A Summary of Our Current Understanding
We do not claim to have all of the answers to every question on this subject. We have read hundreds of papers, and there is still more study that we want to do before writing an in-depth document. Nevertheless, there have been so many questions on the subject and so many people are asking "What should we do this year?" that we feel compelled to write our understanding at this timeAll too many Passover papers begin by trying to scare readers. They use the Scriptures to show that the ancient Israelites would have died if they did not keep the Passover on the right day. Then verses such as John 6:53 are quoted to imply that readers will lose their salvation unless they keep the Passover at the right time.
While we should make every effort to seek the Eternal and His way with all of our heart (Deut 4:29), we need to step back and ask: "What is our Father in heaven doing?" Is He sitting in Heaven trying to trip up his children on complex technical subjects so He can send them to the grave and the second death? No, He "is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2Pet 3:9).
Yes, timing was critical for the first Passover, but the Eternal provided a prophet (Moses) to be among His people and tell them exactly when to do it. That first Passover appears different from Passovers of succeeding years in several key ways. If you are beginning a study of the Passover, we highly recommend you stop right here and carefully read Exodus chapters 11 and 12.
In the first Passover, there was no command for "unclean" people to not eat iteveryone could eat it. All the commands regarding ceremonial uncleanness had not yet been givenno procedures were in place whereby a person could be cleansed. In the second year, the Israelites were required to be clean (Num 9:1-14). Also, it seems that the requirements for all men, including strangers, to be circumcised in order to eat the Passover were not given until after the first Passover (Ex 12:43-51). The children of Israel and a "mixed multitude" left Egypt in verses 37 and 38. The commands for circumcision and "not to break any of the lambs bones" were given only to Moses and Aaronthere was no "speak now in the hearing of the people" as in other chapters. The nature of the command is apparently for the future: It talks about how Israelites should deal with servants and sojourners among them. In Egypt, they were the servants and sojourners. Joshua 5:5 indicates that all the Israelites who came out were circumcised, but this may have taken place after the Exodusif Pharaoh would not give them three days off work to go and sacrifice (Ex 5:3-4), then he certainly would not have given them three days off work to heal from circumcision (Gen 34:24-25).
Why does it seem that the command not to break the lambs bones given after the first Passover? (Ex 12:46; Num 9:12.) It is slower and more difficult to serve a lamb without breaking any bonesit is much easier to chop some bones apart with a cleaver (which breaks them) than it is to carefully cut joints apart with a knife. This is quite different than the commands to eat the Passover in haste, with staff in hand and shoes on feet (Ex 12:11). Numerous Passover commands are repeated, but these commands are not. It appears they are replaced by the careful serving that would not break any bonelooking forward to our Savior whose blood would be shed, but who would not have any bones broken (Pslm 34:19-20, John 19:36).
At Mount Sinai, only a few months after the first Passover, the Eternal made significant changes to the Passover observance. Both Exodus 23:14-19 and 34:18-28 show that the Israelites were to appear three times a year before the Eternal. Verse 24 says: "For I will cast out nations before you, and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year." The Israelites, in future Passovers, were told to leave their houses and go elsewhere for a sacrifice. This is very different from the first year's in-home sacrifice.The concept of appearing three times a year before the Eternal at His Feasts is explained further in Deuteronomy 16:1-17. In verses 5-6 we see: "You are not permitted to offer the passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you. But at the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name, only there shall you offer the passover sacrifice...."
All of this makes sense if the Eternal intended the Passover to be a tabernacle sacrifice from the beginningthe first Passover had to be different because there was no tabernacle built yet!
The Right Attitude Is More Important than "On Time."
Of all the appointed days that the Eternal has given, the Passover is the only one where the Eternal has provided for a "second chance". People can do it in the second month if they are on a trip or "unclean" (Num 9:10-13). For the other holy days, a person who misses the service or sacrifices has no "second chance" to observe them.
We understand that "physical uncleanness" is a representation of "spiritual uncleanness" or overt sin in our lives. It was not some exact 24-hour period that was the most important part. If a person missed the Passover, he could participate in the second.
Beside the difficulty in determining which day and time to celebrate Passover, we have the additional difficulty of determining when to start each month and year (see the Calender Conference article in this issue). The Eternal is not speaking directly to us about these things today, but is speaking "with stammering lips and another tongue" (Is 28:11). We must attempt to understand His truth from two- and three-thousand-year-old writings in a language which does not allow exact word for word translation. We must also deal with the fact that thousands of people have written or spoken on these subjects and disagreed on many significant points.
How does the Eternal treat people who want to keep the Passover, but may not know how to do everything the way He would like it? What do you do if you have not studied the subject enough to be absolutely convicted of what you should do? We have an enlightening situation like this recorded in 2 Chronicles 29 and 30. Hezekiah became king and immediately set about to begin restoring the true worship. He did not start by writing a long paper on the law or a "master plan" for restoring every detail of the temple worship. He took action. He had the Levites sanctify themselves and the temple. He had the temple cleaned up. He set up the singers and musicians to sing praises to the Eternal. He sacrificed many animals as a symbol of thanks. He followed the law to the best of his ability, but when there were not enough priests to handle all the sacrifices according to the law, "their brethren the Levites helped them" (2Chr 29:34).
When the Passover time came, there were still not enough sanctified priests, and most of the nation of Judah had not gathered to Jerusalem (2Chr 30:3). What did Hezekiah do? Did he decide to get together with only the "righteous people" that were prepared and keep a Passover by themselves? They could have used the law in Numbers 9:13 to "cut off" all the other people who did not come in time. But Hezekiah was not interested in exalting himself and a few other "righteous." He was interested in helping all the Israelites to repent and keep the Passover (2Chr 30:5-11). Many people laughed at Hezekiah's calls for repentance, but that did not stop him. So others could come, " the king and his leaders and all the congregation in Jerusalem had agreed to keep the Passover in the second month" (2Chr 30:2).
It doesn't say that the Eternal told them to change it, it says the people decided to. How can men decide to change a Holy Day? The "irregularities" did not stop there. Some people were not properly sanctified to kill their own lambsso the Levites helped with that. Others ate the Passover unsanctified. "...But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'May the good Lord provide atonement for everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he is not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.' And the Lord listened to Hezekiah and healed the people" (2Chr 30:18-20).
Even though the Law does not specifically say to do so, the people kept a full seven days of unleavened bread in the second monthusing the time to teach the knowledge of the Eternal. It went so well, that the whole assembly decided to keep another seven days. Another man-made change to the holy days! What did the Eternal think of this? "Then the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard; and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven" (2Chr 30:27).
