Friday, March 11, 2016

The Passover Puzzle: part 4 of 4

“Now the feast of the Passover and Unleavened Bread was two days off; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth, and kill Him...

“And on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples said to Him, ‘Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?’”  (Mark 14:1, 12)

“So the Roman cohort and the commander, and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year…Annas therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest…They led Jesus therefore from Caiaphas into the Praetorium; and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium in order that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”  (John 18:12-13, 24, 28) 

In discussing the Passover events up to and including the Exodus, it was noted that the Sadducees and the Pharisees held different interpretations of the timeline associated with those events.

The Sadducees believed that the Passover events, including the slaying of lambs and the painting of Hebrew doors, the eating of the Passover meal, the angels pass over of Hebrew homes, the smiting of Egyptians, and the night journey out of Egypt, all took place on Nisan 14.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed that only the slaying of lambs and the painting of Hebrew doors took place on Nisan 14 and the other events, beginning with the Passover meal, occurred the following day, on Nisan 15.

The Sadducees and the Pharisees agreed on only one point.  The Passover lambs were sacrificed on Nisan 14.  This is crucial to understanding the two passages above, taken from Mark’s Gospel.

In Mark 14:1, the author identified the Lords Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread as separate entities.  God’s original intention was that the single day Lords Passover, on Nisan 14, and the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread, beginning on Nisan 15, would be observed as two separate feasts.  However, in Mark 14:12, the author described the two feasts as one celebration.  Indubitably, when he said, “the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed,” he was referring to Nisan 14.

So at what time, on Nisan 14, did Christ’s disciples ask, “Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?”  Was it in the evening at the beginning of Nisan 14, according to the custom of the Sadducees or was it in the afternoon near the end of Nisan 14, according to the tradition of the Pharisees?  Let’s investigate.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke document Christ’s late night arrest after He ate the Passover.  Additional information is revealed in John 18:28: After His arrest and trial before the Sanhedrin, they transferred Him to Pontius Pilate’s palace which served as the governor’s official residence and hall of judgment.  Those who delivered Jesus wouldn’t set foot in the palace.  Why?  Because they didn’t want to defile themselves before they ate the Passover.  It was unlawful for a Jew to come in contact with a Roman or any uncircumcised Gentile prior to eating the Passover.

That additional information, revealed in John 18:28, clarifies the timeline created by the other three Gospels: Christ ate the Passover meal just after dark on Nisan 14.  Later that same night, He was arrested and tried by the Sanhedrin.  Early the next morning, they delivered Him to Pontius Pilate where He was sentenced to death by crucifixion.  He was pronounced dead at 3 PM on Nissan 14.  In the evening following His death, after the sun had set, the day changed to Nisan 15.  It was then that the Pharisees ate the Passover meal according to their tradition.

Therefore, when Christ’s disciples asked Him where they should go to prepare the Passover, it was evening, at the beginning of Nisan 14.  Jesus ate the Passover just after dark, that same night, according to the command of the God of Israel, “…you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt.  And you shall cook it and eat it in the place where the Lord your God chooses.”  (Deuteronomy 16:6-7)


  1. The Sanhedrin was a Council of Elders. The Lesser Sanhedrin was a panel of 23 members. The Great Sanhedrin was the 71 member council in its entirety which generally convened for matters of national importance. It was composed of both Sadducees and Pharisees. Annas was undoubtedly a Sadducee. It is more than likely that his son-in-law Caiaphas was a Sadducee as well. The whole council assembled after Christ’s arrest (Matthew 26:57,59; Mark 14:53,55; Luke 22:66). Later, Jesus was delivered to Pilate by the whole council (Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1). Those who delivered Him hadn’t eaten the Passover (John 18:28).

  2. Officially, there was only one high priest. He was appointed by the Roman governor of Judea. At the time of Our Lord’s execution, Caiaphas held that office. His father-in-law Annas also received the respect due the high priest. Not only was he a former holder of that office, but also head of the most prominent high priestly family; his son-in-law and five sons had tenures as high priest. Notably, there were chief priests in addition to the high priest as confirmed in Matthew 26:3: “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas.”

  3. Caiaphas and Annas were only identified at Christ’s preliminary trial before the Sanhedrin. Chief priests were mentioned as His principal accusers when He came before Pilate. Were the chief priests Sadducees? Not necessarily. Shaye Cohen, author of “From the Maccabees to the Mishnah” said, “not all priests, high priests, and aristocrats were Sadducees; many were Pharisees, and many were not members of any group at all.”

  4. Did the Sadducees eat the Passover according to their custom in 30 AD? Some historians have suggested that because of size of the celebration and the number of lambs that were sacrificed, the sacrificial period had to be extended beyond the period between sunset and darkness on Nisan 14. Extending it back into the daylight hours of Nisan 13 wasn’t an option. The Passover lambs had to be sacrificed on Nisan 14. Moreover, it wasn’t sensible to sacrifice the lambs after dark. The only workable solution was to move the sacrifice to the following afternoon, the sacrificial period observed by the Pharisees. Therefore, it’s unlikely that the Sadducees ate the Passover according to their custom in 30 AD, the year of Christ’s crucifixion.

  5. Assuming the Sadducees did eat the Passover according to their custom in 30 AD, it's possible that Christ was delivered to Pilate by the Lesser Sanhedrin which was composed of 23 Pharisees and did not include Caiaphas & Annas.