It is beyond doubt that Passover day is the 14th day of the first Hebraic month, Aviv (Nisan after Babylonian exile). Passover is then followed by the seven days of Unleavened Bread. So we have in essence, a period of eight days(14-21), consisting of two feasts. These two feasts, in time, became fused together into one feast of eight days.
This feast of eight days was known as Passover or Unleavened Bread. That these two names were used interchangeably in the first century is evidenced by its use in Luke 22:1, which says, “Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.” Josephus also refers to these both as a feast of eight days (Ant. 2.14.6; 11.4.8).
Passover Sacrifice: Beginning or Ending of the 14th ?
This question lies at the heart of the timing of Passover observance. If the passover lamb was to be killed at the beginning of the 14th, then the Passover meal would be eaten on the night of the 14th.
However if, as the Pharisees of Jesus' day and the Judaism of today seems to practice, that the passover lamb was to be killed on the late afternoon of the 14th, and the meal taken in the night of the 15th . This is the heart of the matter. What was the practice according to the instructions of Scripture, as opposed to the rabbinic tradition?
Before we address this question, we should establish what the instructions were concerning the killing of the passover lamb in the Scriptures. Exodus 12 is where we find the first mention and instructions about the keeping of Passover. The passover animal was to be chosen on the tenth of the first month and kept until the fourteenth.
Exodus 12:5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats:
Exodus 12:6 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.
The two most relevant phrases in verse 6, which will determine its meaning, are the phrases, "up until" and "in the evening".
up until: This is the Hebrew word 'ad ', which operates as either a preposition or a conjunction. According to Strong's Hebrew Concordance (#5704), it means, as far as, even to, up to, until, while. This is a word that operates to mark the limit of a thing, either time or space. In this context it was to mark the limit of how long the lamb was to be kept. The lamb was to be kept as far as, or up to the fourteenth day. That is, the fourteenth day marked the limit of how long the sacrifice was to be kept. Then they were instructed to kill the sacrifice in the evening. Since a new day begins at evening, this can only mean the evening that begins the Fourteenth.
in the evening: The meaning of "evening" has been debated for a long while. The main reason for this debate is due to the difference in the Biblical definition and the rabbinic definition. The Biblical definition is from sunset to complete darkness. The rabbinic definition is from the time the sun begins to decline (just after high noon) to sunset. However, we must go with the Biblical definition, as the rabbinic traditions hold no weight here. Deut. 16:6 defines the evening or what is literally 'between the evenings ', as the time of the going down of the sun. Hence, 'between the evenings ' is from the time of sunset to complete darkness, or what we would call dusk or twilght.
However, the Pharisees had a different take on what the Scriptures said, which they usually did. They believed that the term "in the evening" referred not to the evening beginning the Fourteenth, but meant the afternoon of the Fourteenth. They counted this "between the evening" as being just after the sun began to decline to its setting. This declining of the sun, they referred to as the 'casting of the evening shadows'. Typically this was understood as from about 3pm to sunset. However, they could move the start of the first evening as far back as 1:30.
For a more detailed explanation of the meaning and differences between the two phrases used and translated as "even" or "evening", see this additional pdf download.
It would be prudent to mention here, that we have only one reliable witness when trying to understand this Passover issue. That reliable witness is The Bible. The other sources that men rely upon may speak to this issue, but they do not speak fully nor honestly about it. The other sources I am referring to is the writings of the rabbis, found in the Talmud, Josephus and Philo. Josephus may be the most honest of the three, but his information is woefully incomplete for our purposes. The only complete and accurate source we have are the God-breathed Scriptures. The information found in the Talmud, which many rely upon as being authoritative, is horribly slanted and therefore fails to give an accurate picture of first century practice. How is it slanted?
Cooking The Books
Since the destruction of the temple in AD 70, we have relied upon the information given by the pharisaic rabbis. Apart from what we have in the Scriptures, we have only the rabbis' word on how the feasts and their sacrifices were accomplished before the destruction. However, there are real problems with this. It is an age-old adage, that "The victor writes the history of the defeated ". This is exactly what the Pharisees did, they rewrote Jewish history from their own perspective. How do I know this? Listen to the Judaica Encyclopedia(1905),
With the destruction of the Temple (70 A.D.) the Sadducees disappeared altogether, leaving the regulation of all Jewish affairs in the hands of the Pharisees. Henceforth, Jewish life was regulated by the Pharisees; the whole history of Judaism was reconstructed from the Pharisaic point of view, and a new aspect was given to the Sanhedrin of the past. A new chain of tradition supplanted the older priestly tradition (Abot 1:1). Pharisaism shaped the character of Judaism and the life and thought of the Jew for all the future.
(bold emphasis added)
Noticed the bold phrase, the whole history of Judaism was reconstructed from the Pharisaic point of view. When they say "reconstructed," they mean rewritten. What this tells us is that the Pharisees saw this as an opportunity to rewrite Jewish history from their own point of view. They wrote the Sadducees out of history, except as it served their purpose. This sanitized version of Jewish history is found in the Talmud. In other words, they cooked the books in their favor, leaving only their own tradition as the real authority. So anyone who uses the writings of the rabbis, i.e., the Talmud, they are using a history that has been filtered through the traditions and practices of the Pharisees.
