New Testament Chronology
New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)
Jesus was crucified on the "preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath." (Mark 15:42; also Luke 23:54 and Ant. XVI 6:2) The Sabbath is Saturday, and Jesus was crucified on the day before. Therefore, Jesus was crucified on Friday. Right? Not necessarily.
Those who support a Wednesday or Thursday crucifixion rightly point out that there were festival days that were observed with a Sabbath rest, including the Passover. The day before these also would require "preparation." The Gospel writers are here referring to the preparation day before the Passover Sabbath and not the Saturday Sabbath. Indeed, John said specifically that when Jesus was crucified, "it was the day of preparation for the Passover." (John 19:14) Therefore, Jesus could have been crucified Wednesday before a Thursday Passover or Thursday before a Friday Passover. Right? Not necessarily.
On the Temple calendar, which began the day at sunrise, the Sabbath rest was not interchangeable with the calendar day. Sabbaths are reckoned evening to evening, thus overlapping two days. Also, the Sabbath is not necessarily synonymous with Saturday, but with an ordained rest, and that rest might not fall on Saturday.
What does Scripture say about there being Sabbath days that are tied to festivals, but not necessarily to the seventh day of the week, Saturday? The laws of these religious festivals are found in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus. There it states, "on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation." (Lev. 23:3) Here, Sabbath equals holy convocation. There are also seven fast and festival days that are described as holy convocations. Jewish dates are here given according to the sunrise calendar.
On Nisan 14/15, "on the first day (of Passover week) you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work." (Lev. 23:7)
On Nisan 20/21, "on the seventh day (of Passover week) is a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work." (Lev. 23:8)
On Pentecost, "on this same day you shall make a proclamation as well; you are to have a holy convocation. You shall do no laborious work." (Lev. 23:21)
On Tishri 1, "in the seventh month on the first of the month, you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any laborious work." (Lev. 23:24-25)
On Tishri 9/10, "on exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation to you. . . . It is a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening your shall keep your sabbath." (Lev. 23:26, 32)
On Tishri 14/15, "on the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord. On the first day you shall do no laborious work of any kind." (Lev. 23:34-35) Further, "on the first day shall be a sabbath." (Lev 23:40, AV)
On Tishri 21/22, "on the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation. . . . You shall do no laborious work." (Lev. 23:36) Further, "on the eighth day shall be a sabbath." (Lev. 23:40, AV)
All these seven days are to be observed with a rest. The seventh day Sabbath is equated with a holy convocation. All seven festival days are holy convocations. The reverse is given for some of these festivals where the holy convocation is equated with a Sabbath. These festival Sabbaths, as well as the weekly Sabbaths, would have required a similar or greater "preparation" to ensure that the holy convocation would be properly observed. A day of preparation seems necessary to precede these festival Sabbaths. However, though the festivals were to be observed with a Sabbath rest, there appears no confirmation that during Jesus' days they were called a Sabbath or that the preceding day was called the day of Preparation.
In describing these festivals Josephus noted that the Jews "allow themselves to rest on every one of them." (Ant. III 10:6) This "rest" included a prime feature of the seventh day Sabbath, in that it was not "lawful for us to journey either on the Sabbath-day, or on a festival day." (Ant. XIII 8:4) Josephus confirms that the festivals were observed with a Sabbath rest, but not that they were called a Sabbath.
Those who support a Friday crucifixion usually deny that the Passover could have been called a Sabbath, unless it fell on Saturday. For example, the Roman historian, Suetonius (c. 70-140 CE), wrote of the "Sabbath . . . the seventh day." (Tiberius 32:2) Today the first and seventh days of Passover week are called "yom tov," a festival on which work is prohibited.1 Since the festival is not today called a Sabbath, it is presumed that it was not called a Sabbath two thousand years ago. However, even without separate confirmation, such a presumption cannot stand in light of Leviticus, chapter twenty-three. The Passover might have been known to some Jews as a Sabbath.
The waving of first fruits was to follow Passover on "the day after the Sabbath." (Lev. 23:11) The Sadducees did not recognize the Passover as a true Sabbath and observed "first fruits" on the first Sunday of Passover week. The Pharisees observed "first fruits" on Nisan 16, and, therefore, observed Passover as a true Sabbath.
Even if the assumption is true that the festivals were known as Sabbaths, it does not necessarily follow that the day before a festival Sabbath was known as the Preparation Day. This is usually interpreted as a technical term used to designate Friday.2 Preparation, or paraskeue, was the day before the weekly Sabbath. Paraskeue was the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic of "arubta-eve," or Friday. The days of the week before the Sabbath in Aramaic were First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Arubta; there was no "Sixth" day. Therefore, Arubta, and by inference paraskeue, must refer only to Friday.
