When is Passover? When is the Passover Seder? Scripture says it is “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight [literally ‘between the evenings’]” (Leviticus 23:5). What does that mean? When is the “twilight” of the Biblical day? Is this specific or ambiguous?
What is the Passover Seder?
Before looking at the proper time, let’s first examine the Passover Seder. Seder is a Hebrew word meaning “order,” however it is not from the Hebrew Bible, at least not in relationship to the Passover. Seder (Strong’s #H5648) appears only once in Scripture, in the book of Job.
Withdraw from me that I may have a little cheer
Before I go–and I shall not return–
To the land of darkness and deep shadow,
The land of utter gloom as darkness itself,
Of deep shadow without order,
And which shines as the darkness.
Please understand that the Seder is not Biblical – it is not found in either the Old or New Testaments. The Passover Seder is a Jewish custom. It did not exist in the time of Yeshua, and for this reason we should not attempt to fit the events of Yeshua’s final Passover on the night before his crucifixion into this more modern Jewish ritual.
This Hebrew word is used in Jewish thought to describe the orderly celebration of the Passover meal. The order of the memorial observance is printed in the Haggadah, another Hebrew word meaning “telling,” which also does not appear in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament). The Passover Seder, as presented in the Haggadah, is a Jewish tradition (a very good one) based on a few Biblical instructions. Those instructions for celebrating Passover include:
1. Slaughtering, roasting and eating the Passover lamb
2. Eating matzah (unleavened bread)
3. Eating maror (bitter herbs)
4. Telling the story – hence, the Haggadah
What is the Passover?
Pesach (Strong’s #H6543) is the Hebrew word translated as Passover. In the Septuagint and in the New Testament, it is the Greek word pascha (Strong’s #G3957). Depending on context, the word Passover can refer to either the sacrifice itself or to the memorial observance. When referring to the observance, it could mean just the evening of the 14th or it could mean the entire 7-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (similar to the way the Feast of Tabernacles is often used to include Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day).
You shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name.
While the sons of Israel camped at Gilgal they observed the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the desert plains of Jericho.
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall have the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten.
When is the Evening?
The Hebrew word ereb/erev (Strong’s #H6153) is first used in Scripture in Genesis 1:5:
God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
A more traditional though less accurate translation is “the evening and the morning were the first day” (KJV/NKJV). Much has been written about the meaning of the creation story in Genesis and whether these are literal 24-hour days or some other period. It must be noted that the sun and moon are not created until the fourth “day.” There are also many thoughts on what “and there was evening and there was morning,” a phrase that occurs six times in Genesis chapter 1, might mean. It is not my intention to address those topics here.
Outside of Genesis chapter 1, whenever “evening” is mentioned with a context that suggests its relationship to a day, it is always the end of the day. There is only one instance where “evening” might indicate the beginning of a new day, which we will address later.
Possibly the most significant of these is found in the instructions regarding Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in Leviticus 23.
On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; …
It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.
Yom Kippur is the only “Sabbath” that is specifically designated as being from one evening to the next evening. I am not suggesting that the weekly Sabbath or any other annual Sabbath is something other than that, only that this is the only one in this list with this description. (But read on, there is a somewhat similar description of the Feast of Unleavened Bread in another passage). And it is important to note that the Sabbath occurring on the tenth of the month begins on the evening of the ninth. It is not described as being from the evening beginning the tenth until the evening ending the tenth. Biblically, the evening is the end of the day and is associated with that day.
Passover: The Beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread
Passover is described as being “at twilight” (between the evenings) on the 14th day of the first month. The Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the 15th day of the first month and lasts for seven days, ending on the 21st day of the first month. These are the instructions for the memorial celebration (Exodus 12:14). It is not necessary that the timing of the memorial observance line up exactly with the initial events that are being memorialized. Consider that the initial event involved substantially more than six hundred thousand people (Exodus 12:37, enumerating the men only and not the women and children) carrying out many more detailed and time-consuming instructions than are required for the memorial.
