the Romans). The Greeks would be vaguely familiar with Jewish customs, but not the details. To outsiders, the most obvious and unusual thing about this time of year was that a large number of lambs are killed on the same day.

So, Luke could be saying something like:

It was now Passover season, you know, when all the lambs are killed.

just as someone today might say to a Hindu or Buddhist:

It was the Christmas season, you know, when the evergreen trees and lights are put up.

The NLT translation in fact renders this verse with that meaning:

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread arrived, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed.

Luke was simply establishing the time of year as a background to what was happening, not restricting things to a specific day.


We learn from the other Gospels that the lambs were slaughtered on the "Day of Preparation" before the high sabbath that occurs on the first day of the Days of Unleavened Bread.


UPDATE:

Other answers have gone on to suggest calendars of events.

The article Good Friday + Easter Sunday: It Doesn’t Add Up! | United Church of God, and other articles in that issue of the magazine, give detailed explanations of why the Crucifixion was on a Wednesday afternoon in AD 31.

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Note that there is some controversy over whether all the high holidays should also be referred to as sabbaths.

Technically, most of them shouldn't. But, as Saber Truth Tiger says in another answer, that terminology "was an invention of the Pharisees and their predecessors late in the Second Temple period".

So, Jews of the time, including John, would naturally refer to the first day of Passover as a sabbath.

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  • 1
    Good answer. +1. Indeed, the Torah states that the Lamb had to be scarified at twilight so it might be argued that it was either the 14th or the 15th say because it was on the border of both.
    – Dottard
    Jul 27, 2023 at 22:16
  • I didn't realize until now, or maybe I just forgot, that you were an advocate for a Wednesday crucifixion!! Surely you can't believe this. Friday is the general consensus among the vast majority of many a respected theologian, as I'm sure you must know. For one truth alone, Jesus died before a "Great Passover", all of which were always on a Saturday. In my comment to Agarza below, I give a link/reference to Q.53715 (Time of Jesus' crucifixion in relation to the Passover), to which I gave a detailed answer, which was hardly IMO only. Thursday arrest of Jesus, starts 3 nights/days. Jul 30, 2023 at 13:24
  • Let's face it, the problem with the United Church of God's illustration, which although colorful and well presented, is the fact that they erroneously believe in a 31 AD crucifixion, wherein Nisan 14 falls on a Wednesday and therefore not on the more veritable Friday. Had they chosen 33 AD, wherein Nisan 14 does indeed fall on a Friday, they wouldn't have had to resort to their fantastical contrivances. Your somewhat obvious support of their "fantastical" and your failure to respond to my earlier comment have now led me to the downvote. Aug 1, 2023 at 11:59
  • @OldeEnglish says "Surely you can't believe this". What you or I happen to believe is irrelevant on this site. ¶ "failure to respond to my earlier comment". If comments without questions required a response, they would go on forever. I presented the beliefs of one specific denomination; you linked to a presentation of a different belief. Other than an argument in comments, I don't know what response you expected. And the only claim in my answer was that the site will "give detailed explanations of …"; are you saying that my answer is wrong because that site doesn't give an explanation? Aug 1, 2023 at 12:16
  • Not at all!! They give detailed explanations alright, but just from the wrong basic beliefs, which are outside of the “mainstream”, but which you apparently embrace. Aug 1, 2023 at 14:58
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To better understand the timing of Jesus' death, we need to define both the Sabbath and the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

Sabbath
Most people will recognize that there is a weekly day of rest known as the Sabbath. But within the Mosaic Law, there were other days that were considered sabbatical. Note the following list from the article "Sabbath Day" in the Insight on the Scriptures:

The weekly Sabbath was made an integral part of a system of sabbaths when the Law covenant was formally inaugurated at Mount Sinai a short time later. (Ex 19:1; 20:8-10; 24:5-8) This sabbatical system was composed of many types of sabbaths: the 7th day, the 7th year, the 50th year (Jubilee year), Nisan 14 (Passover), Nisan 15, Nisan 21, Sivan 6 (Pentecost), Ethanim 1, Ethanim 10 (Atonement Day), Ethanim 15, and Ethanim 22.