The message of this chapter is that the Eternal honors our good intentions when we have a lack of understanding or are not able to keep His law. A thorough study of all the Scriptures, history and arguments relating to the Passover can take hundreds of hours. For some people, it may take years for them to complete that study. For some people it may not be the most important thing they have to study. People who believe "God only works through one man at a time" probably need to study government in the Bible. Otherwise, they can never grow beyond the understanding of their leaderwho may be too busy to study. People who have a mate threatening to divorce them probably need to study marriage more than they need to study the timing of the Passover. You can participate in Passover services this year and not feel guilty if you do not understand many of the technical aspects of its chronology.
This does not mean that a "good attitude" is a license to ignore the Bible. When David first decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant back, he allowed it to be carried in a cart (2Sam 6). He seemed to be in a good attitudehe had instruments ready and was praising the Eternal. Yet he failed to have the Levites carry the Ark on their shoulders as prescribed in Numbers 4:5-12. He may have used a cart because the Philistines sent the Ark back in a cartbut what the Eternal accepted from the Philistines was not the same as what He accepted from IsraelIsrael knew the Law and had Levitesthe Philistines did not. This mistake cost Uzzah his life when he touched the ark contrary to the law. Later, David realized the mistake and did not repeat it.
As Hezekiah was diligent to reinstall the Levites as teachers of the Law, so must we never become complacent in our current knowledge. It is unlikely that Hezekiah's second Passover departed from the law as much as his first. Similarly, the Eternal is merciful to us if we honestly do not know. But we must continue to grow in grace and knowledge so that we can continually serve Him better.
When Was the Passover Observed In the Old Testament?
Since ancient Israel had only the Old Testament to determine when to keep the Passover, the necessary information must be there.
Read Exodus 12; note the various points that explain the timing. To most first-time readers it is clear: they killed the lamb on the 14th day of the month, and left Egypt that night. They were told to eat completely dressed and ready to travelthey even had their kitchen utensils packed (Ex 12:11, 34). They were told to eat unleavened bread with the Passoverthey were to begin eating it on the 14th day at evening (the end of the day) to the 21st day at evening.
We know that the children of Israel stayed in their houses while the death angel passed at midnight (v 29). Exactly when did they leave? The Eternal told Moses when they would leavetwice:
And the Lord said to Moses, "I will bring yet one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will surely drive you out of here altogether (Ex 11:1).
And all these your [Pharoah's] servants shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, "Get out, and all the people who follow you!" After that I will go out..." (Ex 11:8).
This prophecy of the Eternal was fulfilled exactly. We see the sequence of their journey in Exodus 12:33-37:
And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste. For they said, "We shall all be dead." 35 Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. 36 And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. 37 Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children.
When the Egyptians sent them out, they left. It was still night (Deut 16:1). There was not a long period of time required to spoil the Egyptians here. The reference to spoiling the Egyptians is in the "perfect" tense, indicating an action already accomplished. The Israelites were given instructions to spoil twice before (Ex 3:22,11:2). One of the items they received as spoil was clothing (v 35). Where was their clothing? Already packed to be carried on their shoulders (v 34). This verse here was showing that they were not going out empty handed, the Eternal provided them compensation for all the years that they worked for Egyptians.
One statement might seem to contradict the rest of the chapter. Moses told the people "and none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning" (Ex 12:22). Why did he say this? The next verse explainsso they would be in their houses with the blood on the door when the firstborn were slain. However, was this a command that the Eternal gave to Moses? We have the original words that the Eternal spoke to Moses in Exodus 11:4-8. The Eternal told Moses the exact time of the firstborn slaying (midnight), but Moses did not repeat that to the people. Instead, he said: "And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning." Why?
We must remember that these were a people who did not have clocksand probably very few windows. Their only means to tell when it was midnight was to go outside and look at the moonexactly what he did not want them to do. Rather than give a complex set of instructions or risk losing the lives of people who would miscalculate midnight and loose their firstborn by being outside, he simply told them to stay in their houses until morning. When it was time to leave Egypt, he simply gave them a new command that replaced his old command. We can see another similar example of a "temporary command" in these verses:
But Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still."' 15 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward" (Ex 14:13-15, NRSV).
Moses did not want the Israelites to scatter in an effort to escape the chariots, so he told them twice to stand still. But shortly after that he passed on the Eternal's command to go forward. Did the people say, "No, Moses, we cannot go because you told us to stand still?" Probably not. Similarly, when the slaying of the firstborn was complete and the Egyptians were urging the Israelites to leave, would the Israelites say "No, Moses, we cannot leave, you told us to stay inside until morning?"
With the information presented here, the time-table seems quite understandable: the lamb was slain on "the evening" of the 14th, eaten "that night" before midnight (the beginning of the 15th) and then the Israelites left right after midnight. This is confirmed by Numbers 33:3:
They departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the Passover the children of Israel went out with boldness in the sight of all the Egyptians.
Did All the Events Related to the Passover Occur on One Day?
Does this mean, then, that the Passover meal actually was eaten on the 15th and that the "passing over" the Israelites houses also occurred on the 15th? Yes it does. If you use a concordance and look up all the Scriptures that contain the word "passover", you will find that the only specific thing that was commanded to be done on that day was to slay the lamb. The often-used expression "keep the passover or "kept the passover" are less than ideal translations (see Num 9 or 2Chr 30 & 35).
The Hebrew word translated "keep" in these verses is `asah. It is a very general word that means "to do." When used in the context of animals, it usually has the sense of killing and preparing. It is used in Genesis 18:7 to prepare a calf for eating. It is sometimes translated "sacrifice" (Ex 10:25; Lev 23:19, etc.). Other times, it is translated "offer" (Ex 29:36,38,39,41; Lev 6:22, etc.). If we properly read the Scriptures that say "keep the passover" as "do the passover" or "offer the passover," then it is much easier to understand what actually happened on the 14th.
It also helps to understand exactly how the word "passover" is used in the Bible. The name is derived from the "passing over" the houses of the Israelites when the Egyptian firstborn were slain (Ex 12:13). But the term in Scripture is continually used to refer to the sacrificeonly occasionally used to refer to a time period. The first section of Exodus 12 talks about the Passover lamb. In verse 11 we find:
And thus you shall eat it [the lamb]: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord's Passover.
Using a concordance, you can find numerous references to "kill the passover," "cook the passover," "slay the passover, " "eat the passover," etc. These are things done to a lamb, not to a "day." There are two Scriptures in the King James that appear to say that the Passover is a "day," but the New Revised Standard Version seems to be much closer to the Hebrew in this case:
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Lord (Lev 23:5, NRSV).
On the fourteenth day of the first month there shall be a passover offering to the Lord (Num 28:16).
