Bible Question:

Were there two Sabbaths during our Lord's Passover week? If so, does that mean Christ rose on Nisan 17 and not 16?

Bible Answer:

There is a view that states there were two Sabbaths in the week Jesus Christ was crucified. The view states that there was a special High Sabbath in addition to the weekly Sabbath in the week Jesus died. They refer to Leviticus 23:3-8 as support for their view.

For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings. Leviticus 23:3 (NASB)

Verse 3 refers to the seventh day Sabbath and calls it a convocation. This verse defines the weekly Sabbath. Then the passage refers to other appointed times and calls them convocations. These other times include the Lord’s Passover (v. 5), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (v. 6-8), the Feast of First Fruits (v. 9-14), the Feast of Weeks (v. 15-22), the Feast of Trumpets (v. 23-25), the Day of Atonement (v. 26-32), and the Feast of Booths (v. 33-43). Those who hold to this view believe the holy convocation of the Feast of Unleavened Bread in verse 6 is a special High Sabbath. The Feast of Unleavened Bread follows the Passover according to Leviticus 23:4-6.

Passover Seder Meal

Passover Seder Meal


Thus the Passover occurred on Nisan 14 (Exodus 12:1-6; Deuteronomy 16:1). Then on Nisan 15 the Feast of Unleavened Bread commenced (a seven- day feast). Thus Christ was crucified and died on the afternoon of Friday, Nisan 14 in the year A.D. 33. The weekly Sabbath commenced that evening at 6:00 pm. In the Hebrew calendar, the Sabbath started on Nisan 15 at 6:00 p.m.

Now here is the problem. Some claim there were two Sabbaths back-to-back since they define the holy convocation of the Feast of Unleavened Bread as a Sabbath. Then they claim the Passover (Nisan 14), was followed by the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15), which was followed by the weekly Sabbath worship day (Nisan 15) in the year A.D. 30. Thus they conclude there were two sequential Sabbaths. Thus the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was a special high Sabbath. But there are three problems with this view.

Meaning of Sabbath and Convocation

The first problem is that the Hebrew word for Sabbath has both a general and a technical meaning. The Hebrew word for Sabbath is sabbat. It has a broad range of meaning of “the seventh day of the week,” “week,” and “a period of time for resting” or “a period of rest.”

Baruch Levine in his commentary on Leviticus in the JPS Torah Commentary series,  published by The Jewish Publication Society, comments on the phrase “sabbath of complete rest” in Leviticus 23:3. We must not ignore the entire phrase. He states,

In other contexts, the term shabbat may connote a “sabbath,” namely, an occasion that resembles the Sabbath, such as the last year in the seven-year sabbatical cycle or a week, which ends on the Sabbath day. Hebrew shabbaton expresses that which is like the Sabbath and as such designates the Day of Atonement and other occasions, including the first and seventh days of festivals.2

His point is that sabbat can have a technical meaning referring to the seventh day of rest, but it also has a general meaning of just rest. That is the situation in Leviticus 23:4-44 when it refers to the list of feasts or convocations. We should also notice that sabbat can and does simply refer to rest as in Leviticus 25:2, 4, 6, 8; Leviticus 26:34-35 and 2 Chronicles 36:21. In those passages we are told the land was to have a sabbath. Obviously, the land did not worship at the temple on the Sabbath day. Instead, the land had a period of rest from being planted and harvested. That is, sabbat can have a broad meaning.

The Hebrew word for convocation is miqra. It simply means assembly, group, a gathering, or a convocation. We should note that miqra occurs in Isaiah 1:13 in contrast to the sabbath. It also occurs in Isaiah 4:5 as a general assembly. It is extremely unlikely that miqra has been redefined as sabbat in Leviticus 23:3.

Notice that Gordon J. Wenham in his commentary on The Book of Leviticus states,

Holy convention (vv. 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 21, 24, 27, 35, 36, 37)-this phrase occurs eleven times in this.chapter, six times in Num. 28-29, twice in Exod. 12: 16, and nowhere else. From these passages we discover that sacrifices were offered· at holy conventions. The word convention (miqra) literally means a “call,” “summons,” or “reading.” “Convention” is used on its own in Num. 10:2, of occasions when all the people are to be summoned to the tabernacle by sounding a trumpet. In Isa. 1:13; 4:5 it refers to the great services held in the temple courts. Putting these scraps of information together we may suggest that a “holy convention” was a national gathering for public worship. Primarily it was an occasion for the offering of sacrifice, but in later times it may also have included the reading and exposition of Scripture (cf. Deut. 31:10ff.; Neb. 8-9).

This chapter details these annual festivals. But before these are set out the people are reminded of the weekly festival, the sabbath. Like the other festivals listed here, it was a time of rest from work and an occasion for “a holy convention” (vv. 2-3). On the sabbath, man had to imitate his Creator, who rested from his work of creation on the seventh day (Gen. 2: 1-3; Exod. 20: 11), and recall his redemption from Egyptian slavery (Deut. 5:15;· cf. Lev. 23:43).

