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What the Bible says about Beginning of the Season of Unleavened Bread
(From Forerunner Commentary)

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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