But Why Is It Good Friday Instead Of Good Thursday? (Part 2 of 3)

Back in Part 1, I introduced some of the peculiar grammatic factors in GosMatt and GosMark which are solved by reference to the tradition that a rabbi (and/or family head) may hold the Passover seder service one night early in emergency situations such as (following the example of the revered Maccabees) an expected battle on the morrow.

The references to the Passover and (Feast of) Unleavened bread "after two days" found in GosMark 14:1 and GosMatt 26:2 seem tied instead to the "Little Apocalypse" teaching on Olivet's hillside and/or Jesus' dramatic departure from the Temple, not necessarily to the date of the Last Supper (relative to Passover), thus occurring Wednesday afternoon and/or evening if Passover started Friday sunset for example.

More problematically, on the face of it, typical English translations of GosMatt 26:17 and GosMark 14:12 seem to indicate that Jesus was preparing to hold the Passover at the normally expected time, i.e. making preparations on Friday afternoon if the Passover started Friday at sunset.

Why is that a problem? Well one thing we haven't gotten to yet in the texts, is any mention of when Passover started relative to the sabbath, but all four Gospel accounts agree that Jesus was crucified on the morning following His passover observance. So if it turns out they're saying Passover started Friday at sundown, then Jesus should have been killed Saturday instead!--just as if (on the face of it) the "two days to Passover" statements previously mentioned referred to the same day that the disciples were asking to make preparations for Passover (with Jesus leaving the Temple midmorning in GosMatt and having lunch in Bethany, although neither Gospel specifically calls out timing like that), Jesus would have been holding it Wednesday night and slain on Thursday (with Passover starting sundown the following day, Friday).

Either way, the church would have been slightly wrong to have settled on the Friday of Passover Week (Passover itself changes from year to year based on lunar schedules, i.e. the first full moon of the first month of the Jewish religious calendar) to commemorate the execution of Jesus -- it ought to be Good Thursday or Good Saturday, not Good Friday. My readers may have heard or read that some scholars suggest Thursday or Saturday as the day Jesus died; things like this are why they do so.

More importantly, if any Gospel accounts indicated a different timing (which my reader may count as foreshadowing!) there would be a contradiction between them which would be at least annoying even if explicable on stylistic grounds (because that means at least one author and/or his tradition or community was willing to move details around for effect instead of for historicity. This is not so much of a problem really by the standards of ancient historians, and we have a problem like this in regard to Jesus' Passover Week anointing meal in any case, but still, less trouble would be less annoying!)

Okay, everyone caught up now? Not yet? More catching up to be done, then, after the jump!

As I noted in Part 1, the Greek grammar is very peculiar at GosMatt 26:17 and GosMark 14:12. English translations smooth it out overly much to something like "Now on the Day of Unleavened Bread". "Now on the first Day of Unleavened Bread" (as the New American Standard has it) is better, because it includes that odd "first" which suggests there was more than one day of unleavened bread. "Now to the first of the Unleaveneds" would be more accurate still, because this emphasizes some kind of narrative time jump in the story, which would count against the theory that we're still two days from Passover (for example coming up on Wednesday night relative to Friday night, i.e. Jesus was slain on Thursday).

Mark includes the detail that this was the day, or the day was coming up soon, when the Passover Lambs were slain, and connects this with "the first of the unleaveneds", the first Passover meal. Keep in mind normally there would be only one Passover meal!--but tradition allowed there to be a possible meal one night early instead in emergency circumstances. That meal would be held on the day (with Jewish days starting at sunset) the Passover lambs would be slain; and because of practicality issues I mentioned in Part 1, the first of the cooked Passover lambs might be already ready to eat not long after sunset Thursday (if Passover happened on Friday night).

Assuming Jesus even wanted to eat the Passover lamb of course! -- but we will get back to that later. The lambs would have at least been available for eating in an emergency Passover seder one night early, although the ritual meal might have to be delayed a few hours in order to give the first of the lambs some time to be slain and cooked, a process that wouldn't have started until sunset.

GosMatt 26:18 and GosMark 14:14 do agree that Jesus confirmed to His disciples that He intended to eat the Passover with them in that upper room which He was sending them to confirm about; and they agree (a verse or two later) that the disciples prepared for the Passover there.

