THE PASSOVER THAT CHANGED THE WORLD PART 1 BY RABBI BARUCH
A Study of the final events of Yeshua’s First Coming – Explanations Of Seemingly Conflicting Statements In The Passover Account of The Four Gospels
Passover is known as the Festival of Redemption. Yeshua states in Mark 10:45 that He came to give His life to redeem many. During the “Last Supper” when they had finished eating, Yeshua took the cup and made the blessing saying that this cup (the wine inside the cup) represented His blood, that would be shed for the forgiveness of sins and the ratification of the New Covenant. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the New Covenant in light of redemption and the forgiveness of sins (see Jeremiah 31:30-33). This being the case, it should not be surprising that the Festival of Passover would be used at the backdrop for interpreting the key events in Yeshua’s First Coming.
The primary question that this study will address is, are the events spoken of in the four Gospel accounts reliable? Many individuals have looked at seemingly conflicting statements and concluded that the New Testament does not provide an historically accurate account of the events of Yeshua’s final hours and hence should not be relied upon as the basis for establishing one’s faith.
Understanding the nature of the Scripture
Although the Bible is historically accurate, G-d’s primary purpose was not to write an historical record. Rather His purpose was to reveal truth to mankind. Paul says it best when he writes, “All Scripture is G-d breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for discipline, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of G-d may be perfect, established completely for good works.” II Tim. 3:16-17. In order for this purpose to be achieved, this study will show how G-d inspired the authors of the Bible to record historical events in such a manner that the reader gleans spiritual revelation that will fulfill what Paul stated in the aforementioned passage. This study will provide numerous explanations and examples of this in demonstrating that the Gospel witness is reliable and truthful; and therefore worthy to be accepted.
This study will examine eighteen apparent conflicts within the four Gospel accounts of the final days of Yeshua’s life. Each example will be evaluated according to several criteria. First, it must be ascertained if the “conflict” is due to translational errors. That is, when the text was rendered into another language, did the translator fail to render all the nuances of the Biblical text accurately. Translational difficulties can not only be grammatical, but also contextual. That is, the translator fails to understand the cultural backgrounds for the textual situation. Second, if there is a conflict between two or more textual accounts, can this conflict be explained in a reasonable manner. Third, do literary devices play a role in the conflict. Finally, is the conflict scriptural in nature; that is, is there an actual conflict in the Biblical text or is the conflict between what has be widely accepted and understood and what the Biblical account states.
Conflict #1 When did the “Last Supper” take place?
Conflict #2 Upon which day was Yeshua crucified?
These two conflicts will be evaluated together because at the heart of the issue is establishing an accurate timeline for the Passover week in question. In dealing with these issues a number of peripheral matters must be addressed. First and foremost among them is to understand that the terms “Passover” and “Unleavened Bread” are used synonymously in the New Testament. Technically, there is a difference between them. Passover refers to the sacrificing of the lamb on the afternoon of the fourteenth of Nisan. The Festival of Unleavened Bread (Matzot) begins on the fifteenth of Nisan (sundown on the fourteenth) and continues seven days. The first day of the Festival of Unleaven Bread (Fifteenth of Nisan) and the seventh day (twenty-first of Nisan) are special holidays within the Festival. These days are treated as Sabbath days regardless of which day of the week they fall.
If there is a difference between “Passover” and the Festival of “Unleavened Bread”, then why does the New Testament blur the distinction between them? One must remember that the New Testament was written in Greek and its audience was not just Jewish individuals, but the whole world. The fact is that even today, as has always been the case, people refer to the entire holiday period by these two names. That is to say that people use these terms interchangeably. Although the New Testament follows this custom, it does indeed define them separately and clues the reader in a most clear manner whether it is speaking about Passover or the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The problem is that at times, the translators and readers of the New Testament are not aware of these clues and infer false impressions which are not contained in the text.
New Testament Greek is very precise. Sadly, many translators do not render all the translational clues which the text provides into other languages. Sometimes the reason is a deficiency in knowledge of the language; however most of the time the translator fails to recognize the issue due to cultural factors. Here is an example of a translational deficiency.
In Matthew 26:17 the text reads in the King James translation,
“Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Yeshua, saying unto Him, Where wilt Thou prepare for Thee to eat the Passover?”
However, if one renders the Greek text accurately, there are some significant differences.
th de prwth twn azumwn proshlqon oi maqhtai tw ihsou legonteV, pou qeleiV etoimaswmen soi fagein to pasca;
“And for the sake of the first day of the festival of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Yeshua saying, where do You want that we should prepare for You to eat the Passover?”
