John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 18:28, Is the Bible Inerrant?

Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.

//I’ve discussed this verse before, and the way John’s Gospel seems to contradict the other three regarding the date of Jesus’ death. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus dies after the Passover. In John, as evidenced by this verse (he dies that very afternoon), the crucifixion occurs before the Passover.

This seeming contradiction concerns many, who propose odd ways around it, hoping to keep the scripture intact. But should it worry us? I don’t think so. Let me explain with a current-day example.

Suppose little Johnny and Suzie are reminiscing about last year’s Christmas in their home. Johnny says Santa arrived with presents before midnight. Suzie insists he came after midnight. Is there a contradiction, here?

Maybe not. Maybe there is some way to reconcile the two stories, so that neither is mistaken. But now let’s add a twist, when it will be clear that we’re missing the point.

Did you know Santa brings all the fun toys before midnight? He brings boring stuff, like clothes, after midnight, once all the good stuff runs out. Suddenly, it’s not about what the clock says anymore, is it? It’s about a deeper meaning. It’s about Suzie hoping Christmas turns out to be more fun this year.

Likewise with John’s Gospel. John’s timing of when Jesus dies is because the way he remembers Jesus is as God’s Paschal lamb. In John’s story, Jesus dies while the other lambs are dying in the Temple. But this idea never crossed the minds of Matthew, Mark or Luke, who never once mention Jesus as a lamb.

So is the Bible inerrant? Does a contradiction exist? Or do we just have two different ways of remembering Jesus?


  1. OR… another option is that it conflicts – but intentionally so. Bart Ehrman, in his 2009 book, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them), mentions:

    “…I will point out a significant feature of John’s Gospel – the last of our Gospels to be written, probably some twenty-five years or so after Mark’s. John is the only Gospel that indicates that Jesus is ‘the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.’ This is declared by John the Baptist at the very beginning of the narrative (John 1:29) and again six verses later (John 1:35). Why, then, did John – our latest Gospel – change the day and time when Jesus died? It may be because in John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice brings salvation from sins. Exactly like the Passover Lamb, Jesus has to die on the day (the Day of Preparation) and the time (sometime after noon), when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple.

    “In other words, John has changed a historical datum in order to make a theological point: Jesus is the sacrificial lamb. And to convey this theological point, John has had to create a discrepancy between his account and the others.”

  2. Lee Harmon

    Hi Dan, thanks! I *think* we’re sort of saying the same thing. :)

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