by Sir Robert Anderson
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The Coming Prince
Sir Robert Anderson
THE PASCHAL SUPPER
THE trustworthiness of witnesses is tested, not by the amount of truth their evidence
contains, but by the absence of mistakes. A single glaring error may serve to discredit
testimony which seemed of the highest worth. This principle applies with peculiar
force in estimating the credibility of the Gospel narratives, and it lends an importance
that can scarcely be exaggerated to the question which arises in this controversy,
Was the betrayal in fact upon the night of the Paschal Supper? If, as is so commonly
maintained, one or all of the Evangelists were in error in a matter of fact so definite
and plain, it is idle to pretend that their writings are in any sense whatever God-breathed.
The testimony of the first three Gospels is united, that the Last Supper was
eaten at the Jewish Passover. The attempt to prove that it was an anticipatory celebration,
without the paschal sacrifice, though made with the best of motives, is utterly futile.
"Now on the first day of unleavened bread" (St. Matthew declares), "the disciples came to Jesus, saying, Where wilt thou
that we make ready for Thee to eat the Passover?" It was the proposal not of
the Lord, but of the disciples, who, with the knowledge of the day and of the rites
pertaining to it, turned to the Master for instructions. With yet greater definiteness
St. Mark narrates that this took place on the first day of unleavened bread, when
they killed the Passover. (Mark 14:12) And the language of St. Luke is, if possible,
more unequivocal still:
2 Timothy 3:16. See Browne's Ordo Saec., §§ 65- 70, for an
exhaustive discussion of this question, in proof that "the three first Gospels
are at variance on this point with the fourth." The matter is treated
of in books without number. I here deal only with the salient points in the controversy.
Arguments based upon the Sabbatical observance of the 15th Nisan being inconsistent
with the events of the morning of the crucifixion are worthless. "To strain
at a gnat and swallow a camel" was characteristic of the men who were the actors
in these scenes. If any one have doubts of it, let him read the Mishna. And
points such as that the Jews were forbidden to leave their houses on the night of
the Supper, depend upon confounding the commands given for the night of the Exodus
with the law relative to its annual celebration. As well might it be urged that the
Lord sanctioned and took part in a violation of the law because He reclined at supper,
instead of standing girded and shod as enjoined in Exodus 12.
"Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the
Passover must be killed." (Luke 22:7)
But it is confidently asserted that the testimony of St. John is just as clear
and unambiguous that the crucifixion took place upon the very day and, it is sometimes
urged, at the very hour of the paschal sacrifice. Many an eminent writer may be cited
to support this view, and the controversy waged in its defense is endless. But no
plea for deference to great names can be tolerated for a moment when the point
at issue is the integrity of Holy Writ; and despite the erudition that has been exhausted
to prove that the Gospels are here at hopeless variance, none who have learned to
prize them as a Divine revelation will be surprised to find that the main difficulty
depends entirely on prevailing ignorance respecting Jewish ordinances and the law
These writers one and all. confound the Paschal Supper with the festival which followed
it, and to which it lent its name. The supper was a memorial. of the redemption of
the firstborn of Israel on the. night before the Exodus; the feast was the anniversary
of their actual deliverance from the house of bondage. The supper was not a part
of the: feast; it was morally the basis on which the feast was founded, just as the
Feast of Tabernacles was based on the great sin-offering of the day of expiation
which preceded it. But in the same way that the Feast of Weeks came to be commonly
designated Pentecost, the feast of Unleavened Bread was popularly called the Passover.
That title was common
to the supper and the feast, and included both; but the intelligent Jew would never
confound the two; and if he spoke emphatically of the feast of the Passover,
he would thereby mark the festival to the exclusion of the supper.
2. Matthew 26:17 (Revised
Version). In the Authorized Version our translators have perverted the verse. It
was not the first day of the feast, but ta prota ton
adzumon, or, as St. Luke calls it, ha hamera ton adzumon,
viz., the day on which leaven was banished from their houses, the 14th Nisan,
on the evening of which the Passover was eaten.