Even though the term "Passover" originally referred to the sacrifice, it was also loosely applied to the entire Feast season:
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall observe the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten (Ezk 45:21).
This is not saying that the killing of the lamb commanded on the 14th is now done during a 7-day feast. It is just acknowledging a broader use of the term "Passover".
After the Exodus, the only commands we find that must be observed on the 14th are to kill the Passover and to put out leaven. There is no command to eat the Passover on the 14th. Today, many Jews and other Sabbath keepers say that the Passover is the 15th. It is true that the Passover lamb is eaten on that day, but calling the 15th "the Passover" creates some confusion. Therefore, we avoid saying we believe in a "15th Passover." The lamb was slain and prepared on the 14th late in the day, so we say we believe in a "late 14th Passover". (We use the term "early 14th Passover to refer to those that believe the lamb was killed at the beginning of the 14th, just after sunset, and eaten the same day.)
The "night to be much observed" (Ex 12:42, KJV), therefore, is the eating of the Passover meal! If not, the Eternal's plan was a failure because nowhere, in Scripture or ancient history, do we find anyone keeping a "night to be much observed" that it not associated with eating the Passover lamb.
When Was the Passover Killed?
The last point we would like to cover is the meaning of the Hebrew words that signify the time to kill the Passover. It is important to realize that people did not have wrist watches for most of history, and many people did not even have clocks. Our English words for general times of the day reflect that. If someone says they will visit you in your office tomorrow morning, we expect they might come between 8 AM and noon. If they said they would visit you at your home in the morning, and they knew that you had a day job, we would expect them to come visit about 7 AM. If they said they were coming very early in the morning, we might expect 2 or 3 AM. Our English word "evening" is not quite as extensive, but is similar; it can refer to late afternoon or into the night.
The Hebrew words for "evening" ( erev) and "morning" ( boqer) can have a very broad meaning. They are first used in Scripture here: "So the evening and the morning were the first day" (Gen 1:5). "Morning" appears to be sunrise to noon, and "evening" is noon to sunset. There are prepositions that modify erev in Hebrew to denote more specific meaningsone of which is the "end of the day." We could find no case where erev meant a dark period at the beginning of a 24-hour day. The definition of the Day of Atonement, the tenth day of the month, clearly shows this:
It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening [of the previous day] to evening [this day], you shall celebrate your sabbath (Lev 23:32).
Unfortunately, there is a certain amount of confusion in the translation of the Hebrew expression most often used to give the timing of the Passover sacrifice. The King James Version, the Revised Standard Version, and most similar translations say:
...and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening (Ex 12:6, KJV).
Some Bibles may have a footnote saying "between the evenings." The Hebrew expression is ben Ha arbayim, which literally means "between the evenings". Young's Literal Translation, Green's literal translation, the Darby Bible all say "between the evenings." Many modern translations say "at twilight." A significant portion of scholars believe that this expression means "between sunset and dark". The Stone Edition of the Chumash (A Jewish Translation) says "in the afternoon." What does the expression ben ha arbayim mean?
Books on the Passover usually have an entire chapter devoted to this expression. We must realize that languages contain figures of speechexpressions that have a specific meaning, but are not literally true. You know that "daybreak" in English is the beginning of the day. But supposing you did not, and decided to determine its meaning by looking up "day" and "break" in a dictionary. You find a "Day" could be 24-hours or just the time when there is sunlight. You find "break" has many meaningsmost implying the destruction or interruption of something. You might conclude that "daybreak" is the end of the sunlight because that is when it is interrupted or destroyed. You might even conclude that it is the end of the 24-hour period, or midnight. This example shows the difficulty we can have trying to define a word from its etymology. Let us first see what we can learn about the meaning of ben ha arbayim from the Scriptures.
There are eleven places were ben ha arbayim is used in Scripture. Strong's Concordance will not help you discover them since it uses the same number, 6153, for both erev and ben ha arbayim. Young's Analytical concordance does note the different Hebrew expression in a footnote. Before we begin our study of this expression, it is important to note a major point. In our day of electric lights and automobiles, we think nothing of night-time work or travel. But when the Bible was written, most outside work and travel was accomplished during the day. Even our Savior said " the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4).
In Exodus 30:8, ben ha arbayim is used to describe the time of the second incense offering (the first was a morning offering) and the time that Aaron lights the tabernacle lamps. It might seem logical that lamps would be lit just before it is dark outside. But large buildings with few windows become dark inside long before it is dark outside. Some such buildings require the continual burning of lamps in order to see inside. The only thing we can conclude from this passage is that ben ha arbayim must represent a time when there is at least some light outside.
In Exodus 16:12, ben ha arbayim describes the time that the Israelites would "eat meat". The Eternal promised to send them quail "at evening" (Hebrew erevEx 16:8). There are three references to "evening and morning" (Ex 16:6-7,8,13). These are refences to general time periodssimilar to Genesis 1. It takes time to gather manna, time for quail to fly in, and time to gather quail. These activities are best done during the day. If the quail began to come at noon (the first possible beginning of "evening"), it would take a couple of hours to collect some, pluck their feathers, gut them, and cook them. That would place ben ha arbayim some time later than 2:00 PM.
Four times, ben ha arbayim refers to the evening sacrifice that was offered every day (Ex 29:39,41; Num 28:4,8). When was the evening sacrifice offered? The Scripture does not give us an exact hour, but the general time is clear. The sacrifices occurred during the time of the tabernacle meetings:
This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet you to speak with you. And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory (Ex 29:42-43).
Daily temple meetings certainly were held during the day.
We can gather even more information about the time of the "evening sacrifice" from Ezra 9:5-10:7. Ezra, "at the evening sacrifice" began to pray. His prayer was very lengthy, during which time "a very large congregation of men, women, and children assembled" at the temple. After this prayer, they made a covenant, swore an oath, and issued a proclamation. With men, women and children present, this would have been a daytime meeting that began at least a couple of hours before sunset.
Similarly, we can learn from 1 Kings 18:29-45. Verse 29 states: "And it was so, when midday was past, that they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice." While the word "evening" is not in the Hebrew text, it is obvious that this is not the morning sacrifice since "midday was past." If we read the rest of the chapter, we find that Elijah built an altar and laid out his sacrifice, the priests drenched his sacrifice three times, the Eternal consumed it, the priests of Baal were executed, Elijah prayed seven times for rain, and eventually "the sky became black with clouds" (v 45). These several hours of activity must have occurred before sunsetone would not describe a sky as becoming "black with clouds" if it became black because the sun was set.
From these verses we learn that ben ha arbayim, the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, must be a couple of hours after noon, and a couple of hours before sunset.
