The Last Supper, was it a Passover seder?
How important is this issue? I think it's important in understanding the crucifixion week, and because it is the only New Testament ceremony that Yeshua (Jesus) instituted for believers. You may say that baptism is a new thing, but the cleansing from the mikvah bath was instituted from the time of the Exodus. This article will reach a conclusion on the issue of whether or not the Last Supper was the celebration of a Passover seder meal.
It's been my experience that teachings in the church on this issue have been ranged from strongly pro, to strongly con, to neutral, as in we don't know for sure. One prominently taught belief is that there was a Tz'dukim (Sadducee) method of observing Passover, and a P'rushim (Pharisee) method. In this belief system, the Sadducees observed the Passover as the 14th of Nisan/Abib was beginning, and the rest of the Jews celebrated it as the 14th was ending as they do to this day. A variant on this are churches teaching that Yeshua (Jesus) and the apostles had a Passover seder meal as observed by Jews outside of Israel, who observed 2 days for Feast days so they didn't miss it. Both of these widely held teachings on the issue assume that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder meal.
I don't believe the evidence supports the position that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder meal, and you can be the judge on whether the evidence is strong enough to take that position.
Source Materials Used:
Old Testament: I used the Koren Edition Tanakh for Hebrew; and used the Greek Septuagint also to compare words used in key verses in the Torah on the Passover, to compare with those used in the Greek NT manuscript.
New Testament: I used the Peshitta Aramaic New Testament with the Hebrew translation; and for Greek I used the Stephens 1551 manuscript, which was the basis for the KJV English Bible. English translations of the Old and New Testament were observed, but just as a reference to see how others translated certain verses. It was more important to use original language manuscripts to get the original intent. The Complete Jewish Bible mentioned below is an English translation by Dr. David Stern from both the Aramaic and Greek NT.
I believe it is very important to look at the Peshitta Aramaic as an original source document for the New Testament. Mainly, because Bishop Papias wrote that the book of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew (Palestinian Aramaic) and translated by the apostles into Greek. He was an early bishop of the church in Syria. Later, Irenaeus wrote that he had seen and handled the original Hebrew (Palestinian Aramaic) of the book of Matthew. Clement of Alexandria likewise wrote that he had seen and referenced the original Hebrew of the book of Matthew. Therefore, we have 3 witnesses to Matthew being originally written in Aramaic (also called Syriac) and translated to Greek by the apostles. I make no claim that other books in the New Testament were originally in Aramaic, but there is anecdotal evidence for the complete Peshitta Aramaic Bible going back to maybe about 95 AD (it didn't include Revelation). It may even be that the apostle John oversaw compiling all books in the Peshitta Aramaic NT. Therefore, I think it is prudent to consider the Peshitta Aramaic of the book of Matthew as the original manuscript.
Evidence Area #1:
It was after the Last Supper and Yeshua had just finished washing the feet of the disciples as described in John 13. Messianic Rabbis often teach that the book of John supports the position of the Tz'dukim (Sadducee) celebrating the Passover early as the 14th of Nisan/Abib was beginning. This Messianic teaching proposes that the Last Supper was a Passover seder meal. However, take a look at the following (NASB).
John 13:26 ...He took it and gave it (the morsel) to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.
John 13:27 .....What you do, do quickly.
John 13:28 Now no one of those reclining at table knew for what purpose He said this to him.
(verse 29 is the strong clue)
John 13:30 And so after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night.
John 13:29 (KJV) For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, "Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor."
John 13:29 (Complete Jewish Bible) Some thought that since Y'hudah was in charge of the common purse, Yeshua was telling him, "Buy what we need for the festival," or telling him to give something to the poor.
Verse 29 shows us that the apostles knew that the meal they had just eaten in the upper room was not the Passover. If it had been the Passover and they had just finished eating it, why would they even think that Judas was leaving to go and buy the necessary things they needed for the Passover meal? The Feast mentioned is the Passover Seder meal, which from the text is still future AFTER the Last Supper was finished. Therefore, they all knew that the Passover meal was eaten at twilight as the 14th of Nisan/Abib was ending and the 15th was beginning (after the Passover Lamb had been killed in mid-afternoon on the 14th when Yeshua died on the cross). That's why they were thinking that Judas was running to the "Safeway store" of his day to buy all the stuff for the Passover meal.
