Hebrew Roots/Holy Days/Passover/History
HISTORY OF NEW COVENANT PASSOVER OBSERVANCE
THE INSTITUTION OF PASSOVER
The Passover was originally instituted as an ordinance to be kept as a memorial when the children of Israel were delivered by the mighty hand of Yahweh God from slavery and oppression in the land of Egypt. He said to them, "Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand Yahweh brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten." Exodus 13: 3 And again, at Sinai, "These are the feasts of Yahweh, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is Yahweh's Passover. And on the fifteenth day is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to Yahweh, seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation and on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it;" Leviticus 23: 4-7 In the Biblical calendar, days begin at evening until sunset the next day. So from twilight on the 14th Nisan, the night on which Yahweh delivered them, the instruction was for them to have a sacrificial meal using lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs, year by year to remember His mighty act of deliverance for them. This is to be followed with the feast of Unleavened Bread which lasts seven days, the first and last day of which is a type of sabbath in which no work is done. (Exodus 12: 3-20) The first holy day of this week was the day in which they rested at Succoth after their deliverance and Yahweh joined them in the pillar of cloud to lead them out of Egypt. The seventh day was the day of rejoicing and deliverance after Yahweh had opened up the Red Sea for them to pass through in which their enemies had been overthrown and drowned, while they came to the other side a free people. The evening of the14th Nisan is the sacrificial meal of the Passover, the 15th and the 21st are Sabbatical Feast days. Unleavened bread is eaten from the evening of the 14th Nisan to the evening of the 21st of Nisan. Josephus, the historian of Y'shua's time, records the scriptural method of observing Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread as follows - "In the month of Xanthicus, 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 (for in this month it was that we were delivered from the bondage under the Egyptians, 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 celebrate this passover in companies, leaving nothing of what we sacrificed till the day following. The feast of unleavened bread succeeds that of the passover, and falls on the fifteenth day of the month, and continues seven days, wherein they feed on unleavened bread; on every one of which days two bulls are killed, and one ram, and seven lambs.” (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews; Book III, Chapter X, section 5.)
THE PHARISAICAL TRADITION
After the House of Judah returned from their exile in Babylon, they kept the Passover differently from the way it was originally instituted, merging the Passover sacrifice and the Feast of Unleavened Bread together into one day. The Encyclopaedia Judaica records this merging of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread into one event - "The feast of Passover consists of two parts: The Passover ceremony and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Originally, both parts existed separately; but at the beginning of the [Babylonian] exile they were combined," (Vol. 13, p. 169). W. Gunther Plaunt, corroborates this, saying, "The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread rituals were originally two separate observances which were combined sometime between the events of the Exodus and the redaction of the text" (The Torah, p. 445). The Pharisaical Sect of the Jews maintained the Torah taught a sacrificing of the lamb on the afternoon of the fourteenth to celebrate the feast at nightfall which would then be the fifteenth day - what they called their Passover. The Sadducee's who had originally been the temple priesthood kept to their original understanding of the text for a sacrificing of the lamb between sunset and nightfall and then partaking of the meal on the evening of the fourteenth. The Samaritans who had been taught by the priests and the Essenes also kept this timetable. The Temple Scroll records the national practice of Y'shua's era which was dominated by the Pharisaical party, as sacrificing the lamb between the two evenings, that is, between the going of the sun and darkness commencing on 15 Nisan (The Temple Scroll, Vol 1, p. 96, column 17:6-9; see p. 118 for calendar). That was the temple practice at the time.
KEEPING THE ORIGINAL PASSOVER TRADITION Y'shua instructed Peter and John, a full 24 hours before the Passover of the Jews, to make preparations to eat a Seder-type Supper that very evening. According to an early manuscript of Matthew's gospel, He had explained to them the reason for this observance. (Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13) This was the 14th Nisan, the evening before His execution, which is calculated to be Tuesday night April 5th AD 30, according to our calendar. He kept the Passover according to the ancient tradition of the Torah and not according to the then current Hasidic/Pharisaical system. He became the Passover Lamb later on that day at 3 pm. approx., when the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple for the main observance of the Passover the following evening.
In the system of the day there was provision for Y'shua to be able to do this. Although the Passover lambs were not sacrificed until the following day, it was common to have a Seder the night before as a preparatory meal or as a Chagigah which was an extra non-obligatory sacrificial offering for the Feast. The Chagigah could be offered and eaten on the 14th or the 15th of any animal from the herd. (Alfred Edersheim; The Temple Ch.11 Passover)
Rabbis at the time often had a special meal with their disciples the night before the traditional passover to celebrate and finish a course of scripture study or just as a night of instruction and preparation for their form of Passover, as they kept it, on the day following - the 15th. To this day, Rabbis in the Lubavitch order still have this preparatory meal and call it "Messiah's Supper" in anticipation of the coming of Messiah. Some consider and call it a Passover even though it is just a preparation.