Keil points out that the sabbatical principle forms all the pentateuchal laws about the festivals. There are seven festivals in the year: passover, unleavened bread, weeks, solemn rest day, day of atonement, booths, day after booths. During these festivals there were seven days of rest, first and seventh unleavened bread, weeks, solemn rest day, day of atonement, first of booths, first day after booths.3

F. Duane Lindsey in his commentary on Leviticus adds,

The reference to the Sabbath (v. 3) is somewhat parenthetical since all the rest of the chapter deals with annual festivals rather than the weekly Sabbath. Its men­tion is perhaps a reminder of the whole sabbatical system of which the weekly and annual festivals were only a part . . .4

Thus, Sabbath has a technical meaning and a general meaning. The context must be considered. The  Lord’s Passover (v. 5), first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (v. 6-8), the Feast of First Fruits (v. 9-14), the Feast of Weeks (v. 15-22), the Feast of Trumpets (v. 23-25), the Day of Atonement (v, 26-32), and the Feast of Booths (v. 33-43) do not have the technical meaning of the Sabbath day. Thus support for this view of two Sabbaths in the week in which Christ died is lacking since neither the meaning of sabbat nor the context support it.


Jesus Died On Passover

Wrong Year for Christ’s Death

The second and most serious issue for this view is that Christ did not die in the year A.D. 30. He could have only died in the year A.D. 33 given the facts described in the gospels. This is because the prophecy given in Daniel 9:25-26 says the Messiah would die after  sixty-nine periods of seven biblical years from a decree to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. The decree to rebuild the city of Jerusalem was given on Nisan 1, 444 B.C or February 27, 444 B.C., according to Nehemiah 2:1-8. That is the starting point.

The length of time from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the death of the Messiah is given as sixty-nine times seven biblical years or 483 biblical years. When we convert the 483 years into our calendar, we discover the length of time from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to Christ’s death is 476 years and 25 days.

Then we add 476 years and 25 days to the start date of February 27, 444 B.C. That means Christ died in the year A.D. 33 and after March 25. The gospels reveal Jesus was crucified 6 days later just as the prophecy said.

This means that Christ did not die in the year A.D. 30. This is significant because Nisan 14 occurred on Wednesday.4 However, Nisan 14 occurred on a Thursday in the year A.D. 33. This means that it is not possible for two sequential Sabbaths to have occurred in the year A.D. 30 because Christ died on a Friday and not on a Wednesday.

Witness of the Gospels — the High Sabbath

Third, the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John collectively teach that Jesus and the disciples celebrated the Passover on Thursday, Nisan 14 in the Hebrew calendar. Then Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb, was slain on Friday morning of Nisan 14. The first day of Unleavened Bread commenced on Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. on Nisan 15. The Jewish Sabbath day also started at 6:00 pm and ended the next day at 6:00 p.m.

Now John 19:31 gives us important information when it states,

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. John 19:31 (NASB)

Some claim the day of preparation in John 19:31 is the preparation for the Passover. But we must note that the gospels refer to two different “days of preparation.” There was a day of preparation for the Passover meal and a day of preparation for the Sabbath. The Passover meal required special foods and the slaughter of the paschal lamb (Matthew 26:17, 19; Mark 14:12, 16; John 19:14). It is important to notice that Matthew, Mark, and Luke used the Passover and the the Feast of Unleavened Bread interchangeably, apparently because they are so closely related.  This point is clear from Luke 22:1, 7.

The reference to the day of preparation for the Passover meal in John 19:14 is resolved by doing a harmony of the gospels. This reveals the comment occurred on Thursday, Nisan 14. Also, Pilate’s offer to the crowd of a choice between either Barabbas or Jesus in John 18:39 occurred Friday afternoon on Nisan 14. The Mosaic Law required the Passover to occur on Nisan 14.

The second “day of preparation” was for the Sabbath since no work was allowed on the Sabbath day (John 19:31, 42). Thus cooking, cleaning, and whatever else was needed had to occur prior to the Sabbath. So, there are two different days of preparation in the gospels. Therefore, John 19:31 is a reference to the day of preparation for the Sabbath which occurred on Friday, Nisan 14. Therefore, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, mentioned in Leviticus 23:6-8, occurred on Saturday, Nisan 15. That was the high day mentioned in John 19:31. D. A. Carson in his commentary on John says,

The next day, Sabbath (= Saturday), would by Jewish reckoning begin at sundown Friday evening. It was a special Sabbath, not only because it fell during the Passover Feast, but because the second paschal day, in this case falling on the Sabbath, was devoted to the very important sheaf offering (Lv. 23:11; cf. SB 2. 582).6

Therefore, a harmony of the gospels reveals that two sabbaths did not occur in the week in which Jesus was crucified and resurrected.

Consequently, the answer to the question, “Were there two Sabbaths in the week Christ died?” is no. Three reasons are that the Hebrew word for Sabbath has both a general and technical meaning, A.D. 30 is the wrong year for Christ’s death, and John 19:31 refers to the day of preparation for the Sabbath and not the Passover. Therefore, there was only one Sabbath and not two Sabbaths. The Sabbath day was a high day because it overlapped the Feast of the Unleavened Bread and it was the second paschal day. Imagine celebrating at the same time on the same day both the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Sabbath on the day after Passover.  Now that would be a high day!




1. James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
2. Levine. Leviticus. The JPS Torah Commentary. The Jewish Publication Society. 1989. p 155.
3. Gordon J. Wenham. The Book of Leviticus. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979. p. 301.
4. F. Duane Lindsey. Leviticus. Walvoord and Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Chariot Victor Publishing. p. 205.
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6. D.A. Carson. The Gospel According to John. Inter-Varsity Press. 1991. p. 622.