The other five references to ben ha arbayim are the time of the Passover. We can be sure that the time represented by ben ha arbayim is contained within the evening ( erev) because the time of the Passover is also twice described as in the evening (Hebrew erevDeut 16:6, Josh 5:10). How could both Hebrew words be used to describe the same event if they did not represent at least part of the same time? With this close similarity, we can see why the KJV and other translators simply chose to translate ben ha arbayim the same as erev. They are much closer than those that use "twilight."
One Bible that we have found that we believe correctly translates ben ha arbayim is the Chumash (Stone Edition, 1995). It uses "afternoon" and gives this explanation:
ben ha arbayimIn the afternoon [lit., between the evenings]. The afternoon is given this name because it falls between two "sunsets"; the first is when the noontime sun begins to dip toward the horizon, and the second when it sets below the horizon ( Rashi).
Most historical sources place both the time of the daily sacrifice and the Passover sacrifice at 3 PMconsistent with the Bible. And finally, "Christ, our Passover, [who] was sacrificed for us" (1Cor 5:7) died at 3PM (the ninth hour since sunrise, Mark 15:34-37). But that brings us to the new Testament!
There are many more Old Testament verses that can enter into the Passover discussion. If we publish a more exhaustive paper, we will certainly add them to it. However, we believe we have covered the principle Scriptures here.
Difficulty With the New Testament
Reconciling the events surrounding the last two days of our Savior's life have been difficult for theologians throughout history. We cannot solve all of the smaller problems in this article, but we hope to find an answer for the major problem, which is: What was our Savior doing during His Last Supper on earth, and why? Matthew, Mark and Luke seem to say that he was keeping the Passover. John seems to say that the Passover occurred after our Savior's death. How can we resolve this contradiction? There are at least three major explanations with three major variations each. We include a brief summary of each explanation so you know which ideas we have considered:
1. The Last Supper was the Passover as Matthew, Mark and Luke imply.
a. The Old Testament sacrifice was killed early on the 14th and, so our Savior was keeping the Passover at the normal time. The Jews were a day late, but John fails to note the fact.
b. The Old Testament sacrifice was on the late 14th, but our Savior changed the celebration of it to the early 14th and Christians continue at that time, where Jews continue as they had before.
c. The Old Testament sacrifice was on the late 14th and our Savior's Last Supper was on the late 14th-early 15th. He was actually killed on the First Day of Unleavened Bread.
2. The Old Testament Passover was the late 14th, but our Savior's Last Supper was a "special" or "early" Passover. (While this sounds nice, there is no hint of a "special" or "early" Passover in the Scriptures, nor is there any strong historical indication. If anyone knows of an ancient historical source for any of the following, please contact Servants' News.)
a. Jewish tradition allowed a man to keep a Passover at any time if he knew that he was going to die before the next one. Our Savior fell into this category, so he held it a day early.
b. A Jewish tradition allowed a teacher to conduct a day-early Passover with his students for their education, then they would be with their families for the regular Passover. (Similarly, a grandfather with many descendants might keep the Passover a night early with his sons, then the sons would be with their families on the regular night). Our Savior's early Passover would seem perfectly normal to everyone if such a tradition existed.
c. No traditions were involved, but since our Savior could not keep the regular Passover or the second Passover, he decided to do it a night early.
3. The Last Supper was not a Passover meal at all. There are several explanations as to why Matthew, Mark and Luke seem to say that it was:
a. Since Old Testament manuscripts are more reliable than the New, we know when the Passover was and we can simply treat the New Testament as being in error.
b. The apparent contradiction can be resolved by properly translating the difficult passages in the New Testament.
c. We can understand the New Testament if we understand how our Savior spoke to his disciples.
Obviously, all of these ideas cannot be right. Nevertheless, all of them are serious attempts to resolve the difficulties in the Scriptures. We should not look down on others who have a different understanding than we do. The subject is vast and we do not all have the same set of facts (and errors) in our minds. We will be judged by what is in our own mind, not what is in our neighbor's. This writer is using the last two approaches ( 3-b and 3-c) and believes this article to to be an accurate reflection of the truth of the Bible. But we are all still learning!
Our Savior Kept the Same Feast Days as Other Jews
We find no big difference between the Passovers kept in the Old and New Testaments. This very significant statement appears in Luke:
His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast (Luke 2:41-42).
The word "custom" is ethos which means "usual way of doing things." It is not the same as "according to the law." This word is used 11 other places in the Scriptures with a very similar meaning. We cannot cover all of them here, but we will cover two:
So it was, that while he [Zacharias] was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord (Luke 1:8-9).
Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. (John 19:40).
The Scriptures show how the priests were set into 24 divisions (1Chr 23-24), but they contain nothing about how priests used lots to decide who would burn the incense. The Scriptures mention burying people with spices, but there is no command or spelled-out method. These were customs or traditions (though they did not defy the law as some other Pharisaic customs did.) If the Biblical Passover was significantly different that the customary Passover of the day, Luke used the wrong words!
Some people have tried to show that the Jewish Passover was different than the Biblical Passover because John uses the phrases "Jews' Passover" and "Passover, a Feast of the Jews".(John 2:13, 6:4, 11:55). This is not sensible as John uses the plain expression "Passover" six other timesincluding critical places like John 18:28, where he describes the Passover kept by the Jewish leaders. Also, we see that John uses similar expressions for other Feast days (John 5:1, 7:2). It is likely that John included these references to Jewish feasts because he was writing to a partly gentile audience and wanted to occasionally assure them that the Feasts the believes were keeping were the same as the "Jewish feasts"not some pagan Feasts. There is no hint that the timing or celebration of Feasts were incorrect.
Major Key to New Testament Passover Problems
Most Bible-readers realize that our Savior spoke in parables because He did not intend to make the meaning clear to everyone at that time:
And He said, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand'" (Luke 8:10).
We must also realize that our Savior said many things that his own disciples and apostles did not understand. He was often distraught with them for not understanding. Please note the emphasis in the following verse:
6 Then Jesus said to them, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees." 7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "It is because we have taken no bread." 8 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, "O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? 9 Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? [Food was something He could make any time!] 10 Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? 11 How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 12 Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt 16:6-12).
Next we must ask, did the disciples understand everything Jesus taught while he was on earth, or did some of this understanding not come until later?
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him (John 12:16).
Obviously, they did not understand some of the things He said until much later. How much of our Savior's message was understood by the people and how much by the disciples is an interesting study in itself. You can find most of the related Scriptures by simply looking up "understand" and "understood" in a concordance. We will now focus on some difficult-to-understand passages related to the Passover.
For He taught His disciples and said to them, "The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day." But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him (Mark 9:31-32).