(As an aside, Jesus appears to have already reserved the room Himself somehow, since He sends them on a coded mission to alert the owner of the room that they will in fact be using it -- the disciples aren't aware of this already, or they wouldn't have asked Him if they should be making plans to keep the Passover! This caution on the part of Jesus is especially important if He plans to keep the Passover one night early, since that's going to look like He expects some kind of emergency, like a battle, on the morrow: He can't keep the Sanhedrin from hearing about it, but He can keep them from hearing about it until the last minute. After which they're going to be in a rushed panic to do something about Jesus now instead of delaying as they had already explicitly decided to do.)

GosMatt continues on through the Last Supper, to the arrest and trials and crucifixion of Jesus the following morning. Sometime after 3pm (between 3pm and 5pm when the lambs would ideally be being slain, or in practical practice when the final lambs are being slain, if the main Passover is still to come) Jesus dies; and is quickly entombed before sunset. Matthew (at 27:62) calls the next day {tê epaurion}, when the Sanhedrin goes to Pilate to request a guard on the tomb (in his account), {meta tên paraskeuên} "after the preparation". The day of preparation would have been the day before the main Passover when the lambs were sacrificed and cooked.

Matthew's grammar goes very Aramaic at what we call 28:1, though, leading to more headaches.

First he writes {opse de sabbatôn}, "now evening of-sabbaths", and then {tê epithôskous(i)ê eis mian sabbatôn} "to-the on-lighting (or lighting-up) into one/first of-sabbaths" came Mary the Magdalene and the other Mary (whoever that is) to behold the tomb.

I could hardly get to the end of various theories as to what those timing cues mean in relation to Mary arriving at the tomb and the soldiers being stationed there. The sabbaths (plural) could mean the Sabbath day since the Jewish day reckoning stretches across two solar days (or possibly a grand plural emphasis) -- there are examples of this usage elsewhere in GosMatt and the other Gospels. In that case the "evening" would mean close to sunset before or after the Sabbath day starts or close to sunset before or after the Sabbath day ends! Or "sabbaths" might mean a week, although in this case the possibility doesn't matter, because a singular evening of a week would make no sense unless it was the end or start of a week at sunset and that would be the Sabbath anyway.

But does "now [it was] an/the evening of sabbaths" refer to when the Marys come to behold the tomb, or does it refer to when the guards were stationed? Or both?! If the former, then this phrase ought to be part of what we call 27:66, "Now they, being gone, secure the tomb, sealing the stone with the squad, and it is evening of Sabbath." (The transitional conjunction {de}, which in this case is put after {opse} to emphasize evening, can mean a bunch of different English transitional words like "Now", "Yet", "And", or a weak "But".) If it is the latter, then "to the on-lighting" might mean Matthew is setting the scene to be from sunset on a sabbath until the dawn the following day. Or it might mean that the Marys started making preparations to visit the tomb once the Sabbath day was finished (unless they're making preparations once the Sabbath day starts!) and arrive near dawn.

To make translation matters worse, Matthew says the Marys came "into one" or "first" "of sabbaths". What can that mean?!

Christians, even Jewish Christians, eventually came to regard the day Jesus rose from the dead as the new sabbath day, but Jewish Christians would have also wanted to honor the original sabbath (when YHWH rested from His labors). If this is what Matthew is referring to, he must mean the sabbath that is the first of the two sabbaths in importance to Christians, which would also be the sabbath that is the first day of the week (since the other sabbath was the seventh day). So he'd be talking about Sunday morning.

On the other hand, if the phrase is applying "the sabbaths" to mean a week, "one" or "first" "of sabbaths" would again mean Sunday or at earliest what we would call Saturday night at sunset; but Matthew does specify that it was getting near first light.

So either way, Matthew is talking about the women coming to the tomb toward sunrise Sunday morning.

But does that mean the guards were set the previous evening? If so, then (regardless of exactly when they were posted) the previous day was Saturday; and Matthew previously said the chief priests went to Pilate on the day after the Day of Preparation (possibly in the morning if that is implied by {epaurion}.)

Unless for no clear reason the priests waited at least one night (and day again) before posting guards, despite being worried that the disciples would steal the body sometime before the three days were finished (27:63-64) -- a delay that Matthew in no way supports with his wording -- the day after the Day of Preparation must have been a Saturday, meaning Matthew puts Jesus slain Friday afternoon on the day of Preparation for the Passover.

