Significance of the Word "Passover"

What is the significance of the word "passover"?

GRACE EDITH AMADON, Research Worker, Takonta Park, Maryland

In several of the books by Ellen G. White there are important references to the an­cient Jewish Passover. But the word "Pass­over," as employed, is by no means limited to the fourteenth day of the first month, Abib, or Nisan—the Old Testament paschal date—and its true meaning has to be obtained from the context. A similar usage of this word is also true of Biblical writers and of Josephus. When Luke wrote his Gospel, he took pains to explain that the "feast of unleavened bread" was also called Passover. (Luke 22:1.) On the con­trary, Moses made sharp distinction between these two expressions, stipulating that the Pass­over was to be observed "in the fourteenth day of the first month," and the feast of unleavened bread, "in the fifteenth day of this month." Num. 28:16, 17.                                                         

We shall here examine the key statements in the Spirit of prophecy relating to the Passover and show their harmony with the testimony of Josephus, an ancient historical witness.

The beginning of the Passover month is de­scribed in "Patriarchs and Prophets," page 537, where obviously, the beginning of the month itself—not the Passover date—is said to corre­spond to the last of March and the beginning of April. The time limits here mentioned do not cover more than a week, and they could not therefore signify the whole paschal month, nor even the first half of it, ending at full moon. But they can consistently represent that vari­able period in which the Passover month cus­tomarily began. In certain years, however, the actual beginning was toward the middle of April, or even as late as the third week. This variation in the beginning of the first Jewish month was caused by the nearly eleven days' difference between the common lunar year of 354 days and the common solar year of 365 days. Every two or three years the accumu­lated difference was added to the lunar year, thus advancing the subsequent new year. In this manner the calendar moon kept pace with the sun, or the lunar year was made to agree with the solar.

In "The Desire of Ages," pages 75, 76, the "time" of the Passover journey prior to the feast is described. The portrayal is similar to the foregoing citation from "Patriarchs and Prophets." The songs are mentioned that be­guiled the journey ; and the evenings are characterized as delightful, for the moon was ap­proaching the full, as is always the case between conjunction and opposition ; that is, between new moon and full moon. This pilgrimage was necessarily earlier than the Passover feast itself, and hence the word "Passover" could not here represent the paschal date.

In "The Desire of Ages," page 703, the whole week of unleavened bread is included in the word "Passover," whereas on page 774 of the same book this word is applied to services that followed the paschal sacrifice, which are described in Numbers 28 :17-25. Frequently, therefore, the word "Passover" is used in a general sense in these volumes, and it would be inconsistent to read into such language a defi­nite date, unless a date is specifically stated.

Jewish Date of Crucifixion

As an illustration of an exactly dated con­struction with reference to the word "Pass­over," "The Great Controversy," page 399, can be cited :

"On the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month, the very day and month on which, for fifteen long centuries, the Passover lamb had been slain, Christ, having eaten the Passover with His disciples, insti­tuted that feast which was to commemorate His own death as 'the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' "

That this important statement with regard to the crucifixion date may be fully understood, and in order to show what word the phrase "on the fourteenth day" qualifies, the sentence is presented in diagram on page 7.

This sentence is complex, consisting of one principal clause and three subordinate relative clauses. The phrase "on the fourteenth day," etc., is a time phrase, and hence must qualify some verb or participle in the sentence, and that in such a way as to keep the whole sentence intact. There are altogether five action words in this citation, and these have been numbered from r to 5 in the diagram. The obvious action word which this time expression should qualify is No. i or possibly No. 2. The chronological meaning would be the same in either case. How­ever, if the phrase in question should be attached to the relative clause 4, this clause would thereby lose its antecedent, "day and month," whose office is expressly to tie clause 4 to the main sentence, but would fall entirely of so doing unless anchored in some other place than in the very clause Itself. In other words, if the time phrase "on the fourteenth day," etc., should be placed with the verb "had been slain," then relative clause 4 would thereby include both the connecting word 'which" and its antecedent "day and month,'' and as a result, all of clause 4 would be cut off from the main sentence and become grammatically distorted. Hence there is no alternative but to leave this time phrase where it has been placed in the diagram.

The foregoing sentence from 'The Great Controversy' could have been written in sev­eral different ways and still express the same thought. The statement could have been broken up into two or three short sentences, and even qualified by other words and phrases, and still the first meaning of the author, relative to the date, be maintained. But irrespective of the language employed, it would still conform to the chronological fact that Jesus ate the paschal supper and instituted the communion feast on the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month. For this Jewish date of the death of the Lamb of God is the central th ,ught of this citation, and a guide to crucifixion chronology.

