WHEN DID JESUS DIE?
No one really knows for sure. The ancient Christian
fathers debated it. Modern Christian scholars still debate it.
The reason is simple. The historical evidence is not sufficient to define it exactly.
Benjamin Adams made this remark to Sadler:
To which Sadler replied:
The relationship of the Gospels is not quite as simple as that described by Adams. His remark is based on notions commonly held by a large segment of educated Christianity.
My purpose here is to evaluate the historical record against the account given in the Urantia Papers. Is it possible that the Papers were designed to pacify common notions about the date of the Crucifixion, but do not reflect the true date? If so, this would be another example of tampering with reality to provide revelation. Will examination of the conflict between the synoptic Gospels and John's account provide information to enlighten our query?
The study is fairly complex. It requires careful examination of all of the historical evidence, weighed against astronomical dates, and early Church traditions. I shall try to reduce this to manageable comprehension.
First, we should establish the rules.
We are now in a position to examine the various New Testament texts regarding the event of Jesus death.
The biggest stumbling
block, and the point of such dramatic difference between the synoptic gospels
and John's account, comes in the statements that --
These statements are accepted at face value by many Christians. But they lead to blatant contradictions.
Later in the evening, after the Last Supper, at Gethsemane, Judas returns with a crowd armed with swords and clubs, Mark 14:43. This would violate the proscriptions for carrying arms on the Passover holy day. Therefore, that evening could not have been the Passover evening.
He was arrested in the evening, went on trail before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin during the night, and on to Pilate's examination the next morning, Mark Chapter 15. Such action by the Sanhedrin would violate the Jewish holy day, and the Roman edict of respect for the Jewish holy day. Again, that evening could not have been the Passover evening.
To understand the above three statements literally would force the crucifixion of Jesus to the following day, a Passover holy day. That could not be correct.
But far more devastating to synoptic literal supposition is the statement in Mark 15:42 (see Luke 23:54) that "evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath . . .," when Joseph of Arimathea had requested the body in order to bury it before the beginning of the Passover sabbath at 6:00 PM. Therefore, Jesus could not have been arrested on the Passover evening. He was dead on the day of Preparation, before Passover came.
Clearly, the accounts are not internally consistent; they cannot be correct. Jesus and the apostles could not have eaten the Passover meal the evening of the first day of Unleavened Bread, that is, at the time of the eating of the Pashal lamb, and then go on to the crucifixion on Passover day with the body removed on the Day of Preparation.
John does not make this error. The events of the Last Supper are in Chapter 13. John states, 13:1 -- "Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come . . ." Hence John shows us that Jesus ate the Passover meal with his apostles "before the feast of the Passover," not at the Passover.
and Brown, in their Commentary, make these remarks:
Unfortunately, the need for literal perfection in the Bible leads to such contradictory logic.
In their remarks
on Luke 22:7, JFB state the following:
Thus we would have justification for interpreting the passages in the synoptic gospels differently, accepting that the "Feast of Unleavened Bread" did not begin on the Passover evening, but, according to popular understanding, on that day, prior to evening. Or, to stretch understanding, even to the preceding evening. Although technically incorrect, the gospels might have been expressing this popular view of the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. However, most Christian interpretations do not take this view, as indicated by Adams in his letter to Sadler, and as shown by the remarks from JFB above.. In order to go this far one must push interpretation to the extreme. Mark 14:12, "on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb," and Luke 22:7, "Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed," just make this extreme view unpalatable to common sense.
on dates is described also in Barnes' Notes:
Other evidence exists
to show that Jesus was not crucified on the Passover Sabbath.
See also Mark 14:2.
The "feast" would
have included the Day of Preparation. Their plan was to arrest him before
the Day of Preparation.
This Simon would have been coming into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, hence no later than the Day of Preparation.
During the Passover
meal which Jesus held with his apostles, he made private remarks to Judas.
This surmise by the other apostles would not have arisen unless the private Passover meal was celebrated the day before the regular Passover celebration.