By the conflict of the two main parties regarding their interpretation of scripture, Yahweh provided a means whereby His Son could keep the right Torah observance and introduce the new covenant, as well as fulfil the typology of the Passover lamb slain for the sins of the people. He fulfilled this perfectly by dying at the same time as the sacrificial lambs were slain and then three days and nights later He arose at the time of the Firstfruits being taken from the earth and ascended the next morning with His blood to His Father as the Wave-Sheaf offering was presented in the temple.
Early believers followed the 14th Nisan as kept by Y'shua and His disciples which was a continuation from the Zadok priesthood. Their only deviation was in the slaughter of the lamb, Y'shua Himself being seen as the passover lamb. They regarded the Passover of the Jews on the 15th as not true torah observance, but the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
In the thinking of the early believers, the events of the Last Supper produced a new type of Passover, in remembrance of Y'shua the Messiah and His sacrificial atonement, to be observed annually beginning in the evening (the beginning) of the fourteenth day of Nisan. That is portrayed by the gospel writers (Matthew 26:17-18; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:8, 22:15) and it certainly was the tradition of the ancient church. Thereafter, Y'shua' followers, all Jews, abandoned the Mosaic Passover and its animal sacrifice as they saw Y'shua of Nazareth, the Messiah, "our Passover" (I Corinthians 5:7), as the supreme sacrifice once and for all (Hebrews 10:10-14, 18). In the theology of the ancient Church, the observance of the new covenant Passover constituted the reaffirmation of a believer’s baptismal commitment to God. The bread represented Y'shua giving Himself as a sacrifice once to take away the sins of many (I Corinthians 10:16-17; I Peter 2:20-24; Luke 22:19) and the wine symbolized the New Covenant in His blood, shed for the remission of sin (Matthew 26:27-28; Hebrews 9:11-15; Colossians 1:19-22). The symbols demonstrated that the New Covenant came into being through His death and superimposed on the emblems used in the passover Seder, a new significance.
Although they had a new revelation, they did not separate from their Jewish brethren. Van Goudoever rightly observes that "in order to understand the origin of the Christian festivals, we must realize that in the first part of the first century believers and Israelites shared the same religious tradition. They even worshipped together in the same synagogue. " Christianity " was in its earliest stage a ‘sect’ or group among the Israelities. . . . Part of this general tradition is formed by the festivals and the calendar. ( J. Van Goudoever, Biblical Calendars (Leiden, 1961), p. 151)
APOSTOLIC OBSERVANCE OF THE FEASTS
The book of the Acts of the apostles records for us that the original apostles continued to keep the feasts and sabbaths after the new covenant was introduced. Paul and his companions spent the Feast of Unleavened Bread at Philippi. The historian Luke records, 'But we sailed from Philippi AFTER THE DAYS OF UNLEAVENED BREAD, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days" (Acts 20:6). This clearly implies that Paul was still observing the festival ordained by God. (Exodus 12:15-18). On another instance, Luke writes, "It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened DURING THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD" (Acts 12:1-3). Luke writes plainly as if he regarded the Feast of Unleavened Bread as an existing fact -- not something which had been abolished at the death of the Messiah! He speaks of it as being something he regarded as an important reference point.
In the book of Acts, Luke quotes the apostle Paul as saying to the Ephesus church, "I must by all means KEEP THIS FEAST that comes in Jerusalem" (Acts 18:21). The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary says this festival was probably Pentecost. Adam Clarke says it was "most likely" the Passover. It was undoubtedly one of the commanded festivals of God (Lev.23) In another passage in the book of Acts, Luke records: "Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the DAY OF PENTECOST" (Acts 20:16). Another reference to the holy feasts of God in the New Testament occurs in I Corinthians 16:8. Here Paul tells the predominantly Gentile church, "But I will stay on at Ephesus UNTIL PENTECOST," These references to the annual feast days of God, show that they held enormous importance to the early Church, and that Paul observed them. And he commanded the Gentiles to follow his example, as he followed the Messiah's who also observed them, along with the Jews of His time (Luke 2:41-43; John 7:2, 10, 37; I Corinthians 11:1).
