The Last Supper of Yeshua

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Published 17 February 2016; Revised 30 March 2024


Scripture: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are prepared by Blaine Robison and based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. Other versions may be cited. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the author.

Sources: Bibliographic data for scholarly publications cited may be found at the end of the article. References to Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737); online. References to tractates of the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); online. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.

Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Parsing information for Greek words is taken from Anthony J. Fisher, Greek New Testament. Explanation of grammatical abbreviations and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here.

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).


Synoptic Order of the Last Supper

Before the Seder

During the Seder

Objections to the Traditional View

The Synoptic Narrative

The Narrative of John

Options for the Last Supper

Supper in Bethany

Supper in Jerusalem

Analysis of Objections and Evidence

Basic Analysis

Analysis of the Objections to the Synoptic Account

Analysis of Arguments that John Contradicts the Synoptic Narrative


Christians generally refer to the last meal eaten by Yeshua as the "Last Supper," even though this expression occurs nowhere in the Besekh. When the narratives of Matthew, Mark and Luke (the Synoptic Narratives) of the Last Supper are compared with John's narrative there appears to be a conflict of chronology and identification of the meal. The traditional viewpoint of Christianity is that the Last Supper of Yeshua was a genuine Passover meal on the evening of Thursday, Nisan 14 (e.g. Mark 14:12ff). However, John's narrative seems to indicate that Yeshua was actually crucified when the Passover Seder lambs were being slain, so that the Last Supper preceded the Passover (John 13:1, 29; 18:28; 19:36).

Synoptic Order of the Last Supper

According to the Synoptic narratives Yeshua, being an observant Jew, made special arrangements for the twelve disciples to share the Passover meal together at the home of a mutual friend (Matt 26:17-18; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13). Church tradition assigned the location of Yeshua's Passover to the house belonging to the parents of John Mark (Lane 527; Geldenhuys 556), who is known to have been a resident in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12). See my commentary on Mark 14. There is no evidence of a precise order for the preparation and conduct of Passover in the first century, but most of the customs set forth in the Mishnah tractate Pesachim are featured in the composite record of the Synoptic narratives. Nevertheless, within these accounts there is an order followed for the observance. Yeshua complied with required customs and added some new elements:

Before the Seder

Shabbath Seor-Chametz, removal of leaven and leavened products from dwellings on Nisan 14 (Mark 14:12; Pes. 1:1; 3:1).

Korban Pesach, the slaughter of Pascal lambs on Nisan 14 following the afternoon burnt offering (Mark 14:12; Pes. 5:1).

Kun Pesach, preparation of the Passover with all the required foods (Mark 14:16).

During the Seder

Erev ("evening"): Conducting the Passover meal in the evening of Nisan 14 as required by Torah (Matt 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14; John 13:30). Since the Seder began after sundown, then the meal occurred at the beginning of Nisan 15.

Zakur (lit. "all the men"): The presence of Yeshua and the twelve disciples fulfilled the Torah requirement that all males participate in the Passover (Matt 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14; John 13:5).

Shakab ("reclining"): The posture at table for the festival meal was reclining rather than sitting upright (Matt 26:20; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:14; John 13:12, 28; Pes. 10:1). Reclining was not lying prone on the front or back, or leaning on the right side, but only on the left side to facilitate eating with the right hand (Pes. 108a).

Shulchan Orekh ("eating the meal"): Presumptively, the meal included the unleavened bread, bitter herbs and lamb (Matt 26:17, 20-21; Mark 14:12, 18; Luke 22:7, 11, 15; John 13:2, 4).

Rachtzah (lit. "to wash"): Yeshua arose "from the supper" to wash the feet of his disciples and follows with a teaching on serving one another (John 13:3-20). Normally, foot washing was an act of hospitality conducted prior to eating (e.g. Gen 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; Jdg 19:21). However, the washing may have been an acted out parable of the Exodus story, of which the apostolic narratives make no mention.

Ramah Nebuah ("prophecy of betrayal"): During the meal Yeshua announced that one of his disciples would betray him (Matt 26:21; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:21; John 13:21), and pointed to the culprit by dipping matzah, perhaps with maror, into the charoset and sharing it with Judas (Matt 26:23; Mark 14:20; John 13:26). [Judas then departed the Seder, John 13:30.]

Melekh Kos ("Cup of the Kingdom"): After the departure of Judas Yeshua gave this cup to his disciples to share, saying that he would not drink the fruit of the vine again "until the Kingdom of God comes" (Luke 22:17-18). Matthew and Mark associate this saying with the one cup they report.