See the above phrase, A new chain of tradition supplanted the older priestly tradition (Abot 1:1). This is telling us that the Pharisees removed the priestly traditions, replacing it with their own. Again this is a witness of the Talmud being a sanitized version of Jewish culture and practice. This tells us we have no idea how the feasts and sacrifices were conducted, because the priestly traditions were removed. They were replaced with the traditions of the Pharisees. We know from the Pharisees own testimony that their traditions regarding the sacrifices and feasts were sometimes at odds with the priests' tradition.
The reference above, Aboth 1:1, states the following.
MISHNA A. Moses received the Law on Sinai and delivered it to Joshua; Joshua in turn handed it down to the Elders (not to the seventy Elders of Moses' time but to the later Elders who have ruled Israel, and each of them delivered it to his successor); from the Elders it descended to the prophets (beginning with Eli and Samuel), and each of them delivered it to his successors until it reached the men of the Great Assembly. The last, named originated three maxims: "Be not hasty in judgment; Bring up many disciples; and, Erect safe guards for the Law."
The 'Law' received on Sinai referred to above, is the oral law or tradition, of which the Pharisees claimed they were the guardians. It is this oral law that the gospels refer to as the "tradition of the elders". Jesus' opinion of the oral tradition was that it nulified the Word of God.
However, it is admitted by Rabbi J.H. Hertz, in the foreward of the first English translation of the Talmud, that the Talmud actually had its beginnings during the Babylonian captivity.
The beginnings of Talmudic literature date back to the time of the Babylonian Exile in the Sixth pre-Christian Century ... When a thousand years later, the Babylonian Talmud assumed final codified form in the year 500 after the Christian era, the Roman Western Empire had ceased to be.
[The Babylonian Talmud edited by Rabbi Dr. I Epstein, 1935, page xiii]
The Jewish Encyclopedia(1943) agains informs us,
The Jewish religion as it is today traces its descent, without a break, through all the centuries, from the Pharisees. Their leading ideas and methods found expression in a literature of enormous extent, of which a very great deal is still in existence. The Talmud is the largest and most important single piece of that literature ... and the study of it is essential for any real understanding of Pharisaism.
Here it is admitted that the Talmud only gives us the Pharisaic view. It contains a history of Pharisaism, not a history of the first century Jewish culture and practice. This is why using the Talmud as a source of information, for discovering the pre-destruction history of the Jewish people, should be held as suspect, because you are only getting one side of the history. You are getting the side of history that the Pharisees want you to have. This would be particularly true as it relates to any information that would validate Jesus as the Messiah.
Robert Stein, in his book, "Jesus the Messiah", says this concerning the Talmud and its report of Jesus,
The key question that arises involves the origin of these rabbinic references. The value of these passages would be greatly enhanced if they originated from contemporaries of Jesus who were eyewitnesses of the events they were reporting. This would be true even though they presented the side of Jesus' opponents. On several occasions, however, aspects of these accounts seem to be due less to eyewitness reports than to later Jewish interaction with the teachings and claims of the early church. This is especially true with respect for such matters as the claim that a forty-day search for witnesses on Jesus' behalf preceded his trial and, if the accounts refer to Jesus, to his birth being due not to virginal conception but to adultery on the part of his mother. As a result, the rabbinic materials are primarily valuable for providing information concerning second-, third- and fourth-century Judaism, and even here they must be read critically. Like the pagan sources, however, they provide little information for the historian seeking to construct a life of Jesus.
The Talmud reports that at this present moment, Jesus is in hell, boiling in hot excrement. It reports that He was the bastard son of Mary, a hairdresser, and a Roman solider. The Talmud refers to Him as "Yeshu", which they say means, "let him be accursed". So if you believe that the Talmud is a reliable source from which to draw, then be my guest. However, when it holds this kind of opinion of the Lord of Glory, I find it reprehensible to take its witness over the words of Inspired Scripture.
All of this has been shared to make it clear that relying upon Talmudic sources to reconstruct first century practice, is to rely on information that is slanted to one point of view and is not reliable as far as first century Jewish practice and culture is concerned. For this, we must rely upon the Scriptural witness itself.
The Witness of Scripture
The Lord's First Passover
It is obvious from the witness of Moses, that the Passover Meal was taken on the night of the Fourteenth, therefore it would require that the Passover sacrifice be killed in the evening, beginning the Fourteenth. How do we know this? The record of Numbers 33:3 is all too clear.
Num. 33:3 And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians.
The Scriptures recorded how pharaoh awoke in the night to find all the firstborn dead, even his own son. He then tells Moses to take the people and go worship the Lord in the wilderness, along with all their possessions.
The massive crowd that Moses had to get ready to leave is calculated to be around 2,400,000. The figure of 600,000 men is given in the Scripture (Ex.12:37), but this is likely men aged 20 and up1. It took from the early morning hours of the Fourteenth to the evening of the Fifteenth to prepare such a mass for the exodus. Hence the Scriptures report that they departed "on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the passover ".
