Was Christ crucified on Thursday or Friday?
The uniform impression conveyed by the synoptic Gospels is that the Crucifixion took place on Friday of Holy Week. If it were not for John 19:14, the point would never have come up for debate. But John 19:14 says (according to NASB): “Now it was the day of preparation [paraskeuē] for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he [Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’ ”
The NIV suggests a somewhat less difficult handling of the apparent discrepancy: “It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.” This latter translation takes note of two very important matters of usage. First, the word paraskeuē had already by the first century A.D. become a technical term for “Friday,” since every Friday was the day of preparation for Saturday, that is, the Sabbath. In Modern Greek the word for “Friday” is paraskeuē.
Second, the Greek term tou pascha (lit., “of the Passover”) is taken to be equivalent to the Passover Week. This refers to the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (Heb. maṣṣôṯ) that immediately followed the initial slaughtering and eating of the Passover lamb on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month Abib, which by Hebrew reckoning would mean the commencement of the fifteenth day, right after sunset.
The week of maṣṣô-t, coming right on the heels of Passover itself (during which maṣṣô-t were actually eaten, along with the lamb, bitter herbs, etc.) very naturally came to be known as Passover Week (cf. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th ed., 12:1041), extending from the fifteenth to the twenty-first of Abib, inclusively. (Arndt and Gingrich [Greek-English Lexicon, pp. 638–39] state: “This [i.e., Passover] was followed immediately by the Feast of Unleavened Bread … on the 15th to the 21st.
Popular usage merged the two festivals and treated them as a unity, as they were for practical purposes.”) It was unnecessary to insert a specific term for “week” (such as šā-bûaʿ) for it to be understood as such. Therefore, that which might be translated literally as “the preparation of the Passover” must in this context be rendered “Friday of Passover Week.”
It turns out, therefore, that John affirms just as clearly as the Synoptics that Christ was crucified on Friday and that His sacrificial death represented an antitypical fulfillment of the Passover ordinance itself, which was instituted by God in the days of the Exodus as a means of making Calvary available by faith to the ancient people of God even before the coming of Christ.
Note that in 1 Corinthians 5:7 Jesus is referred to as the Passover Lamb for believers: “Purge out the old leaven, so that you may be a new lump, just as you were unleavened. For Christ our Lamb was sacrificed for us.” The statement of E. C. Hoskyns on John 19:14 is very appropriate here: “The hour of double sacrifice is drawing near. It is midday. The Passover lambs are being prepared for sacrifice, and the Lamb of God is likewise sentenced to death” (The Fourth Gospel [London: Farber and Farber, 1940], ad loc.).
It simply needs to be pointed out that the lambs referred to here are not those that were slaughtered and eaten in private homes—a rite Jesus had already observed with His disciples the night before (“Maundy Thursday”)—but the lambs to be offered on the altar of the Lord on behalf of the whole nation of Israel.
(For the household observance on the evening of the fourteenth of Abib, cf. Exod. 12:6; for the public sacrifice on the altar, cf. Exod. 12:16–17; Lev. 23:4–8; 2 Chron. 30:15–19; 35:11–16. These were all known as Passover sacrifices, since they were presented during Passover week.)
Thus it turns out that there has been a simple misunderstanding of the phrase paraskeuē tou pascha that has occasioned such perplexity that even Guthrie (New Bible Commentary, p.964) deduced an original error, for which he had no solution to offer.
The various ingenious explanations offered by others, that Christ held His personal Passover a night early, knowing that He would be crucified before the evening of the fourteenth; that Christ and His movement held to a different calendar, reckoning the fourteenth to be a day earlier than the calendar of the official Jerusalem priesthood; or that He was following a revised calendar observed by the Essenes at Qumran—all these theories are quite improbable and altogether unnecessary. There is no contradiction whatever between John and the Synoptics as to the day on which Christ died—it was Friday.
Archer, G. L. (1982). New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Originally published: Encyclopedia of Bible difficulties. 1982. Zondervan’s Understand the Bible Reference Series (375). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.