The King James fails to render the significance of the fact that the phrase “the first day” th de prwth , is in the dative case. This means that it was not the first day of Unleaven Bread when the disciples asked Jesus this question, but rather they asked the question in regard to the first day of the festival. Hence one cannot conclude anything about the time that the question was asked from this verse alone. (The same is true about Mark 14:12)
In Luke’s account of Yeshua’s Passover there are two additional verses that add information to this issue. The first is Luke 22:1,
hggizen de h eorth twn azumwn h legomenh pasca.
“And the Feast of Unleaven Bread approached, which is called Passover”
The significance of this verse is not found in language or grammatical nuances, but in the simple message that the verse contains. The verse clues the reader to that which has already been stated, namely that the terms Passover and Unleaven Bread are used interchangeably in the New Testament. Luke 22: 7 demonstrates the same point in reverse.
hlqen de h hmera twn azumwn, [en] h edei quesqai to pasca
“And came the day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread on which they bind to sacrifice the Passover offering.”
Looking at this verse, the question that must be answered is, what is the date that Yeshua’s disciples approached Him and asked about making the necessary preparations? At first glance it would appear on the fourteenth on Nisan, i.e. the day that the lambs are sacrificed, but internal evidence within the New Testament does not support this date.
It is interesting to note that in Matthew 26:2 and Mark 14:1 there is a verse that states that “after two days is Passover“. Why stress “two days”? Because those Jews that came from the Galilee had a somewhat different tradition than those in Judea. This fact is recorded in the Mishnah, Tractate Pesachim chapter 4 Mishnah 5,
וחכמים אומרים ביהודה היו עושין מלאכה בערבי פסחים עד חצות ובגליל לא היו עושין כל עיקר הלילה בית שמאי אוסרין ובית הלל מתירין עד הנץ החמה
“The sages say in Judah they use to do work on the eve of Passover until noon (work would be permitted until noon on the fourteenth of Nisan), but in Galilee (among Galileans) they would not work at all (on the fourteenth of Nisan). On the evening (after sundown on the thirteenth), the school of Shammai forbade (work), but the school of Hillel permitted it until sunrise.”
This fact has some significant implications. Yeshua and His disciples were from Galilee. Therefore they would have followed the tradition of the Sages that no work should be done on the fourteenth of Nisan. The Galilean preparation day would be the thirteenth of Nisan; that is, all work had to be completed before sundown. This is the reason why Yeshua’s disciples asked Him about the arrangements for Passover not on the fourteenth of Nisan as many incorrectly assert, but on the thirteenth. This fact is supported by other pieces of information from the Gospels. For example, it is recorded in Matthew 26:5 and Mark 14:2 that the leaders who conspired to have Yeshua put to death did not want this death to occur on the Feast day, i.e. the fifteenth of Nisan.
“But they (chief priests, scribes, and the elders) said, not on the Feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people”.
When one considers all the facts the following conclusions can be reached. First, the traditional term “The Last Supper” was not an “official Passover Seder” i.e., on the eve of the fifteenth of Nisan. Rather, this meal took place on the evening prior. As has been stated in the Mishnah, Galilean Jews observed the fourteenth of Nisan as a special day on which no work could be done, other than fulfilling one’s obligation to offer of the Passover sacrifice. Galilean Jews had all preparations completed on the thirteenth of Nisan and ate a meal that night. This meal has special significance for the firstborn. Jewish tradition has established the fourteenth of Nisan as a special fast day for all firstborn males in order to remember the tenth plague that came upon Egypt. The fast begins at sunrise on the fourteenth and ends with the Seder meal. Yeshua was the firstborn of Miryam and Yoseph and He would have fasted on the fourteenth, therefore this meal would have been what is known as a seudah maphsehket
or “last supper”. סעודה מפסקת
In Luke 22:15 a very important verse appears,
kai eipen proV autouV, epiqumia epequmhsa touto to pasca fagein meq umwn pro tou me paqein:
“And He said to them, I have desired greatly this Passover to eat with you before I suffer”.
For a Galilean Jew Passover observance begins with the meal on the thirteenth of Nisan and continues into the holiday itself. Notice that Yeshua says in the next verse, (Luke 22:16) that He is not going to continue the observance of the festival, until the purpose of Passover, Redemption is fulfilled.
legw gar umin oti ou mh fagw auto ewV otou plhrwqh en th basileia tou qeou.
“For I say to you, that I will not eat it (Passover), until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of G-d”.
It is clear that Yeshua began the Galilean observance of Passover, but He is now revealing that He will not be able to continue its observance with them (the disciples) because He must suffer and die, in order to fulfill the purpose of Passover, i.e. bring redemption to mankind.