John 19:31 mentions that a particular Sabbath called "high", "special", or "great" depending on the translation used. The same article refereneced above, helps define this day:

Sometimes two legal Sabbaths would fall on the same 24-hour period, and this was called a “great” Sabbath, such as when Nisan 15 (a sabbath day) coincided with the regular Sabbath.​—Joh 19:31.

Barnes' Notes on the Bible makes a similar observation:

Was an high day - It was:

  1. The Sabbath.

  2. It was the day on which the paschal feast properly commenced.

It was called a high day because that year the feast of the Passover commenced on the Sabbath. Greek: "Great day."

The Festival of Unleavened Bread (or Cakes)
The article "Festival" from the Insight on the Scriptures again helps define this festival:

This festival began the day after the Passover and ran from Abib (Nisan) 15th through the 21st. Passover was on Nisan 14 and was really a day of observance to itself, but since it was so closely connected in time with the Festival of Unfermented Cakes, the two were often spoken of together as the Passover.​—Mt 26:17; Mr 14:12; Lu 22:7.

The study note for Luke 22:7 (NWT) gives additional insight into the dates in question:

The day mentioned here refers to Nisan 14 because it is said to be the day on which the Passover sacrifice must be offered. (Ex 12:6, 15, 17, 18; Le 23:5; De 16:1-7) What is described in verses 7-13 likely took place on the afternoon of Nisan 13 in preparation for the Passover meal in the evening, that is, at sunset when Nisan 14 started.​ [bold theirs]

To help visualize the days better:

Date Event
Nisan 13 Day of Preparation
Nisan 14 Passover (also Jesus' death) Sabbath
Nisan 15 The Festival of Unleavened Bread begins Sabbath
Nisan 16 - 20 The Festival of Unleavened Bread
Nisan 21 The end of the Festival of Unleavened Bread Sabbath

As we can see, Nisan 14 was the regular day of celebrating the Passover which was a Sabbath. We also note that it is a "high" Sabbath due to its proximity to the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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  • So in essence your saying that Jesus died the same day that the last supper took place? just trying to understand. Jul 28, 2023 at 17:52
  • Yes, 1 Cor. 5:7 "For, indeed, Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed." As the Passover lamb, it makes sense that he would offer his life on the same day as the Passover.
    – agarza
    Jul 28, 2023 at 17:55
  • I remember looking at this "every which way", so to speak, in late 2021, before answering the following Q: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/53715/… ... I subsequently, in my answer, came up with the fact that there must have been "two" Passovers. One instigated by Jesus himself on Thursday eve Last Supper and then, of course, there was the "traditional" Passover meal on Friday eve, with Jesus being crucified between the two. For further info, you should/can read my full answer, which also makes ref. to the UB. Jul 28, 2023 at 20:42
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The date of Jesus' death supposed contradiction

This is a response to the above question made by Firebirdofmercy. He asks about the timing of Jesus's death and when the High Day Sabbath was observed.

First off, there was no High Day Sabbath at the time the Bible was written. That was an invention of the Pharisaic Jews late in the Second Temple period, some time after Jesus had ascended into heaven, most probably after the destruction of the Temple and before the writings of the Talmuds. In the Hebrew Scriptures there were no references to a "high day" Sabbath. In John 19:31 the author described the day as "great" (megales in the Greek) and in John 7:37 he refers to the last great day of the Feast of Tabernacles as a great day. This day later became known as "The Last Great Day" by Sabbath keeping Churches of God. The Jews later referred to these "great" days as "high days" in the Talmuds and normative Judaism.