They departed Rameses, in Egypt, on the Fifteenth, the "morrow" or day after the Passover, Fourteenth. It is too clear that the Passover, the day that God caused the destroyer to "pass over" when he saw the blood on their houses, was the Fourteenth, not the Fifteenth.
Josephus witnesses to the fact that the Passover was killed on the Fourteenth, in the homes of the Hebrews, and states that the Passover was kept in his day, in the same manner.
but when the fourteenth day was come, and all were ready to depart they offered the sacrifice, and purified their houses with the blood, using bunches of hyssop for that purpose; and when they had supped, they burnt the remainder of the flesh, as just ready to depart. Whence it is that we do still offer this sacrifice in like manner to this day, and call this festival Pascha which signifies the feast of the passover; because on that day God passed us over, and sent the plague upon the Egyptians;
Notice that Josephus says, "when the fourteenth day was come ", not when the fourteenth day was almost gone, or late on the fourteenth, as it is promoted. When the fourteenth day had arrived, they offered the sacrifice. He then admits this, "we do still offer this sacrifice in like manner to this day, and call this festival Pascha. . . " Notice he says that they still offer the sacrifice in like manner , meaning they still offered the paschal lamb in the domestic setting, even in his own day, the first century AD.
So for all those who argue Passover is on the night of the Fifteenth, their argument is with God and His Word. It is not from Wisdom that they do this, but from a sanitized, pharisaic tradition.
You who confess the Name of Jesus, when you argue that Passover was and is observed on the night of the Fifteenth, with the sacrifice being in the afternoon of the Fourteenth, you are arguing and believing the Words of those who hated Him and conspired to put Him to death. Why do you accept the testimony of His enemies, above His own? This is only one of the reasons that His Body does not walk in His Power. We are walking in lies, which is the power of the enemy. This is our shame and needs to be repent of.
Before anyone starts throwing the term anti-semitism around, this has nothing to do with having anything against any of the sons of Shem. This has everything to do with being against the lies of the enemy, and those who promote them, regardless of their lineage.
The Lord's Last Passover (in this age)
As we look at the Gospel account of this night of the last meal, it is an overwhelming witness to the fact that everyone involved, thought that it was the Passover meal.
17 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?
18 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.
19 And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.
12 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?
13 And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water:follow him.
14 And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?
15 And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared:there make ready for us.
16 And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them:and they made ready the passover.
7 Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed.
8 And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat.
9 And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare?
10 And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in.
11 And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?
12 And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished:there make ready.
13 And they went, and found as he had said unto them:and they made ready the passover.
14 And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.
15 And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:
Did Jesus Know A Passover When He Saw One?
There are several verses above that make it very clear that Jesus believed He would be eating Passover with His disciples.
Matt. 26:18 - ". . . I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples."
Mark 14:14 - ". . . Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?"
Luke 22:15 - ". . . With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer."
There is no doubt that the disciples and Jesus Himself believed they were eating a Passover meal on that last night.
"when they were killing the passover"
What is also of particular interest in these verses, is the fact of the present, ongoing action of the slaying of the passover lambs. In Luke 22:7, we see the phrase, "when the passover must be killed ". As it is translated, it sounds like it is pointing to the idea that the passover must be killed at some point in the near future. However, this is not the case. The verb be killed is a Present-Indicative-Infinitive. This actually tells us that the slaying of the lambs was on-going at that very moment when the disciples asked Jesus where they should prepare the Passover. This phrase should be more correctly translated, when the passover of necessity was being killed.
The phrase in Mark 14:12, "when they killed the passover ", says the very same thing, except here Mark uses the Imperfect, instead of the Present tense. The Imperfect specifies continual action in the past. The witness of Mark is that the killing of the passover had already started and had been going on for a period of time. This phrase would more correctly be translated, "when they were killing the passover ".
Also notice in these passages, that Jesus was instructing the disciples to make ready the Passover in the home of one whom He had made previous arrangements to observe it there. There is no mention of the disciples having to go to the temple to kill the passover. All of the preparation and getting ready for the Passover, was completed at the home of this unnamed man. Witnessed by the fact, as already noted, that at that moment the lambs were already in the process of being killed, this tells us that the time these instructions were given, it was between the evenings. The Lord Jesus and His twelve disciples were observing the domestic Passover, as most of the celebrants of the city were, in the homes or inns of the city.
According to rabbinic tradition (Talmud), the sectarian groups of the scribes and Pharisees, and likely some of the priests, would hold their Passover on the night of the Fifteenth, killing their passovers at the temple, in the late afternoon of the Fourteenth. Hence we actually would have Passover observed on two nights, the God ordained time of the night of the Fourteenth, and the Pharisaic traditional time, on the night of the Fifteenth, as it is to this day.
1 In Numbers, chapter one, Moses is told to take a head count (poll) of all the men age 20 and up. This occurred in the first day of the second month, the second year after coming out of Egypt. The total count was 603,550, excluding the Levites.