What Day Was Jesus Crucified?

By | April 10, 2012

(Note: this topic is interesting but not a matter of great significance.) A year or two ago I was introduced to the idea that Jesus may not have been crucified on Friday as is traditionally held. Tradition places the last supper on Thursday night, which is the beginning of the 15th of the month. (Remember that for Jews the next day began at sundown.) The crucifixion therefore took place on Friday the 15th of the month. I’ve done some research on the subject out of curiosity. I’m not an expert, but this is what I’ve learned. There are primarily three date markers in the gospels:

  1. The synoptic gospels all state that Jesus was crucified on the “day of preparation”. John says the crucifixion took place on the “day of preparation for passover”.
  2. According to the synoptic gospels, Jesus sent the disciples to prepare for Passover (the last supper) on the first day of the festival of unleavened bread, which was the day that the passover lamb was sacrificed. They also refer to the last supper as being a Passover meal.
  3. All of the gospels agree that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Sunday).

My understanding is that the day of preparation typically referred to Friday, as they prepared for sabbath. However, Passover (which was to be observed on the 15th of the month) was to be observed as a special sabbath and no work was to be done on that day as well. Therefore, John would seem to place the crucifixion on the 14th of the month. This could have been a Friday but could have been another day of the week also. On the other hand, the “day of preparation” in the synoptic gospels could refer to the 14th (day of preparation for Passover) I would think.

To my understanding, the first day of the festival of unleavened bread would be Passover, or the 15th of the month. However, the day that the Passover lamb was sacrificed would have been the 14th. This would indicate that the first day of the festival refers to the 14th as opposed to the 15th. In this case, the traditional dating works best, placing the last supper on the evening of the 14th, which is the beginning of the 15th. This places the crucifixion on the 15th.

It’s consistent and clear throughout the new testament that Jesus rose on the third day after the crucifixion. Understanding that the resurrection took place Sunday morning, we can simply count back to get the most likely day of the week for the crucifixion. It seems to me that Thursday fits best. Friday seems late, as in order to get three days, you must count Friday itself as the first day. I have also heard an argument for Wednesday, though this means Christ was dead for four nights and three full days. Again, Thursday seems to fit best.

Going with what we have so far, we could try to place the crucifixion on both the 15th and on Thursday. The problem with this is that in this case, that day becomes neither a day of preparation for Passover nor and day of preparation for Sabbath. Therefore, this explanation is unlikely.

It would be possible to suggest that the crucifixion took place on Friday and that Friday was the 14th and Passover was Saturday the 15th. However in this case we must explain the last supper being on the 14th. We must do this in order to place the crucifixion on Thursday, and I believe the Thursday explanation works better for other reasons. In other words, while this explanation could work, it doesn’t offer the benefits of other explanations.

All these various things make for a puzzle. There are a different of different possible acceptable explanations, though I don’t believe an argument can be made for one definitive answer. To make matters more complicated, apparently at this time Jews of the Diaspora celebrated Passover on two days (either the 14th and 15th, or 15th and 16th). Also, while traditional Jewish rending of days was from sunset to sunset, some at this time counted days by the sunrise.

If we want to place the crucifixion on Thursday, we have to say that the “day of preparation” refers to the preparation for Passover on Friday the 15th. In this scenario, “the first day of the festival of unleavened bread on which the Passover lamb was sacrificed” in the synoptics would have to refer to the night of the last supper, rather than the during the day which it is assumed the disciples went to make preparations. In this case the last supper, if eaten as a Passover meal as stated, would seem to be a day early.

I feel that the best fit is to place the crucifixion on Thursday the 14th. The last supper was celebrated as a Passover meal on the 14th (evening immediately following the 13th), which was the day that the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed and which could be considered the first day of the festival of unleavened bread. In this case, the last supper Passover was either an alternate date Passover, or Jesus simply celebrated it a day early.

Admittedly, this explanation is one which is most difficult to reconcile with the synoptic gospels. However this best fits both a Sunday third day resurrection and Christ being a perfect type of Passover lamb. The crucifixion would have taken place at the very time that the Passover lambs were being sacrificed, rather than the following day as in the traditional time line.

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