Hence in answering Conflict #1: Upon which day did the “Last Supper” take place? The answer is on the eve of the fourteenth of Nisan.
The view that the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have the Last Supper occurring on a different day than John’s Gospel is unfounded. All four Gospels reveal that the “Last Supper” took place one day prior to the traditional Seder meal as John clearly writes,
pro de thV eorthV tou pasca eidwV o ihsouV oti hlqen autou h wra ina metabh ek tou kosmou toutou proV ton patera, agaphsaV touV idiouV touV en tw kosmw, eiV teloV hgaphsen autouV.
“And before the Feast of Passover, Yeshua knowing that His hour had come; in order that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved those of His that were in the world, unto the end He loved them.”
This verse provides the reason why it was so important for Yeshua to eat one last time with the disciples before he died. John’s Gospel also includes the account of Yeshua humbling Himself and washing the feet of His disciples. This act of love, along with His words during the Last Supper served as the means for His disciples to understand what He was about to do for them. And, it was recorded in a manner for future readers to comprehend with the same significance.
John reveals in several additional places that Yeshua’s crucifixion took place prior to the eating of the Passover.
agousin oun ton ihsoun apo tou kaiafa eiV to praitwrion: hn de prwi: kai autoi ouk eishlqon eiV to praitwrion, ina mh mianqwsin alla fagwsin to pasca
“Then they led Yeshua from Kaiafa into the Judgement Hall (Praetorium): and it was early: and they did not enter into the Judgement Hall, in order not to be defiled; but they should eat the Passover”. John 18:28
hn de paraskeuh tou pasca, wra hn wV ekth. kai legei toiV ioudaioiV, ide o basileuV umwn.
“And it was preparation of the Passover it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, behold your King!” John 19:14
From these verses, there is no doubt whatsoever upon which day Yeshua was crucified.
Hence, the answer to Conflict #2Upon which day was Yeshua crucified? There is agreement within all four Gospels that Yeshua was crucified on the fourteenth of Nisan.
Conflict #3 Who Carried the Cross?
The Synoptic Gospels all state that a man by the name of Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Yeshua ( see Mt. 27:32, Mk. 15:21, and Lk. 23:26). However, when one reads in John’s Gospel, it seems to say that Yeshua bore His cross alone.
kai bastazwn eautw ton stauron exhlqen eiV ton legomenon kraniou topon, o legetai ebraisti golgoqa,
“And suffering Himself the cross, He went out into the place called the skull, the Hebrews called it Golgotha”.
While it is true that John does not mention Simon of Cyrene, some interesting observations are found when one compares what is recorded and how it is recorded by the Gospel writers. John emphasizes that Yeshua Himself carried the wood. However it must be stated that John also emphazises the time from when he spoke, when Yeshua went out exhlqen from the place called the Pavement (Hebrew Gabbatha) John 19:13. It was after Yeshua had been scourged and beaten and had not slept the previous night that verse in question appears. John’s emphasis is Yeshua’s suffering and therefore chooses a word bastazwn which stresses Yeshua’s suffering. Although most translators translate this word as “bearing” i.e. “carrying” this is not point of this passage. It is most significant that in Matthew 27:23 and Mark 15:21 this word bastazwn does not appear. Rather the Greek phrase ina arh ton stauron autou is used (in order that he carry His cross). The key Greek word which is utilize in this verse is arh, which does not contain any nuance of “suffering” only “to lift up”, “carry”, or “take up”.
The Synoptic Gospels reveal a fact, that Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross which had been on Yeshua. John’s Gospel chooses not to include this piece of information, rather he emphasizes the degree which Yeshua been afflicted, even before the crucifixion took place. Hence, there is no conflict whatsoever. The problem occurs because the reader is misled by the choice of most translators to render bastazwn as “carried”, rather than by its proper meaning “suffering”.
Conflict #4 Which hour was Yeshua crucified?
It has already been established that Yeshua was crucified on the fourteenth of Nisan, but there is an apparent conflict between Mark and John concerning the hour that He was crucified.
hn de wra trith kai estaurwsan auton.
“And it was third hour (9:00 am) and they crucified Him.” Mk. 15:25
hn de paraskeuh tou pasca, wra hn wV ekth. kai legei toiV ioudaioiV, ide o basileuV umwn.