Lechem Oni ("Bread of Affliction"): Before the meal concluded Yeshua offered the appropriate blessing, broke unleavened bread for the disciples to share, and said, "Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me" (Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; cf. 1Cor 11:23-24). The bread did not represent a "broken body" (cf. John 19:36), but a "pierced body" (Ps 22:16; Isa 53:5), since the matzah was pierced with holes.

Birkat Hamazon, ("Grace"). A blessing to God for His gracious provision was offered after the meal, although the narrative of the last supper does not mention it (Deut 8:10; Pes. 10:6; Ber. 6:6; 48b).

Midrash ("teaching"): Unlike a typical Seder Yeshua delivered an extensive discourse to exhort his disciples in spiritual fruitfulness (John 1416).

Brit Hadashah Kos, ("Cup of the New Covenant"): After the meal Yeshua presented a cup of wine, offered the appropriate blessing, and shared among the disciples, saying "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood" (Luke 22:20; cf. Matt 26:27-29; Mark 14:23-25; 1Cor 11:25). True to his previous word, Yeshua did not drink of this cup.

Tephillat Hakohen Hagadol ("High Priestly Prayer"): After the extensive teaching Yeshua concluded the Seder with a unique action for Passover, a lengthy intercessory prayer (John 17).

Hallel ("Praise"): The Seder was closed with a hymn, some portion of Psalm 113118 (Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26; Pes. 5:5).

Objections to the Traditional View

Many scholars in comparing the Synoptic narratives and John's narrative arrive at the conclusion that either (1) the Last Supper was a Passover meal, but held on Wednesday evening, or (2) the Last Supper was not a Passover meal and held on an earlier evening than the scheduled Passover. Morris (775ff) summarizes the reasons scholars have advanced for these conclusions, which I have separated into two categories.

The Synoptic Narrative

1. The bread is spoken of as artos, not as azuma (Mark 14:22). At the Passover unleavened bread should have been used.

2. There is no mention of the characteristic foods eaten in the Passover feast, namely, the lamb and the bitter herbs.

3. A common cup was used whereas individual cups were prescribed for the Passover.

4. Yeshua ate this meal reclining, which he would not have done had it been the Passover (Coffman on Matt 26:20; John 12:2; cf. Ex 12:11).

5. The Synoptic report that Yeshua was not to be arrested during the festival (Matt 26:5; Mark 14:2). If the Last Supper was the Passover, then he was arrested during the festival.

6. A number of events took place which some say were forbidden on a feast day:

(a) Yeshua going to Gethsemane, which was outside the limits of Jerusalem and further than a Sabbath day's journey.

(b) The carrying of arms (Luke 22:38).

(c) The meeting of the Sanhedrin and the condemnation of our Lord in the Synoptic account occurred on the very night of the Passover.

(d) The coming of Simon of Cyrene from the fields (Mark 15:21), which seems to indicate that he had been working.

(e) The buying of linen by Joseph of Arimathea on the eve of the feast (Mark 15:46).

(f) The burying of the body on the feast day.

7. The Passover was essentially a family meal, but this does not accord with the Last Supper. There are no women present, as there would be in a family. And it is Yeshua, not the paterfamilias, who presides.

6. There is a Jewish tradition that Yeshua was executed "on the eve of the Passover" (Sanh. 43a).

The Narrative of John

1. John 13:1, "Now before the festival of Passover, Yeshua having known ..." (BR). The events described in chapters 1319 took place before the feast began.

2. John 13:29, "For some were thinking, since Judas had the money bag, that Yeshua was saying to him, "Buy what things we have need for the festival," or in order that he should give something to the poor." (BR).
Jewish law prohibited financial transactions on Shabbat and festivals.

See my commentary on John 13.

3. John 18:28, "Then they led Yeshua from Caiaphas to the Praetorium. Now, it was early in the morning, but they entered not into the Praetorium so that they should not be defiled, but might eat the Passover." (BR).
This statement affirms that Passover had not yet begun.

See my commentary on John 18.

4. John 19:14, "Now it was preparation day of the Passover festival, the hour was about the sixth." (BR).
Preparation is accomplished before observance, so this point of the timeline is before Passover.