The memorial Passover observance begins in the evening, at the end of the 14th day. It extends into the night and is an inseparable part of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread that immediately follows.
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.
Notice this is described in the same way as Yom Kippur in the listing of Appointed Times in Leviticus 23. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is from the 15th day to the 21st day. It begins the evening ending the 14th day and goes through the evening ending the 21st day – seven complete days. And the evening ending the 14th day is the Passover.
As mentioned above, there is one passage in the Bible where the evening is designated as the beginning of the day, and it is in reference to Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory, and none of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day shall remain overnight until morning.
The only “sacrifice” mentioned in the context of this passage is the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:2) and it is said to have been sacrificed on the evening of the “first day” of the feast. (This “first day” description is also used in the New Testament as pointed out below.) In this one and only passage where the evening indicates the beginning of the Feast it is synonymous with the evening of the Passover, the evening that ends the 14th day and begins the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. If it meant the beginning of the 14th day, that would be eight days, not seven.
Could it be that the last part of this verse is better understood as “none of the flesh which you sacrifice in the evening shall remain overnight until the morning of the first day?” I have not found any reputable translation that renders it in this way, although the Stone Edition Tanakh does say “nor shall any of the flesh that you slaughter on the afternoon before the first day remain overnight until morning.” No matter how this particular verse is translated, clearly Passover is at the end of the 14th day and leads directly into the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Think about the alternative – Passover just after the 13th day has ended. You celebrate the Passover with unleavened bread as commanded. Then you can get up the next morning, have a big jelly doughnut for breakfast and a grilled Reuben on rye for lunch. Enjoy a piece of chocolate cake before dark, then begin seven days without leaven. That doesn’t make much sense, does it?
When Did Yeshua Observe Passover?
The Gospel accounts are not clear as to when Yeshua ate what has been called “The Last Supper.” The date of 14 Aviv (or 14 Nisan, as the month might have been known in the first century) is not stated. We can only deduce what we think is the date based on other events mentioned. And that deductive reasoning is dependent on how we interpret something written in a language the majority of us do not speak or read, even if we think we can.
Was it a Passover Seder? It is interesting to me that the Synoptic Gospels call it Passover, and Matthew (26:17), Mark (14:12), and Luke (22:7) all say this was on the “first day of Unleavened Bread.” Mark and Luke add that this was the day the Passover was to be sacrificed. Luke quotes Yeshua as saying “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer (22:15).
I have encountered teachers who insist that to fulfill prophecy Yeshua had to be crucified at the same time the Passover lambs were being slaughtered. I have also heard teachers say that to be sinless, Yeshua had to have eaten the Passover at the proper time. Sorry, you can’t have your (unleavened) cake and eat it, too.
When you consider that the disciples were preparing for the Passover on the day the lambs were being slaughtered, which is called the first day of Unleavened Bread, and that Yeshua was crucified the following day, working out a timeline becomes confusing. And make no mistake, all of these teachers can explain away what is written so that this is all happening according to their preferred timeline, yet they do not agree with each other.
It really does not matter. Yeshua did not change any of the commandments of the Father. He also did not do anything in violation of them. Yeshua is the Messiah regardless of when we think he ate what may or may not have been the Passover and regardless of the day and time he was crucified – or when he was resurrected, for that matter. Perhaps this is a good reason the New Testament never, ever mentions a calendar date.
When is the Passover Seder? According to Torah, it is in the evening at the end of the 14th day of the first month, immediately followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. For the Gregorian year 2022, that is the evening of Friday, April 15. It is good if you are able to do that. However, celebrating the memorial Passover is more important than doing it at precisely the right time. The lack of any clear timeline in the Gospel accounts of Yeshua, our example, attests to this.
I am firm in the conviction I have set forth in this post. However, if the group I fellowship with holds a Passover Seder at a different time than I think is correct, I am going to join them in the celebration. If you are a part of local congregation or fellowship that celebrates Passover together, then observe it at the time designated by the leadership of the group. The Appointed Times of Yahweh are not intended to be a divisive issue.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing–life forever.
Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation