The Day of the Crucifixion: Friday, Nisan 14

On which day was Jesus Christ crucified? Was it the preparation day of the Passover, Nisan 14, or was it the first day of Passover, Nisan 15? (Nisan is the month in the Jewish calendar which contains the feast of Passover.)

The first mistake that is commonly made in answering this question is to assert that Sacred Scripture contains an error, a contradiction, on this topic. The claim is often made that the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) assert that Jesus was crucified on Nisan 15, the first day of Passover, but that John’s Gospel asserts Jesus was crucified on Nisan 14, the preparation day of the Passover. This claim implies that Sacred Scripture contains errors.

To the contrary, the Magisterium has infallibly taught that Sacred Scripture is entirely without error, not only on matters of faith and morals, but on every topic about which Scripture makes an assertion. See this succinct summary of magisterial teaching on Biblical inerrancy. To contradict the infallible teaching of the Magisterium on the total inspiration and total inerrancy of Sacred Scripture is the grave sin of heresy.

So if anyone begins their explanation to you, concerning the day of the Crucifixion, with an heretical claim about Biblical inerrancy, why do you listen to the rest of what they are saying?

In truth, there is no contradiction between the synoptics and John on the day of the Crucifixion. The Gospel of John asserts that the Crucifixion occurred on the preparation day of the Passover:

{18:28} Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the praetorium. Now it was morning, and so they did not enter into the praetorium, so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.
{18:29} Therefore, Pilate went outside to them, and he said, “What accusation are you bringing against this man?”

{19:14} Now it was the preparation day of the Passover, about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your king.”
{19:15} But they were crying out: “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The high priests responded, “We have no king except Caesar.”
{19:16} Therefore, he then handed him over to them to be crucified. And they took Jesus and led him away.

So the Jews who accused Jesus had not yet eaten the Passover. The Passover meal is eaten after sunset on Nisan 14. But since the Jewish day begins at sundown, the meal is eaten at the start of Nisan 15. When Nisan 14 falls on a Friday, the meal is eaten on Friday, after sunset (which the Jews consider to be the start of Saturday).

John’s Gospel implies that Jesus died on a Friday, by saying:

{19:31} Then the Jews, because it was the preparation day, so that the bodies would not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a great day), they petitioned Pilate in order that their legs might be broken, and they might be taken away.

The Sabbath (Saturday, beginning Friday at sunset) was a great day because it was both the Sabbath (Saturday) and the first day of Passover (Nisan 15). This implies that Jesus died on Friday, Nisan 14, before sunset.

The synoptic Gospels do not contradict this chronology. They each and all assert that Jesus died on a Friday, at the start of Passover. However, an apparent contradiction results from the fact that Jesus and His disciples at the Passover meal the previous evening, on Thursday after sunset (which technically is the start of Friday in the Jewish calendar). The assumption is made that Jesus ate the Passover on Nisan 14, but this is never stated by the synoptics. There is no contradiction or error in any of the Gospels on this point of chronology, if Jesus ate the Passover a day earlier than most Jews.

But why would Jesus and His disciples celebrate the Passover a day early, on Thursday evening? The answer is found in the writings of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. She describes how Jesus was brought before the Jewish leaders and accused of various offenses.

“Some said that he had eaten the Pascal lamb on the previous day, which was contrary to the law…. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were called up, and being commanded to say how it happened that they had allowed him to eat the Pasch on the wrong day in a room which belonged to them, they proved from ancient documents that from time immemorial the Galilaens had been allowed to eat the Pasch a day earlier than the rest of the Jews…. The reason was this: the sacrifices would not have been finished by the Sabbath if the immense multitudes who congregated together for that purpose had all been obliged to perform the ceremony on the same day….” (Emmerich, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, p. 160-161.)

There is no contradiction between the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover meal a day early, on Thursday evening. Divine Providence arranged events so that Jesus could both celebrate the Passover supper with His disciples on Thursday evening and also be the Passover Lamb sacrificed on the Cross on Friday. Only those who are lacking in faith will believe that any part of Sacred Scripture could ever be in error.

Therefore, Jesus was crucified on Friday, Nisan 14, before sunset. He ate the Passover meal on the previous evening (Thursday), which the Jews consider to be the same day (Friday), since their day begins at sunset.

For more on New Testament Biblical chronology, see my book:
Important Dates in the Lives of Jesus and Mary
(available in paperback and in Kindle format)

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic moral theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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