Doctrine Article
Expanded Internet Edition - April 1, 2005 

The Passover Contradiction

by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1980
Edited and expanded by David Sielaff, April 2005

There is a profound chronological contradiction between what the apostle John records and what the other three Gospels show regarding events associated with the Passover and the crucifixion. We have tried to solve this difficulty over the years. Up to now 1 we have failed. The interpretation we wish to give here to solve the problem shows that there really is no contradiction at all.

If the contradiction (as it is called) is so evident, then without some explanation approaching the one we give here either one has to throw up his hands and say it cannot be solved, and agree with critics of the Bible that there is a major human mistake or error, or we must try to understand that maybe John had something else in mind that people have not looked at before or have not seen over the years. 2

The Apostle John’s Mistake?

We do not think that John made a mistake at all. But he did write something very different than the other Gospel writers. It must be understood that John had a reason for doing what he did. Once that reason is known, then we can understand the manner of John’s writing: that is, the method, the means, the way he developed his writing style or his whole discourse in order to prove the one thing he set out to do.

Once that is understood then we will see that though a chronological contradiction does exist between John and the other three synoptic writers, John had a reason for doing what he did and there is enough information in the Gospel itself to justify his actions. The reason has been missed because most of us have looked in the wrong direction to solve this problem.

The Contradiction

First of all just what is the contradiction? If you look in the three synoptic Gospels you will find a clear, concise teaching concerning the chronology of Christ’s life in the last two days before He was killed on the tree of crucifixion. It is very clear indeed. There are a few small differences between Mark, Luke, or Matthew, but they can be ironed out without any difficulty. The synoptic Gospel authors were writing at different times and to different people, but they must have known what they were talking about because Matthew and Mark were present at these most significant events. Luke was not present but he had enough evidence to show what was going on in those last few days before the crucifixion. Luke was quite specific that he wrote from accurate sources and put them in order as noted in the introduction to his Gospel:

“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto you in order, most excellent Theophilus, That you might know the certainty of those things, wherein you hast been instructed.

Here is the problem, if we had only those three Gospels, and not John, then it is clear that Christ told two disciples to go get a Passover lamb, and to sacrifice it, prepare it, and get it ready, so that as soon as the sun would go down, they would gather in an upper room and eat that Passover lamb (Matthew 26:17–20; Mark 14:12–17; and Luke 22:7–30). After the eating was over, He introduced symbols called bread and wine, about His flesh and about His blood. This became known as the New Testament Passover (some people say), or the Lord’s Supper. Then they departed and went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Christ was apprehended and taken to the various places of judgment.

The following morning Pilate came on the scene, the trial took place, and Jesus was put on the tree of crucifixion at 9 o’clock in the morning, the third hour of the day. He stayed up there until the 9th hour, at three o’clock in the afternoon when he died. That means a long six-hour period on the cross. The three Gospels make it clear that the Passover lamb was slain on the 14th day of Nisan in the evening, between noon and sunset at three o’clock in the afternoon. That is exactly when the Old Testament says it should have been done. 3 Back at that time also Passover lambs were killed. As the sun went down, and after sun­down, they then ate their Passover supper of eating the lamb on the 15th day of Nisan.

In the Bible the 15th day is the first official day of the 7 days of unleavened bread. That would mean that on the 15th is when that Passover, or the bread and the wine were instituted. The next day at 9:00 in the morning, on the 15th, on the High Day, on the festival day itself, is when Christ was nailed to the crosspiece on the tree of crucifixion. Then at 3:00 in the afternoon He died. That is what Matthew, Mark, and Luke state quite categorically took place.

John’s Passover Chronology

However, when we come to the Gospel of John we have an entirely different story altogether. You can hardly marry the two together. You certainly cannot harmonize the two chronologically. And as far as events taking place they were altogether different.

You do not find John at all speaking about a Passover lamb being eaten when they had their supper. Secondly, you cannot find anything about taking bread and wine in John’s Gospel whatsoever. This is a most remarkable thing because so many people have put such significance on the taking of the bread and the wine. “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24–25). Why does John leave that all out and does not say one word about it? He does introduce something else that was different: footwashing. You cannot find a word of that in the three Gospels, but you find it in John.

The most profound difficulty is this: John says that Jesus Christ Himself had that supper on the beginning of the 14th of Nisan. That means that here is the 13th of Nisan, toward evening, the sun is begin­ning to go down. As soon as the sun goes down on the 14th, they then had the supper mentioned by John (John 13:1–5), without mention of all the happenings the other three Gospels talk about. You cannot marry the two together. The only thing that you can get that goes together was that there was a supper involved in both.

However, some of the same themes began to come up afterward. They go to the Garden of Gethsemane, that is true. There is a long discourse of five chapters (John chapters 13–17) of Christ telling the apostles what to expect in the future.