5. John 19:36, "For these things happened so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, "Not a bone of him will be broken." (BR).
This appears to be a reference to the requirement that the bones of the Passover lamb should not be broken (Ex 12:46; Num 9:12). John means us to think that Yeshua's death was the real Passover sacrifice.

See my commentary on John 19.

Options for the Last Supper

Geldenhuys describes in detail the scholars who have sought solutions involving rejection of either the Synoptic or Johannine evidence (649f). In the nineteenth century the Tubingen school in Germany favored the Synoptic account of Yeshua observing Passover at its regular time and being crucified on Nisan 15. John's narrative was rejected as a complete fiction. On the other side of the argument in the twentieth century are well known liberal scholars in England and America who favored John's narrative. For them Yeshua did not celebrate the lawful Passover and was crucified on Nisan 14. Various options have been put forward to explain the timing and purpose of the Last Supper.

Supper in Bethany

Gill and Lightfoot (note 6 on Matt 26:6; 2:337) associate the mention of "supper" (John 13:2) with the meal Yeshua enjoyed at the home of Simon in Bethany, assuming the mention of "two days" in the Synoptic account (Matt 26:2; Mark 14:1) is a time reference for the supper. They argue there are no rites associated with Passover in John's narrative. Modern Christian scholars reject the interpretation of Gill and Lightfoot. However, these scholars failed to recognize that the Synoptic narrative of the anointing is retrospective (Matt 26:6; Mark 14:3). John places the supper in Bethany six days before Passover (John 12:1).

Supper in Jerusalem

Some scholars allow that Yeshua and the disciples shared a Passover meal, but may have done so a day earlier (Wednesday evening) than the date set by Temple authorities (Bruce 237; Kasdan 333f; Morris 785). Davis is dogmatic in favor of the Wednesday evening Passover meal. The argument is based on the fact that there were two calendars in simultaneous use at the time. One group using a lunar calendar employed by the Temple authorities ate the Passover on erev Nisan 15, whereas another group (e.g., the Essenes) using a solar calendar ate the Passover on erev Nisan 14. (The Jewish 24-hour day runs from sunset to sunset, so the Heb. erev means the evening that begins the 24-hour day.)

Other scholars insist that Yeshua's Last Supper was not a Passover meal at all, and still a day earlier than Passover (e.g., Coffman on Matt 26:20). The argument put forward for the change in meal is that Yeshua had been repudiated by the priesthood and consequently considered apostate, and would not have been allowed to obtain a lamb for sacrifice. Four other ritual meals practiced by Jews have been proposed as the Last Supper:

Kiddush, a brief ceremony observed by families and religious groups on the eve of a Sabbath or festival "to say a prayer of sanctification (Kiddush) of the day over a cup of wine" and followed by a meal (J. Stephen Hart, cited by Morris 779).

Haburah ("fellowship"), a meal held by a small company of likeminded people (Dom Gregory Dix, cited by Morris 780). Haburah refers to the purpose of the group's existence, not the meal.

Se'udat-siyum, "banquet of completion," conducted when a rabbi and his students finish studying a tractate of the Talmud (Joseph Shulam, cited by Stern 77).

● Essene-style lamb-less Passover (K. G. Kuhn, cited by Morris 781). According to Philo the Essenes refrained from sacrificing living animals (Every Good Man is Free, XII).

Analysis of Objections and Evidence

Basic Analysis

The popular suggestion that Yeshua followed an Essene practice for Passover or the Essene calendar has no biblical evidence to support it. The Essenes do not appear in the Besekh at all nor do the apostles mention the calendrical practices of the Essenes, who apparently followed the solar year (4Q259; TDSS 389-393) as found in the book of Jubilees (6:29-30, 32). In the Qumran documents is this statement in 4Q320, Frag. 4, Col. 3, "1 the festivals of the first year: 2 on the third day of the week of the sons of Maaziah is the Passover" (TDSS 396). This rule is repeated in 4Q321, Col. 4:8 (TDSS 397). Maaziah is the 24th course of priests (1Chr 24:18). The "third day" would be Tuesday, but we should note that the rule is arbitrary and their Passover might not occur on Nisan 14. In reality the Essenes with their lamb-less Passover lived in disobedience to Torah, not an example that Yeshua would have emulated.

