Celebrating the New Covenant Passover?
Based on the Hebrew scriptures, the gospels, and historical record we are confident in stating that during the time of Jesus’ death the Jews were correct in celebrating the Passover at the end of the 14th of Nisan/ Abib Some Churches of God in the past century have called this time the, “Night to Be Much Observed.”
Now the trickier part is in the gospel accounts, concerning the timing of the foot washing, bread and wine ceremonies that we call the New Covenant Passover. This is due to the one divergent reading that seems to say that the disciples ate a “Passover” meal with the disciples at the beginning of the 14th. In the scholarly literature this was considered to be the “thorniest” question in all of the New Testament. There were according to the writers 4 main possible explanations. Here they are in a nutshell:
- The beginning of the 14th was the “real” Jews’ Passover, and everyone else keeping the Passover (such as the Pharisees and Sadduccees) on the following day were in error (most unlikely)
- The beginning of the 14th was not the Jew’s Passover but the disciples being from Galilee typically celebrated Passover at the beginning of the 14thlike the Samaritans rather than the mainstream of the Jewish community (very unlikely)
- The beginning of the 14th was not the OT Passover, that would be held later. But Christ would be dead then, so he kept the Passover meal a day earlier in this one case. But many, mostly Messianic Jews, now favour adding the bread and wine ceremony to the Passover meal on the 15th(possible)
- This was the beginning of the whole 8-day Passover/Pesach season—U.B. was also referred to as Pesach (for instance, currently, the last day of U.B., the holy day, is called the 7thday of Pesach). The beginning of the 14th was the night in which the leaven was typically put out of the homes of all the Jews and was included in the general season of activities under a generic label for the season as Pesach/Passover. The meal Jesus ate (the Last Supper) was not THE OT Passover meal, but a meal beginning the season. Paul and John seem to indicate we are to observe the symbols of the bread and wine, but not the meal, at the same time Jesus and his disciples originally did, thus making it a new observance with new symbols. (most likely)
The fourth explanation we deem to be most likely for the following reasons:
- The Jews were not in error about when the Passover was to be slaughtered, Christ would have made that plain if they were.
- Christ’s death and burial perfectly fulfilled all of the events at the correct time according to the Jew’s reckoning, thus fulfilling the timing of the Passover as the Jews calculated it.
- The Bread, Wine, and Foot-washing ceremonies were not connected to the meal they were having—Christ’s last supper– and Paul corroborates this in Corinthians writing that they were to eat at home before coming to take the bread and wine.
- Christ called the bread, wine, and foot-washing a “new commandment” since it did not replace the OT Passover and all of it’s original meaning connected to God’s salvation of the nation and reconfirmation of the national covenant first given to Abraham. Isaac, and Jacob.
- Jewish Christians did not have to confront family or synagogue over keeping the OT Passover apart from the family and with new symbols. There is no biblical or historic record of such controversies, and such problems would surely have arisen if Jewish Christians had tried to “preempt” the traditional Passover with new traditions or ceremonies on the same evening the Jews were remembering the Passover lamb and release from Egyptian slavery.
- Doctrinally speaking, the idea that the New Covenant replaces the old is a cause for much misunderstanding. Paul says the old is “obsolete, or passing away” it has not been abrogated or replaced. (New Covenant, phrase uses Gk: kainos or “refreshed covenant, new in innovation or opportunity. The Greek word “neos” for the word new was not used by the NT writers to describe the Church’s covenant with the Father, mediated by Christ. The Greek word “Neos” means new in time as in brand new.) Our “new” covenant is based on better promises and had its beginning with all those from the beginning of creation who walked with God in covenant, a family relationship with God as their Father. But the everlasting or new covenant does not replace the national (old, Sinai) covenant. (View the sermon series on the covenants for clarification of this important topic) Therefore it is easy to accept that Christ was instituting a new ceremony to celebrate the new covenant (everlasting) that was ratified by his blood sacrifice. And he was not replacing the original Passover and it’s ties to the national (old) covenant.
- John was the last apostle/disciple to write of the events surrounding Christ’s death and he wrote much later filling in the gaps that were not addressed in the other gospels. His account is clear that the meal with the disciples was before the Feast of the Passover, it was not the traditional Passover meal. The new ceremonies were performed, “after supper being ended” beginning with the footwashing and followed by the bread and wine, these were ceremonies added as part of the “new commandment” that expressed our love for each other (the footwashing) and our love for God and our covenant with Him. (bread and wine)
- We do not call it the Lord’s Supper, as it was after supper. And we do not call it “Passover” as that is the name rightly attributed to the meal at the end of the 14thand the beginning of the 15,th the first Holy Day during unleavened bread when the death angel passed over those who had the blood of the lamb on the doorpost at night.
- So we have adopted the nomenclature of “New Covenant Passover.” This is to distinguish it from the original Passover that began at the end of the fourteenth and culminated in the flight of Israel from Egypt on the 15th, that was to be observed by the people of God as a memorial forever.
- During John’s life and after John’s death the great doctrinal dispute was called the Quartodeciman (14thAbib/Nisan) controversy in which John, Polycarp, and Polycrates among other believers, all contended with the Bishops of Rome over the keeping of the New Covenant Passover—the Pascal Feast. The Romani (supporters of the bishops of Rome) eventually won out, and squashed the observance of Passover in favour of Easter at the council of Nicea in 325 A.D. For a couple hundred years after John’s writing, there did not seem to be any confusion among the keepers of the New Covenant Passover as to how and when to keep this Passover. For them John’s record seemed clear enough and they followed his instructions recorded in the gospel of John as to when to keep the service of the bread and wine (beginning of the 14th) and the Passover and Holy Days (beginning of the 15th).
- We can feel confident in following John’s admonition and timeline as he is probably the one who was responsible for the Greek scriptures in their final form, and it was his role to clarify things that may have been “fuzzy” in the minds of both Jew and Gentile who had come to worship God in spirit and in truth.