Saturday, March 12, 2011

What Day Was the Crucifixion?: A Response to a Somewhat Disappointing Interview

I was listening this morning to an interview on Issues, etc. with Jeff Kloha about chronological difficulties in the Gospels regarding the passion. Most of it was quite good. I have one rather large objection to what was said. When Wilken asked him about the disparity between John and the Synoptics about when Passover was, Kloha suggested that John is going for the "theological significance" of the event of Christ's death and therefore should not really be taken literally when he says that Jesus died on the Passover itself. I thought Wilken should have pressed him on this a bit more, but he didn't.

First, I would acknowledge that the Gospel do rearrange chronology in order to make theological points. This is widely accepted among people who acknowledge the doctrine of plenary and verbal inspiration for a long time, namely from the beginning of the Church! There's no problem in this, because the goal of the Gospel authors is not only to give us a historical account of what went on, but also its theological significance. I agree with David Scaer for example, that it might be that the 5 great discourses in Matthew (the new Torah) could simply be compendiums of Jesus' general teaching and not full versions of speeches that Jesus necessarily gave all at once. I'm certain we can think of other examples of this. The bottom line though this that at the end of the day, Scripture really is truthful in what Jesus literally taught and did, even if it might be rearranged or presented a particular way for theological accent.

This is why Kloha's solution bothered me. The issue isn't that the Gospel writers rearranged things for theological purpose (which they obvious did!), the issue is whether they were truthful about the facts they present. If we think about Kloha's solution, John was quite literally untruthful when he says that the high priest didn't want to go into meet Pilate in order that he not be defiled so that he might eat the Passover. It doesn't matter if it points to some other great theological truth. It's not a rearrangement of material, it's simply a falsehood. Neither does it impress me when people say "well, it doesn't really need to be true" or "it merely illustrates a theological truth, etc." Indeed, I went to a mainline Protestant seminary where this was the exegetical soup du jour. I know where this goes. In the end, the Bible becomes a series of stories which illustrate general, abstract theological truths, and not a really, literal history that happen "pro me." Ultimately, these truth end up illustrating morality and so we move from a faith of the gospel to one of the law.

Furthermore, it's not that there aren't any other solutions to the problem. There are several that could be offered. As an alternative to Kloha's solution, I would make the following suggests that might solve the problem:

1. D.A. Carson and N. T. Wright have suggested that Jesus simply held Passover a day earlier since he wanted to die at the same time that the Passover lambs were being killed in the Temple. This would make what the Synoptics say true, that is, that the last Supper was a Passover meal (just an intentionally early one)- while not contradicting John's statement that Jesus died on the day that most Jews were eating the Passover.

2. David Scaer points out that the Passover festival was a lengthy affair, with several days of feasting. The term "eating the Passover" in Second Temple Judaism has several connotations, not just the eating of the lamb. On the day after the eating of the lamb, the priest slaughtered several bulls which they would then feasted on. Hence, John may be referring to their participation in this sacrificial feast when he says that they did not want to defile themselves for the "eating of the Passover."

3. Jesus and his disciples may have followed the Qumranic calender, rather than the one used by the Hasmonean Temple aristocracy. The Essences at Qumran had a different calender. That's one of the reasons they thought that the Temple was defiled. All the rituals were being performed on the wrong days and therefore didn't actually work. Impurity was building up to unmanageable levels and so God was just going to have to blow everything up and start all over again.

Anyways, Jesus and his followers began in John's anti-Temple movement (why go to the Temple to get your sins forgiven when you can be baptized? Why go to the Temple when Jesus as the new Temple can forgive your sins?). Jesus' movement was of course a continuation of John's. This follows a typical pattern among Second Temple Jewish messianic and anti-Temple movements. As N. T. Wright points out, in this period, if the leader of a movement died or was killed, his relative took over. John started the movement, Jesus took it over as the one who fulfilled John's eschatological preaching. James and Jesus' relatives took it over after he ascended. Eusebius tells us that Jesus' relatives were still running the Church in Palestine in the early 2nd century.

Any how, some scholars have suggested that John might have spent some time with the Essences at Qumran. This would make sense for a number of reasons. 1. They shared John's antipathy for the Temple. 2. Sociologically, they were from the priestly caste, as was John. 3. John's parent were very old, as Luke notes, and they might have died when he was young, meaning that he might have needed a place to live. 4. The Qumranic community understood themselves as "a voice crying in the wilderness, making a path for the Lord" as did John. 5. The Qumranic community placed special importance on ritual bathing, as did John- though in a somewhat different form (i.e., once, not multiple times. Also of course John's baptism was divinely instituted, whereas the Essences was not).