The grammatic diagram plainly teaches an important fact relating to crucifixion chronol­ogy; namely, that accor-ling to the Spirit of prophecy, the Jewish da te of the crucifixion was the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month, and that on this date (I) the lamb was slain, (2) Jesus ate the Passover supper, (3) instituted the communion feast, and (4) was Himself slain for the sin of the world. Let us now compare a few statements from Josephus regarding the ancient Passover date. He says :

"In the [Macedonian] month of X anthicus, which is by us called Nisan, and is the beginning of our year, on the fourteenth day of the lunar month, when the sun is in Aries, . . . the law ordained that we should every year slay that sacrifice which I before told you we slew when we came out of Egypt, and which was called the Passover; and so we do celebratz this Passover in companies, leaving nothing of what we sacrifice till the day following."1

Thus Josephus describes current practice con­cerning the fourteenth day in his own time, and in this same connection he further states:

"The feast of unleavened bread su-ceeds that of the Passover, and falls on the fifteenth day of the month, and continues seven days. . .

"But on the second day of unleavened bread, which is the sixteenth day of the month, they first partake of the fruits of the earth, for before that day they do not touch them?'

These statements from this ancient priest and Pharisee are also in harmony with the following from "The Desire of Ages :"

"The Passover was followed by the seven days' feast of unleavened bread. On the second day of the feast, the first fruits of the year's harvest, a sheaf of barley, was presented before the Lord. . . . The slain lamb, the unleavened bread, the sheaf of first fruits, represented the Saviour."'

"Christ arose from the dead as the first fruits of those that slept. He was the antitype of the wave sheaf, and His resurrection took place on the very day when the wave sheaf was to be presented before the Lord."4

In other words, the resurrection of Jesus took place on the second day of the feast of unleav­ened bread when the wave sheaf was offered. Therefore, since, according to "The Desire of Ages," resurrection Sunday was the second day of the feast, then the Sabbath during which Jesus lay in the grave must have been the first day of the feast, and, according to Leviticus 23 :6, 7, this first day of the feast of unleavened bread was the fifteenth day of the first Jew­ish month, Nisan, a holy convocation. Conse­quently, Friday of the crucifixion was necessar­ily the fourteenth day of the first month. This argument in "The Desire of Ages" is in perfect agreement with the long sentence from " [he Great Controversy" which appears here in the form of a diagram. The Spirit of prophecy offers this further enlightenment regarding the symbolic wave sheaf :

"From the harvest fields the first heads of ripened grain were gathered, and when the people went up to Jerusalem to the Passover, the sheaf of first fruits was waved as a thank offering before the Lord. Not until this was presented, could the sickle be put to the grain, and it be gathered into sheaves."'

Similarly Josephus says, "For before that time they do not touch them." We also read in Leviticus :

"Ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God : it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.'"

History of Paschal Date

After the division of Solomon's kingdom, no Passover is recorded in the Bible until the time of Hezekiah—a period of at least two centuries. And up to the time of Christ there are only two more Passovers on record. When the Gospels and the apostolic letters were written, changes were overtaking the Jews and their feast cus­toms. Imperial Rome continued to harass and vex them. In the third and fourth centuries, under Hadrian and Constantius, the persecution became so severe that all religious exercises among the Jewish people, including computa­tion of the calendar, were forbidden under pen­alty of extremes in punishment.' The Jews sought refuge in dens and caves, and hence could not announce their feasts. In the words of Sidersky, they went through "iron and fire." As a result the festal dates became uncertain, for intercalation was irregular. The paschal lambs were no longer sacrificed, and the Old Testament "fourteenth" of the first Jewish month was falling into discard.

And when ecclesiastical Rome came into power, the Passover argument reached a new peak. Church canons and laws forbade Chris­tians to observe the same Passover date as the Jews; Christians were in conflict if they even received unleavened bread, or the Eucharist, from the hand of a Jew ! John and his disciples in Asia Minor had observed the Passover of the crucifixion on the fourteenth day of the first month, but the Europeans had come to keep the Passover of the resurrection on another date.' The Jews challenged the Christians with refer­ence to the accuracy of their Easter tables. The following from Epiphanius in his testi­mony against the Audians, indicates the existing antagonism:

"For you, brethren, who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, ought to celebrate the Passover accurately and with all diligence after the equinox, taking care not to observe the feast with the Jews. For there is now no fellowship for us with them. For they are even mistaken in the very cal­culation which they think to construct, so that they are found to err in every way, and to depart from the truth."

