Crucifixion Date Discovered – Maybe?

A new report claims to have discovered the exact date Jesus died. However, there are problems with the claims made in the article.

According to recent historical geological studies in unison with the Bible and other historical works, scientists claim to have determined the exact date Jesus was crucified. The date is known, claims geologist Jefferson Williams, “with a fair degree of precision.”

As I read the article, though, I found some of their “facts” questionable. Using an article from “Nature,” geologists state,

  • All four gospels say the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.
  • All four gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (nightfall on a Friday).
  • The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) indicate that Jesus died before nightfall on the 14th day of Nisan; . . .
  • John’s gospel . . . apparently indicat[es] that Jesus died before nightfall on the 15th day of Nisan.

Let me take these one at a time.

“All four gospels say the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.”

They seem to indicate Friday, but they don’t outright state it. The basis of this conclusion is that the Gospels all state Jesus had to be buried before Sabbath began (John calls it a “high” Sabbath). Was John talking about a special Sabbath, distinct from the weekly Saturday sabbath? If so, did the high Sabbath fall on Friday? If so, then the Sabbath mentioned in the synoptics was not Saturday, but the high Sabbath that Friday.

The Gospels are not explicit, but implicit. Friday is not stated, but only implied, and debate continues.

“All four gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (nightfall on a Friday).”

This claim is correct up until the parenthetical statement: “nightfall on a Friday.” As mentioned, if they meant the weekly Saturday Sabbath, then it was Friday on which he died. If it was a special high Sabbath that fell on Friday, then he died Thursday. If the high Sabbath fell on Saturday, then he died Friday. The Gospels, none of them, outright say he died on Friday. There is debate.

“The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) indicate that Jesus died before nightfall on the 14th day of Nisan; . . . John’s gospel . . . apparently indicat[es] that Jesus died before nightfall on the 15th day of Nisan.”

A couple of issues involved here. First, the possibility of contradiction in the Scriptures; second, the contradiction of these statements with early statements. Did the Sabbath fall on Nisan 14 or 15 according to the Gospels? The answer is neither. None of the four give an exact day of the week nor an exact date. If the authors had provided an exact date, the debate would probably be over because we could easily count backwards. But we don’t have an exact date stated in the Gospels. But the article claims that Scripture states two different dates. Is there a contradiction? No. Absolutely no contradiction is found in the Gospels. Why? No exact date is given in them. All four mention the Sabbath, but even then, they all refer to the same Sabbath, be it the weekly Saturday or special one on Friday.

Regarding this statement’s claim, it seems to contradict statements made earlier. How can one claim that the Gospels give different dates, yet all give the same exact day of the week for the same event? Unless one of them miscounted their dates, or believed it was another date, then it’s inconsistent to claim they all say the same yet different thing.

What does all this mean?

Does it really matter if Jesus died April 3, 33 or March 28, 35? According to the Gospels, the exact date wasn’t the focus or even really the point. The fact of the death mattered. The atonement mattered. Fulfillment of prophecy mattered. Jesus’ death and resurrection mattered. Furthermore, Scripture reveals that the fact of the physical resurrection of Jesus was more critical than his death. For if he did not raise from the dead, then the cross is meaningless.

Whatever date or day of the week Jesus died, the fact is he died and rose again. He paid for sin. He took man’s deserved punishment. He did this out of love. Jesus rose again on the third day. He is alive today and forever. Jesus saves! Will you accept him today?

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  1. Kent Mitchell

    I thank you for addressing the errors in thinking on the articals part but because I have researched this topic extensively I thought I might share something a little clearer because the date actually does matter as a point of fullfilment of prophesy.

    Thank you for taking the time to read what I have added and please feel free to contact me should you want to discuss this further, Blessings – Kent Mitchell