The proposed ritual meals might reflect Jewish culture of the time, but they hardly satisfy the requirements of the scientific method. There is simply no evidence of any kind that Yeshua engaged in these ritual meals. The speculations fail to reckon with the fact that the Sanhedrin fixed the date of Passover (as all religious festivals). All Jews were obliged to celebrate the Passover at the official time or to abstain altogether (Lane 499). Moreover, the Passover Seder lambs could only be slaughtered at the temple on Nisan 14 and the Passover meal shared that evening. Temple ceremonies and rituals were supervised by the Sadducean chief priests but a large number of priests, including those among the higher ranks of priests, were Pharisees (Jeremias, fn31, 230; 256f). Temple rituals were done in accordance with Pharisee wishes because of their popularity with the people (Ant. XIII, 10:6; XVIII, 1:3-4). The Pharisees would not have permitted Passover to be observed on a day other than the one approved by the Sanhedrin.

Not only must the Passover meal be eaten on one specific evening of the year with a specific menu, but if a person was able and failed to eat the Passover meal as scheduled, then that person was to be cut off from Israel (Num 9:13). There were two reasons a man might be excused from observing Passover at the regular time, but the observance had to be made up the next month. If Yeshua had not eaten the Passover feast at the proper time he would have been rightfully regarded as a sinner under the Torah. Moreover, he would have violated his own instruction to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe" (Matt 23:2-3). Worst of all he would have failed in carrying out his mission of being the sinless Lamb of God to take away the sins of the people.

Analysis of the Objections to the Synoptic Account

1. The bread is spoken of as artos, not as azuma (Mark 14:22). At the Passover unleavened bread should have been used.

REBUTTAL: The Greek word artos refers to a baked product produced from cereal grain and also to food or nourishment in general. In the LXX artos renders Heb. lechem and is used of the showbread maintained in the Temple (Ex 25:30; 40:23; 1Sam 21:6; 1Chr 9:32; 23:29; 28:16; 2Chr 2:4; 13:11; 29:18; Neh 10:33; Matt 12:4; Mark 2:26; Luke 6:4). The showbread was made without leaven (Lev 8:2, 26; 24:5). Artos is also used of the manna from heaven in the LXX (Ex 16:4, 8, 15; Ps 78:24; 105:40), and in the narrative of John (6:31, 32, 33). Manna had no leaven content. This usage demonstrates that the definition of artos is not based on its leaven content.

The use of artos in the Synoptic Narratives follows the specific mention that the event occurred at the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (azumos). In fact, artos is used with azumos in the Torah legislation concerning observance of Passover (Deut 16:3). It could well be that the use of artos hinted at both the manna, which was a parabolic illustration of Yeshua as the Bread of Life (John 6:35), and the showbread. The showbread was intended for consumption by the priests.

The one exception occurred when David took this bread to feed his men when he was fleeing from King Saul (Mark 2:25). This understanding gives a deeper meaning of the significance of the bread that Yeshua held up. Yeshua, the Great High Priest and Davidic King, was offering the bread intended only for priests to his disciples who would share in his body. As showbread Yeshua pointed to his people becoming a kingdom of priests (Eph 4:12; 1Pet 2:5-9; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).

2. There is no mention of the characteristic articles eaten in the Passover feast, namely, the lamb and the bitter herbs.

REBUTTAL: This is an argument from silence. Yeshua had directed John and Peter to "prepare the Passover" (Mark 14:12-13; Luke 22:8), and they would have included the traditional elements. Yeshua did not have to give them a list of food items.

3. A common cup was used whereas individual cups were prescribed for the Passover.

REBUTTAL: This is an argument from silence. The narrative does not say that the meal participants did not have individual cups. The "common cup" (Matt 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17, 20) was associated specifically with Yeshua's ritual of inaugurating the New Covenant.

4. Yeshua ate this meal reclining, which he would not have done had it been the Passover.

REBUTTAL: All the apostolic narratives speak of Yeshua and the disciples reclining for this meal (Matt 26:20; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:14; John 13:28) and the Synoptic narratives say it was Passover. Jewish law specified that Passover participants recline (Heb. shakab) while eating the meal (Pesachim 10:1). The first Passover was eaten while standing (Ex 12:11), but eventually reclining became obligatory for the Passover as a sign of freedom. Non-festival meals were normally eaten while sitting (e.g. Gen 27:19; 1Sam 20:5; Jer 16:8; Ezek 44:3; Matt 14:19; 15:35; Luke 17:7). The requirement for standing in the first Passover was a temporal requirement so that the Israelites would be prepared to depart at a moment's notice. No such need existed after that and the instruction was never repeated in the commandments given for Passover at Sinai and in Moab.