The most interesting thing is that the next day, which is still the daylight part of the 14th, it is made quite clear that the Passover of the Jews, the Old Testament Passover was still a few hours away. This was because when He was about to be put on the tree of crucifixion, the Gospel of John makes it clear that the Jews did not want to touch Him because the Passover that they were going to eat was coming up:

“Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment [of Pilate]: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they [Annas, Caiaphas, the High Priest, and other leaders] should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.”

The interesting thing is that John says Christ was not put on the tree of crucifixion at 9 o’clock in the morning, but He was put on at the 6th hour of the day, which is noontime. He was there from noontime until 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The most interesting thing is that the other Gospels imply, and some state explic­itly, that Jesus was on the tree for six hours, 4 while John says He was on the tree for three hours (John 19:14, 31).

A True Contradiction?

I ask anyone to be able to bridge what seems to be an utter contradiction. People have tried to figure it out for years. They have tried to say that the 6th hour of the day, which is noontime, was Roman time, or it is this time or that time. All of them have failed.

They have not seen what John is trying to convey. He is trying to get across something beautiful, and if you take all the chapters of the Gospel of John into account, you will get one of the most beautiful stories you could possibly imagine about Christ and a particular role that He was playing. There is indeed a contradiction, but it has a purpose.

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

Let us give the reason for John’s Gospel being written, which was to allow people to believe that Jesus was the Christ. That is what he says as he concludes his remarks.

“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name.”

John starts out his Gospel, after the general introduction, with John the Baptist seeing Jesus come to him. 5 The apostle John says something far different than the other Gospel writers concerning what John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus coming to him.

“The next day John sees Jesus coming unto him, and says, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.’”

The first statement of Christ’s role in human affairs as far as an official recognition is concerned coming from John the Baptist, a priest, is that He is the Lamb of God that “takes away the sin of the world.”

In fact in verse 36 on the following day when he sees Him, John again says, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Now what does this all have to do with our subject? Why am I dealing with “the Lamb of God” statement? It is because every event connected with the last 6 or 7 days leading up to Christ’s crucifixion centers around the Old Testament symbolism of the Passover Lamb. John says:

“Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.”

Do you know what that meant? It was centered on the ritual of the Passover lamb, because the 10th day of Nisan and the next day were when all this began to take place. The 10th day of Nisan was the day when the Passover lamb was selected to be killed, put in a pen, kept separate from others. It was to be pure. That chronology starts taking place in the Gospel of John. Then on the 14th in the evening between noontime and sundown, usually about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the 14th, the lamb that had been selected about five days before, was then killed. Once killed it was then eaten that following evening after sundown on the 15th, agreeing with the Old Testament legislation.

Jesus Is the Passover Lamb of God

Everything that John points out in his Gospel has the purpose of identifying Christ with that Passover lamb. You might say John even fudges the issue to be able to do it. My use of the word “fudge” will not be appreciated by some people, I know, but I will show what John was really saying in a moment. John begins to use chronology and the events in a totally different way than what the other three Gospel writers were saying. He had a reason for it. Once we understand that reason, we will not have any difficulty. He was symboli­cally identifying Jesus Christ with that Passover lamb. 6

The supper that He had with His apostles on the beginning of the 14th, when the footwashing ceremony took place, has no reference to eating the Passover lamb. Do you know why? Because the Passover lamb was not killed until 3 o’clock the next afternoon. The footwashing went on at that time, but there was nothing about bread and wine associated with a New Covenant of any kind (because that was to be in association with the Passover the next day). In fact we are told in John quite clearly that the Passover was still another day or evening to come. Christ had His meal, His supper (according to John), the day before the ordinary Old Testament Jewish Passover, the authorized Passover of the Old Testament.

Now look at this. Jesus finally goes out and is apprehended in the Garden of Gethsemane that same evening. According to John, in the daytime (of the same day). He comes before Pilate, and then He is finally nailed to the tree of crucifixion at what time?

“And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he says unto the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ But they cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him.’”

Here we come to that significant 6th hour, which means the 6th hour from sunrise, noontime. He was put on the tree at noontime according to John. Read your Bible, do you know what it says? It says that the Passover lamb had to be killed sometime between one evening and another evening. 7 The Jews looked at the evening as beginning at noontime. In the middle of that period from noontime to 6 o’clock in the evening, the middle ending at 3 o’clock was usually when the Passover lamb was killed. Is it not interesting that John puts Christ on the tree exactly at the time, officially, that the Passover could be sacrificed?

Then John has Jesus up there for three hours, and He dies at 3 o’clock in the afternoon exactly at the time that most Passover lambs were being killed. Jesus was the Passover lamb that takes away the sins of the world (1 Corinthians 5:7). The whole context of John’s Gospel — all of it — has been written and geared around this concept of who Christ was symbolically.

