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A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life

If we had only the evidence of the Synoptists


The Synoptists flatly say (Matthew 26:17, 20; Mark 14:12, 17; Luke 22:7, 14) that on the first day of unleavened bread Jesus sent Peter and John from Bethany into the city to make preparations for eating the Passover, and that on the evening of the same day he ate it with his disciples. Luke calls it "the hour." Now, the first day of unleavened bread was the 14th Nisan. There is no question about this. Josephus speaks of the feast lasting eight days. The lamb of the supper being slain on the afternoon of this day, it was regarded as the beginning of the feast. Besides, Mark and Luke end the whole matter by saying that on this day they sacrificed the Passover. Jesus himself calls it the Passover (Luke 22:15). It is useless to say that Jesus ate the Passover a day in advance. This could not be done, especially by one to whom the temple authorities were hostile. Equally useless is it to say that the Jews ate the Passover a day too late. If a mistake was made about the new moon, they would hardly keep the Passover on two different days, nor would Jesus be apt to make a point about the matter.

3. The testimony of John. If we had only the evidence of the Synoptists, no serious trouble would ever arise on this question. Strauss has strenuously urged that John is on this point in hopeless conflict with the other Evangelists, since he makes Jesus eat the Passover on the evening after the 13th Nisan (Wednesday), and not the evening after the 14th (Thursday).

This idea has gained a foothold among many able modern writers who see a clear contradiction between the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel. Some of these evidently do so because they hold that the Paschal controversy in Asia Minor arose from this supposed conflict of John with the Synoptists, and that this shows John's Gospel to have been in existence when that controversy began. It is not worth while to maintain that John in chapter 13 alludes to a different meal on a different occasion. The points of contact with the Synoptists are too sharp and clear, such as the sop given to Judas. But five passages in John are produced as being in direct opposition to the statements of the Synoptic Gospels. A careful examination of each of these five passages in the Fourth Gospel will show that John does not say that Jesus ate the Passover meal a day in advance of the regular time, but quite the contrary.

_(a)_ John 13:1 f., "Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing, etc." Here, it is alleged, a distinct statement is made that this supper was before the Passover, and consequently twenty-four hours before. But several things are taken for granted in this inference. One is that the phrase "feast of the Passover" is to be confined to this particular meal, and is not to include the entire festival of unleavened bread (_cf._ Luke 22:1). Often by a metonymy of speech the name of a part is given to the whole. Besides, it is not certain that verse 1 is to be connected with verse 2. The best exegetes agree that a complete idea may be presented therein, either a general statement that Jesus loved his own before the Passover and until the end, or that he came into special consciousness of this love just before the Passover. And if the more natural interpretation be taken and the application of this love be made in verse 2, it is not necessary that the "before" be as much as twenty-four hours. Observe also the text adopted in the Revised Version in verse 2, not "supper being ended," but "during supper." With this reading agree the other references in 13:4, "riseth from supper," 13:12, "sat down again," 13:23, "there was at the table reclining in Jesus' bosom." So the natural meaning is that just before the meal began, Jesus purposed to show his love for his own by a practical illustration. So, after they had all reclined at the table according to custom, Jesus arose and passed around the tables, washing their feet; then he reclined again and proceeded with the meal. So nothing at all can be made out of this passage against the view that this was the regular Passover; but, on the other hand, the most natural meaning is that John is here describing what took place at this Passover meal. Else, why should he mention the Passover at all?

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