There was a time in the early church when the Quarto-deciman/Passover controversy was front and centre in the minds of those who followed the scriptures, the scripturalists. They were having to defend their practice of keeping the New Covenant Passover on the 14th of Nisan and the 8 day Passover festival, instead of celebrating Easter. They were being accused of “Judaizing.” Yet Paul, the apostles to the gentiles, made in clear in scripture that the Corinthians were keeping unleavened bread/Passover and his only admonition was that they keep these Holy Days in the right spirit, for the right reasons, so as to profit from them spiritually speaking. Today in the churches of God there continues to be controversy, and it also stems from a negative attitude towards those perceived as “Judaizers.” Here are some notes from a recent discussion on this topic:
The Passover timing is something that has caused great arguments for centuries. There is enough historical evidence from the writings of the early church fathers (those who were both for and against the quartodeciman observance) to allow one to conclude that the Sabbath-keeping Christians of the first three centuries AD. observed the 14th as Christ and the disciples did, with the bread and the wine at the beginning of the 14th after sunset. They did not observe Easter.
However, these same early Christians also observed the Passover service with the Jewish community at the beginning of the Holy Day (end of 14th and beginning of the 15th) that began the 7 day festival of Passover(Pesach)/Unleavened bread. This was true for at least several decades after Christ’s death, until they were no longer able to worship with the Jews in the synagogue…this is historic fact. There is evidence that they kept the Feast (Passover/Unleavened Bread), as did the Jews, and it was for this reason that they became the target, along with the Jews, of those who changed the times and season, instituting Sunday and Easter in lieu of Sabbath and Passover.
The accusation of the Roman church against faithful Christians in those early centuries was one of “Judaizing,” that is doing as the Jews were doing in observing the spring festival. Today, there seem to be two broad ditches that the “Christian” world seems to fall into and both of them reject the authority God gave to the Jews to preserve the scripture and the calendar:
There are those who make the mistake of putting down the Jews who have preserved the Hebrew calendar and the Holy Days, in order to set themselves up as authorities establishing their own calendars. And, there are those who have followed the old Roman traditions and have fallen into the error of adopting the Roman calendar and its religious festivals.
Is Passover, the “Passing-Over of the Death Angel?”
Passover, is an English word for the hebrew, Pesach. The Pesach in the bible was many things, but it did not necessarily mean passing over, in Hebrew.
The English term “Passover” is first known to be recorded in the English language in William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible, later appearing in the King James Version as well. It is a literal translation of the Hebrew term.
The Hebrew פֶּסַח is rendered as Tiberian [pɛsaħ] , and Modern Hebrew: [ˈpesaχ] Pesah, Pesakh; The Yiddish word is Latinized variously as Peysekh, Paysakh, Paysokh. The etymology is disputed, and hypotheses are divided whether to connect it to psh (to protect, save) or to a word meaning ‘limp, dance with limping motions.’ Cognate languages yield similar terms with distinct meanings, such as ‘make soft, soothe, placate’ (Akkadian passahu), ‘harvest, commemoration, blow’ (Egyptian), or ‘separate’ (Arabic fsh).
The verb “pasàch” (פָּסַח) is first mentioned in the Torah’s account of the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:23), and there is some debate about its exact meaning: the commonly held assumption that it means “He passed over” (פסח), in reference to God “passing over” (or “skipping”) the houses of the Hebrews during the final of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, stems from the translation provided in the Septuagint (παρελευσεται in Exodus 12:23, and εσκεπασεν in Exodus 12:27). Targum Onkelos translates pesach as “he had pity”.
Judging from other instances of the verb, and instances of parallelism, a more faithful translation may be “he hovered over, guarding.” Indeed, this is the image invoked by the verb in Isaiah 31:5: “As birds hovering, so will the Lord of hosts protect Jerusalem; He will deliver it as He protecteth it, He will rescue it as He passeth over” (כְּצִפֳּרִים עָפוֹת—כֵּן יָגֵן יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, עַל-יְרוּשָׁלִָם; גָּנוֹן וְהִצִּיל, פָּסֹחַ וְהִמְלִיט.) (Isaiah 31:5) Both meanings become apparent in Exodus 12:23 when parsed as: the Lord will pass (hover, guard) over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer (destroying angel is commanded to pass by the children of Israel) to come in unto your houses to smite.
