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Passover (Christian holiday)

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This article is about a holiday celebrated by a small number of Christians. See Passover for Judaism's Jewish holiday celebrating the Exodus of the Israelites from Ancient Egypt. See Easter for the major Christian festival.

Christian Passover is a religious observance celebrated by a small number of Protestant churches instead of, or alongside, the more common Christian holy day and festival of Easter. The redemption from the bondage of sin through the sacrifice of Christ is celebrated, a parallel of the Jewish Passover's celebration of redemption from bondage in the land of Egypt.[1]

Christian Passover seders are held on the evening corresponding to 14 Nisan or 15 Nisan, depending whether the particular church uses a quartodeciman or quintodeciman application. In 2009, for example, Jehovah's Witnesses (quartodecimans) will celebrate their "Memorial" on the evening of 14 Nisan (counting 14 Nisan as sunset, 9 April through sunset, 10 April). The United Church of God will celebrate Passover (followed by the seven-day Festival of Unleavened Bread) on 14 Nisan (sunset, 7 April through sunset, 8 April).

In these and most other cases, the holiday is observed according to the ancient Jewish calendar, not the modern Jewish calendar - on which 15 Nisan 5769 corresponds to sunset, 8 April through sunset, 9 April 2009. This is the same calendar used by Samaritans, who will also celebrate Passover at sunset on Friday, 10 April.


The Epistle to the Hebrews states that the sacrificial killing of animals could not finally take away sin, but awaited the atonement of Christ. (Hebrews 10). It proceeds to explain that Jesus Christ offered the one sacrifice that was acceptable to God, and that he lives forever as the believers' intercessory high priest, replacing the Jewish sacrificial system and its sacerdotal priesthood. Most Christians consider the external ritual of sacrifice instituted in the Old Testament by God to be a precursor of the self-sacrifice offered by Jesus. For this reason, Jesus is called the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29 ).

The main Christian view is that the Passover, as observed by ancient Israel, was a type of the true Passover Sacrifice of God that was to be made by Jesus. The Israelites' Passover observance was the commemoration of their physical deliverance from bondage in Egypt, whereas Passover represents for most Christians a spiritual deliverance from the slavery of sin (John 8:34) and, since Jesus' death, a memorial of the sacrifice that Jesus has made for mankind.

In addition, as the Israelites partook of the Passover sacrifice by eating it, most Christians commemorate the Lord's unselfish death by taking part in the Lord's Supper, which ordinance Jesus instituted (1Corinthians 11:15-34,Luke 22:19-20 ), in which the elements of bread and wine are reverently consumed. Most Protestants see the elements as symbolic of Jesus' body and blood, while Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians hold that the elements are changed into Jesus' literal body and blood, which they then eat and drink. Lutherans hold a similar belief.

The spiritual theme of Passover is one of salvation by the atoning blood of a perfect, spotless sacrificed lamb. At the very beginning of the Abrahamic Covenant, the promise had been given by the God of Abraham that "God would provide Himself a lamb." (Genesis 22:8) For many Christians, this is the spiritual pattern seen in Passover which gives it its eternal meaning and significance. The theme is carried on and brought to its ultimate New Covenant fulfillment in the sacrificial death of Christ as the promised Sacrificed Lamb.


Most Christians simply no longer celebrate the Passover, since it is seen to belong rather to a Jewish or Old Testament tradition which is no longer necessary. Among those Christians who do observe the Passover, there are some differences in how this is done. Some follow the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples at the time of his last Passover meal before he was crucified, and share instead of roasted lamb, unleavened bread and wine.[2] In the Christian Passover service the unleavened bread is used to represent Jesus' body, and wine represents his blood of the New Covenant. These are a symbolic substitute for Jesus as the true sacrificial Passover "Lamb of God" (John 1:29). It should also be noted that Passover day is followed in the Scriptures by seven days of unleavened bread (Exodus 12:1-15). These days have a great dual significance to the observant Christian. Just as leavening causes bread to be puffed up, so sin causes Christians to be "puffed up" with the sin of "malice and wickedness," and therefore must "purge out" that "old leaven" and replace it with "the unleavened bread of and truth" (1Corinthians 5:1-15). Therefore, in the Christian Passover service Christ's body is represented[original research?] by unleavened bread symbolizing his sinless life, for he alone had no sin (1Peter 2:21-22). Since these Scriptures indicate that during the seven days of unleavened bread, leavening represents sin and unleavened bread represents righteousness, when Christians remove leavening during these days they are reminded to put sin out of their lives.[original research?]

In some traditions, the ceremony is combined with washing one another's feet,[3] as Jesus did to his disciples the night that he suffered (John 13:5-14).

Other Christians celebrate the Passover exactly as Jesus did: like the Jews celebrate it. They roast and eat lamb, bitter herbs, and the unleavened Matza.[4]

Many Adventist, Sabbatarian Churches of God, Messianic Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses (who call it the 'Memorial of Christ's Death') and other groups observe a Christian Passover — though all do not agree on the date(s) or the related practices.