Numerous other passages
speak to the crucifixion on the Day of Preparation.
Clearly, the literal acceptance of Matt 26:17, Mark 14:12, and Luke 22:7-9 is openly contradicted by these other statements in the synoptic gospels.
Another element of the date is found in the work of the women to prepare Jesus's body to prevent putrefaction.
"When the sabbath was past" would have been the evening of Passover Day, when another day began. Thus their secular purchase of spices would not violate the Sabbath.
However, there appears
to be a contradiction in the record of events.
Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus' body in a tomb close at hand because of the lateness of the hour. Jesus died about 3:00 PM. Time would have been required to go to the Praetorium to seek Pilate's permission, for Pilate to inquire of the Centurion if Jesus was dead, and then to give his official order. Certainly an hour or two was thus consumed. The men then had to return to the hillside to carry the body to the tomb. There simply was not enough time to prepare the body properly for burial before 6:00 PM, the accepted time of the beginning of the Passover sabbath.. Furthermore, a hundred pounds of spices is highly doubtful. Nicodemus, as the person who brought the spices, is not mentioned in the synoptic gospels, and the picture there portrayed shows the woman bringing the spices the following Sunday morning.
(The account in the Urantia Papers incorporates all of these elements, without the contradictions, both the details from John's Gospel, and from the synoptic gospels. Whoever wrote the UP account was thoroughly familiar with all of the biblical elements, more so than most Christian theologians, and more than Sadler, who was surprised by the information from Adams.)
The record in Matthew
says the tomb had been sealed by the Jews during the sabbath Passover.
In spite of the contradictions we can see that the writers of the gospel accounts took into consideration the fact of the Passover Sabbath Day as the period in which Jesus lay in the tomb, and hence that his crucifixion had to be on the Day of Preparation.
No serious student
of the Bible questions the Sunday resurrection.
In Matt 12:40 Jesus
This statement is explicit. This remark, attributed to Jesus, says that we must account not only for three days but also for three nights. The traditional scenario does not include three nights -- only two.
If we take the strange view forced by a literal interpretation of Matt 26:17, Mark 14:12, and Luke 22:7-9 the problem of Jesus being in the tomb "three days and three nights" in exacerbated. If he was crucified on a Saturday Passover sabbath holy day, and he arose Sunday morning, he could have laid in the tomb only one night. According to this scenario the only way for him to lay in the tomb more than one night is to push the Passover Sabbath ahead to Friday, and his crucifixion on that Friday, instead of Saturday, thus creating two sabbath holy days in sequence. Then John's remark about a "high day" would mean a double sabbath, occurring on two different days.
However, the weight of the evidence places the crucifixion of Jesus on the Friday Preparation Day, and his resurrection on a Sunday. Still, many people have trouble getting "three days" out of that arrangement. They take Friday afternoon as counting one day, the Sabbath as the next, and early Sunday morning as the third, with only two intervening nights.
The Commentators don't like the remark. It doesn't fit their Friday-Sunday scenario.
Matthew Henry stated:
Adam Clarke said:
and Brown in their commentary said:
All commentators offer several biblical passages to support their contention that two nights, one whole day, and parts of two days make three days and three nights, but I cannot follow their reasoning.
(Most everyone agrees that by "three days and three nights" Jesus did not mean a literal 72 hours.)
Why do the commentators and most Christians make such an issue out of transforming two nights and two partial days into three nights and three days? Because they are firmly committed to the crucifixion on Friday, and the resurrection on Sunday.
In attempts to understand the gospel accounts a primary assumption is made. Virtually all interpreters assume that the "Sabbath" was a Saturday sabbath, and that the Passover sabbath fell on the same day. They base their belief on John's remark about it being a "high sabbath," meaning that both sabbaths fell on the same day. The interpreters and commentators do not give room to the possibility that the "Passover sabbath" was a day different from the Saturday sabbath, and that John's "high sabbath" might have meant two sabbath days in sequence.