    What Day was Jesus Crucified?
    No one disputes that Jesus arose on Sunday, but there is much debate as to what day He was crucified. Most of us have been taught Friday was the day Jesus was crucified and this has been widely accepted and un-challenged as the traditional day of crucifixion. If Christ was crucified on Friday, how then was he in the grave for three days and three nights as Jesus Himself prophesied in Matthew 12:40 that He would be? Some people began to say that Jesus was the son of David which is a term for messiah, after He cast out a demon from a man. Being alarmed the scribes and Pharisees criticized Him saying He cast out the demon in the power of Beelzebub (satan). Jesus then rebuked them for their unbelief by attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to satan. Then they sarcastically demanded that Jesus give them a sign of who He was. Jesus rebuked them again and said no sign would be given but the sign of Jonah who was three days and three nights in the belly of a big fish, so then Christ would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights referring to being dead and buried for that time. This passage is key to understanding when Jesus was crucified. (Matthew 12:38-40)
    The traditional explanation mistakenly says that Jesus was crucified on Friday. Trying to justify that Friday was the day of the crucifixion those that hold to this view say that the Jews counted any part of a day as a full day. That is part of Fridays day one; Saturday is day two; and Sunday morning is day three. This explanation has some serious problems however. The Jews did not reckon time the way we do, this is one of the first considerations.
    • First the Jewish day ended at Sundown (6pm)
    • Second their Sabbath Day started at sundown Friday and ended at sundown Saturday. In Genesis 1:5 after the first day of creation, God said “the evening and the morning were the first day.” And so on after the completion of each day of creation.
    • Thirdly, the word “day” used by itself only refers to a period of time. The word has to be modified to specify what period of time it means. Example: Acts 10:40 “but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen.” The word “day” is modified by the word “third” and we know it specifically refers to only the third day after His crucifixion. (Acts 20:7 which refers to Sunday the first day of the week)
    The modifier makes it specific as to the period of time. A “day” modified with the number three refers to three full days. So grammatically three days and three nights means three twenty four hour periods of time. Go all the way back to Genesis one. Each of the days of creation were twenty four hour periods.
    If Jesus was crucified on the traditional Friday and rose again anytime after 6pm Saturday (the Jewish Sunday) He could not have been in the tomb (the heart of the earth) three full days and three full nights as He said He would be. Jesus specifically stated that as Jonah was three days (3 twelve hour periods) and three nights (3 twelve hour periods). A day and a night is twenty four hours. Some might try to dismiss the importance of Jesus’ statement, but he said it would be a sign to the Jews that He was the Messiah. If He was not actually in the grave three full days and three full nights there would be no way to authenticate the sign, so He had to be in the tomb the full time He stated.
    In the Jewish way of reckoning time, from Friday 6pm to Saturday 6pm until Sunday day break would only have been a maximum of 36 hours, not the 72 hours the bible records Christ prophesying He would be in the grave. Since the Bible is inerrant and Jesus said He would be in the grave 72 hours He could not have been crucified on Friday.
    Were these three literal days / nights?
    Some mistakenly refer to the passage in John 11:9 where Jesus asked “…are there not 12 hours in the day” to explain away the time problem. In creation God divided the day and the night. The evening and the morning = 1 day. If there are twelve hours in a day then there must have been twelve hours in the night and a total of twenty four hours. The word “day” can also be used in the bible to mean an unspecified period of days such as Day of the Lord, but anytime in the bible when the word “day” is preceded by a number it means whatever number of days is denoted by the number.
    Dr Charles Halff, Director of the Christian Jew Foundation, in writing “the fallacies of Easter” stated: “Sometimes people ask, “Didn’t the Jews count part of a day as a whole day or part of the night as a whole night?” Let me say this beloved, Whenever you have the expression “day and night” mentioned together in Hebrew Scriptures, it always means a full day and a full night. .. For instance, if you will turn to Esther 4:16; 5:1, 1 Samuel 30:12 & 13, and of course Jonah 1:17, you will find the expression “three days and three nights” and in every instance it means three full days and three full nights – not part of a day and part of a night.”
    Let us labor the point so there can be no miss understanding. From Friday to Sunday is not three twenty four hour days. Jesus said He would be resurrected after three days. (mark 8:31 says; And He began to teach them, that the son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” So counting backwards from Sunday three days you will not arrive at Friday. Remember you have to count the way the Jews did.
    • From Saturday 6pm to Friday 6pm = 1 day
    • From Friday 6pm to Thursday 6pm = 1 day
    • From Thursday 6pm to Wednesday 6pm = 1 day
    Making a total of three days.
    How could Wednesday be the day before the Sabbath?
    If Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath, (Nissan 14 or Erev Pasach how could He have been crucified on Wednesday?) The answer lies in the fact that the Jews celebrated more than just the weekly Sabbath. They had a number of feast days that were “High Sabbaths” or “High Holy Days”. Jesus arose on the first day of the week after the Sabbaths* (plural). Sometime after sun down Saturday, the end of the Jewish day. In Matthew 28:1 we read; “In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher.