What makes this seem like a problem for some scholars is that earlier Matthew seemed to say that Jesus had had the Passover on the sunset following the Day of Preparation, just like everyone else would have done. But if there are two days when the Pascha/Passover may be held (as tradition allowed and even revered), then Matthew's timing ties up neatly in this regard: Jesus prepares the Passover supper sometime before Thursday sunset, holds it after sunset Thursday night, is slain Friday and buried before Friday sunset, rises sometime Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

(There is another timing riddle in Matthew about when exactly Jesus rose from the dead: does Matthew mean the women are present at the tomb when the stone is rolled back by the angel and the guards are stricken down with fright; or does Matthew's grammar allow that this has already happened by the time they arrive near sunrise Sunday morning? His grammar can in fact allow this, but it isn't clearly decisive. Matthew may also be implying the resurrection happened shortly after sunset Saturday night even though the women don't show up until near sunrise the next morning!--the Lord rests only the extent of "the Sabbath Day" from Friday to Saturday night.)

Could Matthew mean instead, however, that the guards were posted at the beginning of a Sabbath, with the Marys arriving near dawn on "the first of the sabbaths" in the sense that this was the most important of all Sabbath days due to the rising of the Lord?

The grammar around the transition into what we call chapter 28 could indeed allow that. In that case, Jesus would have risen sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning, the day of preparation would have been Friday (starting back at sunset Thursday), the Passover would have been Friday night, and Jesus would have held His Passover meal Thursday night one night early (thus panicking the Sanhedrin thanks to the spy report from Judas).

This brings up a potential problem in why the guards would be standing watch on a Sabbath (thus breaking the Sabbath); but aside from the question of whether Pilate means the Sanhedrin already has a Levite Temple guard permitted to them or is assigning them a Roman guard (although I would argue the grammar indicates a Levite Temple guard already allowed to them), the standard theory has the Sanhedrin themselves doing a suspicious amount of work on the Sabbath instead. Whether the Marys would observe the Sabbath or not isn't said by Matthew either, though again if another Gospel author insists they observed the Sabbath that would fit with the inference above that Matthew is talking about Saturday being the day of Passover.

Fortunately, Matthew himself answers this question back at 27:62, when he clarifies that the chief priests came the day after the Day of Preparation, not on the Day of Preparation. So regardless of conceptual problems with the Sanhedrin organizing a guard while the Sabbath Day is going, Matthew must be talking about Saturday being the day after the (usual) Passover meal.

Thus taking his account altogether, Matthew doesn't mean that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sabbath, but on the day after the Sabbath which he claims was the day after Passover Day, Passover Day having started Friday night with the Passover meal; but Jesus held His Pascha meal one day early, on the first of unleaveneds as Matthew calls it.

Whew! So, how well do the other Synoptics "synopt" with that?!


As I noted back in Part 1, Mark agrees with Matthews timing up through GosMark 14:12, with the extra detail that Jesus was sending His disciples to get the room ready either on the day of sacrifice for Passover or coming up to that day of sacrifice; and like Matthew, Mark says this was the first day of unleavened breads or that this day was coming soon: {tê prôtê hêmera tôn azumôn} "to (the) first day of the unleaveneds", {hote to pascha ethuon} "when the Pascha (lambs) they sacrificed".

There wouldn't be much point calling attention to the first of two days of possible legitimate Passover rituals, however, unless Mark (and Matthew) meant Jesus would be celebrating it early; which again fits with the secrecy and with the Sanhedrin's panicked change of their explicitly stated plans to wait until after Passover holiday to try to seize and kill Jesus (14:1-2, "Not in the festival lest at some time the people would riot!") As with Matthew, Mark reports Jesus explicitly sending His disciples to prepare to hold the Passover that night, "when it was evening", which the disciples do prepare. (14:12-17)

Mark's timing cues clearly indicate Jesus is arrested later that night after the Last Supper and crucified the next morning, dying sometime after mid-afternoon.

Mark then says that with evening already coming on, Joseph goes to ask for the body of Jesus, because {hên paraskeuê ho estin prosabbaton} "it was [the] preparation which is before-sabbath". Sabbath had to be prepared for so that, among other things, no one would have to cook on the Sabbath. But there had to be a day of preparation before the Passover meal could be eaten, too (unless one ate the meal one night early!--in which case the rabbi or family head or group leader would have to get one of the first lambs prepared Thursday night). At any rate, Mark clearly indicates that the following day was going to be a Sabbath, so this is late Friday afternoon.

This re-introduces the question of whether Mark (and/or Matthew) are talking about two separate days of preparation (one for a Passover meal on Thursday night that everyone would hold, and another for the Sabbath starting Friday night); but Mark previously indicated that Jesus was making plans to hold His Pascha supper on the first of the unleavened bread days when the Pascha lambs were slain, and that happened the night before. So the two preparation days are the same day in Mark's account, even more specifically than they were in Matthew's account.

