What Day Of The Week Was Passover When Jesus Died?

by oaeen

The question of what day of the week Passover fell on when Jesus was crucified is a topic of considerable interest among historians, theologians, and biblical scholars. This inquiry is crucial not only for understanding the historical context of Jesus’ death but also for interpreting the New Testament narratives. To determine the day of the week, we must delve into historical records, biblical accounts, and astronomical data. This article aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of this question, exploring the relevant historical, cultural, and theological dimensions.

Historical Context of Passover

Passover in Jewish Tradition

Passover, or Pesach, is one of the most significant festivals in Judaism, commemorating the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It is observed on the 15th day of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish lunar calendar. The festival begins with a Seder meal, which includes specific rituals and the recounting of the Exodus story.

The Jewish Lunar Calendar

The Jewish calendar is lunisolar, meaning it is based on the cycles of both the moon and the sun. Months begin with the new moon, and an extra month is added periodically to keep the calendar in sync with the solar year. Nisan typically falls in March or April of the Gregorian calendar.

Biblical Accounts of the Crucifixion

Synoptic Gospels

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) provide detailed accounts of the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion. According to these texts, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, known as the Last Supper, on the evening before his arrest.

Matthew 26:17-30: Describes Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to prepare the Passover meal and the subsequent Last Supper.

Mark 14:12-26: Provides a similar narrative, emphasizing the preparation and celebration of the Passover meal.

Luke 22:7-23: Also recounts the preparation for the Passover meal and the Last Supper, highlighting Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist.

The Gospel of John

The Gospel of John presents a slightly different timeline, suggesting that Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for Passover.

John 13:1: States that the Last Supper took place “before the Passover.”

John 18:28: Notes that the Jewish leaders did not enter the Roman headquarters to avoid ceremonial defilement so they could eat the Passover.

John 19:14: Indicates that Jesus was sentenced to be crucified on “the day of Preparation of the Passover.”

These differences have led to various interpretations and debates among scholars regarding the exact chronology of events.

Historical and Astronomical Analysis

Determining the Year

To ascertain the day of the week, we must first determine the year of Jesus’ crucifixion. Scholars generally propose two main candidates: AD 30 and AD 33. Both dates are based on historical and astronomical data, as well as clues from the Gospels and other ancient sources.

Pontius Pilate’s Governorship: Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea from AD 26 to 36, providing a timeframe for Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.

Astronomical Data: Calculations of the Jewish lunar calendar indicate that Passover fell on a Friday in both AD 30 and AD 33.

Day of the Week Calculation

Given that Passover begins at sunset on the 14th day of Nisan and continues through the 15th, and considering the two proposed years:

AD 30: Nisan 14 corresponds to Thursday evening to Friday evening, making Nisan 15 fall on a Friday.

AD 33: Nisan 14 again corresponds to Thursday evening to Friday evening, placing Nisan 15 on a Friday.

Therefore, in both proposed years, Passover would have started on a Thursday evening, with Nisan 15 being Friday.

Reconciling the Gospel Accounts

The slight discrepancies between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s account can be understood in several ways:

Different Calendar Systems: Some scholars suggest that different Jewish groups might have used different calendar systems, leading to variations in the observed date of Passover.

The Day of Preparation: John’s reference to the “day of Preparation” could mean the day before the Sabbath during Passover week, not necessarily the day before Passover itself.

See also: What Day Of The Week Was The Last Supper?

Theological Implications

The Last Supper and the Eucharist

The Last Supper holds significant theological importance as the institution of the Eucharist, a central sacrament in Christian tradition. Understanding the timing of this event in relation to Passover enriches the symbolism of Jesus as the Paschal Lamb, whose sacrifice brings salvation.

Synoptic View: The Synoptic Gospels’ depiction of the Last Supper as a Passover meal aligns with the symbolism of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Passover lamb.

Johannine View: John’s account, placing the crucifixion on the day of preparation, emphasizes Jesus as the Lamb of God, sacrificed at the same time as the Passover lambs.

Crucifixion and Resurrection

The timing of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is central to Christian theology, marking the culmination of his earthly ministry and the foundation of Christian belief in the resurrection.

Crucifixion: The crucifixion occurring on a Friday, known as Good Friday, leads to the observance of Holy Week in the Christian liturgical calendar.

Resurrection: Jesus’ resurrection on the third day, celebrated as Easter Sunday, underscores the victory over sin and death.

Historical and Cultural Impact

Early Christian Observances

The early Christian community’s understanding of the timing of Jesus’ death and resurrection influenced the development of Christian liturgical practices, including the celebration of Easter and the observance of the Lord’s Supper.

Quartodeciman Controversy: Early Christians debated the proper date for celebrating Easter, with some advocating for a date aligned with Passover (14th of Nisan) and others for a Sunday observance.

Council of Nicaea (AD 325): The Council of Nicaea established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, creating a uniform observance for the Christian church.

Jewish-Christian Relations

Understanding the timing of Jesus’ death in relation to Passover also has implications for Jewish-Christian relations, highlighting the shared heritage and distinct identities of the two faith traditions.

Passover and Easter: Both festivals celebrate themes of liberation and redemption, providing opportunities for interfaith dialogue and mutual respect.

Historical Context: Recognizing the Jewish context of Jesus’ life and ministry fosters a deeper appreciation for the historical and cultural roots of Christianity.

Astronomical and Chronological Studies

Lunar Calculations

Modern astronomical tools allow for precise calculations of ancient lunar phases, helping to corroborate historical records and biblical narratives.

NASA’s Lunar Tables: NASA’s calculations confirm that Nisan 14 fell on a Thursday evening to Friday evening in both AD 30 and AD 33.

Intercalation Practices: The Jewish practice of adding an extra month periodically to align the lunar calendar with the solar year ensures that Passover remains in the spring, consistent with biblical and historical descriptions.

Historical Records and Corroboration

Ancient historical records, including writings by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and Roman historians, provide additional context and corroboration for the timing of Passover and related events.

Josephus: Josephus’ writings offer valuable insights into Jewish practices and the historical context of the Second Temple period.

Roman Historians: Accounts from Roman historians help to situate the events of Jesus’ life within the broader framework of Roman rule and Jewish-Roman interactions.


Determining the day of the week on which Passover fell when Jesus died involves a multidisciplinary approach, integrating historical, biblical, and astronomical data. Both AD 30 and AD 33 present compelling evidence that Passover, and thus Jesus’ crucifixion, occurred on a Friday. This conclusion aligns with the traditional Christian observance of Good Friday and underscores the theological significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

By exploring the historical and cultural context, reconciling the Gospel accounts, and examining the broader implications, we gain a deeper understanding of the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion. This exploration not only enriches our appreciation of Christian tradition but also fosters a greater awareness of the interconnectedness of history, culture, and faith.

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