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Yeshua in Context » Gospels as History, Last Supper, Passover » Passover – Last Supper – Crucifixion, #2

Passover – Last Supper – Crucifixion, #2

In Part 1, we talked about the discrepancy between Mark and John regarding the day on which Yeshua was crucified and whether the Last Supper was a Passover Seder or not. I will explain this again briefly below a different way. I should repeat that this problem is well-known in New Testament studies and if it is new to you, please don’t think I made it up or “discovered” it.

I said there we have three basic options: (1) decide Mark is right and John wrong (Maurice Casey does this in Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel), (2) decide John is right and Mark wrong (McKnight in Jesus and His Death and Brown in The Death of the Messiah, Vol. 2), or (3) harmonize them in some way (I used to follow Edersheim’s harmonization but never gave much weight to the two calendars theory of Jaubert).

In this post, I want to clarify matters a bit and discuss why I opt for (2). The Last Supper was not exactly a Passover Seder, though it was a Passover-like festal meal held one night before. Mark erred in his account. John did not err. But theologically, the Last Supper is filled with Passover meaning. Mark may have erred, but he wasn’t completely wrong. Yeshua put a lot of Passover into his not-quite-Passover meal.

The Discrepancy Between John and Mark

Mark 14:12 says it was the first day of Unleavened Bread “when they were sacrificing the Passover lamb.” But John 13:1 says it was “before the feast of Passover.”

Mark 14:14 and 16 say the meal was “Passover.” But John 19:14, 31, and 42 the crucifixion was on “the day of preparation,” and 19:14 specifies “of the Passover.”

Mark 14:17-18 say that Yeshua and the twelve ate what was prepared, which had been called Passover in vss. 14 and 16. But John 18:28 says that the chief priests, the next morning, did not enter Pilate’s hall in order to remain pure “so that they might eat the Passover.”

Arguments in Favor of Last-Supper-Equals-Passover vs. Weaknesses
The wording here is mine but much of what I say is found in Scot McKnight’s Jesus and His Death and Raymond Brown’s The Death of the Messiah, Vol. 2.

Mark calls the meal the night before Yeshua died “Passover.” But John says Passover was the next night after Yeshua died.

The meal took place after dark while normal meals happened earlier. A meal on the festal days of purification and preparation before Passover (pilgrims arrived early says Josephus) could just as well be at night.

Yeshua broke bread in the middle of the meal, whereas at normal meals this is at the beginning. In anticipation of Passover, it may not have been uncommon for people to have festal meals with symbolic portions and perhaps multiple breakings of bread.

In John 13, some thought Judas was sent away to give money to the poor (a concern in Passover haggadahs now and perhaps then). They may have thought this about any night leading up to Passover as well, since Yeshua would have been sensitive to this issue at all times, and the festal season lent itself to such almsgiving even before Passover.

They sang a hymn after, possibly the Hallel (Psalm 113-118). A hymn, possibly the Hallel, could have been sung at a festal meal in anticipation of Passover and in the enthusiasm of the pilgrims gathered.

In John 13:23 and 25, the Beloved Disciple was lying at Yeshua’s breast (reclining is a Passover custom). The reclining posture of the symposium meal, a Greco-Roman custom brought into the Passover, would fit well with any festal or significant meal.

Arguments Against Last-Supper-Equals-Passover

There is no mention of lamb at the meal. Mark 14:12 may possibly mean that Yeshua and disciples slaughtered a lamb, but even if so, it is never mentioned again.

A Jewish trial is much less likely on Passover than it is on the day of preparation for Passover.

Early Christianity had a weekly celebration of remembrance of the body and blood (1 Cor 11; Didache), not an annual celebration.

It seems (Maurice Casey argues otherwise) that only the Twelve were present at the Last Supper, but Passover would include everyone and women too.

What Probably Happened

On the night before Passover, Yeshua had a festal meal with the Twelve. They reclined and Yeshua taught them. They sang Hallel after supper. Yeshua evoked strong Passover themes such as blood atonement, covenant, and coming into the kingdom.

Mark erred in relating what he read in his sources. He thought the Last Supper was a Passover. He had some justification for his mistake. Yeshua made the meal like Passover in some ways.

Theologically, the Last Supper was a sort of “renewed Passover” looking ahead to the Passover the disciples expected to celebrate the next night. Yeshua explained his death as a sacrifice re-constituting the people of Israel in a new covenant (and including the nations, as understood later). The atonement theology of Yeshua is nowhere more explicit than here. The Last Supper is not a Passover-replacement. Jewish thinking is so much more “both-and” and not “either-or.” The Last Supper is a reinterpretation of and reapplication of Passover, adding a new Exodus theme to the existing Exodus theme.