5. The Synoptic narrative reports that Yeshua was not to be arrested during the festival (Matt 26:5; Mark 14:2). If the Last Supper was the Passover, then he was arrested during the festival.

REBUTTAL: Matthew and Mark relate that the chief priests and scribes conspired two days before Passover to arrest and kill Yeshua, but the narrative is not clear who advocated to refrain from arresting Yeshua during the festival. We should note that "festival" (Grk. heortē) can refer to the entire 8-day observance (Nisan 14-21), or mean more precisely the Feast of Unleavened Bread when the chief priests would be especially engaged in supervising the many sacrificial offerings. The proposal by scholars that the Last Supper occurred on Wednesday evening would violate the rationale of this objection. Nisan 14 was part of the Passover festival. If Yeshua was not to be arrested during the festival, then he couldn't be arrested or executed on Nisan 14.

Killing Yeshua on Nisan 14 during which thousands of people were at the Temple slaughtering lambs for the Seder would have resulted in a riot. The chief priests wanted to minimize public awareness. This fact would push the Last Supper back to Tuesday evening, which would conflict with the Synoptic statement that the chief priests conspired two days before Passover. In any event, the opportunity presented to them by Judas was too valuable to pass up. In reality the chief priests were not averse to killing Yeshua during a festival because they had tried the year before to kill him during Sukkot (John 7:44-45) and then again during Hanukkah (John 10:31).

6. A number of events took place which some say were forbidden on the feast day:

(a) Yeshua going to Gethsemane, which was outside the limits of Jerusalem and farther than a Sabbath day's journey.

REBUTTAL: This comment reflects an ignorance of Jewish law. The official Sabbath limit was set as two thousand cubits (a thousand yards) from the boundary of any city or town (Sotah 5:3; Erubin 15a; 42b; 44b). The starting point was the last hut at the extremity of the town (Erubin 21a, fn 10; 55a). Bethphage, which was further than Gethsemane, was considered as a suburb of Jerusalem and the outer limit for a Sabbath day's journey (Menachot 11:2; 63a; 78b; 96a; cf. Josephus, Ant. XX, 8:6).

(b) The carrying of arms (Luke 22:36-38).

REBUTTAL: The objection is based on a reading of the Mishnah (Shabbath 6:4), which says, "A man must not go out with a sword, bow, shield, lance, or spear, and if he does go out, he incurs a sin-offering." However, the Mishnah indicates that there was a divergence of opinion. Another Sage declared such carrying as an "ornament," and other Sages said such carrying was merely "shameful." Edersheim (845) notes that the Galilean disciples had provided themselves with short swords after the custom of their countrymen (Josephus, Wars III, 3:2). Luke notes that Yeshua allowing the swords fulfilled the Scripture that he was reckoned with transgressors (Isa 53:12). Yeshua himself did not carry a sword, so he violated no law.

(c) The meeting of the Sanhedrin and the condemnation of our Lord in the Synoptic account occurred on the very night of the Passover.

REBUTTAL: The statement as presented is true. The Sanhedrin was forbidden to conduct a trial, as well as an execution, on Sabbaths or during festivals (Sanh. 4:1). If the Last Supper was held on Wednesday evening (erev Nisan 14) as some claim, the Sanhedrin would still be in violation because Nisan 14 begins the Passover festival. Trials for capital crimes were also to be conducted and concluded during the day. So, the hearings conducted by Annas, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin at night were all illegal. This fact does not rebut Yeshua's observance of Passover.

(d) The coming of Simon of Cyrene from the fields (Mark 15:21), which seems to indicate that he had been working.

REBUTTAL: The word for "fields" is Grk. agros, which normally refers to a plot of ground used mainly for agriculture (Matt 13:24), i.e., a field, and occasionally as the countryside outside a city or village (Mark 15:21; 16:15; Luke 23:26). The noun is singular and simply denotes Simon coming from the countryside or a rural area. Mark does not say that Simon had been working in a field.

(e) The buying of linen by Joseph of Arimathea on the eve of the feast (Mark 15:46).

REBUTTAL: The verb "bought" (Grk. agorazō), is an aorist participle, "having bought." Mark does not say when Joseph bought the linen.

(f) The burying of the body on the feast day.

