The Smoking Gun

for early proof of Tuesday Last Supper, Wednesday Crucifixion

smoking gunIn the previous section, Chronology, we established the fact that the Last Supper/Passover Jesus had with His disciples occurred on a Tuesday night. In doing so, we also established the betrayal by Judas and the arrest of Jesus transpired in the early morning hours of that Wednesday, just after Tuesday midnight.

The question naturally arises can this be proved by any external evidence, apart from our the witness of Scripture. Although the record of Scripture should be sufficient for us, we do have such an external witness.

We have a document, attributed to the last half of the third century (AD 250-300), that gives a chronology that can only be referred to as the Smoking gun. This early document establishes a Tuesday night Last Supper, and an early Wednesday morning arrest in the garden.

This early document I am referring to is called, Didascalia Apostolorum (Teaching of the Apostles). It was originally written in Greek, then translated into Syriac. There are currently two English translations available, Gibson (1903) and Connolly (1929). There are several important things about this document. One is that it seems to be the basis for a document created about 100 years later, called the Apostolic Constitutions. This will be part of the smoking gun evidence, which we will see shortly. Of course, I do not advocate any kind of divine inspiration or apostolic authority for this document. Its importance is found only as a historical revealing the general thoughts and beliefs of the Church at that time.

The central importance for our purposes is found in chapter 21 of the Didascalia. In this chapter, the times of fasting during the week of Pascha (Passover) are discussed. The days of fasting during this holy week, are determined by the chronology of the Passion, set forth within.

Passion Chronology According To The Didascalia

One thing that should be pointed out about the Didascalia's use of naming days of the week, is that it is based upon Roman usage. This is to say, it is based upon a midnight to midnight counting of days. The Connelly translation is used below, unless otherwise stated.

And Judas lscariot, who was one of us, rose up and went his way to betray Him [cf. Jn 13.30]. Then our Lord said to us: Verily I say unto you, a little while and ye will leave me; for it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the lambs of his flock shall be scattered [Jn 16.32; Mt 26.31; Mk 14.27]. And Judas came with the scribes and with the priests of the people, and betrayed our Lord Jesus. Now this was done on the fourth day of the week (Gibson, "Wednesday").

Here we are told that it was on the fourth day of the week, when Judas came with the leaders of Judea to arrest Jesus. This fourth day would be Wednesday. The translation by Gibson actually uses the term "Wednesday", instead of the fourth day of the week.

Immediately after the above text, we are told this . . .

For when we had eaten the passover on the third day of the week (Gibson, "Tuesday") at even, we went forth to the Mount of Olives; and in the night they seized our Lord Jesus.

And the next day, which was the fourth of the week (Gibson, "Wednesday"), He remained in ward in the house of Caiaphas the high priest. And on the same day the chiefs of the people were assembled and took counsel against Him.

And on the next day again, which was the fifth of the week (Gibson, "Thursday"), they brought Him to Pilate the governor. And He remained again in ward with Pilate the night after the fifth day of the week.

But when it drew on (towards day) on the Friday, [[182]] they accused him much [Mk 15.3] before Pilate; and they could show nothing that was true, but gave false witness against Him. And they asked Him of Pilate to be put to death; and they crucified Him on the same Friday.

So here we have the Last Supper/Passover being taken on Tuesday evening and Judas betraying Jesus Late Tuesday/Early Wednesday. We are then informed that Jesus was crucified by Pilate on "the Friday", which most likely a translation for 'the preparation.'

This really creates a problem for this chronology. How do we get from the arrest early Wednesday morning, to the crucifixion on Friday? We have two full days to account for. How do we fill the time? How do we stretch the timeline from early Wednesday to Friday?

At present, the answer comes in the form of keeping Jesus "in ward", first in the house of Caiaphas all of Wednesday, then later from Thursday morning to the crucifixion, with Pilate.

The Real Question, The Smoking Gun

What is a Tuesday evening Passover and a Wednesday morning arrest of Jesus doing in such an early chronology? If the Thursday night Passover, arrest on early Friday morning was always the belief of the Church from apostolic doctrine, why is it even there?