Christ as Symbol

Now some people will start criticizing when I use the word “symbol.” But I ask you this question: is not “symbol” used throughout all types of Scripture? Why, you can find parables galore that were given by Christ. All types of things were talked about concerning the Kingdom of God and they were all parables, and no one seems to be upset about those parables. It was the manner of teaching things.

Christ sometimes even invented certain things taking place to put it into chronological or reasonable context that people could understand. He used parables all the time. In fact, He never spoke to the people unless He spoke in a parable, according to the Scripture. There are all types of places in the New Testament where parables, allegories, and symbols were used on a vast scale.

Look at Matthew in the first chapter. It mentions 14 generations from the time of Abraham down to the time of David. There were 14 generations from David down to the captivity of Babylon. Then there were 14 generations following from the captivity of Babylon to the coming of Christ. Fourteen, 14, 14 — anyone with common sense, could go to the Old Testament itself, both in the Book of Kings and the Book of Chronicles, and learn that there were at least 19 generations between David and the carrying away to Babylon.

Some may say that Matthew was mistaken. Well, in one way you might say he was, but not the way they were allegorically teaching back some 2,000 years ago. It was perfectly proper to do it that way, because Matthew was pointing out a symbolic teaching, not something that was actual, but symbolic.

The Key to the Gospel of John

When you carefully analyze the Gospel of John, you will find that from the very beginning to the very end of his Gospel (though he used historical events that were valid and right in many instances), John presents a long allegorical story concerning Christ and the miracles associated with Him. Have you not noticed how many times John talks about the Passover in his Gospel? 8 The others do not seem to refer to it so much. John makes it clear in his Gospel that the ritual of eating the Passover lamb was not important. 9 The important issue was that Jesus was the Passover lamb.

Do you know that there is a big key to show that this is what John means in his Gospel? People have overlooked it for generations. Do you know where the key is? It comes in the first chapter, and not only the first chapter, but in the first verse of that chapter. There is a word used there throughout the first chapter, especially at the beginning, that had profound significance to anybody reading literature, especially philo­sophic literature, religious literature, in symbolic literature. It had a profound significance at that time, and it can be abundantly proved by many writers who wrote before and during the time of Christ.

That word is a key; it is a symbol to anyone beginning to read with that word prefacing the whole of what would be said, all of a sudden. Back at that time this word would be the first indication to a reader to get ready for “symbol.” We today have gotten so far from understanding the biblical types of allegorical teaching, symbolic teaching and such things that we do not understand in some cases what we are actually reading when we come to the Bible. We see contradictions galore, or so we think. If we look at it the way we should, look at it the way they did 2,000 years ago, our understanding will be a lot different.

What was that word?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same [Word] was in the beginning with God.”

That is the King James Translation. However, that word “Word” is from a Greek word which had profound, deep, religious and philosophic meaning to it. The word “Word” in Greek is logos. By use of that word John introduces an entire philosophical concept into his discourse so that anyone living at the time would have known what he was getting at. They had in a sense ciphers or code words that were used to show whether something was to be symbolic or whether something was to be actual.

In fact, I do not want to bring Plato into this too much because he has been accused of being wrong in many cases, but even he had different words at times that he would use. For example, when he talked to his close initiates he would use the Greek word theos in the singular, speaking of God. When he was talking to the vast masses (like Christ did on many occasions), he would then use theos in the plural. By distinguishing the two you would know what is his symbolic teaching and what is his actual teaching. 10

You and I with our Western ways of thinking do not like this type of thing. I know we do not. But that is the way it was in the time of Christ. To make a long story short, I have given only the highlights.

John’s Gospel differs fundamentally from the others. This is because he symbolically, in an allegorical way, teaches things like the logos, the Word, that people at the time would have understood. His whole emphasis is to show that Jesus was the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.

John is not interested in physical things; he is interested in the spiritual side of things. That is why he does not even mention the bread and the wine in association with the time, because it had nothing to do with Jesus as the Lamb of God. From beginning to end, that is what John is trying to prove. Every chronological hint that we have in the Gospel of John homes right in on every tiny aspect of that Passover lamb ritual: (1) the selection of it, (2) the time when it can be killed, and (3) the time it was killed. It all dovetails hand-in-glove with the life of Christ, symbolically taught.

Conclusion

In short, if you want the real history that was going on, in my view, read the three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. If you want the symbolic teaching, the logos teaching, the allegorical teaching to show that Christ was the Lamb of God in a spiritual sense, you refer to the Gospel of John.

Whatever you do, do not get the two mixed up. If you do not try to combine John with the others, and keep them separate, you will understand the Gospel of John as you never have before. You will find that maybe on the surface there seem to be contradictions, but that is only because we have not understood the symbolic type of teaching that John is using.