No words can possibly express more clearly this distinction than those afforded
by the Pentateuch in the final promulgation of the Law: "In the fourteenth
day of the first month is the Passover of the Lord; and in the fifteenth day of this
month is the feast."
3. See Luke 22:1., and
compare Josephus, Ant., 14:2, I, and 17:9, 3: "The feast of unleavened
bread, which we call the Passover."
4. Or if the emphasis rested
on the last word, the distinction would be between Passover and Pentecost or Tabernacles.
Opening the thirteenth chapter of St. John in the light of this simple explanation,
every difficulty vanishes. The scene is laid at the Paschal Supper, on the eve of
the festival, "before the feast of the Passover"; and after the narration or the washing of the disciples'
feet, the evangelist goes on to tell of the hurried departure of Judas, explaining
that, to some, the Lord's injunction to the traitor was understood to mean, "Buy
what we have need of against the feast." (John 13:29) The feast day was
a Sabbath, when trading was unlawful, and it would seem that the needed supply for
the festival was still procurable far on in the preceding night; for another of the
errors with which this controversy abounds is the assumption that the Jewish day
was invariably reckoned a nukthameron , beginning in
5. Numbers 28:16, 17. Compare
Exodus 12:14-17, and Leviticus 23:5, 6, and mark that in the enumeration of the feasts
in the twenty-third chapter of Exodus, the Passover (i. e., the Paschal
Supper) is omitted altogether.
Such, doubtless, was the common rule, and notably in respect of the law of
ceremonial cleansing. This very fact, indeed, enables us without a doubt to conclude
that the Passover on account of which the Jews refused to defile themselves by entering
the judgment hall, was not the Paschal Supper , for that supper was not eaten
till after the hour at which such defilement would have lapsed. In the language of
the law, "When the sun is down he shall be clean, and
shall afterwards eat of the holy things." (Leviticus 12:7) Not s o was
it with the holy offerings of the feast day, which they must needs eat before the
hour at which their uncleanness would have ceased. The only question, therefore, is whether partaking of the
peace offerings of the festival could properly be designated as "eating the
Passover." The law of Moses itself supplies the answer: "Thou shalt sacrifice
the Passover unto the Lord thy God of the flock and the herd…seven days shalt
thou eat unleavened bread therewith ." (Deuteronomy 16:2, 3, and compare
2 Chronicles 35:7, 8.)
6. John 13:1. The reader
must carefully distinguish between verses such as this and those verses where in
our English version the word "feast" is in italics, denoting that it is
not in the original.
7. Such, for instance,
was the day of atonement (Leviticus 23:32) and also the weekly Sabbath. But though
the Passover was eaten between six o'clock and midnight, this period was designated
in the law, not the beginning of the 15th Nisan, but the evening or night of the
14th (compare Exodus 12:6-8, and Leviticus 23:5). The 15th, or feast day, was reckoned,
doubtless, from six o'clock the following morning, for, according to the Mishna
(Treatise Berachoth), the day began at six o'clock a. m. These writers
would have us believe that the disciples supposed that they were there and then eating
the Passover, and yet that they imagined Judas was dispatched to buy what was needed
for the Passover!
If then the words of St. John are intelligible only when thus interpreted, and if
when thus interpreted they are consistent with the testimony of the three first Evangelists,
no element is lacking to give certainty that the events of the eighteenth chapter
occurred upon the feast- day, Or if confirmation still be needed, the closing
verses of this very chapter give it, for according to the custom cited, it was at
the feast that the governor released a prisoner to the people (John 18:39;
Compare Matthew 27:15; Mark 15:6; and Luke 23:17). Fearing because of the populace
to seize the Lord upon the feast -day, (Matthew 26:5; Mark 14:1, 2) the Pharisees
were eager to procure His betrayal on the night of the Paschal Supper. And so it
came to pass that the arraignment before Pilate took place upon the festival ,
as all the Evangelists declare.
8. Because the day ended
at six o'clock. Moreover, we know from Jewish writers that these offerings (called
in the Talmud the Chagigah) were eaten between three and six o'clock,
and ceremonial uncleanness continued until six o'clock.