Jesus is buried before sundown, and Mark notes that the women saw where the body was laid. Then comes Mark's next timing cue, at 16:1, {kai diagenomenou tou sabbatou} "And/now of-thru-becoming of-the sabbaths". At this time Mary Magdalene and Salome and Mary the mother of James buy spices so that they may come and rub them into the body. The grammar indicates that the Sabbath has finished happening; the women waited until the sabbath was over and then went to buy spices after sundown on Saturday.

Consequently, when Mark goes on to say (like Matthew) that the women show up at the tomb very early in the morning at the rising of the sun (different wording than Matthew's but same idea), on the morning {tês mias sabbatôn} "of the one of sabbaths", he even more definitely means the first day of the week, whether that meant Day One of the sevens (the seven-days), or the most important of the two new Sabbaths for early Christians.

So even though their details are a little different regarding the timing, the texts of GosMark and GosMatt add up the same way -- but only if an early Passover meal for Jesus is recognized. Otherwise there's a similar problem, in that it kind of looks like Mark is saying Jesus and everyone else held Passover Thursday night, and then was slain on Passover Day Friday, to be entombed over Saturday and to rise sometime Saturday after sunset.

And indeed, if "the first day of Unleavened Bread" can mean the day before the day of Unleavened Bread, not in the sense that the Passover may be held in an emergency one night early (thus two possible days of having to eat unleavened bread), but in the sense that bread had to be cooked unleavened that day in order to be eaten unleavened the following day -- in other words if the emergency Passover meal allowance is ignored or discounted as a possible contributing factor -- then these two Synoptics would be saying that Jesus and everyone else held the Passover Thursday night, with Friday being Passover day, and Saturday being the Sabbath.

What about the final Synoptic Gospel, then?


Luke agrees with the other Synoptists that the chief priests decided before Passover to wait until after the feast to kill Jesus, although he doesn't specify this decision took place two days before Passover.

When he gets to the scene where the disciples are asking about making arrangement to eat the Passover, Luke agrees that the disciples are asking about eating the Passover, and Jesus intends for them to eat the Passover that night, and the disciples make preparations for that. Luke however doesn't say this is the first (day) of the Unleaveneds the way Matthew and Mark do; he says this scene happens on {hê hêmera} the day of the Unleaveneds when it was necessary for the Pascha (lambs) to be sacrificed, and his grammar seems to indicate that Luke thinks this day had certainly already come, not that Jesus and company were going to it (i.e. that it was soon coming up): "Now came the day of the unleavened(-bread)s". (22:7)

Unlike Mark and Matthew's language, Luke seems more specific that this scene occurred on the Day of Preparation for the Passover, which as I just noted Mark and Matthew's language does allow. And then again, Luke (having followed Jesus' story through the arrest later that night and His execution the following day) indicates that Jesus died on the day of preparation for the Sabbath which was about to begin (23:54); so Luke agrees that the Last Supper was held on Thursday and Jesus died on Friday. Then on Saturday, the Sabbath, the women rested (verse 56) according to the commandment; Luke reports they prepared spices and perfumes, but not exactly when, implying that this either happened while they were resting on the Sabbath or just after the Sabbath was over at early evening. Luke is clear they didn't buy the spices later on what we would call Sunday, because like the other Synoptists he has them going to the tomb early-deep on "one of the sabbaths", which like the other Synoptists one way or another has to mean early Sunday morning.

Well, doesn't that solve everything nicely? The Synoptics agree there's a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday timing schedule: Last Supper on Thursday night, Jesus dies Friday, Saturday in the tomb, Sunday out of the tomb. Sure, maybe Matthew and Mark's wording is a bit peculiar, but they do add up to this, and Luke's grammar seems to clarify Jesus held the Passover the same night as everyone else that year, the Passover being the day before the Sabbath not the day of the Sabbath. So what's the problem? -- and why bother appealing to the notion of an emergency Passover tradition?!

Ohhhhh, we haven't gotten to GosJohn yet.

Notorious problems in Part 3 next!


Jason Pratt said…
Registering for comment tracking.

Popular posts from this blog

Where did Jesus say "It is better to give than receive?"

Revamping and New Articles at the CADRE Site

Discussing Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, Jonah and U2’s Pride in the Name of Love

On the Significance of Simon of Cyrene, Father of Alexander and Rufus

The Genre of the Gospel of John (Part 1)

The Meaning of the Manger

Scientifically Documented Miracles

A Simple Illustration of the Trinity

Luke, the Census, and Quirinius: A Matter of Translation