There is no justifiable reason for the Tuesday/Wednesday to even be a part of this chronology, unless it belongs to an earlier tradition. This is what I believe to be the case. In reality, it is the only plausible explanation.

I believe what we have in the Didascalia, is a transition document. What is meant, is that the chronology set down in this document is meant to transition away from the Tuesday evening Passover/Wednesday morning arrest to the more acceptable Thursday evening Passover/Friday morning arrest and crucifixion. The reason for this belief is simple. It is commonly accepted that the Didascalia serves as the basis for the information found in the Apostolic Constitutions. In other words, a large portion of the Didascalia is copied over into the A.C. However, not with regard to the chronology of the passion week. When we come to the Apostolic Constitutions one hundred years later, the Tuesday/Wednesday has completely disappeared from its chronology. It advocates for a Thursday night Passover/Last Supper, Friday crucifixion, and resurrection after the completion of the weekly Sabbath.

Why would I say or think that the Thursday/Friday is more acceptable chronology than the Tuesday/Wednesday? I believe it is because of the early fathers inability to understand the concept of two Sabbaths during Passover week. If one does not see or accept this, then you are only left with a Friday crucifixion, because it is the only scenario that includes a crucifixion before a Sabbath.

Resurrection At The End Of Weekly Sabbath

Another point of interest, is that the Didascalia's chronology maintains a resurrection at the end of the weekly Sabbath, not a Sunday morning resurrection. This is revealed to us in the attempt to show how Jesus three days and nights were fulfilled.

He suffered, then, at the sixth hour on Friday. And these hours wherein our Lord was crucified were reckoned a day.

And afterwards, again, there was darkness for three hours; and it was reckoned a night.

And again, from the ninth hour until evening, three hours, (reckoned) a day.

And afterwards again, (there was) the night of the Sabbath of the Passion. - - But in the Gospel of Matthew it is thus written: At even on the sabbath/ when the first day of the week drew on, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the tomb. And there was a great earthquake: for an angel of the Lord came down and rolled away the stone [Mt 28.1- 2]. --

And again (there was) the day of the Sabbath; and then three hours of the night after the Sabbath, wherein our Lord slept.

And that was fulfilled which He said: The Son of man must pass three days and three nights in the heart of the earth [Mt 12.40], as it is written in the Gospel.

So here is the fulfillment of the three days and nights according to the Didascalia

  • He suffered till the sixth hour on Friday (9am to noon[counted a day]).
  • Darkness from the sixth hour to the ninth hour (noon to 3pm[counted a night])
  • From the ninth hour to the evening (3pm to sunset[counted a day]).
  • Night of the Sabbath (sunset Friday to sunrise Saturday[counted a night]).
  • Sabbath day (sunrise Saturday to sunset Saturday[counted a day]).
  • Three hours after Sabbath (sunset Sabbath to 3 hours into Saturday night/first 3 hours of first day of week [counted a night]).

According to this reckoning, we only have one full day, Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. We then see the resurrection of Jesus three hours into the first day of the week, or what we would call Saturday night. This would place the resurrection about 9-10pm Saturday night. However, this would also be counted as the first day of week.

The Catholic Encyclopedia informs us,
"As with the Jewish Sabbath, the observance of the Christian Sunday began with sundown on Saturday and lasted till the same time on Sunday."

"The method of reckoning the Sunday from sunset to sunset continued in some places down to the seventeenth century, but in general since the Middle Ages the reckoning from midnight to midnight has been followed."1

Apostolic Constitutions Passion Chronology

And on the fifth day of the week, when we had eaten the passover with Him, and when Judas had dipped his hand into the dish, and received the sop, and was gone out by night, the Lord said to us: "The hour is come that ye shall be dispersed, and shall leave me alone."

Within one hundred years, the Last Supper/Passover moved from Tuesday night (in the Didascalia) to Thursday night (in the AposConst). Next the narrative moves to the scene in the garden.

