The Passover and the Last Supper
The Question Needing Answered
John opens his account of the Lord’s final ministry to His own by informing us that it took place ‘before the Feast of Passover’ (13:1) and that it was at a point ‘during supper’ (13:2 ESV) or when supper ‘was being served’ (NIV) that the Lord got up from His place to wash the disciples’ feet. These two time markers noted by John require some discussion because of the apparent difficulty in reconciling what is stated here and elsewhere by John (18:28; 19:14) concerning the Passover with what is recorded in the synoptic gospels. It is clear from the first three gospels that the Lord sent His disciples to make the necessary preparations for the Passover meal (Matt 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13) with Luke distinctly stating what is also clearly implied in Matthew and Mark, that the Lord then ate the Passover with His disciples at the appointed hour (Luke 22:14-16). But in John’s record we find not only that ‘it was before the feast of Passover’ (13:1) when the Lord gathered with His own in the upper room, but also that the Jews didn’t enter the Praetorium so as to avoid ceremonial uncleanness in order that they would be free to ‘eat the Passover’ (18:28) and that the day of Christ’s trial before Pilate was the ‘Preparation day of the Passover’ (19:14). The question then needing answered is, ‘Was the last supper actually the Passover meal?’ Or to put it another way, ‘Did Jesus and His disciples really keep the Passover?’ Obviously, to provide an answer to this question, positively or negatively, it must be proven whether John’s account agrees or disagrees with the record of the first three gospels - Matthew, Mark and Luke. The purpose of this article is to review what the Old Testament scriptures teach concerning the Passover and to present the coherent and reasonable views of three scholars who competently and positively offer an explanation to the seeming disharmony between John and the other gospels.
The Lord’s Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread
It is important to understand something of when and how the Passover was observed in order to follow the storyline of the gospels and make sense of any discussion about the keeping of it. The instructions for the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were given through Moses and Aaron to Israel in Egypt before the coming of the tenth plague from which the Lord saved the firstborn males of Israel by the blood of the lamb and ultimately delivered His people from the cruelty of Egyptian slavery (Exod 12:1-27). All subsequent festivals commemorated and celebrated that ‘never to be forgotten night’ in the history of the nation (Exod 12:42).
The Lord instructed the congregation of Israel to separate a year old unblemished male lamb for the Passover sacrifice on the tenth day of the month Abib (Exod 12:3; 13:4) which was the first month of the year to Israel (Exod 12:1), called Nisan after the exile in Babylon and being equivalent to the months March/April in the modern calendar. Israel’s months were arranged around the agricultural seasons and Abib means ‘fresh ear’ of grain for it was the season when the barley was ‘in ear’ or becoming ripe for harvesting, the firstfruits of which were to be waved before the Lord when Israel occupied Canaan on the day after the Sabbath following Passover (Lev 23:9-11). The chosen lamb was to be kept until the fourteenth day of the month and then slain ‘at twilight’ or the literal rendering of the Hebrew is ‘between the evenings’ or ‘between the two evenings’ (Exod 12:6). As indicated in the Old Testament, a Jewish day was reckoned from evening to evening (Exod 12:18; Lev 23:32) and it has been suggested regarding the annual keeping of the Passover that because ‘each Hebrew day was between two evenings the Passover might be kept after sun down at the beginning, or before sun down at the close’, but the literal Hebrew expression, ‘between the evenings’ would seem to have a much narrower meaning as the first Passover shows and refers to a time either between when the sun began to decline in the west , effectively just after midday, until it finally set or between sunset and the appearing of the stars. Ronald B. Allen commenting on Numbers 9:3-4 writes:
‘The Hebrew term translated "at twilight" (v.3) is literally "between the evenings," speaking of that period just between sunset and true darkness. In traditional Hebrew practice, this period is regarded as the end of one day and the beginning of the next. The official determination of the precise moment of twilight in Jewish tradition became that point where one could no longer distinguish between a white or a black thread when standing outside in the growing darkness’ (EBC Vol 2, Numbers p 771).