In many ways, it is true that the Last Supper is and isn’t a Passover. It is a Passover without a lamb. It is part of a larger set of rituals and stories about redemption. It is about Passover finding its goal in Yeshua without ceasing to be relevant in its progress from Egypt to the history of Israel in the land to the coming of the Lamb of God to inaugurate final redemption.

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Filed under: Gospels as History, Last Supper, Passover

10 Responses to "Passover – Last Supper – Crucifixion, #2"

  1. Brandi says:

    So did Yeshua just add meaning to the Passover rituals with his Body and Blood? If it’s just a separate festal meal, what do I, as a non-jew, do with that? Do I celebrate Passover with a new meaning? Do I do a festal meal once a year the day before Passover? Do I take part in communion once a month? I know that it has nothing to do with my salvation, but I desire so badly to take part in things that I know God set in place for my growth closer to Him. I have been taking part in a Passover seder for many years now, because it brings me closer to God and his purpose every year. But it makes me have conflicting feelings when my church partakes in communion. Every year it seems to make me more confused!

    1. yeshuain says:

      Brandi:

      Great questions. The early believers (1 Cor 11) saw in Yeshua’s festal meal an observance to have every week. Some Christian churches do this. Others prefer to keep it less frequent.

      There is great flexibility. I think Christians should participate in and develop deeper understanding of the tradition they choose to follow. What denomination or tradition are you in? Learn their understanding of the Lord’s Supper. Add to it your own understanding of the Last Supper as a meal with Passover themes. And, by all means, if you can join a Passover Seder every year and also take communion there, this is a plus.

      Many people practice the Lord’s Supper with little understanding (even the pastors who lead it). If your spiritual leader does not develop the deeper meanings, study on your own and find deeper meaning in what your community does. But be humble in talking about it to others. People tend not to like having someone know more about a subject than they do (especially us egotistical clergy!).

      In my book FEAST I develop many of these themes. It is available at MountOlivePress.com or LifeWay.com

      Derek Leman

  2. Brandi says:

    I got your book for my mom! So as soon as she’s done reading it, it’s mine! :)

    Do you personally take communion? Or some type of festal meal, in addition to Passover? If not, if Jesus did this, why wouldn’t you?

    Also, I’ve read 1 Cor 11 many times, but how do you deduct that he’s talking about a weekly gathering? “When you come together…” doesn’t say to me “When you meet weekly…”. I’m just not convinced that Jesus wanted us walking to the front of the church to grab a nasty wafer and cup of juice, to return back to our seat and eat alone, to remember his sacrifice on a weekly or monthly basis. (I go to a non denominational church.)

    In order for communion to make sense in my head, I imagine eating it in a Passover seder setting, bringing myself back to those meanings and examples. Otherwise I have a hard time partaking in it, when it seems so ritual and watered down.

    1. Margaret says:

      Brandi,

      Let’s consider the Passover meal and why it is important. If you’ve never been to a Passover meal it might surprise you to know that it is a ritual meal that teaches the Exodus and life of the Hebrews in the Wilderness. The Oldest Person at the meal begins the meal by asking, “Why is this night unlike all others?” The youngest person at the meal is tasked with answering the questions that pertain to the historical journey. Foods at the meal are eaten in sequence as part of the ritual story telling. In this way, the Hebrews passed the history of the Israelites from the oldest of one generation to the hands of the youngest, that it would be remembered for all time. And it is remembered, about 3500 years after its occurance.

      As you can see from the discussion, there seems to be concern that it was a pre-Passover Passover-like meal, or maybe a Passover meal. What is more important is that on this occasion, the Lord decided the ritual meal was an appropriate time to introduce a new ritual meal to the Jews who were part of Jesus’ inner circle, and to explain its importance.

      The Lord, in keeping with the ritual and teaching nature of the meal, established a new ritual and taught its meaning. The ritual was the blessing of bread, and second, the blessing of the wine and water that were mixed. Both of these actions were an established part of the ritual of the meal. He instituted a new ritual by carefully selecting the words that would define the signficance of the ritual: ‘this is my body,’ ‘this is my blood.’ When he used the words we translate into English, ‘do this in remembrance of me,’ the significance for the Jews who were assembled was in the use of the Hebrew word ‘zakkon’ which was understood differently than the English words ‘memorial,’ or ‘symbolic’ or ‘representation.’ The word ‘zakkon’ had an understanding that this action was an everlasting covenant of God to his people of his faithfulness to them. By repeating this action, ‘do this,’ God’s people would be acknowledging God’s covenant with them. In return, God is nourishing us spiritually with the spiritual food that is mystically His body and His blood. We call an action where God is reaching toward us at the same time we are reaching toward him ‘synergy.’