The spiritual side is being given in John. Read John chapter 6 about the Passover. It is spiritual through­out. The other Gospels give the actual events in their historical sequence, but do not combine the two together. If you do not, we no longer have a contradiction. We have a beautiful teaching that God wants us to fully realize. It is one we should be pleased to understand.

Ernest L. Martin, 1980
Edited by David Sielaff, April 2005

Jesus’ Last Days Compared  (DWS)

Event

Historic Timeline according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke

Symbolic Timeline according to
John

Preparation
of Passover

Preparation day, when the lamb is killed Afternoon of 14th of Nisan

[ no mention ]

Passover meal

After sunset, Passover meal
Passover evening of 15th of Nisan

[ no mention ]

Bread and
wine instituted

After sunset,
Passover evening of 15th of Nisan

[ no mention ]

Supper

[ no mention, but it was the Passover meal ]

Preparation day,
Evening of 14th of Nisan

[ no mention of Passover meal ]

Footwashing
and farewell discourse

[ no mention ]

Preparation day
Evening of 14th of Nisan

Garden of Gethsemane

After Passover supper
Evening of 15th of Nisan

Preparation day,
after footwashing
Evening of 14th of Nisan

Arrest

In the Garden
Evening of 15th of Nisan

Preparation day, in the Garden

Evening of 14th of Nisan

Crucifixion

Passover, 1st day
of unleavened bread

15th of Nisan, 9:00 a.m.,
Jesus crucified

Preparation day,
when the lamb is killed

14th of Nisan, 12:00 p.m.,
Jesus, the true lamb of God, crucified

Crucifixion

3:00 p.m., Jesus dies
(after 6 hours)

3:00 p.m., Jesus dies
(after 3 hours)

 

1 That is as of 1980, when Dr. Martin spoke these words in a audiotaped lecture.  DWS

2 See other ASK Website articles about the Passover: “Bible Secret #80” at http://www.askelm.com/secrets/sec080.htm, “Bible Secret #81” at http://www.askelm.com/secrets/sec081.htm, “The Law of Moses, the Passover, and the Lord’s Supper” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d920101.htm, and “The Sacrificial System of Israel” (which has an audio of Dr. Martin speaking the message) at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d950502.htm. Regarding other biblical holydays see the “The Symbolism of Biblical Holydays” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d950501.htm. Calendrical studies can be found in the articles: “The New Testament Calendar” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d960101.htm and “The Modern Jewish Calendar” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d760901.htmDWS

3 The Jews to this very day accept that correct interpretation. They do not have Passover lambs now because the Temple is no longer in existence, but their Passover festivities follow the same pattern: in the late afternoon, around 3 p.m. on the 14th of Nisan, preparations are made.  ELM

4 Matthew and Luke allude to the six-hour span. Mark is precise as to the 6-hour time period.

“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is to say, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

“And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. ... And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which is, being interpreted, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

“And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.”

DWS

5 See Dr. Martin’s article about the Gospel of John, “The 7 Miracles of John” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d020901.htm. This article has an audio of Dr. Martin giving the lecture on John’s 7 miracles. While not mentioning Jesus as the Lamb of God (it was written in 1976), this article gives insight into other important aspects of the message in John’s Gospel.  DWS

6 The apostle Paul unambiguously states: “For even CHRIST OUR PASSOVER is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). See also Galatians 1:4 and 1 John 2:2.  DWS

7 While the King James Version has:

“In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house, ... And you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.”

Young’s Literal Translation has this correct version:

“... And it has become a charge to you, until the fourteenth day of this month, and the whole assembly of the company of Israel have slaughtered it between the evenings.”

8 The Passovers mentioned in the Gospel of John are discussed in detail in Dr. Martin’s article “The Chronology of New Testament Times” at http://www.askelm.com/prophecy/p950102.htmDWS

9 Certainly Jesus ate the Passover lamb, according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  DWS

10 Concerning the Greek philosopher Plato’s double teaching, note this passage from a letter Plato wrote to a close friend:

“Concerning the sign which indicates which of my letters are seriously written and which not, I suppose that you remember it, but none the less bear it in mind and pay the utmost attention; for there are many bidding me to write, whom it is not easy to repulse openly. “God,” then, is at the head of the serious letter, but “gods” of the less serious.”

Plato is reminding the recipient of the letter that the cipher or code he uses in his teachings to distinguish when he is telling the truth (“seriously written ... the serious letter”) and when he is not. He uses the term “God” singular, when he is writing seriously, and “gods” plural, when he is writing to ignorant people. See Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 7 trans. by R.G. Bury (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1966), 363b, at the Perseus archive Website for Plato’s Epistle 13: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0164&query=letter%3D%2313#anch11. Most pagan philosophers and all too many Christian leaders have found the teaching of “double doctrine” to be useful. “Double Doctrine” is the practice of giving one teaching to the knowledgeable people and another teaching to ignorant people.  DWS

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