Moses addressing the nation in anticipation of life in the land of Canaan further instructs them as to where and when the Passover must be sacrificed: “You may not sacrifice the Passover within any of your gates which the Lord your God gives you; but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide, there you shall sacrifice the Passover at twilight, at the going down of the sun, at the time you came out of Egypt” Deuteronomy 16:5-6. J Finegan in his Handbook of Biblical Chronology
states that ‘the Talmudic explanation of this was that the evening meant the afternoon and was the time when the Passover was to be slaughtered, and that sunset was the time it was to be eaten. The Sadducees and Samaritans however held that the slaughtering of the lamb itself was to take place between sunset and darkness… Targum Onqelos also rendered “between the evenings” in Exod 12:6 as “between the two suns,” and this was explained as meaning the time between sunset and the coming out of the stars’ (p 12).
J Finegan (pp 11-12) also explains from the Mishna and Gemara , which comprise the Jewish Talmud, that in the normal Jewish day ‘the two evenings are from twelve to two thirty o’clock, and from three thirty until six o’clock respectively’ with the hour in between being the time of the daily burnt offering which was slain at two thirty and offered at three thirty, but on the eve of the Passover, ‘whether on a weekday or the Sabbath’, the daily burnt offering came forward an hour or two hours if the ‘eve of the Passover’ fell on the ‘eve of the Sabbath’ to allow for the slaughter of the Passover Lambs between the evenings, and ‘according to Josephus the Passover sacrifices were conducted from the ninth to the eleventh hour that is from three to five o’clock in the afternoon and this was presumably the standard practice in the first century A.D.’.
Also with regard to eating the Passover, Exodus 12 informs us that Israel were to ‘eat the flesh in that night’ (v 8) when the moon would have been full letting nothing of it ‘remain until the morning’ (v 9) not only dressed ready to exit Egypt but, ‘in haste’ (v 11) for that very ‘night’, which turned out to be ‘midnight’ (v 29), the Lord was going to pass through the land of Egypt in judgment (v 12) and because of this no Israelite could ‘go out of the door of his house until morning’ (v 22). The Israelites were also informed that ‘this day’ was to be a memorial and kept as a ‘feast or [festival] to the Lord’ (v 14).
Evidently, measuring a day from evening to evening didn’t alter the realities of night and morning in which these events took place, but because a day was measured from evening the references to ‘that night’ (v 8) and ‘morning’ (v 10 & 22) must refer to the night of the commencement of the fifteenth of the first month and the morning of the same, and therefore ‘this day’ (v 14) refers to the fifteenth of Abib/Nisan being the day on which they ate the Passover and were delivered from Egypt after the midnight hour. Walter C. Kaiser Jr. in his commentary on Exodus states concerning chapter 12:14:
‘"This day" (hayyom hazzeh) of v.14 refers to the same day in view in vv.1-13. The slaying of the paschal lamb "between the evenings" (a lit. Heb. expression) that divide the 14 and 15 of Abib (= Nisan) looks forward to the festive celebration that night, the day of the Exodus (= the night of the Passover), 15 Abib’ (EBC Vol 2, Exodus p 374).
Leviticus 23:5-6 however, states: ‘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’ as does Numbers 28:16-17. Also, Numbers 33:3 says: ‘They departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the Passover the children of Israel went out with boldness in the sight of all the Egyptians’ and Joshua 5:10-11 reads: ‘Now the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho. And they ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day’. If it is maintained that the lamb of Passover was eaten on the fifteenth of the month then these verses that refer to the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month must only be referring to the slaying and preparation of the lamb, not the eating of it.
Others however, have interpreted the night of the Passover differently and Sir Robert Anderson observes:
‘But though the Passover was eaten between six o’clock and midnight, this period was designated in the law, not the beginning of the 15th of Nisan, but the evening of the night of the 14th… The 15th or the feast day, was reckoned, doubtless from six o’clock the following morning, for according to the Mishna (Treatise Berachoth), the day began at six o’clock a.m.’ (The Coming Prince p 110 fn).