Some differences between when groups observe passover are:

  1. Disputes over reckoning of the 24-hour day, for example, the modern western 24-hour day begins at midnight(12:00 A.M.), whereas the biblical 24-hour day is generally reckoned to begin at sunset.[5]
  2. Disputes over which day Jesus was crucified on: according to John 19:14 and the Gospel of Peter, it was the "day of preparation for the Passover", Nisan 14, also called the Quartodeciman. (John nowhere identifies the Last Supper as a Passover meal, and John 18:28 has the priests preparing to eat the Passover meal in the morning after the Last Supper.) According to many other references in the Synoptic Gospels, it was the day of Passover, Nisan 15.[6]
  3. Some Christians observe the celebration on the day before Passover, at the same time that Jesus held his Last Supper, while others observe it at the same time that the Passover was sacrificed, that is, the time of Jesus' death, which occurred "at the ninth hour" of the day (Matthew 27:46-50, Mark 15:34-37, Luke 23:44-46), or approximately 3:30 p.m, according to the Synoptic Gospels. (see evening and Time for technical reference on time).
  4. Still others celebrate it after sunset, at which time it would be the 15th of Nisan, the time in which the Israelites ate the Passover meal (for example see Lev 23).
  5. Some Christians, out of deference for traditional Gentile Easter dates, choose to celebrate Passover or hold Seders on the Thursday before Easter, known as Maundy Thursday, or the Last Supper observance. These dates vary among Hebrew, Gregorian, and Julian calendars, and they vary between Western (e.g. Roman Catholic) and Eastern Orthodox (e.g. Greek Orthodox) traditions. (There is also a school of thought that the Last Supper may have been on the Tuesday night, with most passion week "sabbath" references in the Gospels referring to a Thursday holy day of rest instead of to the traditional Saturday main sabbath. Contrast Mark 16:1 after the weekday day of rest with Luke 23:56-24:1 before the weekend sabbath.)

Historic issues

Most Christians who keep the biblical Passover are considered to be Quartodeciman as they keep Passover on the 14th of Nisan. Apollinaris and Melito of Sardis were both second century writers that wrote about the Christian Passover.

Apollinaris, wrote:

"There are, then, some who through ignorance raise disputes about these things (though their conduct is pardonable: for ignorance is no subject for blame — it rather needs further instruction…)… The fourteenth day, the true Passover of the Lord; the great sacrifice, the Son of God instead of the lamb, who was bound, who bound the strong, and who was judged, though Judge of living and dead, and who was delivered into the hands of sinners to be crucified, who was lifted up on the horns of the unicorn, and who was pierced in His holy side, who poured forth from His side the two purifying elements, water and blood, word and spirit, and who was buried on the day of the passover, the stone being placed upon the tomb"[7]

Melito's Peri Pascha ("On the Passover") is perhaps the most famous early document concerning the Christian observation of Passover.

"For indeed the law issued in the gospel–the old in the new, both coming forth together from Zion and Jerusalem; and the commandment issued in grace, and the type in the finished product, and the lamb in the Son, and the sheep in a man, and the man in God...For at one time the sacrifice to the sheep was valuable, but now it is without value because of the life of the Lord. The death of the sheep once was valuable, but now it is without value because of the salvation of the Lord. The blood of the sheep once was valuable, but now it is without value because of the Spirit of the Lord. The silent lamb once was valuable, but now it has no value because of the blameless Son. The temple here below once was valuable, but now it is without value because of the Christ from above… Now that you have heard the explanation of the type and of that which corresponds to it, hear also what goes into making up the mystery. What is the passover? Indeed its name is derived from that event–"to celebrate the passover" (to paschein) is derived from "to suffer" (tou pathein). Therefore, learn who the sufferer is and who he is who suffers along with the sufferer...This one is the passover of our salvation".[8]

Polycrates of Ephesus, was a late second century leader who was excommunicated (along with all Quartodecimen) by the Roman bishop Victor for observing the Christian Passover on the 14th of Nisan and not switching it to a Sunday resurrection celebration. He, Polycrates, claimed that he was simply following the practices according to scripture and the Gospels, as taught by the Apostles John and Philip, as well as by church leaders such as Polycarp and Melito of Sardis.

It is important to note that the Christian Passover ceremony, which includes the bread and wine, proclaims the Lord's death, not specifically his resurrection. Paul confirmed this when he wrote, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1Corinthians 11:26). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "In fact, the Jewish feast was taken over into the Christian Easter celebration."[9]

See also


  1. The United Church of God
  2. How Should Christians Celebrate the Passover?
  3. ibid.
  4. Women for Faith & Family
  5. Jewish Encyclopedia: Day: "The day is reckoned from evening to evening—i.e., night and day—except in reference to sacrifices, where daytime and the night following constitute one day (Lev. vii. 15; see Calendar)."
  6. John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew, vol. 1
  7. "Apollinaris." From the Book Concerning Passover. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Copyright © 2001 Peter Kirby).
  8. On The Passover, by Melito of Sardis — vs. 7, 44, 46, 69a
  9. Catholic Encyclopedia: Easter

10. The Body of Jesus The Nazoraion

Further reading

  • Edward Chumney. The Seven Festivals of the Messiah. Treasure House, 1994. ISBN 1560437677
  • Howard, Kevin. The Feasts Of The Lord God's Prophetic Calendar From Calvary To The Kingdom. Nelson Books, 1997. ISBN 0785275185

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