Contradictions: On Which Day Did Jesus Die?

Logic & Light

Critics point to alleged errors and contradictions in the Bible to show that it is neither inspired nor the work of eyewitnesses.  These critics claim that if the biblical writers can’t agree on even the simplest details, how can we possibly believe what they have to say about important spiritual matters?  One such charge is that the gospel writers cannot even agree whether Jesus was crucified on the first day of Passover or the day before Passover.

The Alleged Contradiction

Bart Ehrman is perhaps the best known modern biblical critic.  In a 2010 debate, he claimed that there are hundreds of contradictions in the gospel accounts and specifically called out a supposed discrepancy in the day on which Jesus died as an example.   He claimed that Mark 15 “explicitly” states Jesus was crucified on the morning after the Passover meal while John 19 “explicitly” states the crucifixion occurred on the day of Preparation for Passover, which would be the day before the meal.  He boldly proclaims “Don’t take my word for it.  Read John 19 and Mark 15 for yourself.  They contradict each other!”

The Truth

When reviewing alleged errors and contradictions, it is important to review exactly what the text says and research the potential (and sometimes various) meanings of particular words and phrases.  Ehrman is right that Mark 15 clearly has Jesus and his disciples eating the Last Supper on the day of Passover.  So let’s review what John 19 says concerning Jesus’ trial (which would have been after the Last Supper):

“Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover.  It was about the sixth hour.  He (Pontius Pilate) said to the Jews, ‘Behold your king!’” (John 19:14; English Standard Version)

At first it seems Ehrman is right.  The passage clearly says ‘’the day of Preparation of the Passover” which would have to be the day before Passover begins, right?  Wrong.  The text says “the day of Preparation of the Passover” not “the day of Preparation for the Passover.”  While this may seem like a small, insignificant difference, that simple change in the preposition greatly changes the meaning…


Logic & Light | Contradictions: On Which Day Did Jesus Die?