Also Douglas Stuart states concerning the same:
‘In Lev 23:5-6 and Num 28:16-17 the evening meal celebration is differentiated from the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread in the sense that the Passover meal is eaten on the night of the fourteenth of the month and the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the day of the fifteenth… Another way of saying this is that in the Leviticus and Numbers descriptions, the Passover Meal is linked to the nighttime and the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the daytime’ (NAC, Exodus p 286 fn).
While there exists a difference of opinion regarding the date on which the Passover lamb was eaten, there can be no dispute regarding the time of the meal as the word to the Israelites was: ‘They shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it’ (Exod 12:8). But, as highlighted above, it is important to differentiate between the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed it, while at the same time understanding how they’re inseparably linked. The division between the two is particularly defined by the hour of midnight when the Lord judged Egypt. The Israelites partook of the roast lamb during that night while still in Egypt not only before, but anticipating and prepared for the coming judgment, whereas the Festival of Unleavened Bread marked the Exodus, the actual day of their deliverance after the midnight hour of judgment (Exod 12:17, 41; 13:4).
Consequently, the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread together form the festival that commemorated Israel’s liberation from Egypt by the provision and power of the omnipotent Lord. This fact is apparent by the singular reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when listed as the first of the three great annual pilgrimage feasts haggîm of Israel, the others being the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles (Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-24; Deut 16:16-17; 2 Chron 8:13). These haggîm, plural of the noun hag, were the three annual ‘festival-gatherings’ or ‘pilgrim feasts’ (BDB) of God’s covenant people at which all males were to appear. They were of course part of the seven ‘feasts mô`adîm of the Lord’ as detailed in Leviticus 23, but notice that the word for feasts, plural of the noun mô`ēd, in Leviticus 23:2, 4, 37 & 44 is a different word which appears the majority of times in the Old Testament along with the word tent ˒ohel and together they refer to the Lord’s place of meeting called 'the tabernacle of the congregation' (KJV) or 'the tent of meeting' (ESV). This word mô`ēd means ‘appointed time, place, meeting’ (BDB) and these appointed times of meeting were indeed sacred seasons of ‘holy convocations’ to the Lord (Lev 23:2, 4 & 37). As already observed, three of the ‘appointed times of meeting’ listed in Leviticus 23 are only ever called a hag and this fact emphasis the distinct character of these feasts and highlights an important point regarding the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover which is only twice referred to in the Old Testament as the Hag of Passover (Exod 34:25, Ezek 45:21) and in both of these scriptures it includes the Passover plus the seven days of unleavened bread. Ezekiel 45:21 clearly states this: “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall observe the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten” while Exodus 34:25 (Cp Exod 23:18) records; “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leaven, nor shall the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover be left until morning”. In this statement the Lord is focusing upon the paschal lamb, the primary sacrifice of the feast, hence the stand alone title - Feast of Passover which must mean the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread just as the latter mentioned alone in 34:18 must also refer to both. Deuteronomy 16:1-8 confirms this fact. The simple but important point is that the Passover by itself was not the festival hag, but it was the basis or reason for the Feast or Festival of Unleavened Bread that followed it. This is what Exodus 12:14 conveys as it forms a ‘hinge’ between the details of the Passover (12:1-13) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (12:15-20). Israel were never to forget the experience of that night when their firstborn were spared from judgment by the blood of the lamb and they were set free from Egypt, therefore ‘this same day’ of national liberation (12:17) was to become a ‘memorial’ or a day of remembrance which was to be kept or fully celebrated as a ‘hag to the Lord’ throughout their generations keeping it as a ‘hag by an ordinance forever’ and Exodus 12:15-20 explain how this was to be done. The anniversary of the Exodus was permanently and perpetually marked on Israel’s calendar every fourteenth and fifteenth of Abib/Nisan when they were to observe the Passover and celebrate their deliverance from Egypt just as Numbers 28:16 states: ‘On the fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of the Lord. And on the fifteenth day of this month is the feast; unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days’.