Hellenistic Jews used the term prosabbaton, or Sabbath-eve to designate Friday (Judith 8:6; 2 Macc. 8:26). Mark recorded, "it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath," (Mark 15:42) or paraskeue, the day of prosabbaton. Therefore, paraskeue was technically Friday. However, such a conclusion is based on the presumption that the Sabbath only referred to Saturday, and the argument becomes circular. At some point in time it would appear that paraskeue did only refer to Friday,3 but such is not necessary for the time of Jesus, or for Judea.
That the preparation referred to Friday cannot be denied. Josephus wrote the Jews were "not obliged to go before any judge on the Sabbath-day, nor on the day of the preparation to it, after the ninth hour (3:00 PM)." (Ant. XVI 6:2) Such does not exclude the preparation also referring to the day before a festival Sabbath.
The assumptions that the festivals could have been called Sabbaths and that the day before a festival Sabbath was called Preparation will here be considered as true, for discussion only. With the crucifixion of Jesus, the festival Sabbath referred to the Passover. Additional "preparation" seems required for this festival because "on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses." (Exod. 12:15) This was intended for the daylight hours of Nisan 14 on the sunrise calendar. Then, during the evening of Nisan 14, "on the first day you shall have a holy assembly, . . . no work at all shall be done . . . except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you." (Exod. 12:16) The Passover was like any other Sabbath except that food preparation for the feast was allowed.
The Passover was a Sabbath rest. Here, John's reference to the "preparation for the Passover" becomes clear. That preparation day was the one before the Passover Sabbath, but not necessarily the seventh-day Sabbath. However, John goes on to say, "that Sabbath was a high day." (John 19:31) Those who support a Friday crucifixion interpret this to mean that the seventh day Sabbath was a high day because it fell on Passover. Those who support a Wednesday or Thursday crucifixion say that the Passover Sabbath was known as a high day because of the festival, with no reference to the seventh-day Sabbath. However, there appears to be no conclusive Biblical or extra-Biblical support for either contention. The actual meaning is not clear. The assumptions that the festival rests were called Sabbaths or the day before these festivals were called the Preparation have not yet been supported.
The quest for the Sabbath, or Sabbaths, is not over. On Sunday morning Matthew noted, "Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave." (Matt. 28:1) Here, the original Greek for "Sabbath" is in the plural, "Sabbaths." Does this mean that Jesus was resurrected after a Passover Sabbath and a following seventh day Sabbath, thus supporting a Wednesday or Thursday crucifixion? Not necessarily. One third of all New Testament references to the Sabbath are in the plural, although the context is singular.4 Matthew (12:1-12) uses both the singular and plural forms when referring to the one Sabbath when Jesus plucked grain. However, as will be noted in the chapter on "The Two Passovers" there may have been two consecutive Passover Sabbaths. Again, the meaning is not clear.
Is there an answer to the problem? It seems clear from John 19:14 that Jesus was crucified on the preparation for the Passover Sabbath. Was that Passover Sabbath also the seventh-day Sabbath, as implied by it being a "high day?" Luke seems to say, "Yes!" Jesus was crucified when "it was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. . . . And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment." (Luke 23:54, 56) The Sabbath according to the "commandment" was decreed in the Ten Commandments: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God." (Exod. 20:8-10; also Deut. 5:12-14) That Sabbath was also the commanded weekly Sabbath. The Sabbath according to the Commandment was specifically tied to the seventh day. The rests, or "Sabbaths," for the fast and festivals were ordained in the Law, and not according to the Commandment.5 Jesus appears to have been crucified on a Friday.
Those who support a Wednesday crucifixion say there was an intervening day between two "Sabbaths." When Jesus was laid in the tomb late Wednesday afternoon Mary Magdalene and the other women were there (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). They then rested on the Passover Sabbath, Thursday. And "when the (Passover) Sabbath was over Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him." (Mark 16:1) Then, later that Friday, "they returned and prepared spices and perfumes," (Luke 23:56a) which they had just purchased. "And on the (Saturday) Sabbath they rested according to the commandment." (Luke 23:56b) Jesus arose just before sunset Saturday. The women actually came to anoint the body of Jesus on early Sunday morning, since they did not know that He had already arisen. This scenario is based on the assumptions that there were no spices already available and that there was only one purchase of spices on Friday that took all day to prepare. This backs up to the conclusion that Jesus' crucifixion was on Wednesday.6 However, the assumption that no spices were available is unwarranted.