REBUTTAL: The Torah prescribed that someone hung should be taken down and buried before sundown (Deut 21:23; cf. Sanhedrin 6:6; 46b). Burial was never delayed for a Sabbath or festival day. The burial of the dead was an important act of piety in Jewish culture (cf. 2Sam 21:12-14; Tobit 1:17-19; 2:3-7; 12:12-13; Sirach 7:33; 38:16). Josephus says explicitly, "we consider it a duty to bury even enemies" (Wars III, 8:5).

7. The Passover was essentially a family meal, but this does not accord with the Last Supper. There are no women present, as there would be in a family. And it is Yeshua, not the paterfamilias, who presides.

REBUTTAL: A reader might expect a narrative of Passover to make some mention of the families of the disciples, because the institution of Passover in Exodus provided lamb and unleavened bread for the entire household. In reality the omission of wives and children and other relatives was not contrary to Scripture or custom. God commanded,

"Now, let the sons of Israel observe the Passover at its appointed time." (Num 9:2)

"Three times in a year all your males [Heb. zakur] shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. 17 "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you." (Deut 16:16-17)

While the first Passover in Egypt was a family event (Ex 12:3-4), observance thereafter began to change. The later narratives of Passover indicate male participation without mention of households, although they may well have shared in the occasion (Num 9:4-10; Deut 16:16; Josh 5:10; 2Chr 30:21; 35:17). In other words, the feast was obligatory for men, but women were not bound to make such a personal appearance (Edersheim 163, citing TJ Kidd. 61c; Pesachim 91b).

A complicating factor in the first century was that Passover lambs could only be sacrificed in the Jerusalem temple (Deut 16:5-6), so only local residents or those who lived in a reasonable distance would likely enjoy Passover in the city as a family festival (cf. Luke 2:41-42). Pilgrims from the Diaspora did not necessarily take their entire family with them to Jerusalem. In addition, the Twelve apostles may have been married (Mark 1:30; 1Cor 9:5), but Yeshua violated no rule by not having women and children participate in the meal. This was his last meal, so he had the right to determine who shared it with him.

6. There is a Jewish tradition that Yeshua was executed "on the eve of the Passover" (Sanhedrin 43a).

REBUTTAL: The referenced section of Sanhedrin is part of the Gemara, which was published about 500 A.D., and contains legal analysis, debate and commentary on the Mishnah. The rabbis of the Gemara period (A.D. 200500) are known as the Amoraim. The Gemara comment in Sanhedrin 43a says, "on the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged." Whether the comment in the Gemara of Sanhedrin refers to Yeshua the Messiah is highly doubtful, even though one MS adds the note "the Nasorean" after "Yeshu." First, the Talmud editor has a footnote [35]: "A Florentine MS adds [a correction]: 'and the eve of Sabbath.'" Second, in Jewish law "hanging" meant being hung by a cloth from a gallows, not crucifixion (Sanh. 6:6; 6:7; 46b; 7:1). Hanging on a gallows was a form of strangulation (cf. Sanh. 7:4 for the normal method of strangling).

The Gemara comment goes on to say, "For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!" The Judean authorities did not execute Yeshua, but turned him over to the Pontius Pilate for judgment. The Gemara comment also says this "Yeshu" had five disciples, when Yeshua had twelve. The Tractate editor later provides a lengthy footnote that basically affirms the one hanged on the eve of Passover was a false prophet in the second century (Sanh. 67a, fn 12).

The supposed Jewish tradition cannot possibly rebut the historical accuracy of the apostolic record.

Analysis of Arguments that John Contradicts the Synoptic Narrative

1. The events described in John 1319 took place before the feast began.

REBUTTAL: The preposition "before" (Grk. pro) does mean 'earlier than' in a temporal sense. The word "Passover" (Grk. pascha), which renders Heb. pesakh in the LXX, is used to mean either (1) the complete Israelite festival, Nisan 14-21 (LXX Ex 34:25; Num 9:2; Josh 5:11; 2Kgs 23:21; Matt 26:2; Luke 22:1; John 2:13; 6:4); (2) the young sheep slaughtered on Nisan 14 to be eaten at the evening celebration (LXX Ex 12:21; 2Chr 30:15; 35:1; Matt 26:17; Mark 14:12, 14; Luke 22:7, 11, 15); or (3) the special communion-meal after sunset of Nisan 14 (LXX Ex 12:11; Lev 23:5; Josh 5:10; Matt 26:18-19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:8, 13; Heb 11:28), which is the beginning of Nisan 15. Not recognized by lexicons that that pascha is also used in reference to the festival sacrifices (Heb. chagigah) of lambs and bulls offered Nisan 15-21 (LXX Deut 16:1-2; 2Chr 35:7-9, 16-17).