The term Pesach (Hebrew: פֶּסַח) may also refer to the lamb or goat which was designated as the Passover sacrifice (called the Korban Pesach in Hebrew). Four days before the Exodus, the Hebrews were commanded to set aside a lamb (Exodus 12:3), and inspect it daily for blemishes. During the day on the 14th of Nisan, they were to slaughter the animal and use its blood to mark their lintels and door posts. Up until midnight on the 15th of Nisan, they were to consume the lamb. On the night of the first Passover at the start of the original Exodus, each family (or group of families) gathered together to eat a meal that included the meat of the Korban Pesach while the Tenth Plague ravaged Egypt.
According to Exodus 12, and the Jews who have preserved the hebrew scriptures, the Passover was the lamb that was sacrificed on the 14th at the “going down of the sun.”
Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year; ye shall take it from the sheep, or from the goats; and ye shall keep it unto the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at dusk. And they shall take of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel, upon the houses wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; with bitter herbs they shall eat it.Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; its head with its legs and with the inwards thereof. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; but that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. And thus shall ye eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste—it is the LORD’s passover. Exodus 12
Christ saw no problem with the Jews sacrificing the lambs on the 14th in the temple beginning about 3:00 in the afternoon, the time when Christ would eventually be slain. Christ did not argue with the Jews on this point, rather he said to follow their directives, but not their hypocritical lifestyle.
The lamb (pesach sacrifice) was then roasted beginning on the afternoon of the 14th and eaten the evening of the 14/15th. The death angel on seeing the blood on the doorpost and lintel “passed over” (not “pesach” but pasach – skip over, leap, hop or by inference “to spare” or “exempt”) the evening of the 15th about midnight and the Israelites left shortly thereafter. The first Holy Day commemorates these events…We cannot use our English word, Passover, that came into existence millennia after the initial event, to determine our full understanding of an ancient Hebrew word used in the scripture.
Pesach, is used most often, to describe the sacrifice that happened on the 14th, and not the “passing over.” Christ was the sacrificial Passover lamb, our Passover (Paschal in Greek) lamb who was sacrificed for us whose blood delivers us from sin; He was not the death angel “passing over,” but the blood on the doorpost, the sign of God’s protection.
Now all the events related in Exodus 12-13 are part of the Pascha/pesach season, as the term was used in the Greek scriptures, to denote the whole 8 day period, from the putting out of the leaven at the beginning of the 14th to the end of the last day of unleavened bread.
As for the Jews understanding of the calendar and timing of the Holy Days, Paul told the Romans:
What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? 2 Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. 3 For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? 4 Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written:
“That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.” Romans 3
We need to be careful in our analysis of scripture, rightly dividing the word of truth, and not dismissing callously the fact that we would not have a bible to read, nor a calendar to follow were it not for faithful Jews, our fathers in the faith, who preserved such things often at the cost of their lives.
I follow the practice of the early Christian church as it followed Christ, based on the scriptural evidence and the historical evidence that I have available to me. I have read about and understand the various points of view and the “proof” each group uses to support their opinion.
It is true that the differing views/opinions on the observance of Passover cannot all conform to the reality of scripture. If I am in error I hope God will make it plain to me.
However, there was a time when I believed as many do in the Churches of God at present, that the OT Passover was at the beginning of the 14th. This is based on the faulty premise that the NT Passover replaced the OT Passover and was to be observed at the same time. The gospels show clear evidence that Christ had his last supper with his disciples at the beginning of the 14th. So therefore some have read back into Exodus 12 this idea that the Passover lamb was slain at the beginning of the 14th, but the people did not actually leave Egypt until the beginning of the 15th. I no longer believe this to be true.
God has shown me new information thus far in my research on this topic over the past two decades, and this has led me to reject my earlier understanding and change my opinion to better account for all the facts that I now have had time to consider.
My “observance” of the new covenant Passover (bread, wine, footwashing) and the Night to be Much Observed (OT Passover) remains unchanged, but the understanding of the events and their significance has become more clear to me over time.
Why the Differing Opinions and How to Deal with Passover Controversy?
The one who shouts the loudest, or presents their argument first is not necessarily right, at least according to the advice God gives us in proverbs. God tells us to be like the Berean, searching the scriptures to see if these things are so. When judging a matter, God tells us to examine the scriptures and to seek a multitude of counsel.
I have come to my new conclusions based on many hours of personal research into what scholars ( many counsellors) present as 4 major possibilities:
1. 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)
2. 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 14th like the Samaritans rather than the mainstream of the Jewish community (very unlikely).