Therefore, in light of the Old Testament scriptures we should have no difficultly understanding what is meant when the gospel writers in the New Testament refer to the Passover (Matt 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:1; John 13:1). The apostle Paul also clearly conveys the meaning in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8: ‘Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’.
Historically then the congregation of Israel on that fourteenth day of the month Abib obeyed the Lord’s instructions communicated through Moses and Aaron, His servants, by slaying the lamb at the appointed time and eating it in the way prescribed that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs as the firstborn were under the protection of the applied blood of the lamb from the divine judgment about to come upon Egypt at the midnight hour (Ex 12:28). Indeed, they kept that first Passover on the very threshold of a new day in which they obtained their freedom from Egypt by the power of the Lord in judgment and made their Exodus under the leadership of Moses from the land of their sojourn and slavery.
The point of the foregoing discussion has been to furnish us with some of the relevant background to the Passover, the significance of which will become more apparent as we proceed through what is presented below. It is important to understand that not only was there a particular day when the Passover was to be killed - the fourteenth day of the first month, but also there was a particular time - between the evenings after which it was to be eaten as prescribed in the law. It is also vital to appreciate the essential relationship yet distinction between the Lord’s Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The Distinction between the Paschal Supper and the Feast
Sir Robert Anderson in his book The Coming Prince presents, what I consider to be, a solid and accurate explanation that shows there is no contradiction between John and the other three gospels and proves that the Last Supper was in fact the Passover meal. This explanation has to do with what has been previously discussed from the Old Testament scriptures. The following is an extensive quotation from his chapter on ‘The Paschal Supper’ in which he addresses the issues involved:
‘The supper was a memorial of the redemption of the firstborn of Israel on the night before the Exodus; the feast was the anniversary of their actual deliverance from the house of bondage. The supper was not a part of the feast; it was morally the basis on which the feast was founded, just as the Feast of Tabernacles was based on the great sin-offering of the day of expiation that preceded it. But in the same way that the Feast of Weeks came to be commonly designated Pentecost, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was popularly called Passover. That title was common to supper and feast, and included both; but the intelligent Jew would never confound the two; and if he spoke emphatically of the feast of the Passover, he would thereby mark the festival to the exclusion of the supper.
No words can possibly express more clearly this distinction than those afforded by the Pentateuch in the final promulgation of the Law: - “In the fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of the Lord; and in the fifteenth day of this month is the feast” [Numbers 28:16-17].
Opening the thirteenth chapter of St. John in the light of this simple explanation, every difficulty vanishes. The scene is laid at the Paschal Supper, on the eve of the festival, “before the feast of the Passover;” and after the narration of the washing of the disciples’ feet, the evangelist goes on to tell of the hurried departure of Judas, explaining that, to some, the lord’s injunction to the traitor was understood to mean, “Buy what we have need of against the feast.” The feast day was a Sabbath, when trading was unlawful, and it would seem that the needed supply for the festival was still procurable far on in the preceding night; for another of the errors with which this controversy abounds is the assumption that the Jewish day was invariably reckoned a nukthemeron [a night and a day] beginning in the evening. Such, doubtless, was the common rule, and notably in respect of the law of ceremonial cleansing. This very fact, indeed, enables us without a doubt to conclude that the Passover, on account of which the Jews refused to defile themselves by entering the judgment hall, was not the Paschal Supper, for that supper was not eaten till after the hour at which defilement would have lapsed. In the language of the law, “When the sun is down he shall be clean, and shall afterward eat the holy things” [Lev 22:7]. Not so was it with the holy offerings of the feast day, which they must needs eat before the hour at which their uncleanness would have ceased. The only question, therefore, is whether partaking of the peace offerings of the festival could properly be designated as “eating the Passover.” The law of Moses itself supplies the answer: “Thou shalt sacrifice the Passover unto the Lord thy God of the flock and the herd … seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith” [Deut 16:2-3].
