The Hebrew calendar in Jesus’ time consisted of 12 months based on the lunar cycle. The Sanhedrin declared when each month started by taking observations of the new moon.
A lunar year only had about 354 days in it so the first month ‘Nisan’ (March - April) would move earlier and earlier in the Solar year by about nine days each year. Nisan was also called Abib (or barley) as it was the month for the barley harvest. It was also the month containing Passover (and consequently Easter), and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
If it was too early in the year the barley might not be ready so towards the end of Adar it would be inspected. If it was not yet ripe, a leap year would be declared and an extra month would be added. These last two months would then be named Adar l and Adar ll.
For this reason Nisan, having moved forward each year, would then go back a month. Easter, coming at the start of Passover, similarly moved as well.
The Jews had always been happy with this method of calculating Passover, but the First Council of Nicea in AD 325 decided they needed a more scientific formula for the date of Easter, and so it is now no longer strictly tied to Passover.
Passover always fell on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread which had to start on 15th Nisan, regardless of what day of the week that was. But the festival had to start and end with a Sabbath (Numbers 28:18 & 25). These were then simply imposed on a normal week, so often the feast would have had three Sabbaths, one normal weekly one and the two special ‘Festival’ Sabbaths (e.g. John 19:31).
Following Pentecost, the first Christians seemed to meet on the first day of the week, Sunday (Acts 20:7). During the first years of the Christian church, with no written Gospels to guide them, Christians became divided into those who celebrated Christ’s Resurrection, (the first day of the week following Passover), and those who remembered his death (the day before Passover Sabbath).
But with Christians scattered from Jerusalem, some into predominantly Gentile areas (Acts 2:9-11, 8:1), as new congregations were formed, the idea that the Passover Sabbath could fall on any day of the week was overlooked, and as many were aware that the Jewish Sabbath was Saturday, so the day of Jesus’ death was remembered as Good Friday.
A problem arises when we try to fit the biblical narrative concerning the last days of Jesus into our current calendar. Some have since argued that it fits the scriptures better for the crucifixion to have been on Wednesday, but personally I feel that Thursday is actually the most likely.
The greatest problem stems from Matthew 12:40 where Jesus said ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’. (It’s not only the Matthew passage that speaks of three days: Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34, Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, 27:63-64, Luke 9:22, 18:33, 24:7,21,46, John 2:19, Acts 10:40, 1 Corinthians 15:4 - Click HERE to read these passages)
In the calendar that follows I have attempted to arrange all the Bible verses that seem to indicate dates, days and times in chronological order.
The biggest confusion for us comes when trying to understand the Hebrew concept of Days. Their day starts at sunset, goes through that evening and night, through the next morning and afternoon and stops at sunset the next day:
I’ve arbitrarily decided to show sunrise and sunset at 6 o’clock to make it easier to demonstrate.
The calendar is designed to be viewed by scrolling right and left. The first panel contains entries with vague day/dates leading up to the last week. The following panels each represent one day.
All verses are available to read together on a separate webpage – click on the ‘Bible Passages’ button on each calendar page and the narrative page will open at the appropriate day. You can then scroll up or down to read more. To return to the calendar choose the previous tab.
Another option is to listen to the verses and commentary read aloud - there is an Audio Pop-Up at the top of each page - press the play arrow for the narrative to start.
(Unfortunately some devices or older browsers cannot reproduce audio files - check that yours is up-to-date).
Click the picture below to enter the calendar