“And it was preparation of the Passover it was about the sixth hour (12:00 noon). And he (Pilate) said to the Jews, behold your King.” John 19:14
There are several factors which play a role dealing with this apparent conflict. As has already been stated, the purpose of Scripture is not to simply render historical facts to the reader. Although all Scripture is factual and historical accurate, the primary purpose of Scripture is the revelation of spiritual truth. Numbers can play a significant role in this process. Numbers can contain a theological message. In Mark 15:25 the “third hour” is mentioned. The number “three” when it is applied to man, places upon the passage the idea of “testing”. For example, Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Jonah’s was fleeing from the presence of the L-rd and even wanted to die. G-d placed Jonah threes days and nights in the belly of the fish in order to test Jonah’s desire to flee from G-d and die. In the end Jonah prayed to G-d and longed for the Temple- the L-rd’s habitation (see Jonah 2). Hence the three days and nights proved that Jonah really did not mean the things he said.
With this in mind, Mark was inspired to write about the crucifixion in a manner stressing the suffering of Messiah as proof of His love for man. In other words, the crucifixion of Yeshua’s and all the suffering that led up to it tested His commitment to redeem man from sin.
The number three can also reveal the concept of sanctification and perfection. In Isaiah 6:3 it says, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the L-rd G-d Almighty”. The word Holy appears three times stressing the sanctity of G-d and His perfection. In looking at Yeshua’s crucifixion, Mark reveals with the use of the phrase, “the third hour” that Yeshua was set apart (sanctified) for this purpose and that His death was the perfect atonement for sin.
In considering John’s account and his use of the number six, the following conclusions can be reached. The number six in Hebrew numerology speaks of “grace”. Whereas Mark emphasized the testing of Yeshua and the sufficiency of His atonement, John reveals the outcome of His death and atonement. This outcome is that the grace of G-d which provides redemption is now available to man.
Even though the use of numbers reveals different aspects of the same event, doe not the Scriptural account have to be accurate in regard to the time Yeshua was crucified. The answer is yes. If one studies texts carefully, then a simple solution can be reached in regard to this apparent conflict. In speaking about the “sixth hour”; the Synoptic Gospels write,
apo de ekthV wraV skotoV egeneto epi pasan thn ghn ewV wraV enathV.
“And from the sixth hour, darkness happened upon all the land until the ninth hour”. Mt. 27:45
kai genomenhV wraV ekthV skotoV egeneto ef olhn thn ghn ewV wraV enathV.
“And becoming the sixth hour, darkness happened upon all of the land until the ninth hour”. Mk.15:33
kai hn hdh wsei wra ekth kai skotoV egeneto ef olhn thn ghn ewV wraV enathV
“And now it was about the sixth hour and darkness happened upon all the land until the ninth hour. Lk.23:44
It is clear from the context of these verses that Yeshua was already on the cross when the Synoptic Gospels record this verse. However, when John speaks of the sixth hour Pilate had just given the order for Yeshua to be crucified. If one studies the verses in question, the Synoptic Gospels only say it is around the sixth hour and John uses the phrase wra hn wV ekth “it was about the sixth hour”. Hence one can conclude that it was about, near, approaching the sixth hour when Pilate gave the order for Yeshua to be crucified. From the place that the order was given (the place called the Pavement) to outside the city where Yeshua was crucified is only a short walk. Nailing Him to the tree and lifting the cross in place is not a long process. Once could safely estimate from Pilates order unto Yeshua being crucified and hanging on the cross no more than hour would have elapsed. None of the Gospel writers were specific to the minute, they only said that it was approximately noon time when the order was given and Yeshua hung on the cross. The exact time was not the primary concern of Scripture. Rather the emphasis was to tell the reader that G-d’s provision of grace to mankind was totally obscured to the world. This is why it is stated that around the sixth hour (sixth revealing grace) darkness (not understood by the world) appear until Yeshua died and the work of atonement was complete.
This brings one back to why Mark’s Gospel contains the verse recording that it was the third hour when Yeshua was crucified? Mark utilizes the third hour to inform the reader that Yeshua’s suffering began at this time, the beating, the scourging, and the other abuse that He suffered prior to the crucifixion itself. Mark wants to stress all of his suffering and put it within the previous mentioned context.
In conclusion of this apparent conflict, the primary purpose that times are recorded are not for a precise time line, but to place the certain historical events of Yeshua’s final hours within the proper theological context.
Conflict #5 Did Yeshua drink while He was on the cross? And if so-what did He drink?
There is not even an apparent conflict regarding this issue. This is a perfect example of people attacking the validity of the New Testament by manufacturing conflicts which are not even present. Rabbi Tovia Singer in his “Let Get Biblical” tape series and companion study guide states that there is a conflict between whether Yeshua drank or not during the crucifixion and what exactly did He drink (see pages 94-95).