The Arabian chronologer Albiruni, about I000 A.D., produced the first complete record of early Jewish calendation, aside from the Bible and Josephus. He makes the following statement regarding the Jewish attitude toward the Christian Passover:

"The followers of Jesus wanted to know before­hand the Passover of the Jews, in order to derive thence the beginning of their Lent. So they con­sulted the Jews, and asked them regarding this sub­ject, but the Jews, guided by the enmity which exists between the two parties, told them lies in order to lead them astray?"9'

And with the increase of Jewish sectaries came charges and recriminations in the midst of Jewry itself. We have the testimony of Yefet ben 'Ali the Karaite, who challenges the Rabbanites with an oft-repeated Karaite accu­sation:

"They have introduced the calculation of the calen­dar, and changed the divine festivals from their due seasons."

And similar testimony comes from the chro­nologer Scaliger, who says that he learned the truth from Jews, not from Christians:

"Yet those ancients [the Christian church], when they used this cycle, thought that they were celebrat­ing the Passover in the Jewish Nisan, which instead was the [Jewish] Adar in the years 2. 4, 5, 7, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, as the table shows,"---10 years out of 19!

Under such conditions, it is very simple to account for the almost forgotten Old Testament "fourteenth" of Nisan, which today is more or less disclaimed as the ancient Passover date by both Jewish and Christian scholars alike. Not only the season and Jewish date of the ancient Passover are called in question, but also the time of day when the lamb was slain and the hour and date when the lamb was eaten. These are questions which have commonly perplexed and embarrassed students of the Bible.

It was the Jewish pas­chal month, however, which periodically over­laps two Civil months, that complicated the Millerite problem in 1844. These students of prophecy had to choose between a March-April Nisan and an April-May Nisan for a Jewish first month of the ancient type. Their argument in lunar time was difficult because it had to be worked out on a meridian far distant from the land where the prophecy had originated, and where the Jewish laws governing the ancient Jewish year were given. Again and again the question was asked by Millerite leaders whether barley would be ripe in Judea in the pen i KI end­ing in March and early April. The answer to the Millerite quest came in part from a study of husbandry in the Near East. Especially helpful was the ancient Jewish calendar as reviewed by John David Michaelis,' whom Kugler has rec­ognized as first in the field to investigate criti: cally the seasons of the ancient Jewish months.' And, by an evaluation contrary to the reckon­ing of the modern Jewish calendar, the paschal month Nisan was identified with a thirty-day period in April-May in 1844, with a resultant "seventh month" in October-November. This conclusion was based upon the Pentateuchal Passover law and upon the laws of the agricul­tural seasons in Palestine. And the season of the "seventh month" thereby harmonized with Daniel's "midst of the week" when Jesus died.

The seriousness of the questions confronting Biblical chronology is increasingly recognized by all students of the Bible. The Millerites faced a problem in lunar chronology and solved it. The Spirit of prophecy arose and has placed on record indisputable principles relating to the ancient Jewish year, including a remarkable outline of Biblical dates and periods. The im­portance of understanding these principles and dates is suggested in the following admonition from "The Desire of Ages:"

"It would be needful for His church in all succeed­ing ages to make His death for the sins of the world a subject of deep thought and study. Every fact connected with it should be verified beyond a doubt." 16


1 Ant. III.X.5; XI.IV.8; B. (These citations will be further analyzed in Part II of this study.)

2 Ant. III.X.5.

3 E. G. White, "The Desire of Ages,- p. 77.

4 Id., pp. 785, 786.

5 Ibid.

6 Lev. 23:94.

7 Cf. Jewish Encyclopedia, art. "Calendar."

8 M. D. Sidersky, "Etude sur l'origine astronomi­que de la chronologie juive," Memoires presentes par divers savants a l'Academie des Inscriptions et belles-lettres de l'Institut de France. Vol. XII, Part 2. Paris, 1913, p. 641.

9 osePh Scaliger, "De Etnendatione Temporum," Francofurt, 1593, p. to5.

10 Joseph Schaliger, "De Emendatione Temporum," "J. B. Cotelerius, "SS. Patrum Apostolicis," volu­men secunclutn, Amstelaeclami, 1724, p. 218.

11 Albirfini, "The Chronology of Ancient Nations," tr. Sachau, 1879, p. 302.

12 Philip Birnbaum, "The Arabic Commentary of Yefet ben 'Ali the Karaite on the Book of Hosea," Philadelphia, 1942, XXVIII.

13 Scaliger, "De Emendatione Temporum," Franco­furt, 1593, p. 107.

14 "Dissertation on the Hebrew Months," tr. Bow­yer, London, 1773.

15 "Franz Xaver Kugler, "Von Moses bis Paulus," 1922, p. 134. Munster in Westf.

16 Ellen G. White, "The Desire of Ages," p. 571.

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GRACE EDITH AMADON, Research Worker, Takonta Park, Maryland

September 1943

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