Day Jesus Died

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Gospel of John, Jesus


Is there a discrepancy between the Gospel of John and the synoptics regarding the date Jesus died?


The short answer is, "Yes," and scholars have written volumes on trying to harmonize these accounts. Mark (Matthew and Luke follow Mark's dating) states that the Last Supper was the Passover meal. It would have taken place after sundown on the day of Passover. According to him, then, the arrest, trial, and crucifixion all occurred on Passover. John, on the other hand, clearly states that Jesus' last supper with the disciples occurred on the day of Preparation, the day before Passover. John's version, then, has Jesus being crucified at the same time that the lambs were being slaughtered for the next day's celebration of Passover.

Despite scholarly efforts, there are really only two options for explaining the difference. The first is the simplest, namely, that either Mark or John adjusted the date to fit their theological interpretation of the event. It was highly significant for Mark that the symbolism of Passover be the basis for the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. It was just as important for John that Jesus be identified as the lamb of the world, and that his death correspond to the killing of the lambs for Passover.

Another option is that the authors used different calendars and, even though the dates were the same, they had different ways of marking them. This sounds rather far-fetched until one realizes that the Essenes of Qumran were using a different calendar of feasts. In that case, Jesus and his disciples were following one calendar, while the temple officials followed another.

Those scholars who insist upon the inerrancy of every passage in the Bible have found ways to explain away this inconsistency. Those scholars who accept that there are multiple inconsistencies in the Bible appreciate the theology of both writers. In this case, John's doctrinal considerations outweigh historical accuracy, giving deference to the primacy of Mark. But in truth, we will never know which account was the more accurate – unless more information is uncovered.

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