If then the words of St. John are intelligible only when thus interpreted, and if when thus interpreted they are consistent with the testimony of the three first Evangelists, no element is lacking to give certainty that the events of the eighteenth chapter occurred upon the feast-day. Or if confirmation still be needed, the closing verses of this very chapter give it, for according to the custom cited, it was at the feast that the governor released a prisoner to the people. Fearing because of the populace to seize the Lord upon the feast-day, the Pharisees were eager to procure His betrayal on the night of the Paschal Supper. And so it came to pass that the arraignment before Pilate took place upon the festival, as all the evangelists declare.
But does not St. John expressly state that it was “the preparation of the Passover,” and must not that necessarily mean the fourteenth of Nisan? The plain answer is, that not a single passage has been cited from writings either sacred or profane in which that day is so described; whereas among the Jews “the preparation” was the common name for the day before the Sabbath, and it was so used by all the evangelists. And bearing this in mind, let the reader compare the fourteenth verse of the nineteenth chapter of St. John with the thirty-first and forty-second verses of the same chapter, and he will have no difficulty in rendering the words in question, “it was Passover Friday.”
But yet another statement of St. John is quoted in this controversy. “That Sabbath day was an high day,” he declares, and therefore, it is urged, it must have been the 15th of Nisan. The force of this “therefore” partly depends upon overlooking the fact that all the great sacrifices to which the 15th of Nisan largely owed its distinctive solemnity, were repeated daily throughout the festival. On that account alone that Sabbath was “an high day.”’ (pp 108-113).
D. A. Carson in his commentary The Gospel According to John offers a similar interpretation to that of Sir Robert Anderson regarding John 18:28, suggesting that it is referring ‘not to the Passover meal itself, but to the continuing Feast of Unleavened Bread, which continued for seven days’ and he draws particular attention to the ‘hagigah, the feast- offering offered on the morning of the first full paschal day (cf Num 28:18-19)’ (p 589). He also explains chapter 19:14 as probably meaning ‘Friday of Passover week’ the day before the Sabbath being ‘a special Sabbath (since it fell within Passover week)’ and the Preparation of 19:31 & 42 as referring to the same day (604, 622 & 630). But he does interpret John 13:1 differently and states:
‘If the opening words It was just before the Passover Feast are taken as a heading to chs. 13-17, it follows that the meal the disciples are about to have with Jesus could not itself have been the Passover meal… But there is nothing in the words themselves to discourage us from taking the clause as an introduction to the footwashing only, and not to the discourses that follow the meal. Chronologically, the opening words then place the footwashing before the Passover meal about to begin (and v. 2, in the best texts, does not contradict this point); theologically, the clause alerts the readers to the Passover theme developed throughout the book (2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1; cf. 18:28, 39; 19:14), inviting them to see in the footwashing an anticipation of Jesus’ own climactic Passover act as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (pp 460-461).
This interpretation of John 13:1 means that both the feast and supper (13:2) refer to the Passover meal and it was either when it had ‘ended’ (NKJV , KJV ), or ‘during’ it (ESV, JND , NASB ) or when it was ‘being served’ (NIV) that the Lord laid aside His garments and girded Himself with a towel to wash the disciples’ feet. The reason for the difference between the NKJV/KJV and the other translations has to do with the tense of the participle in the Greek text upon which the translation is based which has either an aorist or present participle; one letter distinguishing the two tenses. ‘Supper being ended’ (NKJV, KJV) is translating the aorist and if accepted, then the supper and Passover Feast must be understood as being different in the way Sir Robert Anderson has argued since ‘before’ and ‘ended’ are contradictory if both refer to the same thing. Dr. Carson suggests however, in keeping with his proposed interpretation above, that the aorist participle ‘should be understood to mean that supper had just been served’ (p 469). Alternatively, ‘during supper’ translates the participle as a present and the NIV helps to convey the idea, ‘the evening meal was being served’. Therefore it was either when the supper had concluded, or just been placed upon the table, or was in the process of being served that the Lord moved to His task of foot washing. Personally I’m inclined to the second sense which suggests that the supper having been placed on the table and no one having offered or moved to wash the dusty feet of the guests, the Lord Himself got up from His place, to the surprise of His disciples, and proceeded to perform this menial task of footwashing with all grace and humility. Taking it this way fits with interpreting the ‘Feast of Passover’ either in the broadest or narrowest sense, although limiting it to mean the Paschal Supper only does, I feel, constrict its meaning, in a way that the Old Testament and the other New Testament references do not (Matt 26:5; 27:15; Mark 14:2; 15:6; Luke 2:41-43; 22:1; John 2:23; 4:45; 6:4 11:55-56; 12:12, 20; 13:29).
