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What the Bible says about When Passover Should Be Kept
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 14:18

Genesis 14-15 contains time markers that help us line up these events with the Passover and Exodus from Egypt, as well as the Passover and crucifixion in the New Testament:

» “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; [H]e wasthe priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18). This corresponds with Jesus' Passover observance with bread and wine, which took place at the beginning of the 14th.

» “Then He brought him outside and said, 'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be'” (Genesis 15:5). Abraham is outside and viewing the stars. The time has progressed to full dark on the 14th.

» The sacrificial activities described in Genesis 15:9-11 indicate the arrival of the daylight portion of Abib 14; it was light enough to make sacrifices. This method of making a covenant symbolizes that, if the terms were not met, the transgressor must be cut in half, just like the animals (see Jeremiah 34:18-20).

» “Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror andgreat darkness fell upon him” (Genesis 15:12). The sun begins to go down as soon as noon has passed, so this verse could indicate any time in the afternoon or early evening.

» “And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces” (Genesis 15:17). The sun has set and Abib 15 has begun. The symbol of a burning lamp is linked with the salvation of God's people (Isaiah 62:1) and describes the eyes of God (Daniel 10:6). In addition, when God descended on Mount Sinai in fire, its “smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace” (Exodus 19:18). Through these symbols, God is seen confirming His covenant to Abraham by passing through the middle of the sacrificed animals.

What happened during the daylight portion of the 14th in Abraham's day was a conversation about inheriting the land, then Abraham divided and arranged the animals at God's command in preparation for the covenant. Thus, the timing of Christ's crucifixion on the afternoon of Abib 14 points to something centuries before the Passover in Egypt—to the promises God made to the father of the faithful and to the preparations made for their covenant.

David C. Grabbe
Why Was Jesus Not Crucified as Passover Began? (Part Two)

Ezekiel 45:21-22

Before looking at the specifics of this passage, it is worth remembering another common misunderstanding, the one concerning Jesus' famous statement in Luke 23:43: "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." This is Protestantism's proof text that the thief on the cross went to heaven the day he died, from which they assume that all others will too. If this rendering is correct, though, it contradicts numerous clear scriptures that show that Jesus Himself was not in Paradise that day, that the dead do not rise until the resurrection, and that even the Old Testament faithful have not gone to heaven.

In spite of all the contradictions this rendering introduces, many still stubbornly cling to it to prop up an untenable belief. As experienced Bible students know, the confusion is the result of where translators chose to insert the punctuation—in this case, a comma—that does not exist in the original language. If Scripture is to remain unbroken (see John 10:35), the comma must be placed after "today"—"Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise"—rather than before it.

Ezekiel 45:21 is a nearly identical occurrence. Many translators have chosen to punctuate this section so that it reads that Passover is seven days long. This rendering also causes it to say that Passover is part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Yet, this contradicts other clear scriptures. For example, Exodus 12:1-20 shows that the Passover is to be killed/observed at the beginning of Abib/Nisan 14, and then unleavened bread is to be eaten until the twenty-first day (which makes eight days total). Passover falls on one day, followed by seven days of Unleavened Bread. We also see this in Leviticus 23:5-6, 8:

On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. . . . The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.

This is very clear: Passover is observed on Abib/Nisan 14, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread starts on Abib/Nisan 15 and lasts for seven days (until Abib/Nisan 21). The exact same instruction is given in Numbers 28:16-25—Passover is on the fourteenth, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread starts on the fifteenth, lasting for seven days (until the twenty-first). These passages provide a threefold witness (see Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16).

Nevertheless, Ezekiel 45:21 is held up as a proof text that Passover is part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the whole occasion should be seven days long. This common rendering of Ezekiel 45:21 sets up two possibilities: Either God did away with His previous threefold witness with this single verse, or something is amiss in the way this odd-one-out is translated.

As it turns out, many translators have punctuated Ezekiel 45:21 without paying close enough attention to the Hebrew. Like biblical Greek, biblical Hebrew does not contain punctuation, but it does use a system of accents to indicate where pauses should occur in the text. These accents show that there should be a logical pause in the middle of the verse (see Analytical Key to the Old Testament by John J. Owens). That is, the text itself separates the mention of the Passover in the first half of the verse and the mention of the "feast of seven days" in the last half. The accents indicate that the two halves are not intended to be fused into the same instruction: First, God instructs that Passover should be "on the fourteenth day of the month," and then He commands the observance of a feast of seven days during which unleavened bread must be eaten.

A number of translations, though, have correctly picked up on this separation:

  • "On the fourteenth day of the first month you shall observe the feast of Passover; for seven days unleavened bread must be eaten." (New American Bible-Revised Edition)

  • "In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall celebrate the feast of the passover [sic], and for seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten." (Revised Standard Version)

  • "In the first month, the fourteenth day of the month, you shall observe the solemnity of the pasch [the Passover]: seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten." (Douay-Rheims Bible)

As with Luke 23:43, punctuation makes a big difference! The Hebrew does not say that Passover is a feast that is seven days long but that, one, the Passover must be observed on the fourteenth and that, two, for seven days unleavened bread must be eaten. A technical rendering of the Hebrew puts a logical pause in the middle, separating the two thoughts and making the instruction perfectly complementary to Exodus 12, Leviticus 23, and Numbers 28 rather than contradictory to all three.

We should also notice the instruction in Ezekiel 45:22: "And on that day the prince shall prepare for himself and for all the people of the land a bull for a sin offering." If "that day" is referring to the Passover, then this introduces another contradiction: The Passover sacrifice was to be a lamb or a kid of the goats (Exodus 12:3-5), not a bull! Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb—not our Passover Bull. The prince's offering is for the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, not the Passover.

In summary, while Ezekiel 45:21 shows that by the time of the Babylonian captivity (when Ezekiel was written) it had become common to refer to the whole eight-day festival season as "Passover," the verse does not say that Passover is the first day of Unleavened Bread. Nor does it say that the two festivals together should only be seven days long. The Bible consistently teaches that Passover and Unleavened Bread are separate festivals, each with its own detailed instructions and spiritual meanings.

David C. Grabbe

Luke 22:7-16

As with Mark, Luke's account emphasizes that Jesus would eat the Passover with His disciples, not merely prepare for it. In verse 15, He declares how great His desire had been to eat that Passover with them. His focus that evening as He sat with His disciples was on eating the Passover, not on being the Passover. He spoke of what He was doing then, not on what He would be doing later on the 14th.

His words also reveal that the eating of the Passover was to be before He suffered (verse 15). His crucifixion began at “the third hour” (Mark 15:25), about nine o'clock the following morning, and ended after “the ninth hour” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus obviously knew when Passover was to be observed, and “with fervent desire [He had] desired” to eat it with His disciples before He suffered. There is no indication He said this in reference to a meal the following afternoon or that He longed wistfully for the crucifixion to be put off until He could eat a late Abib 14 Passover.

The only conclusion is that He did in fact eat the Passover with His disciples that evening after the 14th had begun, prior to His arrest later that night and His appalling suffering, which began the next morning. These three accounts should leave no doubt that Jesus intended to, and in fact did, eat the Passover with His disciples at the beginning of the 14th day.

David C. Grabbe
Why Was Jesus Not Crucified as Passover Began? (Part One)


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