Jesus died on Friday afternoon the day before the weekly Sabbath and the first day of Unleavened Bread, which that year fell on the weekly Sabbath. John calls that Sabbath a great day because it was one of the seven annual holy convocations that coincided with the weekly Sabbath the weekend Jesus died.

The KJV translators, when they translated the Bible from Greek to English, used the Jewish term "high day" for the great day in John 19:31. There is nothing wrong with that though because after most of the Jews had been calling these "great" feast days as high days for centuries. Most modern translations render it as "high day" as well.

At the time Jesus lived on earth there were two major parties in the Jewish world. One of them were the Sadducees who held to the scriptural reckoning of the waving of the Omer which followed the first weekly Sabbath of Passover week. This waving of the Omer was important because it was day one of the fifty day countdown to Shavuot (Pentecost) which began and ended up on Sunday, the day after the seventh Sabbath.

Read Leviticus 23:11 for the timing of the waving of the Omer and read Leviticus 23:15-16 that places the 50th day as the day after the seventh Sabbath, hence also a Sunday. The Pharisees held the erroneous reckoning of the Septuagint translation, which was actually a mistranslation of Leviticus 23:11 where it changed the waving of the Omer from the day after the weekly Sabbath to the day after the first day of Unleavened Bread. Hence, the Pharisees started their countdown from Nisan 16 every year. In the modern Jewish calendar the 50th day from Nisan 16 is Sivan 6.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are eight holy convocations in the Jewish year. You can read about them in Leviticus 23. One of them is the weekly Sabbath, mentioned in verse 3. It forbids ALL work and is called a Sabbath. There is one of the seven annual holy convocations that forbids ALL work and that day is called a Sabbath too. That one is the Day of Atonement and it forbids ALL work.

The other six holy convocations forbid only servile work and they are never called Sabbaths in the Hebrew Scriptures. Nisan 15 is not a Sabbath. This must be understood when you are taking into account that Jesus died on the day before the Sabbath (Mark 15:42). John 19:31 claims the Sabbath that followed Jesus's death was a high day. All that means is the Nisan 15 high day fell on the weekly Sabbath. Nisan 15 was not a Sabbath by itself but it fell on the weekly Sabbath the week Jesus died.

If I told you that this Thursday was a holiday would that mean Thursday itself was a holiday or that a holiday fell on Thursday? Some sincere, well meaning Christians claim it was Nisan 15 that was the Sabbath John was referring to but that simply is not true. Nisan 15 is not called a Sabbath anywhere in Scripture. The Pharisees called it a Sabbath and they have done that since the first century CE rabbis codified it in the Talmuds and it has been a Jewish tradition every since. Jesus died on a Friday. For more on this, see the following link to a more in depth discussion on whether Nisan 15 is a Sabbath or not.

can Nisan 15 be referred to as "the sabbath"?

I hope this helps. Jesus died on a Friday afternoon and resurrected on Sunday morning, the third day. Friday was the first day of Jesus's death, Saturday was the second day of his death and Sunday was the third day of his death. He resurrected on the third day, just as he declared many times during his ministry on earth.

A final word for those that believe Nisan 15 was a Sabbath (and all the other holy convocations) just turn to your Bible and read Leviticus 23. Some good versions to use are the NASB 1995 edition, the ESV, and the Legacy Standard Bible. All of these translate the Hebrew well. I originally used the KJV. As you read each verse of Leviticus 23 compare with them the Septuagint translation verse by verse. You will see where the Septuagint translators went awry in Leviticus 23:11 and changed the waving of the Omer (wave sheaf) from the day after the weekly Sabbath to the day after the first day. That first day would be the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread.

In this manner, those that observed the waving of the Omer on the day after the weekly Sabbath would begin their 50-day countdown to Shavuot always on a Sunday and it would always end on a Sunday. Those that stubbornly hold to the view that the waving of the Omer on the day after the first day of Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15) therefore must believe that Nisan 15 is a Sabbath and their 50-day count always ends on Sivan 6.

