Passover's True MeaningA Sacrifice to be Eaten!
by Larry C. Hamner
March 18, 2011
Where do we get our understanding of Passover? This time of the year one hears much about “Passover” from both Christian and Jew. Both however, are guilty of using the term in its post-biblical context. The Hebrew scripture never uses Passover in the sense of a Holy Day or Holiday to be celebrated. There is without question no mention of a day called “Passover” in the Hebrew scripture. All too often we accept things without question. By nature, whether right or wrong we tend to follow the crowd. It would serve us well if we were careful to use term Passover in the sense that the scripture actually uses it. In the Old Testament Passover is the name of the sacrifice.
”Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb,--------------------------and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.----------------------------------------------------------------And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD'S passover.”(Exodus 12:3-11 KJV)
One can clearly tell just by looking that the term “Passover” is referring to the name of the sacrifice, critical analysis and study aside. The next time the word appears in scripture it is very clear once again that it is the sacrifice that is being called “Passover”.
“Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover.” (Exodus 12:21 KJV)
The third time we see it's Old Testament use God instructs Moses and the people as how to answer their children when they ask what is meant by this service.
“And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD'S passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped.” (Exodus 12:26-27 KJV)
So then the service of killing the lamb and eating it is called “the sacrifice of LORD's passover. This is exactly the same meaning that is expressed in Leviticus Chapter twenty three and verse five:
“In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD'S passover.” (Leviticus 23:5 KJV)
The Old Testament uses the word “Passover” forty eight times and forty seven of the forty eight times it is without doubt referring to the lamb that was slaughtered and eaten. The one time it appears to be alluding to the entire feast is in Ezekiel 45:21. Make no mistake however, there isn't a single use in the entire Hebrew scripture of the word, in the post-biblical sense of a Holy Day or Holiday to be celebrated. “Passover”, by definition in the Hebrew, means either the sacrificial lamb itself, or the actual sacrifice of the lamb, or by extension the eating of the sacrifice. It does not allude to any specific day! This may appear to be only a subtle point, but it has obscured the facts about passover observance in the observant Christian churches for decades.
What is the biblical meaning of keeping “Passover” and how do you know when you've kept it? Is it the observance of a Holy day or is it really something else altogether? To “keep the Passover” simply means to bring the Passover sacrifice and eat it. You know that you've kept the Passover when you've eaten it. The bible is very clear and unambiguous in its discourse on the ordinance of Passover.
“And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, this is the ordinance of the passover: there shall no stranger eat thereof: but every man's servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof. In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it.(No ambiguity here! It is quite obvious the “KEEP IT” is referring to eating the passover.) And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD,( again it's quite clear that the statement keep the passover to the Lord is speaking of eating the passover) let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.” (Exodus 12:43-48 KJV)
Let's have one more look at what the bible means by keeping Passover. Take a look at how Matthew's uses the terms “eat the passover” and “keep the passover”:
“Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.” (Matthew 26:17-18 KJV)
Once one realizes that Passover is the sacrifice and to keep Passover means to slaughter and eat the sacrifice he or she can free themselves from the false idea that there is a day called Passover to be observed. To summarize, the Hebrew scripture never speaks of nor allude to the post-biblical notion of a day or a period of time called Passover that is to be celebrated. So the question then becomes not when do we begin Passover but rather when do we kill and eat the lamb (Passover)?
Remember when I said that there is one time in the Hebrew scripture that it appears as though the term “Passover” is alluding to the seven day feast?
“In the first month, in the fourteenth day of the month, ye shall have the passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten.” (Ezekiel 45:21 KJV)
Well it turns out that this one usage is rather significant because it tells us when to begin this seven day feast called the “Passover” i.e. the fourteenth day of the month. Can you guess what else is a feast of seven days? If you said the Feast of Unleavened Bread you would be correct.
“Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)” (Exodus 23:15 KJV)
Well now! We have a conundrum! Do we have two seven day feast to celebrate in the month of Abib or one feast; sometimes called “Passover” and sometimes called “The Feast of Unleavened Bread”? Surely you agree that it's the latter. Luke the physcian agrees that it's the latter:
“Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.” (Luke 22:1 KJV)
So then if “Passover” is seven days and “The Feast of Unleavened Bread” is seven days they must be one in the same. Which also means they must begin at the same time. The only way this bit of biblical truth will make sense to you is that you purge your mind of the false idea that there is a day called “Passover” to memorialize. There is also another conundrum to deal with, that is the fact that there appears to be a biblical contradiction around when to begin the feast.
It might be a bit confusing to understand exactly when Passover begins, at least from a traditional point of view. Does it begin on Abib 14 or Abib 15? In order to find an answer to this question, we first needed to dispel the idea of a Holy day called “Passover”. It is this false notion that creates two days to memorialize; “Passover Day” and “The First Day of Unleavened Bread” when in fact the day we traditionally call “Passover” is “The First Day of unleavened Bread”. Next we must make a distinction between the time of the slaughter of the Passover (lamb) and the time of the commemorative supper (eating the Passover).