If Paul, who was the apostle to the Gentiles, still observed God's annual festivals, how much more did the other apostles, stationed at Jerusalem, who were preaching to the Jewish converts, celebrate God's festivals? There is absolutely no indication in all of the New Testament that they were ever abolished! Eusebius records in his account in Eccl Hist, Book 2, chapter 23, that both Jews and Gentiles celebrated Passover in the early days of the faith in Messiah of 63 AD. Unfortunately, history shows they did not hold fast to this tradition. The early believers remained in the Judaic community until 70 AD, although persecution had arisen and it became increasingly difficult for them to do so. When Bar Kochba was proclaimed as the Messiah by the Jews, the believers had to separate and become a community by themselves.
EARLY HISTORICAL OBSERVANCE
In one form or another all believers celebrated Phasekh (as it was termed) and Pentecost in the early church and calculated it in conjunction with the seven days of unleavened bread in the pre-Nicean period of Church history. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the headquarters of the early Church, which was at Jerusalem, was no longer existent and the separation between believers and their Hebraic roots was set into motion by their dispersion.
"From the prophetic utterances of Messiah, the believers received warning, escaped from the doomed city, and found refuge at Pella, in the Jordan valley. But the great effect upon the church of this destruction was that it put an end forever to all relation between Judaism and Christianity. Up to this time the church had been regarded by the Roman government and by the people at large as a branch of the Jewish religion, but henceforth Jews and believers were apart. A small section of Jewish believers endured for two centuries, but with ever-decreasing numbers . . ." Story of the Christian Church p.42-43
The believers who fled to Pella, who were known as the Jewish sect of the Nazarenes, existed on into the fourth century. Samuele Bacchiocchi tells us that according to M. Simon, "they are characterized essentially by their TENACIOUS ATTACHMENT TO JEWISH OBSERVANCES. If they became heretics in the eyes of the Mother Church [at Rome], it is simply because they remained fixed on outmoded positions. They represent, though Epiphanius is energetically refusing to admit it, THE VERY DIRECT DESCENDANTS OF THE PRIMITIVE COMMUNITY, of which our author knows that it was designated by the Jews by the same name of Nazarenes" (quoted in From Sabbath to Sunday, p. 156). After the end of the Jewish revolt of 70AD and the Roman incursion, the governing Apostolic Council re-established itself in Jerusalem for a while. Says Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, "Simeon (or Simon, Mark 6:3), the successor of St. James as head or bishop of the church in Jerusalem, and like him was also a brother of our Lord; said to have attained the age of one hundred and twenty years. He was crucified by order of the Roman governor of Palestine in 107 A.D. during the reign of Trajan" (p.53). After the deaths of the apostles, Hurlbut church historian, writes, 'We name the last generation of the first century, from 68 to 100 A.D., 'The Age of Shadows,' partly because the gloom of persecution settled over the church; but more especially because of all periods in the history, it is the one about which we know the least. We have no longer the clear light of the book of Acts to guide us; and no author of that age has filled the BLANK in the history. . . . For fifty years after St. Paul's life a CURTAIN HANGS OVER THE CHURCH, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises, about 120 A.D. with the writings of the earliest church-fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul" (Story of the Christian Church, p.41).
Epiphanius (378 AD) says that confusion over the Passover celebration arose soon after the circumcised bishops of Jerusalem were removed from power at the beginning of the Jewish revolt of Bar Kochba in 133 AD by Roman decree and replaced with gentile bishops. (Epiphanius Pan., 70:9: 7-9) From this time contentions began regarding the correct time to keep Passover, those who became known as 'Quatrodecimans' (14th-keepers) holding to the original tradition of the 14th Nisan for the observance of the festival, against the introduction of the pagan celebration of Easter. The believers had commenced a tradition of fasting prior to the onset of Passover for at least a day and after the meal they held a vigil of waiting in prayer for the remainder of the night. At some time, due to progressive Roman persecution, Passover became an all-night fasting vigil while they sang hymns until the cock-crow at 3.00 am, then they had the passover emblems with foot-washing and the agape fellowship meal. This continued until the Roman authorities in the time of Trajan prohibited such gatherings completely in AD112, causing them to begin to change the time of their meetings and eventually, when Sunday became an official day of rest as proclaimed by Constantine, they transferred it to a Sunday morning gathering.
THE FALLING AWAY FROM PASSOVER OBSERVANCE
- 70AD+ Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed. Roman government levies a huge tax on anyone practicing Judaism, encouraging many gentile believers in the Messiah to distance themselves from Judaism.
- 90AD+ Jews begin expelling believers in the Messiah from the synagogues. Samuel the Lesser was commissioned to
add what came to be called the Birkas haMinim to the Eighteen Benedictions of the Amidah. This was used to find who the "Nazarenes" or believers in Messiah were and expel them from the synagogue.
