Wednesday, March 20, 2024

My Solution to Last Supper Timing in Synoptics vs John

I've been reading my eyes out for the past several weeks about Quartodecimans and Passover. One thing I keep running into is that scholars get themselves wrapped in knots over a difference in the Synoptic Gospels vs John's Gospel over the timing of the Last Supper.
I recall touching on this in the past, but I don't recall ever going over my solution.

I am not a trained biblical scholar in this area, so take my opinions for what they are - a layman's best guess.

What am I talking about, you ask? Please allow me to elucidate. Here are some verses to help remind you of the issue:


(MAT. 26: 17) Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”

(MAR. 14: 12) Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?”

(LUK. 22: 7-8) Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. 8 And He sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.”


(JOH. 13: 1) Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father

(JON. 19: 14) Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”

Do you see how the Synoptics all say "Unleavened bread", but John says "Passover"? It makes the timing look like the Synoptics are talking about a different day than John. Scholars get tied up about that. "There is an inherent contradiction in the timing of the Passion Passover in the Synoptics and in John," they say. I do not.

Here are a couple things you need to know:

  • The Feast of Unleavened Bread was a seven-day festival, with a holy day at the start and a holy day at the end. The starting holy day is usually called "the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread". (Now, read MAT. 26: 17 again.)
  • The day before the first day of Unleavened Bread is the Passover. The day of Passover is the preparation day. The day of Passover doesn't have its own preparation day. This is the day the leaven was put away, the lambs were killed, and everyone got ready for the holy day. (Now, read JON. 19: 14 again.)

Those facts emphasize the difference I am on about today. If you just focus on those facts, you should see the conflict between John and the Synoptics. John puts us one day earlier.

But here's something else you need to know:
The Jews called the whole thing Passover. They also called the whole thing Matzot (Unleavened Bread). They do not always make a linguistic distinction between the day of Passover and the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. Those differences are simply understood.

So, given this, it is accurate to say, Passover is the preparation day for Passover.

I think the solution is simple: the Gospel writers are being sloppy with the terms. Maybe "sloppy" is harsh. They are being colloquial or maybe familiar with the terms. They are all saying the same things, but in two different ways.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are calling everything Unleavened Bread, even the day of Passover. John does the opposite and calls everything Passover. This usage by the Gospel writers shows a deep familiarity with the terms.

They are not making a distinction in terms between the day of Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They are lumping everything together in a way only people extremely familiar with terms could. It's the same familiarity the Jews employ today. If you look at it in this way, with non-specific terms, everything makes sense.

Do I have any evidence for my theory? I think I do.
Matthew throws us a bone with a key bit that Mark and Luke omit. Matthew says this about the timing of the setting of the guard at Jesus' tomb:

(MAT. 27: 62) On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation...

Did you catch that? Earlier he said, "on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread," but now he says, "On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation."

The day of Passover (14th of Nissan) is the day of preparation before the annual Sabbath at the start of the Feast. Therefore, the day after the Preparation Day is the holy day, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (15th of Nissan). Matthew 27: 62 must be taken into account when interpreting Matthew 26: 17. Surely, 27: 62 clarifies 26: 17. Matthew cannot be saying it was the first day of Unleavened Bread, and the next day was the first day of Unleavened Bread. You know that isn't right. So, we can reasonably conclude that even though Matthew said they prepared the Last Supper, "on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread," he didn't mean they prepared the Last Supper on the holy day at the start of the Feast. That's apart from how it would be illegal to prepare the Passover on an annual sabbath.
In 26:17, he meant it was the day of Passover (14th of Nissan). In 27:62, he meant it was the holy day (15th of Nissan). And, therefore, so do the other Synoptics. Which is the same as John.

When you put this all together into a timeline, like what we saw in my article "Firstfruits and the Beauty of God's Timing", it all flows and makes sense.

And this is the same opinion Anatolius of Alexandria conveyed in the 260s AD:

"...the Word of the Gospel which says: 'Moreover, on the first day of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus.' [Matthew 26: 17] And there is no doubt as to its being the fourteenth..."
-Anatolius of Alexandria, "Paschal Canon", Section VIII

The ancients got it. Why can't moderns?

Look at the Quartodeciman issue. Both the Quartocdecimans and the Traditionalists agreed this all happened on the 14th of Nissan - the day of Passover. They agreed on that. I am not aware of anyone at that time claiming the Apostles originally observed on the 15th of Nissan. If there really was a conflict between John and the Synoptics, don't you think it would show up in these earliest years, rather than when textual critics arrive 2,000 years later?

This still hasn't touched on the apparently obvious point that Jesus ate at a different time than the Pharisees. I simply accept that He did, and out of necessity. It was still within the allowable timeframe of the law. I will leave this little pomegranate for another day.


My solution is just a very familiar, colloquial, non-specific usage of terms. That non-specific use of terms is par for the course in the New Testament. Have you read our article "Three Days and Three Nights" or "Does John 11 Define A Biblical Day"? Sometimes, the Gospel writers can be very specific, like when Mark uses the word "prosabbaton" (Mark 15: 42). That means Friday. Every time. And sometimes, the Gospel writers can be very non-specific, like we see here.

I think this speaks to their view of the day of Passover. They did not see it as a standalone day, separate from the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

There is no need to dredge up calendars, or go on about Sadducees. It's quite simple. The terminology all gets lumped together. To quote Darth Vader (as one should always do whenever possible), "There is no conflict."

Maybe you'll disagree with me. Maybe you'll have more to add. Comments are open.


It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )

Acts 17:11


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent. And clearly articulated from scripture! Thank you.