3. 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. As a result many, mostly Messianic Jews, now favour adding the bread and wine ceremony to the Passover meal on the 15th (plausible, but not wholly satisfying)
4. The beginning of the whole 8-day Passover/Pesach season—UnleavenedBread, was also referred to as Pesach (for instance, currently, the last day of U.B., the holy day, is called the 7th day 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. The sacrificing of the Passover lamb towards the end of the 14th and the family Passover meal (NTBMO) at the beginning of the 15th to start the Holy Day would follow the Jewish tradition(most likely)
So, I understand the basic arguments each point of view puts forward. I also prayed about it, as God says if we ask for wisdom He will give it to us. It is not an easy thing to have God change your mind on something when it was what you had been taught as a child and had believed for several decades.
It is not for anyone to believe me, but what I have to say may provoke some questions and encourage some to delve deeper into the topic. However, as Christians, it is quite clear to most scholars as to when Christ kept the “New covenant Passover” – beginning of the 14th- and we are on safe ground in any case, to follow Christ’s example. God would certainly not fault us for that!
And since there is no temple for the sacrificing of the Passover lamb, we need not worry about this. And if a temple were to be built, only the priests and levites who were responsible for the sacrifices would need to know God’s will on the matter. I have no doubt God would make it clear to them. As the old spy movies say, “It’s on a “need to know” basis.
So we all, in the Churches of God, celebrate the New covenant Passover and appreciate its significance. And we all celebrate the Jewish Passover/Night to be Much Observed where we reflect on the Exodus from Egypt, and God’s deliverance, whether national or personal. There is also a future fulfillment when God will deliver his people once again, and I’m working now to put together some scriptures that we can share this coming Friday evening as we celebrate God’s deliverance.
God is merciful, and he gives us His spirit to lead us into all truth. The time will come when He will reveal all things fully and we will be able to worship in spirit and truth, without any questions or doubts. Meanwhile, we are to bear with one another and love one another as Christ instructed.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 1
Passover, Christ the Bread of life
How do We Resolve Seeming Contradiction in the Gospels?
Christ told the disciples to go and prepare the Passover. Did this mean Christ was going to eat it? And if he didn’t what are the implications? Did the disciples know he was going to be killed as our “Passover Lamb” when they were given this clear instruction?
It is never wise to assume that Christ “lied!” or that the scriptures cannot be reconciled. But there are times when Christ did not tell his disciples everything…in fact, he let the apostles continue to believe that he might return in their day. Was it “misleading” to let them believe this and not tell them that there were at least another 2,000 years before His return? In having the disciples prepare for the Passover, was Christ sparing them the emotional turmoil by doing things as expected in preparing for the following day when they all knew the lambs would be slain and the Passover would be eaten? Perhaps.
One scripture does not a doctrine make.
The apostle John wrote many years after Christ’s death and resurrection in order to clarify things that were not well understood based on the 3 gospels, of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and to add additional important information. John, had the “final word” and he wrote:
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
2 And supper being ended,[not the Passover meal] the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” John 13
To get the full picture you must use all the scriptures, and when rightly understood they do not contradict…let God be true and every man a liar. When we read John 13, John is clear in writing that the meal Christ had with his disciples ( just prior to instituting the symbols of the bread and the wine) was before the “Passover.” So how do you account for this scripture in your reasoning about the timing of the events during the Passover season?
Was John incorrect? John was the one who had the “final word” and was probably responsible for the canon of the Greek scriptures that we consider authoritative.
The lamb, the Passover sacrifice was slain at the “going down of the sun” on the 14th, then roasted and eaten. This is how it was observed in the temple during the time of Christ’s crucifixion. The Jews knew their scripture and were not in error. If they were in error would not we see in history when the change was made? Would we not have Christ’s testimony that the Jews were observing the Passover at the wrong time?
Christ died just as the lambs were being slain in the temple, as the perfect fulfillment of his role as Passover lamb. But Christ had also instituted a “new commandment,” a “new covenant passover” ceremony at the beginning of the 14th to commemorate his death with the bread, and the wine, and to show how we are to serve each other in love and humility by doing the footwashing.
The Jews in Christ’s day who were responsible for the temple service understood their covenant renewed at Sinai and given to the whole nation through the mediator, Moses. They understood the Passover as their national covenant day, that rehearsed the events of God’s deliverance from Egypt, and had as a sign of that covenant, physical circumcision. They observed it faithfully, and Christ did so with them for the first 30 years of his life.
As Christians, do we understand our Passover, the new covenant Passover, that is patterned after the instructions Christ gave the disciples on the evening before he died, as a “new commandment” for those who understand Christ’s loving sacrifice. This memorial commemorates our baptism, our “spiritual circumcision” the circumcision of the heart, and our everlasting covenant with the Father mediated through the blood of his Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Are we observing it faithfully, and have we examined ourselves so that we can partake of it worthily.