Some spices and perfumes were already available without an immediate purchase. For example, Mary anointed Jesus' feet with nard, and He said, "She may keep it for the day of my burial." (John 12:7; also John 12:2-8; Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9) Also, some may have been purchased during the day Jesus was crucified, in anticipation of His death. In the emotional confusion all of the types and quantities later desired were not then purchased. Any missing ingredients could then have been purchased after the one intervening Saturday Sabbath, after sunset. Two Sabbaths are unnecessary to explain the purchase of spices.
The anointing of the body of Jesus Sunday morning creates a serious difficulty for acceptance of a Wednesday crucifixion. Since there was an intervening day when His body could have been anointed, the women would not have waited until the fourth day to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. This would have been objectionable, since when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead He first said, "`Remove the stone.' Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, `Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.'" (John 11:39) They would not have gone to have the tomb opened after the third day. According to a Wednesday crucifixion Jesus was resurrected late Saturday afternoon, but the women did not know this. They would not have gone to the tomb Sunday morning if Jesus died Wednesday. They would have gone on the intervening Friday, the supposed day between the Sabbaths. The Scriptures say the women went to anoint Jesus on Sunday morning, not on Friday. This seems to eliminate the possibility of a Wednesday crucifixion.
There is an additional problem for the Wednesday crucifixion. The preceding scenario places the Last Supper and crucifixion before the Passover meal on Nisan 14. However, it was determined in the prior chapter, Chart XX, that the Wednesday crucifixion could only occur astronomically on Nisan 15 after the Passover meal. For the Wednesday crucifixion to fall on Nisan 14 one must posit an intervening Ve-Adar and start the month late according to the Babylonian calendar, chart XIX. The Wednesday crucifixion is again a difficult choice.
The preparation for the Passover Sabbath was the Friday before the same Saturday Sabbath according to the following sequence of events. Late Friday afternoon Jesus was laid in the tomb (Matt. 27:60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53-54). Mary Magdalene and the other women were at the tomb then (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). Before the sun set these women "returned (to where they were staying) and prepared spices and perfumes." (Luke 23:56a) They began to prepare what spices and perfumes they had before the Sabbath began, "and on the (Saturday) Sabbath they rested according to the commandment." (Luke 23:56b) They must not have had all the quantity or ingredients necessary, for after the following sunset on early Saturday evening, "when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices that they might come and anoint Him." (Mark 16:1) It was not until early the next morning (Sunday) that these spices were brought to the tomb. In this scenario the Passover Sabbath is the weekly Sabbath, and Jesus was crucified on Friday.
No difficulty is created with a Thursday crucifixion as it is only necessary to use the reasoning for the Friday crucifixion. Then there were two consecutive days of rest.
There are seven fast/festival days that are observed with a Sabbath rest. Whether they were actually called a Sabbath is not certain. The day preceding a weekly Sabbath was known as the Day of Preparation, that is, Friday; this is its usual meaning. Whether the day before a festival Sabbath was also known as a day of Preparation is not known.
There is the possibility that among some Jews the day before a festival
Sabbath was known as a day of Preparation. Thus, it has been presumed that
Jesus' crucifixion on the Preparation may have occurred on a Wednesday
or Thursday, instead of Friday. The attempted justification of a Wednesday
crucifixion by the timing of purchasing spices points out a major flaw;
the body of Jesus was not anointed on the intervening Friday, but on the
following Sunday, which was the fourth day. The Thursday crucifixion remains
a possibility. The easiest reading of Scripture places the day of preparation
and the crucifixion on Friday before a Saturday Sabbath Passover.
1. Encyclopedia Judeaica (Jerusalem: Mc Millian - Keter, 1971), section on Passover.
2. S. Bacchiocchi, The Time of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection (Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, 1985), 35-39.
3. In the third century CE, for example, Tertullian (The Martyrdom of Polycarp) argued that paraskeue was the name for Friday since the Creation.
4. H. W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977), 69-70.
5. For those Christians who observe the Sabbath this distinction can be important. First, all Christians observe nine of the Ten Commandments, but most do not observe the Fourth Commandment to "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." (Exod. 20:8) This Commandment was never annulled in the New Testament, and it has not been scripturally demonstrated that Sunday superseded the Sabbath as a holy day. Perhaps Jesus was anticipating this change when He said, "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:19) Keeping the Sabbath may not be a salvation issue, but a Commandment which all Christians should consider. However, the festival "Sabbaths" were according to the Law, and their observance may not be appropriate for a Christian.
6. H. W. Armstrong, The Resurrection was Not on Sunday (Pasadena: Worldwide Church of God, 1952), 10-11.