- 116-126AD + Irenaeus was the first to record that the move to celebrating Passover on the Sunday after the Paschal moon started in the time of Sixtus in Rome around 120 CE (cf. Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. V, Article Easter, p. 228).. But the believers in Asia and Jerusalem refused to comply and continued celebrating Passover on the 14th of Nisan.
- 135AD+ Emperor Hadrian ruthlessly destroyed the city of Jerusalem, because of the Bar Kochba rebellion among the Jews, who regarded him as their "Messiah." The Emperor rebuilt on the ruins of Jerusalem a new city, Aelia Capitolina, and expelled all Jews from the city prohibiting them to return , to practice circumcision and the Sabbath.
- 135 AD+ After the final destruction of Jerusalem, early records indicate the Bishop of Jerusalem still favored the 14th of Aviv for Passover and according to Epiphanius, the fifteen Judaeo-Messianic bishops who had administered the Church in Jerusalem up to 135 A.D. had practiced the Quartodeciman Passover -- the Jewisb Passover. They based this observance on a document known as the "Apostolic Constitutions." which said: "You shall not change the calculation of time, but you shall CELEBRATE IT AT THE SAME TIME AS YOUR BRETHREN who came out from the circumcision. WITH THEM OBSERVE THE PASSOVER." Bacchiocchi's From Sabbath to Sunday, p.161.
With the end of the Apostolic succession in Jerusalem, Hellenistic influence began to infiltrate the Church. the first instance being the intrusion of the Easter system, according to Irenaeus.
- 135-190AD+ Somewhere in this time period it's believed that the first gentile was elected Bishop of Jerusalem and moved the Passover celebration to Sunday after the Paschal moon, in unison with the church in Rome. Eusebius tells us that Hadrian required that a Gentile bishop be selected for Jerusalem in Ecclesiastical History, Book IV, Chapter 6.
- 150-155 AD+ Polycarp (from among the believers in Asia and a disciple of John) goes to Rome and tries to convince the Pope to follow the true apostolic tradition of celebrating Passover on the 14th of Aviv and not the Easter celebration which was being introduced. (See Eusebius' Eccl. History, Book V, Chapter 24)
- 161-169AD+ Apollinarius of Hieropolis refutes those who ate the paschal lamb at the same time and manner as the Jews. This view prevailed and eventually led to the abandonment of the Jewish paschal feast and to the adoption of fasting instead and the paschal vigil replaced the Passover meal. (Joachim Jeremias note 1, p. 902 also Eusebius, HE, 5: 24) *176 A.D+ Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon and disciple of Polycarp, John's disciple, spent much time trying to mediate and settle this dispute between east and west regarding Easter observance and passover. He warned Pope Victor not to break the unity with "the many bishops of Asia and the East, who WITH THE JEWS CELEBRATED THE PASSOVER on the fourteenth day of the new moon" (NPNF, 2nd, III, p.370)
- 180-220AD+ Clement of Alexandria records the original Passover in that that Messiah suffered on the 14th and that the Jews would not enter the Praetorium so they would not be defiled for their Pesakh that night - the 15th
- 185-190AD+ The believers in Asia becomes the last region of believers to move to celebrating "Easter" or the Sunday Passover. But not without a fight. They vehemently stated their belief that the 14th was the correct day to celebrate it, but complied only for the sake of unity among believers. Many who objected said there were still people alive at the time who were instructed by the Apostle John, before he died, to keep the Biblical date. Eusebius records this in detail in his Eccl History, Book 5, Chapters 23-25. They were threatened with excommunication from the Roman Church unless they complied.
- 190-194AD+ The third stage of the controversy which extended over the whole church, and occasioned many synods and synodical letters. Schaff notes that this dispute was agitated between Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus and disciple of Polycarp, (who was the representative of the Asian Churches) who strongly advocated the traditional Passover date of Nisan 14, and Victor the Bishop of Rome (A.D. 189-199) who advocated the Easter tradition.