Two Different Ways of Reckoning a Day
A different view from what is presented above but that also offers a possible explanation as to how the Last Supper was indeed the Passover meal, has to do with the reckoning of a day. It is a recognized fact that there were different ways of reckoning a day in the ancient world as J Finegan in his Handbook of Biblical Chronology shows by quoting the Roman historian Pliny (23-79 A.D.):
‘The Babylonians count the period between two sunrises, the Athenians that between two sunsets, the Umbrians from midday to midday, the common people everywhere from dawn to dark, the Roman priests and the authorities who fixed the official day, and also the Egyptians and Hipparchus, the period from midnight to midnight’ (p 7).
Harold W. Hoehner gives a good presentation of the argument that proposes two different ways used by the Jews to reckon the commencement and conclusion of a day in his book Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. In the fourth chapter, ‘The Day of Christ’s Crucifixion’ he deals with ‘The Problem of the Last Supper’ and after considering the two sides of the argument as to whether the Last Supper was or was not a Passover meal, he concludes:
‘One sees that any theory which makes the Last Supper not the Passover meal, does not give a satisfactory identification of the meal. Again, considering all of the evidence, it seems to be best to accept the Last Supper as having been a Passover meal’ (p 80).
Dr. Hoehner then addresses ‘The Problem of Harmonization’ between the three synoptic gospels and John and he particularly focuses on two references he considers require adequate explanation with ‘the first being far more significant than the second’, namely John 18:28 which, as previously noted, records the Jews desire to avoid defilement in order to ‘eat the Passover’. Then he refers to John 19:36 which ‘speaks of the Old Testament fulfillment when no bones of Jesus, the Passover Lamb, were broken’ (p 81). To address these verses Dr. Hoehner critiques five different views and then presents a sixth which in his estimation adequately explains the meaning of these two verses and answers the problem of gospel harmonization. He gives only a summarization of ‘the different ways to reckon a day’ (p 85) and in so doing presents sufficient scriptural references to show that a day was reckoned from sunset to sunset (Ex 12:18; Lev 23:32; Neh 13:19; Lev 14:46 etc) and he suggests there are ‘some indications’ that the Jews also reckoned a day from sunrise to sunrise (Gen 1:14, 16, 18; 8:22; Num 14:14; etc), stating that ‘the one passage in the New Testament that may more explicitly indicate a sunrise to sunrise reckoning is Matthew 28:1’ and ‘regarding the Passover’, he cites Deuteronomy 16:4 as showing a sunrise to sunrise reckoning (p 86).