But does not St. John expressly state that it was "the preparation of
the Passover," and must not this necessarily mean the fourteenth of Nisan? The
plain answer is, that not a single passage has been cited from writings either sacred
or profane in which that day is so described; whereas among the Jews "the preparation"
was the common name for the day before the Sabbath, and it is so used by all the
Evangelists. And bearing this in mind, let the reader compare the fourteenth verse
of the nineteenth chapter of St. John with the thirty-first and forty-second verses
of the same chapter, and he will have no difficulty in rendering the words in question,
"it was Passover Friday."
But yet another statement of St. John is quoted in this controversy. "That Sabbath
day was an high day," he declares, and therefore , it is urged, it must
have been the 15th of Nisan. The force of this "therefore" partly depends
upon overlooking the fact that all the great sacrifices to which the 15th of Nisan
largely owed its distinctive solemnity, were repeated daily throughout the festival.
(Numbers 28:19-24) On this account alone that Sabbath was "an high day." But besides,
it was specially distinguished as the day on which the firstfruits of the harvest
were offered in the temple; for in respect of this ordinance, as in most other points
of difference between the Karaite Jews, who held to the Scriptures as their only
guide, and the Rabbinical Jews, who followed the traditions of the elders, the latter
were entirely in the wrong.
de paraskeua tou pascha, compare vers. 31 and 42, and also Matthew 27:62;
Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54. Josephus (Ant., 16., 6, 2) cites an imperial edict
relieving the Jews from appearing before the tribunals either on the Sabbath or after
the ninth hour of the preparation day. It is unjustifiable to assert that the absence
of the article in John 19:14 precludes our giving this meaning to the word paraskeua in that passage. In
three of the other five verses cited the word is anarthrous, for in fact it had come
to be the common name for the day, and the expression "Passover Friday"
was as natural to a Jew as is "Easter Monday" to ourselves. (See Alford's
note on Mark 15:42. Still more valuable is his explanation of Matthew 27:62.)
The law enjoined that the sheaf of the firstfruits should be waved before the Lord
"on the morrow after the (paschal) Sabbath," (Leviticus 23:10, 11) and
from that day the seven weeks were reckoned which ended with the feast of Pentecost.
But as the book of Deuteronomy expressly ordains that the weeks should be counted
from the first day of the harvest, (Deuteronomy 16:9; and compare Leviticus 23:15,
16) it is evident that the morrow after the Sabbath should not be itself a Sabbath,
but a working day. The true day for the ordinance, therefore, was the day of the
resurrection, "the first day of the week" following the Passover, when, according to the intention of the law, the barley harvest
should begin, and the first sheaf gathered should be carried to the Holy Place and
solemnly waved before Jehovah. But with the Jews all this was lost in the empty rite
of offering in the temple a measure of meal prepared from corn which, in violation
of the law, had been garnered days before. This rite was invariably celebrated on
the 16th of Nisan; and thus synchronizing with the solemnities both of the Paschal
festival and of the Sabbath, that day could not fail to be indeed "an high day."
10. Numbers 28:19-24. Compare
Josephus, Ant., 3:10, 5.
The argument in proof that the death of Christ was on the very day the paschal
lamb was killed, has gained a fictitious interest and value from the seeming fitness
of the synchronism this involves. But a closer investigation of the subject, combined
with a broader view of the Mosaic types, will dissipate the force of this conclusion.
The distinctive teaching of Calvinism is based on giving an exclusive place to the
great sin-offering of Leviticus, in which substitution, in its most definite and
narrowest sense, is essential. The Passover, on the other hand, has ever been the
most popular of types. But though the other typical sacrifices are almost entirely
ignored in the systems of our leading schools of theology, they have no little prominence
in Scripture. The offerings which are placed first in the book of Leviticus have
a large share in the theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, — the new Testament
"Leviticus," whereas the Passover is not even once referred to. Now these Leviticus offerings marked the feast- day, (Numbers 28:17-24) on which,
according to the Gospels, "the Messiah was cut off."
11. The present Jewish calendar
is so adjusted that the 14th of Nisan shall never fall upon their Sabbath (see Encyc.