There are other passages parallel to the above. The disciples were still thinking too much about a physical kingdom in their day. The following passage was so hard to understand that many quit following them, yet it was vital to the understanding of Passover. Please read the entire passage with our added emphasis.
51 "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." 52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" 53 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.... 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.... 66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (John 6:51-56,63,66).
We find that our Savior used food for spiritual analogies many timesprobably to show us that things of the spirit are every bit as real and important as the food we eat. Here is another example vital to the understanding of the Passover:
31 In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." 32 But He said to them, " I have food to eat of which you do not know." 33 Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?" 34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work" (John 4:31-34).
How Our Savior Ate the Passover
With the above verses well in mind, let us look at the following three parallel accounts where our Savior talks about keeping or eating the Passover. We are quoting these verses from The Interlinear Bible by J. P. Green because it does a good job of saying what the Greek says, rather than saying what most theologians think it means. Even so, notice the italic words that are not in the Greek:
17 ¶ And on the first day of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, Where do you desire we should prepare for You to eat the Passover? 18 And He said, Go into the city to a certain one and say to him, The Teacher says, My time is near; to [toward] you I will prepare the Passover with My disciples. 19 And the disciples did as Jesus ordered them, and prepared the Passover (Matt 26:17-19).
12 ¶ And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said to him, Where do You desire that going we may prepare that You may eat the passover? 13 And He sent two of His disciples, and said to them, Go into the city. And you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him. 14And wherever he goes in, say to the housemaster, The Teacher says, Where is the guest room where I may eat the passover with My disciples? 15 And he will show you a large upper room, having been spread and made ready. Prepare for us there. 16 And His disciples went out and came into the city and found it as He told them. And they prepared the Passover (Mark 14:12-16).
7 And the day of the Unleavened came, on which the passover must be killed. 8 And He sent Peter and John, saying, Going, prepare for us the passover, that we may eat. 9And they said to Him, Where do You desire that we prepare? 10 And He said to them, Behold, you going into the city, you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him into the house where he goes in. 11 And you will say to the housemaster of that house, The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room where I may eat the passover with My disciples? 12 And that one will show you a large upper room which he has spread. Prepare there. 13 And going, they found as He had told them, and they prepared the passover (Luke 22:7-13).
These statements are so similar that they all must be about the same event, yet slightly different details are brought out in each. The bold portions above show our Savior's statements about the Passoverhe said to prepare the Passover that he might eat of it. But, what was his food?
"My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work" (John 4:34).
. Did our Savior participate in this Passover? Yes he did! But he did not eat a lamb! That was not his role that year. He was the lamb!
For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us (1Cor 5:7).
All of the Passover lambs slain by all the Israelites for over a thousand years pointed to this one Passover. Those lambs were to teach Israel the need for a Savior to come to shed his blood for the deliverance of man from sin (Matt 26:28). Our Savior kept the Passover all the other years of his life because it was in the law and to set a good example for people, but he did not need it for forgiveness of sinHe was perfect! (1Pet 2:22.) He did not come to the Earth so he could take the Passover; He came to BE the Passover. He was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev 13:8).
There is no analogy to adequately describe how important this event was, but this one might help: Neil Armstrong may have greatly enjoyed using a toy spaceship to show his children how he trained for space flight. But would he stay on the ground with his toy ship instead of being the first man to walk on the moon? No way! His many years of training were for this one event! Similarly, there is no way that our Savior would miss his vital participation in The Greatest Passover of All Time!
Nevertheless, his disciples would be left behind. Therefore, our Savior said to them:
Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, 'Where I am going, you cannot come,' so now I say to you (John 13:33).
They would receive one last night of instruction, and then they would be separated. They would keep the Passover without Himnot understanding what happened until later.
This brings us to an important question. What day did our Savior make his statement about preparing and eating that Passover? If you will look back a couple of columns to the three Gospel accounts, we have underlined the related portion. They all use the term "first of unleavened" in some way, but also mention killing of the Passover. Almost all Passover theorists agree that the lamb was killed before the first of the seven Days of Unleavened Bread. This must be a general expression that was understood to include more time than the seven days. It is not the same as the more precise "days of unleavened" or "feast of unleavened" found elsewhere in the Bible. Since we have a running account from here on, we can be sure that this was the afternoon of the 13th of the first month. Interestingly, Matthew and Mark never mention the word "Passover" again in their Gospels. Luke does, but it is amazing what he says.
His Last Supper Not the Passover
We continue from where we left off in The Interlinear Bible:
14 And when the hour came, He reclined, and the twelve apostles with Him. 15 And He said to them, With desire I desired to eat this passover with you before My suffering. 16 For I say to you that never in any way I will eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Luke 22:14-16)
Most people have assumed this verse means "He was physically eating that Passover with his apostles, but would not eat it again." Most translators thought so, too, so they added words to that effect. But The Interlinear Bible is an accurate reflection of the Greek. We can be sure that our Savior is talking about the physical meal here because he also talks about his "suffering," which was part of His spiritual meal. Later on in the chapter we see that our Savior asks one last time if there were any way to avoid his suffering: "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). He would have liked to eat the Passover with his disciples, but his suffering was far more important.
We can know this discourse took place before the Passover by reading the parallel account of the last supper in John 13. We quote two verses here that make the most important points:
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end (John 13:1).
For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, "Buy those things we need for the feast," or that he should give something to the poor (John 13:29).
In the first verse, "before" is the Greek word pro which really means "before". Verse 29 indicates that the disciples thought the merchants would be availablesomething that would have been impossible if everyone were eating the Passover. Nowhere, in any of the Gospels, do we find our Savior saying "I am now eating the Passover" during this Last Supper. His last Passover was spent as the lambbeing sacrificed. Most scholars agree that the Gospel of John was written later, and he seems to have clarified these timing issues:
Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover (John 18:28).
We must note that John does not say "their Passover" or "the Jew's Passover" or anything similar. He said "the Passover." We can also see that our Savior was condemned at the very same time that Passover lambs were being prepared to be slaughtered. Continuing with The Interlinear Bible:
And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, Behold, your king! But they cried out, Away, Away! Crucify him! Pilate said to them, Shall I crucify your king? The chief priests answered, We have no king except Caesar. Therefore, then, he delivered Him up to them, that He might be crucified (John 19:14-16).
Many translations say "preparation day", but that is not in the Greek. The story flow has been continuous since John 18:28 so there is no need for John to tell us what day it is. He is drawing attention to what time it wasthey were preparing to kill the Passover lambs.