It doesn't matter what day of the week Nisan 16 falls on, whether it is a Tuesday or a Friday, it will always end on the same day of the week it began. The correct day of counting is to count seven Sabbath Days and on the day after the seventh Sabbath is Shavuot (Pentecost). The incorrect way to begin the count is to begin the count on a weekday and to end on the same weekday seven WEEKS later.

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  • @Ray Butterworth The OP was asking about the Nisan 15 High Sabbath too. Not just Luke 22:7. I was addressing the part of his post asking about the Nisan 15 High Sabbath showing him that Nisan 15 is not a Sabbath in the Christian Scriptures. His question even asked about the second High Sabbath during Passover Week. I was dealing with only the part about the High Sabbaths. I left it up to others to discuss other parts of the OP. Like you. I am better informed about the High Sabbath issue than most people so I offered my opinion on that particular issue. Jul 31, 2023 at 17:36
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There are two possible types of consistency between two narratives that cover the same events and one of which (John's) was composed after the other (the Synoptics) and most probably while John had a copy of the other on his table:

  • absolute consistency, and
  • increasing-accuracy consistency.

I assume the second type of consistency is the case whenever John differs from the Synoptics.

Importantly, in this case, there is astronomical data available that we can use: the moon phases computations from AstroPixels 1. To use it, we must have in mind that the Jewish calendar at that time was observational, not calculated and that the new month was proclaimed at first visibility after the new moon, not at the new moon proper. Therefore if the GMT time of the new moon in the table is past noon we have to add 3 days to that of the new moon to obtain the date of Nisan 1.

Thus, from the pre-Nisan New moon in 30 AD on Mar 22, 17:47 GMT, and looking up Julian weekdays in Calender Converter 2, we have:

Nisan 1 = from Friday, March 24 sunset to Saturday, March 25 sunset

Nisan 14 = from Thursday, April 6 sunset to Friday, April 7 sunset.

Nisan 15 = from Friday, April 7 sunset to Saturday, April 8 sunset.

Note 1: Jesus died at the same time the Paschal lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple, between 15:00 and 17:00 of Nisan 14.

Note 2: Whereas Jews had the Passover meal in the first hours of Nisan 15, Jesus had his Last Supper in the first hours of Nisan 14. The Last Supper was not a Jewish Passover meal, i.e. a memorial (re-presentation) of the Exodus from Egypt (not only because of its timing but because no lamb was eaten, instead Jesus gave Himself as food), but rather Jesus' Passover, an anticipation (pre-presentation) of his imminent Sacrifice on the Cross.

Note 3: We can perform an additional check by noting that the dinner at Lazarus' home in Bethany was "six days before the Passover" (Jn 12:1), i.e. on Nisan 9. Now, if Nisan 15 was Saturday as per John, then Nisan 9 was Sunday and everything is OK. But if Nisan 15 was Friday as per the Synoptics then Nisan 9 was Saturday and the dinner implied a massive violation of Sabbath rest, not only by Lazarus and his sisters but also by "a great crowd of the Jews" who went from Jerusalem to Bethany to see Jesus and particularly Lazarus, "whom He had raised from the dead" (John 12:9).

Note 4: Finally, Jesus entered Jerusalem "on the next day" (Jn 12:12), i.e. on Nisan 10 (actually Palm Monday), at the same time the Paschal lambs were being brought into Jerusalem to be acquired by the Jews for the coming Passover meal (Ex 12:3).

References:

1 Fred Espenak, "Six Millennium Catalog of Phases of the Moon", 1 to 100 AD

2 Calendar Converter

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  • Lk 22:7 states exactly the same as Mk 14:12 and partially the same as Mt 26:17, which warrants grouping all three as "the Synoptics". And my answer is right to the point: the Synoptics' dating info on this event is approximate, whereas John's is accurate.
    – Johannes
    Jul 31, 2023 at 16:26

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