      In the Eastern Orthodox liturgy the words, “These gifts, from your own gifts, in all and for all” amplify this understanding. Everything we have including our flour is a gift from God. We bring wine, and bake the prosforo or offering bread and offer it back to God in thanksgiving (Greek: Eucharist) for his abundant generosity when we bring it to the sanctuary. (This action of thanking God with part of our ‘first fruits’ is also a Jewish understanding of this action.) When the actions of Jesus are repeated on the church altar with the bread and wine, using the words Jesus used, we are repeating the ritual He established: he broke the bread and asked God to bless it, he mixed water in the cup of wine and asked God to bless it. In the Orthodox Church, and some others, we still ask God to bless the bread and the wine, and we call this blessing ‘the consecration’ of the gifts. We see it as a ‘mystery’ that these become the body and blood of Christ (which He said they are). We believe that sharing in this unites us to Christ and to one another, and that when we are of one heart and one mind — in communion with God and with one another we constitute ‘the Body of Christ’.

      One ritual meal replaced an older ritual meal. The ritual meal has been made new for the people of God. The Lord said this was to be an eternal meal, one that would exist after the earth ceased to exist. How can that be? In Revelation, John the Theologian tells us that there is an eternal ‘liturgy’ by a superior ‘liturgist’ before the throne of God eternally. Since this action is taking place before the throne of God eternally, it is very very important. That the Lord said ‘do this’, is also important. I agree with you, ‘walking to the front of the church to grab a nasty cracker and some grape juice’ hardly fulfills the awe and reverence with which we should engage in this covenant action when we take God’s body and blood.

      We know that the early church had this special meal of thanksgiving weekly, or even more often, just as some churches still do today. Jesus said, unless you have my body and blood, you have no life within you. Jesus wanted us to do this, or he wouldn’t have told us to do this. In the earliest documents still in existance from the early Christians we are told that they gather weekly for the shared meal. Some communities, like the Church still in existence in Corinth, have been doing this for nearly two thousand years.

      1. yeshuain says:

        Margaret:

        I think it is sad, and I wonder if you thought this through in all its implications, that you think the Last Supper involved Yeshua replacing the “older ritual.”

        The sad history of Christians making such statements is evident from Auschwitz and the other death camps.

        Perhaps you are new to the issue of the Jewish context of Jesus’ life and teaching, Margaret. Perhaps your statement was a completely innocent repetition of language you heard in your church background.

        I urge you to think through the matter. If God has replaced “Passover” with “Eucharist,” and perhaps “Jews-as-Chosen-People” with “Christians-as-Chosen-People,” then how can we really trust God at all? After all, Christians have not done any better than Israel at following God (or Jesus). When will Christians be rejected and replaced?

        Derek Leman

  3. yeshuain says:

    Brandi:

    I think in 1 Cor 11 the “when you come together” implies the weekly meeting in Corinth. This is paralleled in the Didache (about 100-120 CE), a later Christian (or Messianic Jewish, actually) writing.

    I do think it a shame when some church traditions fail to make the Lord’s Supper beautiful. But you can find beauty in even the most vanilla communion ceremony.

    Yes, the Corinthians ate a festal meal, probably every week, that included the bread and wine as remembrance.

    And, yes, I do get to take communion in many churches and settings throughout the year. I also get to take it at the Hashivenu Forum every year in a very Jewish ceremony (based on Grace After Meals, birchat hamazon, as in the Didache).

    If your church doesn’t make communion as special as you would like, I recommend you try first finding more meaning in what your church does do. If you try and still feel the communion is not honored enough, you might look for another community or find another community to have communion with (while remaining at your church). Or you might humbly talk to your pastor and tell him your thoughts. But beware of offending. We clergy can be sensitive when members challenge us.

    Derek Leman

  4. Brandi says:

    Thanks so much for the responses! I love this time of year for all the discussions it brings!

  5. Steve Purtell says:

    Derek,

    How does your favor of John’s chronology over Mark’s square with the commonly accepted Markian priority? Since Mark is usually dated closer to the life of Christ (50′ or 60′s, even without Q-theory) than John (90′s-100.) While closer to the original date may not necessarily mean grater accuracy, logically it is easier to write about an event closer to its happening, than 40 years after. Also, is Mark’s account hampered by his smaller vocab base, than John which has a larger greek vocab base, likley adding to greater accuracy of the events? See you at service!

  6. Alisa says:

    Rabbi, You may have all ready read Daniel Lancaster’s theory on the “Last Supper” debate in the Torah Club volume on the Gospels where he attempts to harmonize the accounts rather than placing one before the other. He makes use of a political situation that resulted in two nights being observed for Passover that year. It would be interesting to read your response to Mr. Lancaster’s theory.

    1. yeshuain says:

      Alisa:

      I know Daniel and occasionally we (two very busy people) get to have some interchange, but I do not know the particulars of his theory.

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