The memorial supper commemorates the role that the “Passover (lamb)” played in Israel's deliverance; “The First Day of Unleavened Bread” commemorates the exodus and subsequent freedom of the Israelites from four hundred and thirty years of Egyptian servitude and shackles. To commemorate the haste in which Israel left Egypt, for seven days - from the evening of Abib 14 until the evening of Abib 21 - only unleavened bread was to be eaten and no leaven was to be found within any of the houses.
The original sacrifice of the Passover (in Egypt) was of an unblemished male lamb that was selected on Abib 10 and kept until the evening of the 14th, when it was sacrificed and its blood applied to the two doorposts and upper lintel of the house using a bunch of hyssop.
“And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.” (Exodus 12:6 KJV)
“But at the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 16:6 KJV)
The bible says the slaughter of the Passover lamb should be performed during the evening hours of Abib 14. The time of the lamb's sacrifice is described in the Hebrew scriptures as “bein ha-arbayim,” usually translated as “between the evenings” or “between the settings.” There are three variant interpretations of between the two evenings; among Passover observers.
The Rabbis reckoned it to be from the decline of the sun after noon until the setting of the sun. the “first setting” of the Sun occurred at the beginning of its descent after noon, and the “second setting” referred to sundown or twilight. Hence “bein ha-arbayim” would mean sometime after noon but before twilight, or more simply, “the afternoon.”
The Karaites and Samaritans specify the time of “bein ha-arbayim” as after sunset and before darkness; the more archaic practice. The first evening is set at the time when the sun sinks below the horizon, and the second the time of total darkness; simply “dusk or twilight”.
Some Christian Churches believe that “bein ha-arbayim” is the first part of the day. This belief is rooted in the idea that days begin in the evening or at sundown and end in the evening 24 hours later.
Although we have given you a simple statement of the three interpretations and not an exhaustive expository the facts are clear. “Bein ha-arbayim” as observed by the Jewish communities, and the early Church, belonged to the closing part of the day, and it was only with the appearing of the stars that the next day began. There is no credible biblical evidence or historical evidence that “bein ha-arbayim” was every interpreted as the beginning of a day. Let me also be clear about the day which we refer to as “Passover Day”, although the bible does not command Israel to celebrate a day called “Passover” it clearly commands them to observe the first day of “The Feast of Unleavened Bread” as a holy convocation.
The Memorial The Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the fifteenth day of the month of Abib, the day that Israel was commanded to observe as a memorial.
“And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever. Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you. And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.” (Exodus 12:14-17 KJV)
Note Worthy: The Feast of unleavened Bread was ushered in by the killing of the passover and Israel was to eat unleavened bread from the time of the slaughter of the passover on the fourteenth day at even until the twenty first day at even. The Bible is very clear in pronouncing the first day of the the feast of unleavened bread as the day the passover was to be slaughtered.
“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.” (Exodus 12:18 KJV)
“And there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coast seven days; neither shall there any thing of the flesh, which thou sacrificedst the first day at even, remain all night until the morning.” (Deuteronomy 16:4 KJV)
Now look at Exodus twelfth chapter verse six and Exodus twelfth chapter verse ten: one can readily see that Deuteronomy sixteen and verse four is a composite of these two verses.
“And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.”(Exodus 12:6 KJV)
“And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire.”(Exodus 12:10 KJV)
The New Testament is no different; the writers of the gospels of Matthew and Mark express the same understanding.
“Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?” (Matthew 26:17 KJV)
“And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?” (Mark 14:12 KJV)
Once again it is clearly seen that both the writers of the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament all understood that the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to begin with the killing of the passover not twenty four hours later. It is also rather apparent that the memorial spoken of in Exodus twelve and fourteen is referring to the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread; which is the same understanding echoed in verse fifteen.
When to eat the passover should be without controversy the scripture is very clear as to when Israel was to keep(eat) the passover.
And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.”(Exodus 12:8 KJV)
“It is a night to be much observed unto the LORD for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is that night of the LORD to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations.”(Exodus 12:42 KJV)
The Hebrew scripture here puts emphasis on both the passover meal and Israel's departure from Egypt.
The Hebrew scripture never uses the term “Passover” in the sense of a day to be kept, but quite clearly uses the term to mean the lamb that was to be slaughtered and eaten. It also uses the terms “to keep the passover” and “kept the passover” in the sense of eating the lamb. Therefore when one was said to have kept passover it meant that they had slaughtered and eaten the lamb. Concerning the term “bein ha-arbayim” (English translation between the evenings) although there is some controversy as when this occurs; noon to sundown or sunset to sundown, there is unanimous agreement among the Jewish communities both in antiquity and today that it belongs to the later part of the day. One can also conclude that Israel sacrificed the Passover lamb at the end of the 14th day of Abib and ate the Passover meal on the night of the 15th day, the First Day of Unleavened Bread.
[ HOME ]