I shall now examine the "sabbath" statements. They are important to our understanding of the date that Jesus died. Unfortunately, the translations do not convey important elements from the Greek texts because they ignore the plural sabbaths.
In the following discussions I use the Analytical Greek New Testament, edited by Barbara and Timothy Friberg, and published by Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1981. This work lists all the grammatical features of every word in the New Testament, based on the authoritative Greek edition, edited by Kurt Aland et al., United Bible Societies, 1975. This critical edition includes reference to all known Greek manuscripts to that date.
The New Testament contains the word "sabbath," and its inflectional variations, 68 times. Most of those are in the gospels. To repeat, every occasion of this word, singular or plural, is translated singular in the KJV, NIV, NAS, TLB, and RSV. Only in the NKJ version is the word translated in the plural on one occasion, Luke 4:31.
In many cases the plural is easy to discern because of the modifying article which precedes the word. For example, tois sabbasin, literally says "on the sabbaths," not "on the sabbath" as shown in the translations. This form occurs more than a dozen times. The form tou sabbatou occurs about ten times, is singular, and means "of the sabbath." The form to sabbaton occurs about a half-dozen times, is singular, and means "the sabbath."
Now consider the following verses.
Mt. 28: 1 states in the Greek "At the end of the sabbaths (opse de sabbaton), as it was dawning into the one of the sabbaths (mian sabbaton) . . ."
In the second phrase, the Greek word "mian (mian)" is the cardinal number "one." Here it meant the "dawning into the number one" of the sabbaths, meaning the seven weeks (sabbaths) which were to follow to Pentecost. But the translations do not tell us that. In order to preserve the singular they substitute the phase, "the first day of the week."
In the first phrase the word "opse" means late, as "late in the day," or "after the close of the day," or "at the end." But the sabbath word is plural. Therefore, the translators should have told us that "late of the sabbaths," or "at the end of the sabbaths" was the proper way to express the statement. But they could not do so for two reasons: first, they would violate their need to keep singular sabbaths, and second, the translations would alarm everyone of the possibility that there was more than one sabbath at the time of Jesus' death.
Indeed, there may have been. If Friday was not the Day of Preparation, but rather the Passover Sabbath, with the Day of Preparation and Passover eve on Thursday, then there would have been two sabbaths, following in sequence on one another, with the second the regular Saturday Sabbath. If so, Jesus would have lain in the tomb three nights, not two. And Matthew 12:40 would be correct.
Thus we can more clearly recognize the intent of the writer of Matthew. He was precisely identifying the day of the week, and its relation to the omer count to Pentecost. And he was intending to express more than one sabbath preceding that dawning. But the translations fail to give us that important information. Our modern English Bibles are "polished" to suit our current notions.
(Some persons argue that if the Passover sabbath fell on the Saturday sabbath the author might have called them plural sabbaths.)
The other gospels do not have this last phrase, although they denote the plural of the "(number) one of the (following feast of weeks) sabbaths."
As John said:
(If the legs were broken they could no longer support themselves on the foot-rest on the cross, and they would suffocate from the weight of the body hanging from their arms, and from the stress placed on their hearts.)
Now consider the astronomical evidence.
If we calculate Passover
moon dates we can recognize that a strong possibility exists that the Passover
took place on Friday, (from Thursday evening), not on Saturday (from Friday
Thus the calculations by Lingle would make the beginning of Passover in that year fall on a Thursday evening. However, in his discussion he does not hold to that day because of the uncertainty in finding the first crescent moon.
If we return to John's statement we find that the Greek word is megali, or "great" day. In other words, an unusual holy day. Almost universally this is taken to mean that the Passover sabbath was the same day as the Saturday sabbath.
This view is seen among the Commentators.
According to Adam
and Brown Commentary stated:
Barnes' Notes says:
These remarks are strictly speculation. We simply will not be able to determine the exact date of the crucifixion from the historical evidence.
Thus the account in the Urantia Papers may be correct.