    The Scofield Reference Bible (1917 Ed.) has a center column note which reveals that “Sabbath” in this verse is plural; from the Greek word “sabbata”. Also Young’s Analytical Concordance indicates that the day after the crucifixion was not the regular Saturday Sabbath but a special or High Sabbath. John 19:31 states; “Because it was the day of preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate the legs broken and the bodies taken down.” Note that John states this was not the regular Sabbath, but a special (high day) Sabbath. The Jews observed several “high” Sabbaths (holy convocation) which can be found in Exodus 12:15. These Holy convocations did not always fall on Saturday. Concerning the feast days Leviticus 23:4-8 states; “These are the Lord’s appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times: The Lords Passover begins at twilight on the 14th day of the first month. On the 15th day of that month the Lords feast of unleavened bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present an offering made to the Lord by fire. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.”
    The feast of Passover (a high Sabbath) and the feast of unleavened bread (another high Sabbath) were celebrated on April 14th and 15th respectively. Sunset initiated the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Nissan 15 was a “high” day, a non Saturday Sabbath.
    The first month of the Jewish year is the month of Nissan or “Aviv.” The name “Aviv” comes from the Hebrew term “Chodesh Ha-Aviv” which means “the month of spring.” Aviv was the name of the first month of the year before the Babylonian captivity. After the Babylonian captivity it was called “Nissan.”
    The day Jesus died was the preparation day (Wednesday) of the Passover celebration which was on Thursday as bore out in John 19: 14, 31 which we read earlier. Therefore, Passover (Nisan “Aviv” 14) was on Thursday, that year. The Feast of Unleavened Bread began on Friday (seven day feast lasting to Nisan “Aviv” 21), and the regular weekly Sabbath was on Saturday.
    Jesus was crucified in the morning on Wednesday and placed in tomb before sunset. He arose from the grave sometime after sunset Saturday, which would be early Sunday, the first day of the week, according to Jewish time keeping. This is the only explanation that fits Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 12:40 that He would be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
    Further evidence from the Bible:
    The women purchased spices “after the Sabbath” or the Passover (Nisan “Aviv” 14 – Thursday) which would have been Friday as Mark 15:42 and Luke 23:52-54 state. They would not have broken the law and purchased anything on the day of Passover or the regular weekly Sabbath on Saturday. Luke 23:56 says they returned and prepared the spices and “rested on the Sabbath” which was the regular Saturday Sabbath. Then on the first day of the week they went to the tomb to prepare the body.
    Setting up the time line:
    Herod the Great, who ordered the murder of all babies less than two years old in Bethlehem, died in 4 BC, therefore Jesus had to be born prior to his death making the year of Jesus birth 5 BC or earlier. Matthew 2:13-16
    If Jesus was born in 5 BC and if He died at 33 years of age that would fix His death at 29 AD. The first Roman calendar was off by four years. Today’s calendar is a product of the Julian & Gregorian calendars. There was a 1 BC and a 1 AD but no “0” between them so counting forward from 5 BC 33 years is why we fix His death at 29 AD. Those special Sabbaths (Passover & unleavened bread) occurred on the 14th and 15th of the first month of the Jewish calendar (about our April). Leviticus 23:5 & 6 states; “In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord’s Passover, and on the fifteenth day of that same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread unto the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.”
    According to Encyclopedia Britannica the 14th day of Nisan “Aviv” (also called Abar “green of corn”) found in Esther 3:7, corresponded to parts of March and April in the year of Christ’s crucifixion was the same as our April 7th on our calendar. The perpetual calendar (also from Encyclopedia Britannica) shows that the 14th day of Nisan “Aviv” in 29 AD (Passover) fell on a Thursday, hence it would be followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th (Friday) and the regular weeks Sabbath on Saturday, further confirming scriptures account of a Wednesday crucifixion the 13th day of Nisan “Aviv”.

    Informational sources are many but include: commentaries from the late Dr. Oliver Greene, Dakes’s annotated Reference Bible and the article “Sabbaths all in a row” by Maret H. Dinsmore, The Biblical Evangelist Volume 18, No. 8 (April 13, 1984) along with research by this writer.
    For further study the following passages attest to the fact that Passover was on the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar no matter what day of the week it fell on:
    Exodus 23:15; 34:18, Deuteronomy 16:1, Leviticus 23:5, Numbers 9:5; 28:16, Joshua 5:10 and 2 Chronicles 35:1

    1. John L. Rothra

      There are certain questions that remain debated:

      • How much of the Passover (and thus all feasts) are prophetic?
      • What age was Jesus?
      • When did certain events of the Passion week occur?

      These questions remain debated, in part, because Scripture is not explicit about these. Based on what the Gospels state and what Jesus said about the Passover’s prophetic nature, we know:

      • Calvary and the events surrounding it are critical
      • His resurrection was critical
      • Passion week fulfills Passover’s prophecy (he was brought in, tried, found blameless, died for others, his blood/body saves the faithful)
      • The exact dates are less important than the events themselves in relation to God’s plan

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