Mark 14:12ff—Did Jesus institute the Lord’s Supper on the day of the Passover or the day before?

Problem: If the first three Gospels (synoptics) are correct, then Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper “on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb” (cf. Matt. 26:17; Luke 22:1). But John places it “before the feast of the Passover” (13:1), the day before the crucifixion on which “they might eat the Passover” (18:28).

Solution: There are two basic positions embraced by evangelical scholars on this point. Those who hold that Jesus ate the Passover lamb (and instituted the Lord’s Supper at the end of it) on the same day it was observed by the Jews, support their view as follows: (1) It was the day required by OT Law, and Jesus said He did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17–18). (2) It seems to be the meaning of Mark 14:12 which says it was “on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb.” (3) When John 19:14 speaks of it being “the Preparation Day of the Passover” they take this to mean simply the preparation for the Sabbath which occurred in that paschal week.

Other scholars contend that Jesus ate the Passover lamb on the day before the Jews did because: (1) He had to eat it a day early (Thursday) in order that He might offer Himself the next day (Good Friday) as the Passover Lamb (cf. John 1:29) to the Jews, in fulfillment of OT type on the very day they were eating the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). (2) The plain reading of John 19:14 is that it was “the Preparation Day of the Passover” [not the Sabbath], or in other words, the day before the Passover was eaten by the Jews. (3) Likewise, John 18:28 affirms that the Jews did not want to be defiled on the day Jesus was crucified “that they might eat the Passover.”

Either view is possible without contradiction. However, the latter view seems to explain the texts more forthrightly. (See also comments on Matt. 12:40.)

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.