If John was a member of the Essence sect for a time, he might have maintained a different ritual calender than the Temple aristocracy. This might also have become the practice of Jesus and his followers not because they attached any theological significance to it, but because it had become their habit eating it on that particular day when John was around. This could then solve the problem as to why Jesus ate the Passover a day before the Priests.

In any case, any of these solutions is a better than that offered by Kloha. I worry that his solution ultimately calls into question the infallibility of Scripture.


  1. You are right, disappointing. I learned these solutions/possibilities taking entrance level New Testament at a Concordia!

  2. It is the mark of a lazy theologian/teacher to just throw out this argument. I think it assumes that the laity cannot understand these subtle nuances and don't really need to know anyway. You should, if you haven't already, send this post to Issues, etc comment line.

  3. Dear Jack,


    Do you understand the 4th Cup?

    After the supper He took the third cup saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This IS my blood of the NEW and everlasting covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

    A hymn was sung, which is a combination of several psalms called The Great Hillel, and they went out to the Mount of Olives.

    What happened? The Passover ceremony and ritual was not complete. There was no fourth cup. There was no announcement that it was finished. Could it be that Jesus was so upset with what He knew was about to happen that He forgot? Doubtful!

    Not only Jesus, but also the 11 others had participated in the Passover Seder every year of their lives. No, this was done on purpose. The last supper of Jesus was not over.

    On the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples slept while Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done."

    He prayed that three times. Then Jesus was arrested, illegally put on trial by the Sanhedrin, then by Pontius Pilate, sentenced and crucified.

    While on the cross He wept. Jesus, who was in excruciating agony, was so merciful that He prayed for the forgiveness of His executioners. He was offered some wine with a pain killer, myrrh, in it. He refused it.

    "Later, knowing that all was now complete, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled and the kingdom established, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.'" A man dipped a sponge into sour wine; he placed it on a hyssop branch and lifted it up to Jesus lips.

    He drank. (We recall that it was the hyssop branch which was used to paint lambs blood around the Hebrew's door for the Passover of the angel of death.)

    It was then that Jesus said, "It is finished." He then bowed His head and gave up the spirit to His Father.

    The fourth cup now represented the lamb’s blood of the first Passover, a saving signal to the angel of death.

    The Lamb of God was now sacrificed. The last Passover supper of Jesus Christ was now complete with the fourth cup. It was finished.

    The tie in with the Passover is unmistakable.

    The Lamb of God was sacrifice and death was about to be passed over come Easter day.

    The promise of eternal life for many was about to be fulfilled.

    Christ’s Passover was finished, but His mission was not until he rose from the dead.

    For more information on Jesus New Covenant and how everything ties together -- Passover Meal -> Manna -> Prophecy of the New Covenant -> Bread of Life Meaning -- go to The 4th and watch the video! You can also read along while the video is playing.

  4. nice post, Jack.

    I took greek at Pacific Lutheran -- I know where the "theological" interpretation goes too.

    One comment re: John, however. I don't agree that he's anti-temple. Just because he's in the desert, doesn't mean that he intended people to be separated from the temple. Indeed his birth begins in the temple. He never preaches against the temple per se, but rather Pharisaical self-righteousness and the belief that their physical birth ensured them of God's favor.

    Moreover, although we don't see John at the temple, Jesus is often at the temple, from the presentation to his 12-year old visit to the passover a few times, even to the feast of booths and Hanukkah. Furthermore the apostles go to the temple often in Acts.

    If John's anti-temple movement were continued by Jesus and the apostles, the whole of Christian religion would have found itself in the desert. But this is not the case.

    To me, the idea of John as "anti-temple" reminds me of JEDP and the classification of pro-temple cult and anti-cult prophets of the OT. E.g. Haggai is pro-temple, Joel anti-temple. These divisions seek to divide God's word and reduce prophecy to "religious movements".

    All the best!


  5. Dr. Kilcrease,

    I followed and enjoyed this until you wrote, "Any how, some scholars have suggested that John might have spent some time with the Essences at Qumran. This would make sense for a number of reasons."