Brit., 9th ed., title, Hebrew Calendar); and this, doubtless, was so intended,
for the duties of the day were inconsistent with the due observance of the fourth
commandment. Therefore, the morrow after the Sabbath following would invariably
be a working day, so that the law is perfectly consistent in providing that the sheaf
should be waved on the first day of the harvest. It is only, therefore, in a cycle
of years that the true day for offering the first-fruits falls on the third day from
the Passover; but in the year of the crucifixion, the great antitype, the resurrection
of Christ from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23), occurred upon the very day Divinely
appointed for the rite. It follows that the true day of Pentecost must always be
on the first day of the week (see Leviticus 23:15, 16), and therefore in that
same year the true Pentecost was, not the Sabbath day on which the Jews observed
the feast, but the day which followed it, a fact which confirms the presumption that
the designedly ambiguous word used in Acts 2:1, means "accomplished," in
the sense of passed, and that it was when assembled on "the first day
of the week" that the Church received the gift of the Holy Ghost.
12. In truth it could not
but have been the greatest Sabbath of the year, and it is idle to pretend that this
is not sufficient to account for the mention made of it.
And other synchronisms are not wanting, still more striking and significant. During
all His ministry on earth, albeit it was spent in humiliation and reproach, no hand
was ever laid upon the Blessed One, save in importunate supplication or in devout
and loving service. But when at times His enemies would fain have seized Him, a mysterious
hour to come was spoken of, in which their hate should be unhindered. "This
is your hour, and the power of darkness," He exclaimed, as Judas and the impious
companions in his guilt drew round Him in the garden. (Luke 22:53) His hour,
He called it, when He thought of His mission upon earth: their hour, when
in the fulfillment of that mission He found Himself within their grasp.
13. The historical mention
of the Passover in Hebrews 11:28 is of course no exception. It has no place in the
doctrine of the Epistle.
14. The burnt-offering,
with its meat-offering, the peace-offering (the chagigah of the Talmud), and
the sin-offering (Leviticus 1:4).
The agonies inflicted on Him by men have taken hold on the mind of Christendom; but
beyond and above all these the mystery of the Passion is that He was forsaken and
accursed of God. In some sense, indeed, His sufferings from men were but a consequence of this;
therefore His reply to Pilate, "Thou couldst have no power at all against Me,
except it were given thee from above." If men seized and slew Him, it was because
God had delivered Him up. When that destined hour had struck, the mighty Hand drew
back which till then had shielded Him from outrage. His death was not the
beginning, but the close of His sufferings; in truth, it was the hour of His triumph.
The midnight agony in Gethsemane was thus; the great antitype of that midnight scene
in Egypt: when the destroying angel flashed through the land. And as His death was
the fulfillment of His people's deliverance, so it took place upon the anniversary
of "that selfsame day that the Lord did bring the children of Israel out of
the land of Egpyt by their armies."
15. No reverent mind will
seek to analyze the meaning of such words, save in so far as they testify to the
great fact that His sufferings and death were in expiation of our sins. But the believer
will not tolerate a doubt as to the reality and depth of their meaning.
16. Exodus 12:51. The Passover
of the yearly celebration was but a memorial of the Passover in Egypt, which was
the true type. It was killed, moreover, not at the hour of the Lord's death, but
after that hour, between the ninth and the eleventh hour (Josephus, Wars,
6., 9, 3). "The elucidation of the doctrine of types, now entirely neglected,
is an important problem for future theologians." This dictum of Hengstenberg's
[Christology (Arnold's Ed.), § 765] may still be recorded as a deserved
reproach upon theology, and much that has been written in this controversy might
be quoted to prove its truth. The day of the resurrection was the anniversary of
the crossing of the Red Sea, and again of the resting of the Ark on Ararat (Genesis
8:4). Nisan, which had been the seventh month, became the first month at the Exodus.
(See Exodus 12:2; cf. Ordo. Saec., § 299.) On the 17th Nisan the
renewed earth emerged from the waters of the flood; the redeemed people emerged from
the waters of the sea; and the Lord Jesus rose from the dead.
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