Yes, the day or the two days before the Passover are called the Day(s) of Preparation and that's what they were doing. They were preparing for the Passover, and sharing a community supper meal. God institutionalized a new thing in the bread and wine ceremony to be celebrated annually as the 14th of Nisan/Abib was beginning every year (but it can also be taken throughout the year).
Evidence Area #2:
What type of bread was used at the Last Supper ceremony of the bread and wine? was it regular bread or unleavened bread? If unleavened bread was used, then we can possibly assume that maybe it was some type of an early Passover Seder celebration. If regular bread was used, then there is no possibility of it being a Passover Seder meal.
Applicable Hebrew and Aramaic words:
Aramaic: As used in all applicable verses in the Peshitta Aramaic NT, patireh means unleavened bread, and lakhma means regular bread.
Greek: azumos (or variants like azumon) are used for unleavened bread; and artos (or or variants like arton) are used for regular bread as can be "psomi (to)" or "epiousios" in more modern Greek. artos is (regular) bread, a loaf or loaves; and "psomi (to)" is modern Greek for bread and epiousios is modern Greek for daily bread.
With the above knowledge, we can go to all the applicable texts in the Bible and see what is used. In the Torah when talking about the Passover. I will use (H) for the Hebrew and (GS) for the Greek Septuagint.
In Exodus 12:18 it refers to eating unleavened bread on the 14th day of the first month at evening, (H) matzot, (GS) azuma.
In Exodus 23:15 it refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, (H) hamatzot, (GS) azuma.
In Leviticus 23:6 it refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, (H) hamatzot, (GS) azumon.
In Leviticus 23:17 it refers to the two loaves of raised bread for Shavuot or Pentecost, (H) lekhem, (GS) artous.
In Numbers 28:17 it refers to unleavened bread being eaten for 7 days for the feast, (H) matzot, (GS) azuma.
The above texts all show a consistent use of words in the Torah, and shows what words were used in each case for unleavened bread or regular bread. In each case, where unleavened bread is cited, the word in Hebrew is matzot, the plural of matzah. The same occurs in the Greek Septuagint, where there is consistency in using azuma/azumon for unleavened bread. A different word is used for regular bread in both the Hebrew Tanakh and Greek Septuagint.
Going on to the New Testament, the following are all the verses in the New Testament about the bread and wine ceremony of the Last Supper, where bread is mentioned. I will use (PA) for Peshitta Aramaic, (H) for Hebrew version of the Aramaic, and (G) for the Greek NT manuscript (Stephens 1551 which was the basis for the KJV).
Matthew 26:17 (NASB) Now on the First day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?" (italics are not in the text and added by the translators, and thus it was not the first day of the Feast, but the first Preparation Day. The translators misled you. More on this verse later in part 2). (PA) d'patireh, (H) lamatzot, (G) azumon. All 3 confirm this is unleavened bread used in the verse.
Matthew 26:26 (NASB) And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body". (PA) lakhma, (H) halekhem, (G) artos. All 3 texts state that the bread was regular bread and not unleavened bread.
Mark 14:1 (NASB) Now the feast of the Passover and Unleavened Bread was two days off..... (PA) d'patireh, (H) hamatzot, (G) azuma. All 3 texts agree that it was unleavened bread.
Mark 14:12 (NASB) And on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread...... (note heavy use of inserted meaning in italics, this was not the first day of the feast, but the first Day of Preparation). (PA) d'patireh, (H) lamatzot, (G) azumon. All 3 texts agree on unleavened bread.
Mark 14:22 (NASB) And while they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it, this is My body". (PA) lakhma, (H) halekhem, (G) arton. All 3 texts agree that the bread was regular bread and not unleavened bread.