    You seem at this point to confuse John the Evangelist, Apostle, and Theologian with John the Baptizer.

    There is something else to consider. What is this thing called "history"? Perhaps in the first century they had a completely different idea idea about what was a truth history than what we have. And they were not necessarily wrong. And we are not necessarily "advanced" on this subject of what "history" is.

    Come to think of it, do we even have a single idea of what "history" is?

    I am going to enjoy this blog.

  6. Another option is that time was being reckoned differently by different groups within Judaism resulting in the Passover happening twice. One group (Galileans, Pharisees, Jesus, and disciples) reckoned a day from sunrise to sunrise and the other group (Judeans, Sadducees) reckoned a day from sunset to sunset.

  7. This would also result in the lambs being sacrificed twice since the lamb had to be eaten on the same day that it was sacrificed. The lambs were sacrificed twice - on Thursday for the sunrise-sunrise group and on Friday for the sunset-sunset group.

  8. "You seem at this point to confuse John the Evangelist, Apostle, and Theologian with John the Baptizer."

    I'm confused about how this confuses the two Johns. The context definitely shows that I mean the Baptist.

    "There is something else to consider. What is this thing called "history"? Perhaps in the first century they had a completely different idea idea about what was a truth history than what we have. And they were not necessarily wrong. And we are not necessarily "advanced" on this subject of what "history" is."

    This is an old mainline Protestant evasion. I'm not a stranger to this. Yes, people wrote history somewhat differently in the first century. They were more literary than we are in how they wrote things down. Nevertheless, they were no less concerned with factual truthfulness. Read Herodotus. He weighs different accounts and makes judgments about what's more trust-worthy. Luke and the other Evangelists are concerned to inform their audiences that their writing is based on eye-witness testimony.

    The claim that ancient historian are not trust-worthy or concerned with the factual truth was invented during the Enlightenment to bolster the claims of secular reason, as N.T. Wright observes.

    Unfortunately most mainline Protestant have some how been dupped into thinking this is a neutral and objective judgment, so they are duty bound to be as skeptical about the Gospel as history.

    In any case, the Gospel and the rest of Scripture is a divinely-inspired supernatural history. Though they exist in analogy with other humanly created historical genres of the ancient world, they are nevertheless sui generis as documents.

    Steven-Good points!

  9. Carson, in his commentary on John, pages 455-458, defends the view that John is in full agreement with the Synoptics, not that Jesus ate the Passover early.

    Several factors have to be considered:

    1. By New Testament times, the Feast of Unleavened Bread is identified with the Passover to the point that the term Passover included the Feast of Unleavened Bread: "Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover" (Lk. 22:1 ESV). The concern about defilement and not being able to eat the Passover thus refers not to the Passover meal but to the entire "Feast of Unleavened Bread... which is called the Passover" (Lk. 22:1) which lasted seven days.

    2. The Passover meal was prepared the first day of Unleavened Bread. On that day the Passover lamb was sacrificed: "And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, "Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?"" (Mk. 14:12 ESV). See also Luke 22:7 and Matthew 26:17. This argues against an early Passover.

    3. The word "Preparation" (παρασκευή) as in "Preparation of the Passover" means the Friday of the Passover, and that Passover refers to the whole feast which included the Feast of Unleavened Bread, lasting a week. In fact, παρασκευή is the word that is used for Friday since every Friday was the "preparation" for the Sabbath. This is confirmed in BDAG. Thus the Preparation of the Passover was not the day when the Passover meal was prepared; it was the Friday of Passover week. So Jesus was crucified on Friday, the Preparation of the Passover. "Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, "Behold your King!"" (Jn. 19:14 ESV). This is further confirmed in Mark and Luke, as well as John:

    "And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus" (Mk. 15:42-43 ESV)

    "It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning." (Lk. 23:54 ESV)

    "Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away." (Jn. 19:31 ESV)

    "So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there." (Jn. 19:42 ESV)

    Those verses all show that the day of Preparation was the day before the Sabbath, not the day to prepare the Passover. Furthermore, "The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate" to make sure the tomb, where Jesus body lay, was well guarded (Matt. 27:62 ESV).

    In conclusion, John's "Preparation" is simply the Friday of the Passover week and the day when Christ was crucified. John is in total with the Synoptics. Though rearranged, this is Carson's position in his commentary on John.

    BTW, the painting by Grünewald is one of my favorites.