Dr. Hoehner then goes on to show that in the Lord’s time there were two ways of reckoning a day. The Galileans and the Pharisees reckoned their day from sunrise to sunrise, and the Judeans and the Sadducees from sunset to sunset. This means that if the Lord and His disciples followed the Galilean day they kept the Passover, as the first three gospels indicate, on the Thursday evening of Nisan 14 whereas the Judean Jews wouldn’t have killed their lambs until the Friday afternoon which, according to their reckoning, was the evening of Nisan 14 after which they would have eaten the Passover. This would mean that John 18:28 was indeed referring to the Passover meal and explains why at that point the leaders had not yet eaten it (18:28). It also would mean that John’s reference to the ‘Preparation Day of the Passover’ (19:14) could be interpreted as ‘the day of preparation for the Passover’ (p 87) rather than just Friday of Passover week, the day before or the preparation day of the Sabbath, indicating that the lambs had yet to be killed and the Passover meal eaten. This means that the preparation for the Passover and the Sabbath coincided and that is why ‘that Sabbath day was a high day’ (19:31) for it would have marked the day of festival and the commencement of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Further, accepting this difference in the reckoning of the day allows that the Lord Jesus, God’s Lamb, not only fulfilled the Passover type when He ‘was sacrificed for us’ (1 Cor 5:7) with not one of His bones being broken (19:36; Ex 12:46), but the time of His death would also have corresponded with the very time the Passover lambs were to be slain ‘between the evenings’. The lambs, as noted earlier, were slaughtered between three and five in afternoon, according to Josephus, within the temple precincts and it was at the ninth hour, three in the afternoon (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:44), when the Lord Jesus spoke His final words and then commended His spirit into His Father’s hands (Luke 23:46) after which He died.
Dr. Hoehner concludes that this ‘proposed interpretation does justice to the data of the Synoptics, the Gospel of John, and the Mishnah’ (p 88). Yet he does acknowledge that a ‘problem with the theory is that there is no explicit statement to support the view’ (p 90) and this shows the ‘Achilles heel’ of the argument leaving it possibly more appealing than compelling.
The purpose of this article has been, in a limited way, to examine relevant Old Testament scriptures regarding the Passover and to present explanations concerning the Last Supper and the Passover meal offered by the above scholars who expound two distinct views on the subject, with Dr. Carson interpreting John 13:1 differently from that proposed by Sir Robert Anderson. Each of these interpretations make sense, harmonize the gospel accounts, and are worthy of serious consideration. The fact that there are a range of possible explanations demonstrates that no absolute certainty or universal agreement exists on the subject. This in no way should affect our confidence in the accuracy of scripture, but it does mean that we should not be dogmatic on a problematic issue and of course, regarding all that we read or hear, we ought to be like the Bereans who ‘received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so’ (Acts 17:11).
Questions and comments are welcome. Contact info@answersaboutGod.net
1. English Standard Version®
2. New International Version
3. Newberry Bible, Marginal Note on Lev 23:5. Penfold Book & Bible House
4. Taken from The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol 2, Numbers, by Ronald B. Allen. Copyright © 1990 by Zondervan. Used by permission of
5. “Hand Book of Biblical Chronology, by Jack Finegan Revised Edition © 1998 Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts. Used by
permission. All rights reserved.”
6. Targum Onqelos - One of the major Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible.
7. Mishna - The first and primary written version of the Jewish oral traditions, being the major law code of Judaism from its closure in about 200 A. D.
to the present (Cf Dictionary of New Testament Background IVP p 893).
8. Gemara – Was developed in the centuries following 200 A.D. and is the rabbinical analysis and commentary on the Mishna (Cf The Zondervan
Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol 2 p 672).
9. Talmud – The Mishna and Gemara to together comprise the Talmud of which there are two versions – Talmud Yerushalmi and Talmud Babli
(Cf Dictionary of New Testament Background IVP p 898).
10. Taken from The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol 2, Exodus, by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. Copyright © 1990 by Zondervan. Used by permission of
11. The Coming Prince, by Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918). Kregel Publications
12. Used by permission. Excerpt taken from the New American Commentary Vol 2, Exodus by Douglas K. Stuart. © Copyright 2006 B & H Publishing
13. The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Logos Research Systems, Inc.
14. The Gospel According to John, by D. A. Carson - Pillar New Testament Commentary © 1991 D. A. Carson. Published 1991 in the U.K.by Apollos (an
imprint of Inter-Varsity Press)
15. New King James Version
16. King James Version
17. John Nelson Darby (Translation)
18. New American Standard Bible®
19. Taken from Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, by Harold W Hoehner © 1977 by Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission of Zondervan.