The festival of Passover is mentioned 9 times in John (2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14) and these serve as significant milestones in John's narrative. In the Synoptic narratives Yeshua expressed his intention to eat the Passover and the apostles report that he did in fact eat the Passover (Luke 22:15). Moreover, all the mentions in John's narrative of "Passover" refer to the festival that was scheduled at the proper time by the Temple authorities with whom John had a special relation (John 18:15-16). There is actually no conflict between John's report and the Synoptic narrative in terms of chronology. John does not say that the "supper" mentioned in 13:2 occurred before Passover.

Rather verse 1 informs the reader of Yeshua's mindset before the Passover meal. The Passover feast began after sundown, the beginning of Nisan 15. John's use of the preposition "before" could have the meaning of "just before" and anticipates entry into the expected event. The morning of Nisan 14 is "before" erev Nisan 15. (Simple arithmetic.)

There is another plausible interpretation. Yeshua's prescient knowledge ("having known") could predate creation (John 1:1), since he was "slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev 13:8). In the proximate sense Yeshua knew from age 12 that he must be about his Father's mission (Luke 2:49). After the commencement of his ministry Yeshua prophesied at least three separate times that he would be arrested, put on trial, tortured and executed (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; John 3:14). On (Palm) Sunday during his trip into Jerusalem he prophesied that he must be "lifted up," a word picture of death (John 12:31-33). Finally, on Wednesday, two days before the Passover Seder, when Yeshua was in the Temple he again prophesied his impending death (Matt 26:1-2).

Two events came together as a prelude to his prophecy. After the unsuccessful attempts on Tuesday morning by various parties to entrap Yeshua (Mark 12:13-34) and his pronouncing woes on "hypocrites (Matt 23:1-36), the chief priests conspired that evening (Wednesday by Jewish reckoning) to arrest him. Judas then came to chief priests with an offer of assistance and accepted a bribe to betray Yeshua (Mark 14:10-11), and this meeting likely occurred at night as well. Thus, John's mention of "before the Passover" and the rest of this verse refers to Yeshua's prophecy that Matthew recorded.

2. Jewish law prohibited financial transactions on Shabbat and festivals (John 13:29).

REBUTTAL: This verse records what the disciples thought after Yeshua told Judas, "What you do, do quickly" (John 13:27). Yeshua's actual instruction did not tell Judas to buy anything. The interpretation of Yeshua's words that he was telling Judas to purchase needed items for the festival does not necessarily denote a time before the festival. The festival went on for seven more days, so the assumed interpretation could mean to buy for the remaining days of the festival. The Passover meal with its three required foods was obligatory on the first night of the festival and voluntary for the remaining days of the festival (Pesachim 91b; 120a).

Concerning whether the supposed instruction to buy violated Jewish law, Stern comments that the Oral Law as we know it today was not yet finalized in Yeshua's time (195). Indeed, Talmudic instruction implies that some exception was made for buying things needed for the Passover festival: "Thus did the grocers cry, 'Come and buy ingredients for your religious requirements'" (Pes. 116a). We should also note that the work restrictions for Passover (which included the Feast of Unleavened Bread) were not as stringent as the seventh-day Sabbath (Lev 23:7-9).

3. John 18:28 affirms that Passover had not yet begun.

REBUTTAL: The principal concern of the priests was to avoid contracting uncleanness, which would have barred them from participation in the festival (Lev 22:3). At this time Jews believed that entering the house of a Gentile would make one unclean, as Peter would later say (Acts 10:28). The Torah has no specific prohibition, but the Mishnah specifies that "the dwelling-places of heathens are unclean" (Ohol. 18:7; Toh. 7:3). The priests remained outside because "colonnades are not subject to the laws of heathen dwelling places" (Ohol. 18:9). Uncleanness in most circumstances only lasted until evening when it could be removed by bathing (e.g. Lev 11:24; 14:46; 15:5-10).

However, a Talmudic commentator points out that the houses of Gentiles were thought to be unclean because of the practice of burying abortions in their houses (fn47 on Ohol. 18:7). Morris states the problem as throwing abortions down the drain (763). In any event, uncleanness from contact with the dead would last seven days (Num 19:11), and force the priests to wait thirty days to observe Passover (Num 9:10-11). Normally "contact" meant touching the corpse (Num 19:11), but contact also included merely being inside a tent with a corpse (Num 19:14). Thus, the priests applied the rule of the tent to the dwelling of Pilate.