- 270 AD+ Anatolius of Alexandria records that it was on the 14th that Y'shua was asked by the disciples where they should keep the Phasekh (Anatolius 8 cf 10). He says "Calculate the from the end of the 13th day of the moon, which marks the beginning of the fourteenth, on to the end of the 20th, at which the 21st day also begins, and you will have only seven days of
unleavened bread, in which, by the guidance of the sovereign, it has been determined before the the most true Phasekh festival
ought to be celebrated" (Anatolius 8)
- 300AD+ Eusebius verifies that Y'shua kept the Passover on the 14th Nisan contrary to the Jews "Nor did the Saviour keep the Phasekh with the Jews at the time of His suffering .. But before He suffered He did eat the Phasekh and celebrate the festival with His disciples, not with the Jews." (Eusebius Pas. 9, 10)
- 378 AD+ Epiphanius, (315-403AD) bishop of Salamis, who accused the Nazarenes (believers of Jewish descent) of heresy, admitted of them, "The Nazarenes do not differ in any essential thing from them [the Jews], since THEY PRACTICE THE CUSTOM AND DOCTRINES PRESCRIBED BY JEWISH LAW, except that they believe in the Messiah' (ibid).
- 400 AD+ Augustine reminds believers that "Phasekh and Pentecost are festivals with the strongest scriptural authority"
+ Severian, bishop of Gabala strongly attacked those believers who still maintained the Jewish Passover
- 437 AD+ Socrates the historian of this period records that there were Quartodecimans who still kept the 14th
Nisan and not Easter but not according to the recently introduced Hillel calendar which they rejected as in error. He holds them to be wrong in almost everything (ibid., p. 131) by this time in history due to changes they had made.
THE ABOLITION OF PASSOVER OBSERVANCE
It is obvious from Constantine's edicts that the believers of that time were still attempting to keep the Passover. He makes a strong case against the practice saying, "it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews... Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd." - Constantine's Nicene Letter, 325 C.E. "No bishop, presbyter, or deacon, or any other member of the clergy is to share in Jewish fast or feast, or to receive from them unleavened bread or other material for a feast." Apostolic Canon 69, 4th Century At the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, the bishops of the Catholic Church decreed that: "All the brethren in the East who formerly celebrated Easter [Passover] WITH THE JEWS, will henceforth keep it at the SAME TIME AS THE ROMANS, with us and with all those who from ancient times have celebrated the feast at the same time with us." By 364 A.D., at the Council of Laodicea, both the Passover and the Sabbath were completely abolished by the Roman state. The new state religion, a bizarre blending and amalgamation of paganism and Christianity, devoid of any remaining "Jewish" influences, became the dominant religious power in Europe for over one thousand years. The Anti-Semitism of that time was strong as seen by one example - "The idea of going from a church to a synagogue is blasphemous; and to attend the Jewish Passover is to insult the Messiah" John Chrysostom, Sermons II and III, 387 C.E.
In spite of the strong antisemitism and the binding decrees against the observance of Passover, the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers make reference to of a group of believers, the Novatians of Phrygia, who "began to celebrate the festival of the Passover on the same day as the Jews". He says "they determined upon keeping the feast of unleavened bread, and upon celebrating the Passover on the same days as the Jews." ("The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen" vo.2, p.360, ch.24) Thus as late as about 374 A.D., there are records that the Passover was still being observed according to the original traditions. Franciscan biblical archaeologist Bellarmino Bagatti, says the continuing practice among the believers was due to "the common belief among them that the date had been fixed by the Lord and was, therefore, unchangeable. Many believed that this date was superior even to the sabbath itself" (Bagatti 1971a:81). Bagatti knew that the Sabbath remained important in Judeo-Christianity well into Nicene times and it went beyond that in British and Celtic regions, as well as in Asia. The British and Celtic believers were Sabbath keeping over this period and obeyed all the Holy Days, even the food regulations in the Old Testament were kept (David L Edwards Christian England Vol. I, p. 27).
The Anglo-Saxons were not converted to Catholicism until 597. They had been evangelised by the Apostles after Y'shua's resurrection and had resisted the influence of the Church at Rome until this time. The British Church was to continue observing the Quartodeciman (14th Nisan) system for centuries until Whitby in 664 at least, and was slow to give it up even then, when it went underground.
The Syrian Church and that in Mesopotamia in the east, also retained the traditions for many centuries as they were outside the influence of the Roman Empire. It was only with the area being conquered by Islam that the observance of the faith went underground. Russia was converted to Christianity following the baptism of Olga of Kiev in 955. In 967, The Kazar Jewish kingdom of the Askenaz came under their control. (cf. Milner-Gulland and Dejevsky Cultural Atlas of Russia and the Soviet Union, Time-Life Books, 1994, p. 8). The Judaic influence on the Russian Orthodox system was extensive and continued until the fifteenth century and there were continuing groups of those who kept the feasts even under the Mongols & Tartars There have always been groups of believers down through the ages who followed the scriptures and kept the festivals in the face of extreme persecution and martyrdom. Yahweh always has had His faithful remnant.