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What the Bible says about Passover Separate from Unleavened Bread
(From Forerunner Commentary)

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

Mark 14:12

The word first can also mean "before" or "the beginning." The word translated as "day," heeméra, can refer to a literal 24-hour period of time, but it can also indicate a general period of time or a season (see Luke 9:51; 17:24; 19:42; 23:7; John 8:56; Acts 2:20; 8:1; 17:31; Romans 2:5; I Corinthians 3:13; II Corinthians 6:2; Ephesians 6:13; Hebrews 3:8). So the first part of Mark 14:12 could also be translated, "Now at the beginning of the season of Unleavened Bread . . ." or "Now at the beginning of the time of Unleavened Bread . . ." Nothing dictates that in this case heeméra designates a specific 24-hour period, and much argues against it.

As the notes for Matthew 26:17 show, the disciples asked this question before the Feast of Unleavened Bread and before they had kept the Passover. But how are we to understand the explanation, "when they killed the Passover lamb"? In the Greek, the word translated as "killed" is éthuon. It can indeed refer to the singular act of slaying an animal (Acts 11:7), but also to a religious sacrifice (Acts 14:13) or to the entire occasion of which a slaughtered animal was paramount, such as the fatted calf being killed for the prodigal son (Luke 15:23, 27, 30). In addition, in the sentence in question, the verb tense indicates an action in progress but not yet completed.

In other words, the sacrificing of the Passover lamb—or preparations for doing so—was taking place at the time the disciples asked their question! Remember, most of the people did not observe a Temple-kept Passover; in Mark 14:12, the common people were sacrificing lambs throughout the city, not the priests. The priests would not slay the Temple Passover lambs until the following afternoon. But as Abib 14 was drawing near, the disciples observed people around them on the outskirts of Jerusalem in the process of sacrificing—at least engaging in the necessary preparations, even if they did not perform the sacrifice itself until after sunset—prompting them to ask Jesus where He wanted them to likewise prepare for Passover.

David C. Grabbe

Luke 22:7-8

God instructed Israel to kill the Passover on Abib 14, not on the first day of Unleavened Bread, which falls on Abib 15. Yet here we have something called "the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed," and it is taking place even before the Passover!

This is easily resolved when we remember that "day" in Greek, heeméra, does not have to refer to a specific span of 24 hours, but may indicate a general period of time or a season. The Passover sacrifice was certainly made within the time or season of unleavened bread—not the specific feast but the food itself. In fact, Abib 13—the day before Passover—was the day that the Jews disposed of all leavening, and they prepared unleavened bread for the Passover meal.

According to the Mishna, on Abib 13 the Jews would burn the leaven by 10:00 am, and they were not allowed to eat anything leavened after 11:00 am. The unleavened bread was baked and ready for the Passover by 3:00 pm. Abib 13 was the beginning of the time of unleavened bread, and the Passover was sacrificed during this time, even though the Feast of Unleavened Bread did not begin until Abib 15.

Thus, Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7 are about, not the holy day that begins the weeklong Feast, but the season of unleavened bread, which begins on Abib 13. As that day was ending, the disciples asked Jesus about their own preparations for the Passover, which would begin just after sunset, at the beginning of Abib 14. With these alleged contradictions answered, we see that the Gospels do not support the idea that Passover falls on the first day of Unleavened Bread.

David C. Grabbe


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