Rabbi Singer states that the Gospels of Matthew and John assert that Yeshua drinks, while Mark’s Gospel does not. Rabbi Singer says that Luke’s Gospel does not deal with the issue. He also points out that there is confusion among the Gospel writers on what was actually drank by Yeshua or refused by Him.
In regard to what was actually drank or offered to Yeshua, Rabbi Singer says that Matthew wrote wine mixed with gall, Mark wrote wine mixed with myrrh, Luke wrote Vinegar (sour wine), and John wrote Vinegar (sour wine).
Rabbi Singer’s error is that He confuses two separate situations into one. He fails to acknowledge that first, comes the offering of a drink prior to the crucifixion and secondly, comes the offering of a different drink while on the cross. When one studies these events thoroughly in the Gospel accounts, there is no conflict.
These two events have a different context and a different theological message. First comes the offering of a drink prior to the crucifixion. Matthew writes that Yeshua was offered Vinegar mixed with gall and that although he tasted it, He refused to drink ( see Mt. 27:34). The next verse tells the reader then Yeshua was crucified. What was the purpose of this drink? The purpose was to lessen the pain that the individual would endure who was about to be crucified. Once again Yeshua refused to drink! Mark’s Gospel reveals the same information (see Mk 15:23). Namely, Yeshua was offered the mixture and refused to receive it. Luke and John do not comment about this incident. Hence there is no conflict whatsoever.
In regard to this first incident before the crucifixion, is there any conflict between Matthew and Mark on what Yeshua was given to drink? Matthew states that Yeshua was offered wine mixed with gall oinon meta colhV memigmenon and Mark states a wine mixture esmurnismenon oinon . Is there any conflict between one person describing a beverage as a “mixture of wine with gall” and another person saying simply a “wine mixture”? Rabbi Singer mistakenly enters into the equation John’s account of the second incident in which Yeshua does drink and says “there is a conflict”.
Now let’s look at the second incident. This occurred while Yeshua had already been on the cross for a period of time. It is true that a different drink was offered to Yeshua while He was on the cross than prior to the crucifixion. While on the cross (the Second Incident) all four Gospels say that is was oxoV. This a sour / bitter wine. There is no conflict whatsoever! The only conflict is one that is derived from those who wish to discredit the authenticity of the New Testament as Rabbi Singer does, and confuse these two incidents as one.
The Synoptic Gospels say that while Yeshua was on the cross, He was offered this drink, while only John states emphatically that Yeshua received it. Whereas the Synoptic Gospels in regard to the second incident do report it, John’s Gospel reveals an additional aspect of why this incident occurred. John begins his reporting of this event in Jn.19:28 which states, “…Yeshua knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst'”. John informs the reader that it was Yeshua’s statement, “I thirst” that motivated Yeshua to be given the second drink. The primary concern was not Yeshua’s physical thirst, but rather His strong desire (thirst) for every detail of His work of redemption to be fulfilled. This study began by stating that Yeshua’s work of redemption is presented to man within the context of the Festival of Passover.
In the ninth chapter of the book of Numbers, Moses is commanded to review so of the laws of Passover Sheni * to the children of Israel. Once of the laws of Passover is that the Matzah has to be partaken with something that is bitter.
…בחדש השני בארבעה עשר יום בין הערבים יעשו אתו על מצות ומררים יאכלהו:
“In the second month on the fourteenth day in the afternoon he shall do it (the observance of the Passover), with Matzah and bitters he shall eat it” Num.9:11
Yeshua wanting to fulfill every aspect of Passover and make it clear to all that He was indeed the Passover sacrifice that redeemed man from the bondage of sin and ended the spiritual exile from G-d cried out, “I thirst” so that the bitter wine would touch His lips and thereby fulfill this text that He, “The Bread of Life”(Matzah) and the bitters would be offered up to His Father together.
John reveals that once He had tasted the bitter wine He said, “It is finished” and died. The phrase (one word in Greek), “it is finished” has much significance. The one Greek word is tetelestai and reveals an important aspect which goes unnoticed in the English. This word does not just mean that something is over or completed, but that the purpose has been fulfilled. When this word is constructed as a noun it is often rendered into English as the “end”. However it does not always mean “the end” as “finished”. Rather it means the “goal” or the “main objective”.
Within in the context of John 19:30, yes the atonement necessary for redemption has been made. But more than this, the reader is instructed that this sacrifice fulfilled the purpose for which Yeshua was sent in to this world.
* Passover Sheni is the observance of Passover in the second month for those who were not able to observe it in the first month. This law is also required for the regular Passover.