The third verse to consider is John 18:28. “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.”
If the Passover meal was the night before, then why would the Jewish authorities be concerned about being defiled for the Passover meal? This verse seems to imply that the Last Supper occurred the night before Passover, or Wednesday night. Everything hinges on what the phrase “eat the Passover” means. Carson argues that “eat the Passover” could have another meaning.
It is tempting here to understand to eat the Passover to refer, not to the Passover meal itself, but to the continuing Feast of Unleavened Bread, which continued for seven days. In particular, attention may be focused on the ḥagigah, the feast-offering offered on the morning of the first full paschal day (cf. Nu. 28:18–19). There is ample evidence that ‘the Passover’ could refer to the combined feast of the paschal meal itself plus the ensuing Feast of Unleavened bread (e.g. Lk. 22:1: ‘Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching’). If then the Jewish authorities wanted to continue full participation in the entire feast, they would have to avoid all ritual contamination. Even if they contracted a form of defilement that could be washed away at sundown, it would preclude them from participating that day. True, the ḥagigah could be eaten later in the week, but the Jewish leaders, conscious of their public position, would be eager to avoid any uncleanness that would force them to withdraw from the feast, however temporarily. At this point, distinctions between defilement that lasts until sundown and defilement that lasts seven days become irrelevant.
This interpretation becomes very convincing if our treatment of 19:31 is correct. Morris (pp. 778–779) concedes that ‘the Passover’ can refer to the Passover plus the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but insists that ‘to eat the Passover’ cannot refer to all or part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread apart from the Feast of Passover. The criticism has little weight: the interpretation here defended is not that ‘the Passover’ refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread apart from Passover, but to the entire Passover festival. The Jews wanted to continue to participate in the entire feast; they wanted to eat the Passover.
The fourth verse to consider is John 19:14. “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’”
If it is the day of Preparation of the Passover, then the Passover meal must not have occurred yet. But again, Carson argues that the phrase “day of Preparation of the Passover” has a different meaning than what we might think.
The precise referent of day of Preparation (paraskeuē) is disputed. If this refers to the day before the Passover, i.e. the day in which one prepares for the Passover, then John is presenting Jesus as being sent to execution about the same time the Passover lambs are being slaughtered. That would mean that the meal Jesus and his disciples enjoyed the night before was not the Passover supper; and that in turn brings us into sharp contradiction with the Synoptic witness, which makes it clear that Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover. The attractiveness of this theory, despite the clash with the Synoptists, rests in the assumption that John introduces this time factor here as a symbolic way of saying that the true Passover lamb was none other than Jesus himself: he was sentenced to be slaughtered just as the slaughter of the lambs began.
One would have thought, however, that if this were John’s intent he would have achieved much more dramatic power by inserting this time notice just after v. 16a. Moreover, a better way of reading the passage turns on recognizing that paraskeuē (‘Preparation’) regularly refers to Friday—i.e. the Preparation of the Sabbath is Friday. Despite the fact that Barrett (p. 545) confidently insists paraskeuē tou pascha must refer to the Preparation day of (i.e. before) the Passover, he does not offer any evidence of a single instance where paraskeuē refers to the day before any feast day other than Sabbath. If this latter identification is correct, then tou pascha must be taken to mean, not ‘of the Passover’, but ‘of the Passover Feast’ or ‘of the Passover week’. This is a perfectly acceptable rendering, since ‘Passover’ can refer to the Passover meal, the day of the Passover meal, or (as in this case) the entire Passover week (i.e. Passover day plus the immediately ensuing Feast of Unleavened Bread: cf. Jos., Ant. xiv. 21; xvii. 213; Bel. ii. 10; Lk. 22:1; cf. notes on 18:28). Hence paraskeuē tou pascha probably means ‘Friday of Passover week’ (cf. also notes on v. 31). In this view, John and the Synoptics agree that the last supper was eaten on Thursday evening (i.e. the onset of Friday, by Jewish reckoning), and was a Passover meal.
We’ll continue Carson’s analysis in part 3.