The Passover Hypothesis: Reconciling John with the Synoptic Gospels (Part 1 of 2)

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PART 1: The Semantic Range of the Word Passover Has at Least 4 Different Uses/Meanings

For many years various theories have been put forth assuming that the book of John was inconsistent with the Synoptic Gospels with regard to the timing of the Last Supper and the Passion of Yeshua. Questions and controversies abound regarding whether the Last Supper was a seder? And when the Last Supper occurred? And what the timing of Jesus’ death on the cross was in relation to the Passover and Unleavened Bread week? However, recent scholarship has brought attention again to the fact that John and the Synoptics are completely consistent and the data brings total clarity in answering all of these questions.

One of the leading scholars in this area is Dr. Pitre; however he is not the first to bring this information forward. Several believers through the generations have presented similar evidence through the centuries. What is now called “The Passover Hypothesis” had been largely lost to the majority of pastors and Bible teachers in the current generations until recently.

First, the reality is that Scripture, Second Temple literature, and rabbinic literature all demonstrate evidence of at least four different uses or shades of meaning of the word Passover. In other words, the word Passover has a semantic range that includes in Scripture at least four different typical uses in which context alone dictates which use is in view. This understanding makes all the difference in translating the word Passover in various contexts. Just as the word “love” is used in vastly different ways, with a high degree of ambiguity, the ambiguity of the word Passover is significant. This ambiguity is not only found in the Hebrew, but in the Greek and the Aramaic uses of the word (i.e. this ambiguity is not particular to one language only). Thus, the semantic range of the word Passover includes at least four distinct biblical uses as follows:

  1. The Passover lamb=> initial lamb sacrificed on 14 Nisan
  2. The Passover meal=> during which the initial lamb was eaten (15 Nisan)
  3. The Passover Peace Offering=>Shelamim Offerings (which included all of the peace offerings from both the flock and herd) presented during the entire feast of Unleavened Bread (15-21 Nisan)
  4. The Passover week=> consisting of seven days of sacrifices-feasting celebration occurring on the 15-21 Nisan

1. The Passover lamb=> initial lamb sacrificed on 14 Nisan

  • Biblical Examples:
    • Exodus 12:21 “Select lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover.”
    • 2 Chron 30:15 “And they killed the Passover on the fourteenth day of the second month.”
    • Mark 14:12 “And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover, his disciples said to him…”
    • Luke 22:7 “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover had to be sacrificed.”
  • Extra Biblical Examples:
    • Jubilees 49:1 “Remember the commandments which the Lord commanded you concerning Passover, that you observe it in its time, on the fourteenth of the first month, so that you might sacrifice it before it becomes evening…”

2. The Passover meal=> during which the initial lamb was eaten

  • Biblical Examples:
    • Exodus 12:48 “And when a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover [עשׂה literally “do” or “make” or “prepare” the Passover in order to eat the meal (Definition #2)] of the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, then he may come near and keep (or do) it (i.e. eat the lamb of the Passover meal)…But no uncircumcised person shall eat it (i.e. eat the Pesach lamb of the Passover meal).” [Observing the Passover often has a full observance of all aspects (laws) intent so this could be more broadly understood as well, but the “eat it” explanation at the end limits the focus to the meal aspect]
    • Luke 22:11-12 “…Tell the householder, ‘The Teacher says to you, where is the guest room, where I am to eat the Passover (i.e. Pesach meal consisting of Pesach lamb & unleavened bread) with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; there make ready.”
  • Extra Biblical Examples:
    • Jubilees 49:1-2 “Remember the commandment which the Lord commanded you concerning Passover, that you observe its time, on the fourteenth of the first month, so that you might sacrifice it before it becomes evening and so that you might eat it during the night on the evening of the fifteenth from the time of sunset.”
    • Josephus, Antiquities213 “At this time there came round the feast, during which it is the ancestral custom of the Jews to serve unleavened bread. It is called Passover, being a commemoration of their departure from Egypt.
Full Pg. (1 of 2) Peace (Shelamim) Offerings