It is interesting to note that the word used for "bread" in all accounts of the Last Supper is the Greek artos, which normally means leavened bread. The King James and most other versions do a consistent job of rendering these words. If you see "bread" or "loaf", it is the Greek artos. If you see "unleavened [bread]" then it is the Greek azumos, meaning "unleavened" However, the word artos seems to be like the English word "bread"we assume it to be leavened, but it can include unleavened bread. We see an example of that when our risen Savior "took bread [ artos], blessed and broke it" (Luke 24:30) the day after he was risen (verses 12-13)definitely during the Days of Unleavened Bread. The point of this is that we cannot be dogmatic about the type of bread being used unless a verse specifically says "unleavened."
Explanation of Bread and Wine
Let us continue reading about the Last Supper from The Interlinear Bible:
17 And taking a cup, giving thanks, He said, Take this and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I say to you that in no way will I drink from the produce of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. 19 And taking a loaf, giving thanks, He broke, and gave to them, saying, This is My body being given for you. Do this for My remembrance. 20 And in the same way the cup, after having supped, saying, This cup is the New Covenant in My blood, which is being poured out for you.
Traditional teaching says that our Messiah changed the symbols of the Passover from lamb and bitter herbs. But any Orthodox Jewish Rabbi will tell you that they have been having bread and wine at their Passover long before the time of Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth. As a matter of fact, you can go to almost any conservative or orthodox synagogue today on any Sabbath or holy day (except Atonement) and they will serve bread and wine. They call this a "kiddush". Some Rabbis will tell you that the bread and wine look forward to the bounty of the earth, but others will tell you that they represent the Messiah to come. The major thing that the Jews do not understand today, is that the Messiah has already come the first time.
It is interesting to note that Luke records two separate cups of wine, one before dinner and one after. The first one seems to be primarily a part of the meal. The symbolism seems to be more attached to the second cup. Since this Last Supper was held on the eve going into the Passover day, an appointed time mentioned in Leviticus 23, it would have been a normal Jewish practice to have bread and wine at this time. But this is much, much more than just another "kiddush". It is the time when He explained exactly the purpose of the bread and wine that Jews had been taking for so many years. This explains His saying "I am the living bread which came down from heaven" which we covered earlier in the articlewhich his disciples did not understand.
Are we, then, encouraging believers today to keep Jewish traditions? Only to the extent that these traditions are in accordance with the Scriptures. Both Jewish and Christian religious leaders have invented or borrowed a lot of practices that are contrary to Scripture. We should not follow any of them! The common Jewish explanation for the origin of their bread and wine partaking is Genesis 14:18-19:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth."
But rather than speculate about the origin of traditions, we can read what the Bible clearly says about keeping it. You will have to be willing to look beyond the man-made headings in your Bible and years of in-grown belief, but the Scripture is plain. Let us start at the beginning of a new section in 1 Corinthians 11:2:
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.
The Greek word for "tradition" is paradosisthe same word used for the tradition of the Pharisees in Matthew 15:1-2. Again, Paul is not teaching the keeping of all Jewish tradition, but of specific traditions that he delivered to them. (If we study all the leaders of Israel and Judah in the Bible, we find only a small percentage were close to the Eternal. Similarly, we might expect only a small percentage of their traditions to be inspired by the Eternal.) Verses 3 through 16 cover the tradition about how men and women cover their heads when they pray and prophecy. They are very helpful, but do not pertain to the Bread and Wine. We continue in verse 17:
17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church [assembly], I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church [assembly] of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
Three or four times in this chapter Paul talks about coming togethercoming together "as a church." The word "Passover" is never mentioned in this entire chapternor is the Feast of Unleavened Bread or any similar thing. But the coming together as a congregation is mentioned. Paul was dealing with the specific problem of people having a "big feast" rather than taking bread and wine to remember our Savior. We can be sure that Paul is talking about the same subject through the end of the chapter because the problem in verse 21 is answered in verse 34.
Furthermore, we need to ask if Paul's admonitions make any sense if they are for only once a year. Would there be divisions among the people only on Passover? 1 Corinthians chapters 1 and 3 show that divisions were a continual problem. Also, how could people be shamed for having no food on a "once a year" occasion? Certainly they could have saved something for that time. But it is quite logical that people may not have had food to bring every Sabbath.
What do we learn from Paul's statement about the "Lord's Supper"? Was he telling the Corinthians that they should becoming together for the "Lord's Supper", but they were doing it wrong? Or was he telling them they should not be coming together at all for purposes of eating the "Lord's supper"? This has been debated by many scholars and I do not know if we can reach a conclusion. We use the term "Last Supper" to refer to our Savior's last meal. Some people refer to their commemoration of this time as the "Lord's Supper," but others feel that Paul said not to call it that, so they call it a "Memorial Service". Certainly, we should not let an issue of terminology divide brethren.
Let us continue in The Interlinear Bible:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and giving thanks, He broke and said, Take, eat; this is My body which is broken on behalf of you; this do in remembrance of Me. 25 In the same way the cup also, after supping, saying, This cup is the New Covenant in My blood; as often as you drink, do this in remembrance of Me (1Cor 11:23-25, The Interlinear Bible).
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes (1Cor 11:26, NKJV).
Verse 23 causes many people to conclude that this is about Passover or that our Savior's Last Supper was the Passover. It would have been quicker for Paul to write "Passover" than "the night in which He was betrayed", but he wrote the latternot emphasizing the holy days at all! Paul was not even present with the other Apostles at that time, but somewhere he learned that it was that night when our Savior taught them the meaning of the bread and wine that they had been taking so often.
Another reason some believe this is talking about an annual occasions is the expression in the King James "shew the Lord's death." This sounds very passivelike observing a passing memorial. The word "proclaim" or "preach" is a much better rendering of the Greek kataggellomost modern translations render it "proclaim" here, but "preach" in many other places. Verse 26 was not recorded in the Gospels as a part the the Last Supper, but is similar to Luke 24:46-47: "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." When we take the bread and wine, it must remind us that we need to be preaching our Savior's death until he returns!
The Greek word translated "as often as" is hosakis. The only other place this word is used in the New Testament is Revelation 11:6: "and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire." While this word does not automatically imply a high frequency, it would be a logical choice if Paul is talking about bread and wine taken weekly and on holy days. It really makes sense for us to be preaching the death of our Savior "often". Paul chose not to use any of the common Greek expressions that mean "annually".
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. 33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come (1Cor 11:27-34).
These verses bring out the need for continual examination of oneself, not just once per year. Forgiveness of others is something that the Scriptures teach should be done on a daily basis, not yearly. "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matt 5:23-24). "'Be angry, and do not sin': do not let the sun go down on your wrath" (Eph 4:26).
The issue of whether or not we are "worthy" to partake of our Savior's body has been explained well by many teachers. The only thing we are inherently worthy of is death (Rom 3:23,6:23). We must take the sacrifice in a manner worthy of our Savior. It must be done seriously, not with an air of self-righteousness, nor a phony air of lowliness or false humility.