The church father Eusebius suggested that the Judean authorities were so busy with their persecution of Yeshua that they postponed their Seder for a day (Geldenhuys 653). On the other hand they might have enjoyed the meal at the same time as Yeshua, but ended it early due to the arrival of Judas. Considering the meaning of the word pascha in Scripture the priests either meant the festival in general or specifically the chagigah sacrifices offered on Nisan 15 and the remaining days of the festival (so Edersheim-Temple 171; Geldenhuys 663; Lane 498; and Stern 206). There is no need to assume from this verse that the festival had not even begun.

4. Preparation is accomplished before observance, so this point of the timeline in John 19:14 is before Passover.

REBUTTAL: The phrase "day of preparation" translates Grk. paraskeuē, a getting ready, preparation, used in the Besekh of the day preceding the Sabbath, i.e., Friday. The significance of the complete phrase "day of preparation of the Passover" is three-fold. First, the word "Passover" likely refers to the festival in its entirety (Nisan 14-21), and the phrase points to one particular day during that span of time. Second, Nisan 15, the day of Passover was regarded as a Sabbath. Third, in this year Nisan 15 occurred on a Friday, the normal day of preparation for the weekday Sabbath and both events coincided in A.D. 30.

The day was devoted to food preparation since fires could not be kindled in homes on the Sabbath. Morris demonstrates with convincing evidence that paraskeuē was not used in ancient literature for the eve of any day other than the Sabbath (776). The apostolic uses of paraskeuē supports this argument (Matt 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:31). Other works concur with the apostolic usage for Friday by linking the term with the Sabbath (Josephus, Ant. XVI, 6:2), and, from the second century (Didache, 8:1; Martyrdom of Polycarp, 7:1).

5. The reference to Scripture being fulfilled in John 19:36 is intended to convey that Yeshua's death was the real Passover sacrifice.

REBUTTAL: John's comment may well have been allusion to instructions with a prophetic meaning (Ex 12:46; Num 9:12; Ps 34:20; cf. Ps 22:14, 17). Paul's parallel comment that "Messiah our pascha has been sacrificed" (1Cor 5:7), does not refer to the lambs slaughtered in Nisan 14 for the Seder, because that sacrifice did not constitute a sin offering. Yeshua prophesied that he would die to save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21; cf. 2Cor 5:21; 1Pet 3:18). At the last supper Yeshua said of the cup, "this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:28). When Yochanan the Immerser said, "this is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world," (John 1:29), he did not mean the lamb killed on Nisan 14 for the Seder, but the male lamb killed on Nisan 15 as a sin offering. Thus, Paul says that Yeshua became a sin offering (2Cor 5:21), as does Peter (1Pet 3:18).


We should note that like so many other scholarly challenges to the Bible the theory of the Last Supper occurring on the evening of Nisan 13 and the crucifixion on Nisan 14 is a relatively modern idea. The supposed contradictions or discrepancies between the Synoptic Narratives and John are only a matter of appearance. John in particular has a theological purpose to his narrative and chose deliberately to omit many of the details found in the Synoptic account. There is no sufficient ground for believing that the four apostles should misrepresent the truth of the events they witnessed and/or reported. All the evidence points to Yeshua sharing in the Passover communion meal with his disciples on the evening of Nisan 14 as required by the Torah and then was crucified as a sin offering on Nisan 15.

Works Cited

Ant.: Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 A.D.), Antiquities of the Jews. Online.

BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Bruce: F.F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus. InterVarsity Press, 1983.

Coffman: James Burton Coffman, Commentaries on the Old and New Testament. Abilene Christian University Press, 1983-1999. Online. [A leading authority in the Church of Christ.]

Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Davis: Charles D. Davis, Essene Passover Dates, 2013.

Edersheim: Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. New Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1993.

Geldenhuys: Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1951.

Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.

Jeremias: Joichim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Fortress Press, 1975.

Kasdan: Barney Kasdan, Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah: A Messianic Commentary. Lederer Books, 2011.

Lane: William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974.

Lightfoot: John Lightfoot (1602-1675), A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica (1859 ed.), 4 Vols. Hendrickson Pub., 1989. Online.

Morris: Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1971.

Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.

TDSS: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. Rev. ed. Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr. and Edward Cook. HarperOne, 2005.

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