3. The Passover Peace Offering=>Shelamim Offerings (which included all of the peace offerings from both the flock and herd) presented during the entire feast of Unleavened Bread (15-21 Nisan, technically this offering could be given from the 14-21 but note it is distinct from the communal 14th Nisan first Passover lamb offering from the flock only. In the case of a Shelamim that is offered in additional to the communal 14th Nisan Lamb first offering, it would be to “satisfy hunger” vs. just the ceremonial aspect associated with eating of that first Pesach Lamb given on the 14th) (See below Dt. 16:1-3, 2 Chron 30:17, 21-22, 2 Chron 35:7-9, cross reference Ex. 12:5’s restriction of the initial Pesach for the whole community slaughtered on the 14th is from the sheep or goats only vs. the additional Shelamim offered by individuals of their own freewill throughout the entire week.[1]

  • Full Pg. (2 of 2) Peace (Shelamim) Offerings

    2 Chron 30:21-22 “And the sons of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness…So the people ate the feast for seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to the Lord the God of their fathers.”

 

Note: The week long peace offerings eaten through the week were referred to as “Passovers” => “Pesachim”

  • 2 Chron 30:17 “For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves; therefore, the Levites were over the slaughter of the “Passover lambs” (Passovers or Pesachim) for everyone who was unclean, in order to consecrate them to the LORD.”

The week long peace offerings eaten through the week were referred to as “Passovers”

Deut. 16:1-3 “Observe the month of Aviv, and keep the Passover to the Lord your God; for in the month of Aviv the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. And you shall sacrifice the Passover (pesach) to the Lord your God, from the FLOCK or the HERD, at the place which the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall eat no leavened bread with IT; seven days you shall eat IT with the unleavened bread, the bread of affliction…”

Here the Passover refers to BOTH sheep and goats from the flock AND the cattle from the herd;[2] HOWEVER, the initial Passover lamb could NOT be a bull from the herd, it had to be a sheep or goat (SEE Exodus 12:5).

In summary, this third use refers to the week long peace offerings eaten each night throughout the entire week and are all referred to as eating the “Passover” (Pesachim).

  • 2 Chron 35:7-9 “Josiah contributed to the lay people, as Passovers (pesachim) for all that were present, lambs and kids from the flock to the number of thirty thousand, and three thousand bulls…Hilkiah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, the chief officers of the house of God, gave to the priests for Passovers two thousand six hundred lambs and kids and three hundred bulls. Conaniah also…gave to the Levites for Passovers (pesachim) five thousand lambs and kids and five hundred bulls.”

Here again, the bull could not refer to the initial Passover lamb sacrifice, but Passovers (plural in this case) refers to all the peace offerings made throughout the entire week of Passover/Unleavened Bread week.

4. The Passover week=> consisting of a week-long series of sacrifices and feasting conducted on the eve (going out of) the 14th heading into the 15th of Nisan (the first FEAST meal of Unleavened Bread week) through the 21st of Nisan. [3] In the Tanakh Lev 23:6-8, Num 28:17-25, and Ezek 45:21 all refer to the 7 day festival as the week of Unleavened Bread as distinct from the 14th of Nisans Passover “slaughter” of the “first lamb.” However, by the first century A.D. the distinction between “Passover” & “Unleavened Bread” disappeared, and the term “Passover” came to be used as a type of short hand reference to the entire week of Unleavened Bread(See Lev 23:6-8 and Num 28:15-25 where initially just called Unleavened Bread week; BUT by Ezek 45:21 and beyond we begin to see overlap in the language or use of terms, calling both the slaughter of the lambs on the 14th (#1 above) and the entire 7 day Feast of Unleavened Bread (#4) “Passover” in which all nights of all 7 days one would “eat the Passover” with Unleavened Bread. By the time of Luke 22:1, the term Passover and Unleavened Bread week are used almost synonymously as a collective event/week-long (or technically 8 day total series of events) holiday reference just as it is used commonly today.