How Do We Handle Such a Change in Understanding?
Realizing that some of these Scriptures have been misunderstood by so many for so many years can be a little scary. But many of our readers may have kept Pentecost on different days during their lives. Do they remember being blessed when they kept Pentecost on one day, and cursed when they kept it on another? We have asked and never found anyone that felt they could see more or less of the holy spirit working simply because the day of observance changed. It appears that the Eternal accepted the hearts of people doing what they believed would please him.
We do not ask you to believe this article just because we wrote it. You should never jump to a new understanding out of fear that what you are presently doing is wrong. The Eternal will certainly give you time to understand. But, if you are avoiding the study of a doctrine because you are afraid that you might have to change, the Eternal will know that, too. We cannot grow in truth if we will not act on new understanding of which we are convicted. We all need to pray for understanding and study the scripturesand get answers to questions that arise. "We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the headChrist..." (Eph 4:14-15).
Far too much of all organized religion has been a series of things for people to doand the people who do them think they are righteous because they do them. The Old Testament gave many details to follow for temple construction, sacrifices, worship, and other areas of life. Did those things make the those people righteous even when they did them? No! Does the New Testament contain a detailed outline about how we should conduct our Sabbath services, our holy day services, our "youth activities," our Gospel-preaching plans, etc? No, it does not! The information in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 is Paul's reaction to existing services, not an outline of how to conduct a service. Even then, only a small percentage of congregations use the information in those chapters, anyway. Most congregations today base their service format on Catholic or /Protestant services, not on the format in use by our Savior and his Apostles. (For More information, write for our free article Assembling on the Sabbath.)
We need to take a few steps back and look at our own services and then find out what parts of them is found in the Bible. If we read what to do on holy days in the Scriptures, we find we are to assemble, be joyful, sing praises, teach truth, partake of bread and wine, give free-will offerings and offer certain sacrifices. Our Savior fulfilled the sacrifices, so we are left with doing the other things. But in most cases, we do not have any kind of "step by step" procedure on how to do it. Should we pass one glass, or use a lot of little glasses? Should we have a meal with it? Should leaders break the bread, or should each person break their own? Should each person wash one person's feet, or many people's feet? (Our Savior washed the feet of all the apostles.) How long should services last? What role should children have in services? What are the qualifications of a speaker for services? Should we have one or two services on a Holy Day?
This list of questions could go on for a very long time. We must realize that many decisions have been made by many people to bring us to the practices that we have now. While striving for Biblical and effective practice in our own lives, we should also be tolerant of others that do not have the same understanding. If the Eternal allows righteous and sincere people to be deceived for their entire lives on some scriptural issues, can we not tolerate other's difficulty for a few years? Our Savior said:
For assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it (Matt 13:17).
What Do We Do Now?
Some of our holy day practices are clearly outlined in the Scriptures, but many are not. In general, we believe most of the fruit of our past holy day practices have been good, so we are not in a hurry to depart from it unless we have a Biblical reason. We do not claim to have any divine revelation on the ideal practice for our services today. We all should certainly be asking for the Eternal's understanding on this subject. We will outline our understanding of what should be done, and make a few suggestions. If there are any guiding principles, it is that these days should be used to teach and unify the brethren. Not everyone will learn the same Scriptures at the same rate. Some may study it in weeks. Others may take years to change. We should look for points where our understanding of the Scriptures will allow us to participate with our brethrenwe do not want to be as different or contentious as possible.
The Passover is the 14th day of the first month. The leaven must be put out of our house before the end of this day. We have no clear command to imitate our Savior's Last Supper, though John 13:17 might be considered one. However, it seems that there is much benefit to a once-a-year focus on what our Savior has doneremembering of his suffering before the joyous Days of Unleavened Bread. The time of this remembrance would certainly be the evening going into the 14th, the time of the Last Supper. If we need a name for this time that will not be offensive to others, the Memorial Service might be fitting.
It is very good to read the Scriptures about our Savior's last instructions to his disciples. This lesson needs to be remembered every year. Luke Chapters 22 and 23 are probably the most complete for the first three Gospels. John 13-17 contain much information not found in the other gospels. Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 are excellent prophecies to read in this regard.
While the Scriptures give no specific command to wash exactly one other person's feet each year, it seems that the fruit of this observance has been good. We have heard many first-hand stories of people who thought they had no prejudice against anyone until they had to wash someone's feet. Some people believe that we should not do foot-washing because it is something that almost nobody does in our society today. They would like to replace it with shoe-shining, dish-washing, car-washing or some other "menial" task of today. If a local fellowship agrees on a ceremony more closely fitting our present society, we see nothing wrong with doing it. However, if a congregation gets into arguments on how they should serve each other... they are not learning the lesson of brotherly service! It is sad if people think they were fulfilling the purpose of John 13 by washing one person's feet once a year. If foot washing is done, someone should clearly point out that people are not doing it as a "good deed" or to earn religious "brownie points" but to symbolize the way we should live their lives.
The partaking of bread and wine is appropriate on this day, but not because it is the Passover. As we have indicated before, we believe that Paul taught the tradition of regular partaking of bread and wineprobably on every Sabbath and holy day. The question is, should this be leavened bread or unleavened bread? The Passover is not in the seven days of unleavened bread, and the instructions for eating the Passover meal apply to the next nightwhich is the first day of unleavened bread. The New Testament Scriptures are of little help. Luke uses the same Greek expression for "took bread" for the Last Supper, during the Days of Unleavened Bread, and for the feeding of the 5000which was almost certainly leavened bread (Luke 22:19, 24:30, 9:16). We can see in the Scriptures that unleavened bread represents the physical body of our Savior, which was without sin. But what would leavened bread represent? The answer is plain:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread (1Cor 10:16-17).
The leavened bread represents the body of our Savior today that has sin in itus. He is purifying His body now, but the process is not yet complete. In the Old Testament, all the offerings were unleavened (Lev 2;11) except for the "peace offering" (Lev 7:13) and the two loaves on Pentecost (Lev 23:17). These unleavened offerings were offered many times outside of the Days of Unleavened Bread. At this point in time, we must say that we do not have any specific Biblical understanding of when leavened or unleavened bread should by used except during the Day of Unleavened Bread. Our most likely linguistic assumption is that they ate leavened bread during the Last Supper. But since we are talking about the suffering of our Perfect Savior, unleavened bread seems to be the better symbol. Also, we should take into account that we may be meeting with brethren who believe they must use unleavened bread on this day.
