The Death of Jesus in Mark vs. John
by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

Dating anything in first century Judaism and Christianity is extremely difficult, especially since several different calendars (lunar or solar) were in use in different cultures or even among different groups within Judaism.  Nevertheless, the chronology of the events in the last days of Jesus' earthly life is significantly different in the Synoptic Gospels and in the Fourth Gospel.  A close analysis shows that all four Gospels connect Jesus' death with the Feast of Passover, but they do so in different ways and with differing emphases:
 
MARK (similarly in Matt & Luke) Jewish Days and Passover Events JOHN
Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11) [unspecified date] Plot to kill Jesus (11:47-54); Passover near (11:55-57)
 . 9 Nisan  Anointing at Bethany (12:1-8) - "Six days before Passover"
 . 10 Nisan Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (12:12-50) - "Next day"
"two days before Passover" - Plot to kill Jesus (14:1-2);
Anointing at Bethany (3-9); Judas meets High Priests (10-11)
13 Nisan [no mention of preparing for supper]
 . 14 Nisan - evening Last Supper (13:1-17:26) - "before Passover" (13:1)
 . 14 Nisan - early night "night" (13:30); prayer (17:1-26); go to garden (18:1)
 . 14 Nisan - late night Jesus' Arrest (18:2-11)
 . 14 Nisan - pre-dawn Two Jewish Hearings & Peter's Denials (18:12-27)
 . 14 Nisan - dawn Trial before Pilate, incl. scourging (18:28—19:16);
"early" & before Passover meal (18:28)
 . 14 Nisan - noon Trial concludes about the 6th hour (noon)
on the Day of Preparation before Passover (19:14)
"when they sacrificed the Passover lamb" -
Disciples prepare for the Last Supper (14:12-16)
14 Nisan - afternoon:
Sacrifice of Passover Lambs 
Crucifixion & Death of Jesus (19:17-37) on the
Day of Preparation before the Sabbath (19:31)
 . 14 Nisan - before sunset Burial of Jesus on the "Day of Preparation" (19:38-42)
Last Supper, a Passover Meal (14:17-31) 15 Nisan - evening:
Passover Meal
[nothing happens in John, due to Sabbath]
Prayer in Gethsemane (14:32-42) 15 Nisan - early night
Jesus' Arrest (14:43-52) 15 Nisan - late night  .
Unofficial Jewish Hearing & Peter's Denial (14:53-72) 15 Nisan - pre-dawn  .
Trial before Jewish Sanhedrin/Council (15:1) 15 Nisan - dawn  .
Trial before Pilate (15:2-15); 
Scourging & Way to Cross (15:16-21)
15 Nisan - early morning  .
Crucifixion at 3rd hour (15:22-32, esp. 25) 15 Nisan - 3rd hour (9:00 a.m.)  .
Darkness over the Land from 6th to 9th hour (15:33) 15 Nisan - 6th hour (12:00 noon)  .
Death of Jesus at 9th hour (15:34-41) 15 Nisan - 9th hour (3:00 p.m.)  .
Burial of Jesus - Preparation Day for Sabbath (15:42-47) 15 Nisan - late afternoon  .

All four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified on a Friday afternoon, that the women rested on a Saturday, and that the empty tomb was discovered early on a Sunday morning.  However, the Gospels differ as to whether the Feast of Passover was on Friday or on Saturday in the year Jesus was killed; thus they provide conflicting evidence as to exactly which calendar year it could have been. According to astronomical calculations, the 15th of Nisan in the Jewish lunar calendar fell on a Thursday evening / Friday in AD 27, while it fell on a Friday evening / Saturday in AD 30 and AD 33.
 

MARK Gospel Events & Sabbath Day JOHN
Thursday Evening - 15 Nisan - Passover Jesus' Last Supper & Arrest Thursday Evening - 14 Nisan
Friday Daytime - 15 Nisan - Passover Jesus' Trials, Crucifixion, Death Friday Daytime - 14 Nisan
Friday Late Afternoon - 15 Nisan (Mark 15:42) Jesus Buried - "Preparation for Sabbath" Friday Late Afternoon - 14 Nisan (John 19:31, 42)
Friday Evening - 16 Nisan - Sabbath [Sabbath rest] Friday Evening - 15 Nisan - Passover & Sabbath
Saturday Daytime - 16 Nisan - Sabbath [Sabbath rest] Saturday Daytime - 15 Nisan - Passover & Sabbath
Saturday Evening - 17 Nisan (women buy spices - 16:1) [after sunset] Saturday Evening - 16 Nisan
Sunday Morning - 17 Nisan (Mark 16:2-8) Empty Tomb Stories - "First Day of Week" Sunday Morning - 16 Nisan (John 20:1)

Further confusion is caused by the ambiguity of the phrase "Day of Preparation."  Was this day a preparation for the weekly Sabbath (as in the Synoptics), or preparation for the Feast of Passover, or for both (as in John)?  The following events are mentioned in the Gospels in connection with these days:

Day of Preparation:

Sabbath:


See also my page on the Gospel Passion Narratives or my the list of Materials on the Four Gospels


Electronic New Testament Educational Resources

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