Luke 22:1 (NASB) Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. (PA) d'patireh, (H) hamatzot, (G) azumon. All 3 texts agree on unleavened bread.
Luke 22:7 (NASB) Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. (PA) d'patireh, (H) hamatzot, (G) azumon. All 3 texts agree on unleavened bread.
Luke 22:19 (NASB) And having taken some bread, when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." (PA) lakhma, (H) halekhem, (G) arton. All 3 texts agree that the bread was regular bread and not unleavened bread.
John -- the bread and wine ceremony is not mentioned in John, but it introduced the foot washing ceremony, and gave a long discourse by Jesus to the disciples. Going on to Paul's coverage of the bread and wine ceremony in 1 Corinthians 11.
1 Corinthians 11:23 (NASB) For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;.... (PA) lakhma, (H) lekhem, (G) arton. All 3 texts agree that the bread was regular bread and not unleavened bread.
1 Corinthians 11:26 (NASB) For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. (PA) lakhma, (H) halekhem, (G) arton. All 3 texts agree that the bread was regular bread and not unleavened bread.
1 Corinthians 11:27 (NASB) Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. (PA) lakhma, (H) milekhem, (G) arton. All 3 texts agree that the bread was regular bread and not unleavened bread.
1 Corinthians 11:28 (NASB) But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (PA) lakhma, (H) halekhem, (G) artou. All 3 texts agree that the bread was regular bread and not unleavened bread.
I showed all applicable verses covering the bread and wine ceremony at the Last Supper, plus other verses to make a strong point. The verses in reddish-brown color are all the verses on the bread and wine ceremony in the New Testament. Every one of them states that the bread used in the bread and wine ceremony was regular bread and not unleavened bread; that's 100% in agreement in both the Peshitta Aramaic and Greek manuscripts on all verses. I showed both, so that if you favor the Greek over the Peshitta or vice-versa, the outcome is still the same. The bread used for the bread and wine ceremony was regular bread and not unleavened bread. We have multiple witnesses to this fact, in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, plus the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians.
I showed additional verses, to highlight the fact that in Matthew, Mark and Luke, that they had used the term for unleavened bread in the same chapter, when referring to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. So it isn't like the word was unknown. 100% agreement tells me there is a consistent message in the New Testament, that the bread and wine ceremony and the Last supper were not a Passover Seder meal. If it had been a Passover Seder meal, then they would have used unleavened bread (which they did not do).
Yes, there are some troubling verses in gospels, that muddy the water on the issue. I will address all of them in a future part 2 to this article. I believe in celebrating the bread and wine ceremony annually as the 14th of Nisan/Abib is beginning, and also celebrate it throughout the year in remembrance of Yeshua (Jesus) and His sacrifice for me.
Yeshua (Jesus) established one ceremony for believers to celebrate annually on a specific day, on the beginning of the 14th of Nisan/Abib in the evening. He said, "do this in remembrance of Me." He didn't say, "start an annual celebration and name it after a Babylonian goddess named Ishtar (Eostre, Easter)." He didn't say, "make up a date for my birth and celebrate it on the day of birth of the Babylonian god Tammuz (and rebirth of Ba'al); that's christmas if you didn't know. He instituted the bread and wine ceremony on a specific day for believers, and said, "do this". That's the bread and wine ceremony on the beginning of the 14th of Nisan/Abib. There is further evidence that we are allowed to and encouraged to take the bread and wine ceremony (communion) more often than 1 day a year, but that doesn't negate the command for a specific observance on a specific day. It's the only thing He told us as believers to celebrate on an annual basis. Or is maintaining Babylonian derived observances more your style?
Evidence Area #1: From John 13:29, we know that the bread and wine ceremony and supper were already completed; and that when Judas Iscariot left, the disciples speculated that he was going to buy supplies for the upcoming Passover meal.
Evidence Area #2: The Peshitta Aramaic and Greek New Testament manuscripts are in 100% agreement on every text in the NT covering the bread and wine ceremony; that the bread used in the bread and wine ceremony was regular bread and not unleavened bread.