Today, almost everyone says they “celebrate Passover,” but what we really “mean” is that we memorialize the historic events of the Exodus from Egypt and the Greater Exodus based on Messiah’s Passion (“proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes”), while keeping/eating literally unleavened bread for 7 days. The seders that we keep in our homes on the 14th of Nisan are not “lambless” seders, because Yeshua our Pesach, who has been sacrificed, is with us at our tables and in our hearts and forever cleansed us from sin and death (something we will experience in full at the Resurrection). We keep HIS Feast because we desire to do exactly what He commanded, which is to memorialize HIS Feast (“Passover”-The 7 Days of Unleavened Bread) until He comes (1 Cor 11:26).

Biblical Examples:

Luke 22:1 “Now the feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover.”

Ἤγγιζεν (draw near; come near) δὲ ἡ ἑορτὴ (Feast) τῶν ἀζύμων (Unleavened Bread) ἡ λεγομένη (which is called) πάσχα (Passover).[4]

  • Extra Biblical Examples:

Josephus, Antiquities 14.21 “As this action took place at the time of observing the feast of Unleavened Bread, which we call Passover, the Jews of best repute left the country and fled to Egypt.”

Josephus, Antiquities 18.29 “When the feast of Unleavened Bread, which we call Passover, was going on, the priests were accustomed to throw open the gates of the temple after midnight.

Mishnah, Pesahim 9:5 “Wherein does the Passover of Egypt differ from the Passover of the generations [that follow after]? At the Passover of Egypt the lamb was got on the 10th [of Nisan]…and it was eaten in haste and during one night, whereas the Passover of the generations [that followed after] continued throughout seven days.”

[For more info see note 251 for other additional references on p. 338 in Dr. Pitre’s book]

Context must dictate which of the 4 meanings within the semantic range of “Passover” is in view in order to know WHICH DATE is being referenced (i.e. the 14th or 15th of Nisan).

Thus we see at least 4 options for meaning within the semantic range of the word “Passover” as follows (see pic):

CLICK HERE to see PART 2 of this teaching for “The 3 Most Commonly Misunderstood Interpretations of “Passover” in John” [Coming Soon! Check back in a day or two and I’ll have it posted]

 

References:

[1] Lewenstein, Yitzchak, and Yitzchak Weinberg, (English rendition David Saks), Avodas Hakorbonos, (South Africa: Johannesburg Cheder, 2005), 12.

2] See charts in Lewenstein, Yitzchak, and Yitzchak Weinberg, (English rendition David Saks), Avodas Hakorbonos, South Africa: Johannesburg Cheder, 2005, 12.

[3] Dr. Brant Pitre,  Jesus & the Last Supper, Chapter 4, The Passover Hypothesis, p. 331

[4] Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Lk 22:1.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Cambra says:

    Thank you Chrisy, we were taught this in shul when I lived in Albuquerque, back in the ’90’s. Our leader, Russel Resnik was well versed in such understanding. Guess I am still amazed when I encounter those who do not know these truths, or at least have the good sense to be open to them. You are performing a great service to the believing body by collecting this understanding and making it available in this organized fashion. Yah bless the work of your hands!

    1. Christy says:

      Thank you so much. I appreciate your kind words and feedback. 🙂

  2. Darlene Meadows says:

    Thank-you for this follow-up to the talk show you e-mailed before. It seems like every year I am in the same dilemma of when the seder should be. When I think I have a handle on it, I find others celebrating it on a different night, and begin to doubt my understanding again . The 7 versus 8 day has always confused me. Those of my believing family members ask me , so when can we eat bread again! 🙂 . I look forward to part 2. May Yahweh continue to bless you and your family…Shalom.

    1. Christy says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. I feel your pain in weeding through the sea of opinions and information. Glad this summary could provide a little clarity. Hoping to get to part two soon. It’s been a busy week. 🙂

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