But they, when they had received the signal agreed on, took hold of the Lord; and having bound Him, they led Him to the house of Caiaphas the high priest, wherein were assembled many, not the people, but a great rout, not an holy council, but an assembly of the wicked and council of the ungodly, who did many things against Him, and left no kind of injury untried, spitting upon Him, cavilling at Him, beating Him, smiting Him on the face, reviling Him, tempting Him, seeking vain divination instead of true prophecies from Him, calling Him a deceiver, a blasphemer, a transgressor of Moses, a destroyer of the temple, a taker away of sacrifices, an enemy to the Romans, an adversary to Caesar.

And these reproaches did these bulls and dogs, in their madness cast upon Him, till it was very early in the morning, and then they lead Him away to Annas, who was father-in-law to Caiaphas;

and when they had done the like things to Him there, it being the day of the preparation, they delivered Him to Pilate the Roman governor, accusing Him of many and great things, none of which they could prove.

Now we have all the following events occurring from the early morning hours of Friday to the morning daybreak.

  • Jesus arrested and bound upon the signal given by Judas
  • Jesus then taken to the house of Caiaphas and abused by evil men
  • He is then taken to the house of Annas, and treated shamefully further
  • At daybreak, He is then escorted to Pilate to be judged and condemned to be crucified

One hundred years earlier, in the Didascalia, these events occurred over a period of two days or more. Now they have corrected the chronology to be more in keeping with the Biblical narrative. At least as it concerns the amount of time from His arrest in the garden and being delivered to Pilate.

The narrative continues as expected with the crucifixion taking place during the daytime on Friday. Concerning the time of the resurrection, it states,

He gave up the ghost.~ and was buried before sunset in a new sepulchre. But when the first day of the week dawned He arose from the dead, and fulfilled those things which before His passion He foretold to us, saying: "The Son of man must continue in the heart of the earth three days and three nights."

And when He was risen from the dead, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, then to Cleopas in the way, and after that to us His disciples, who had fled away for fear of the Jews, but privately were very inquisitive about Him. But these things are also written in the Gospel.

The phrase, "when the first day of the week dawned", should be understood as the phrase is used in the Gospels. The gospel of Luke describes the time of Jesus death and His burial in this manner,

54. And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
55. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.

The phrase "drew on", is the translation of the Greek phrase meaning, it was dawning, which simply refers to the beginning of the day.

The English Standard Version translates it exactly this way, 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. So to say that the "first day of the week dawned" is simply stating that it was beginning. As we have already seen, the first day of the week was reckoned as beginning at sunset as the Sabbath was ending.

This is essentially pointing to the exact timeframe that Mark 16:9 does.

The End Of The Matter

To sum this up, we have established the following evidence.

  1. The Didascalia Apostolorum puts forth a chronology of the Passion week that includes a Tuesday night Last Supper/Passover and Jesus' arrest and abuse on Wednesday at Caiaphas' house.
  2. It prolongs the passion week by two days so as to reach a Friday crucifixion.
  3. It establishes the resurrection of Jesus just three hours after the end of the weekly Sabbath.
  4. The Didascalia is used as the basis for the Apostolic Constitutions, written one hundred years later.
  5. The Constitutions removed the mention of Tuesday/Wednesday (third day and fourth day of the week) from the passion chronology.
  6. The Constitutions did retain the resurrection at the end of the weekly Sabbath, or the beginning of the first day of the week.

There is no logical reason for the writers and teachers of the first three centuries of the Church, to include a third day and fourth day of the week into the Passion narrative, unless it were held as a true tradition based in fact. The fact that it is present in the Didascalia, then removed in the Constitutions, shows that the chronology of the Passion week underwent a significant change between the third and fourth centuries.

We are now simply trying to recover what had been covered over or cut out of the original narrative. In the same way that Nehemiah had to recover the original stones from under the previous generation's debris, to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, we are having to remove centuries of man-made debris, to recover the true chronology of our Lord's Passion. The end of the matter, is to "Let God be true and every man a liar." The Witness of God stands sure and steadfast, that Jesus was truly in the heart of the earth three days and three nights, without having to resort to trickery or deceitful mathematics.

We desire every believer to be able to count to three, and not come up short.

1Sunday, newadvent.org