Good Thursday?


I just received your latest edition of This Rock and I was especially interested in the article by Tim Staples on "How Do We Explain the Passover ‘Discrepancy’?" (May/June 2007). I happen to have been doing a lot of research on this subject and I immediately saw a serious "discrepancy" in Mr. Staples’ article.

Mr. Staples said, "And remember, that means the fourteenth of Nisan would have been Thursday. This would have been the day of preparation when the Lamb was slain and the Passover meal eaten in the evening."

Now all four facts that I emphasize are very accurate. At the time Christ died the fourteenth of Nisan was a Thursday, and that day was called "the day of preparation," and in the evening the regular Passover meal was eaten.

However, under the heading "Just The Facts, Please" Mr. Staples immediately says, "We know for certain that our Lord died on Friday (cf. Matt. 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54, and John 19: 31)."

It just so happens that each one of the verse references cited above from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all say the very same thing: namely that the day Christ was crucified was "the day of preparation." And the day of preparation, as you noted before, was Thursday, not Friday! So the one thing "we know for certain" is that our Lord DID NOT DIE on Friday!

In addition, I cite no less an authority than the present Pope, Benedict XVI. I heard the announcement of his Thursday (April 5) homily over the radio and finally got a copy.

In the narrations of the evangelists, there is an apparent contradiction Between the Gospel of John, on the one hand, and what, on the other hand, Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us. According to John, Jesus died on the cross precisely at the moment in which, in the Temple, the Passover lambs were being sacrificed. His death and the sacrifice of the lambs coincided. (All emphases mine.) This means that he died on the eve of Passover, and that, therefore, he could not have personally celebrated the paschal supper; at least that is what it would seem.

On the contrary, according to the three synoptic evangelists, the Last Supper of Jesus was a paschal supper, in its traditional form. He introduced the innovation of the gift of his body and blood. This contradiction, until a few years ago, seemed impossible to resolve . . .

The discovery of the manuscripts of Qumran has led us to a convincing possible solution that while not accepted by all, is highly probable. We can now say that what John referred to is historically correct. Jesus truly spilled his blood on the eve of Passover at the hour of the sacrifice of the lambs. However, he celebrated Passover with his disciples probably according to the calendar of Qumran, that is to say, at least one day earlier —he celebrated without a lamb, like the Qumran community who did not recognize the Temple of Herod and [who] was waiting for a new temple. (Zenit.org, qtd. in The Wanderer, April 19, 2007)

This means that, according to the pope, Jesus died on a Thursday of the "Passion Week" and not on the traditional Friday, which has been celebrated for the last 1682 years since the council of Nicaea in 325. It was at that council that the confusion started.

— Jack W. Langford
Burleson, Texas

Tim Staples replies:I very much appreciated your comments. But I think we can clear up the difficulties you have with my article. You not only disagree with my holding to the traditional day of Christ's crucifixion, but you go so far as to say that "we know for certain . . . our Lord DID NOT DIE on Friday!" And you seem to base your assertion on two points. 1. "The day of preparation," according to the Gospels, would have been Thursday. And that is the day Jesus was crucified according to the text. Thus, Jesus would have been crucified on Thursday, rather than Friday. 2. You cited Pope Benedict XVI, from his homily on Holy Thursday, April 5, 2007 as agreeing with you. You cite the pope as saying:

According to John, Jesus died on the cross precisely at the moment in which, in the Temple, the Passover lambs were being sacrificed, his death and the sacrifice of the lambs coincided. This means that he died on the eve of Passover . . .

Would not "the eve of Passover" represent Thursday? Your questions are good ones. I will respond in two points:

1. As I said in my article, "the day of preparation," in the Gospels, speaks in accord with the way the Passover was celebrated in the temple and by the priests. Though a strict observance of the date of Passover would have had "the day of preparation" to be on Thursday, the fourteenth of Nisan, the common practice of the day was similar to modern practice in the Church. Feasts could be, and often were, moved to the closest Sabbath. Thus, "the day of preparation," when the lambs were actually slain would have been Friday, rather than Thursday. Thus, Christ would have been crucified on Friday, "the day of preparation" (cf. Matt. 27:62). In my article, I did not have the space to get into precisely how the apostles could have celebrated the Passover if there were no sacrificed lambs to use for the liturgical observance. Pope Benedict XVI, in his above-mentioned Holy Thursday homily, actually gives a very plausible, though not definitive, answer to that question. He argues: "Consequently, Jesus celebrated the Passover without a lamb—no, not without a lamb: instead of the lamb he gave himself, his body and his blood."

2. Your second point is in error, but it is not your fault. When you quoted Pope Benedict XVI as saying, "This means [Christ] would have died on the eve of the Passover," you were quoting from The Wanderer, which was quoting from Zenit.org online. Unfortunately, the good folks at Zenit.org mistranslated the text. If you go to the Vatican Web site (www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2007/documents/hf_ben-x...) you can find the proper translation: "However, this means that he must have died the day before Easter."

The original Italian—the language in which the Pope composed and spoke his homily—uses the word Pasqua, which means Easter. The Italian word for Passover is Pesach. Understanding that Easter begins with the vigil on Holy Saturday, "the day before Easter" would refer to Friday, not Thursday. The Pope was actually arguing for the traditional day of Good Friday to be the day Jesus was crucified.



This article appeared in Volume 18 Number 7.