What should the role of children be on this day? The Bible nowhere forbids children's participation in these services. The Scriptures show that adults have a tendency to want to exclude children from access to our Savior (Matt 19:13-15). Are we saying the children are converted? No. But children learn more by seeing other people do things and doing things themselves than they do from profound, hour-long sermons. These days are excellent times to teach the truth to our children, which we are commanded to do! (Deut 4:9.) Some have used the argument that since only the circumcised were allowed to take the Passover, only the baptized should be allowed to take bread and wine. We would like to point out that none of the Apostles at the Last Supper had been baptized in the name of Yeshua (Jesus) or received the holy spirit. Further more, Paul says: "Let a man examine himself" (1Cor 11:28). Children need to examine themselves and think about how they have been living.
While it is clear that the suffering and sacrifice of our Savior should not be treated lightly, the near-silent service that some groups practice cannot be found in the Scriptures. The Bible records many conversations that night. The Bible also records the singing of "a hymn" (Matt 26:30), but does not command "only one" or specifically say that they never sang any others. We have many commands to praise the Eternal for his marvelous works. What is more marvelous than the sacrifice of his son? Yet there are some songs that would not seem appropriate for the commemoration of His suffering.
Can you observe this evening with another group of people who think they are keeping the Passover on this night? Probably so. Most of what you will do will be the same as we have suggested here. However, since there is no specific command in Scripture to observe this evening, some may not want to do it at alland they probably should not. "For whatever is not from faith is sin" (Rom 14:23). But neither should they condemn others that do find a reason to observe it.
The First Day of
The Passover lamb was eaten on the beginning of the first day of unleavened breadat night. Calling it the Feast of the Passover made sense for the Israelites since that was the night that they ate the lamb. It was a victory celebration for the salvation of the first-born and the deliverance from Egypt. Today, we do not sacrifice a lamb, but we do need to celebrate the Sacrifice of our Savior and our deliverance from Sin. This is a Night to be Much Observed, and there are many commands that we can and should fulfill.
Israel was commanded to eat unleavened bread and bitter herbs on this night. We now understand that the unleavened bread represents the body of our sinless Savior. We believe the bitter herbs represent the misery and difficulty caused by the effects of sin. Our Savior suffered these things, and so do we. Somewhere, the Israelites learned to symbolically take wine on this day, and some Jews today understand that the wine looks forward to the Messiah. We now understand that the wine represents His blood shed for us. There is no specific formula in the Scriptures for how to serve the bread and wine. Since we are told to "bear our cross" and "work out our own salvation" (Luke 14:27, Phil 2:12), it seems sensible that brethren should not have everything prepared for them. Each person should be able to pour their own wine and break off their own piece of unleavened bread.
Children were to ask questions and to be taught this night (Ex 12:26-27). The teaching should be done in a way that they can understand. If possible, they should help read, tell, or act out the story of the Exodus and the story of our Savior. Special foods or activities should be arranged so that the children will look forward to this day, rather than regarding it as "a long boring evening."
The custom of telling personal stories of conversion or other stories of faith on this night fits very well. These show how our Father has individually delivered us from sin. Additional stories about how we had to leave one or more church organizations in order to continue to obey our Father in heaven are also appropriate. Of course, there should also be room to sing praises to our Creator.
In what order should all of these activities be done? That appears to be a complex question. The Jewish solution is a "seder" which means "set order." Believers with a Jewish background may want to use the format of seder, showing how many of these ancient Jewish practices point to Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah, and leaving out the few items of pagan origin. However, we see no necessity for other believers to adopt these traditions. The purpose of the evening should be to teach the most truth possible in a way that those attending will be most comfortable with. We offer this brief outline as merely a suggestion. (See the next page for more ideas.)
1) Open the evening with a prayer, followed by a song and/or Bible readings to set the tone.
2) Eating a small amount bitter herbs for a reminder of what sin does. (The Hebrew is not specificyou can use almost anything edible but bitter: radish tops, mustard greens, parsley, etc.)
3) The main meal.
4) The reading, telling, or acting out of the exodus and the sacrifice of our Savior.
5) Partaking of bread and wine.
6) Stories of coming out from sin.
7) Dessert, more singing and a closing prayer.
Obviously, some groups will find need of many additions or changes, but we hope the above ideas help. Groups that do not do foot-washing on the previous night, may wish to include it in this nightbut we feel that foot-washing belongs with the Scriptures typically read in the Memorial Service. It seems difficult to compress all of the lessons we describe here for both nights into a single night.
In order to share a meal and have everyone participate in the telling of stories and experiences, the group cannot be too large. The Jewish tradition was 10 to 20 people. If a group is larger than forty people, it will be very difficult to maintain a central focus for the entire group.
Bread and Wine Each Sabbath?
If we understand that 1 Corinthians 11 teaches us to partake of bread and wine whenever we come together as a congregation, we naturally ask "how should that be implemented?" Our first advice is: "Go slow." The purpose of it is to show that "...we, though many, are one bread and one body" (1Cor 10:16-17). How can it help us be one body if a large number of people in your congregation are opposed to the practice?
We must realize that partaking of bread and wine each week will remind some people of a false church from which they had to leave. They will need much prayer and study before they will be able to participate in such a practice. But would it be sin for people convinced of the need of weekly bread and wine to not have it at services? Listen to the apostle Paul: "It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak" (Rom 14:21). Brethren who desire to take bread and wine each Sabbath can do so at homepossibly with a few friendsand not offend the rest of the brethren.
We will put the details of taking weekly bread and wine in another articlethis one is already quite long. We began the subject in this article because it was essential for the understanding showing why 1 Corinthians 11 does not apply specifically to the Passover. Also, understanding 1 Corinthians 11 should help people realize that using bread and wine in a religious observance more than once per year is acceptable.
We thank everyone who has read this entire article. This represents the summary our understanding of Passover and the First Day of Unleavened Bread. In essence, the practice of most "Church of God" groups has not been too far off on these days, but some of the terminology and "reasons" why have been wrong. We will all have to be patient with each other as we grow and learnrealizing that we do not all grow at the same rate.
There are many other relevant points that could be raised and questions that could be answered. We hope that no one will give up and say that the situation is too confusing to reach any conclusion at all! Even David, "a man after God's own heart," had to pray: "Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day" (Ps 25:4-5).
Norman S. Edwards
We would like to thank all of the people who made phone calls or sent Passover papers to Servants' News. Many were used in preparation of this article.
We would also like to thank the Eternal for giving some of the key points of understanding that we have not seen in any previous writing. Nevertheless, we do not mean that this writing is in any way infallible. We do not know of any other paper that better explains this subject. However, Matthew 13:17 and other verses quoted in this article show that people can be righteous and used by the Eternal, but not have a perfect understanding!
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