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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Passover (ii. in Relation to Lord's Supper).

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PASSOVER (II.: in relation to Lord’s Supper).

1. The historical relation.—The chronological difficulty raised by this topic having been adequately discussed in previous articles (see Dates, vol. i. p. 413 ff., Last Supper, and Lord’s Supper (I.)), it is unnecessary to reopen it here. It may be assumed as certain that the Last Supper of Jesus took place not on the night of the general Jewish Passover, but on the evening preceding. It does not follow, however, that the Last Supper was not a Paschal meal. To the present writer it seems impossible to set aside the distinct evidence of the first three Gospels on this point, reinforced as that is by the language of St. Paul (Matthew 26:17 ff., Mark 14:12 ff., Luke 22:7 ff., Luke 22:15; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

(1) It has been objected by Spitta (see the essay, ‘Die urchristl. Traditionen über Ursprung u. Sinn des Abendmahls’ in his Zur Gesch. u. Litt. des Urchristentums; cf. G. H. Box, JThSt [Note: ThSt Journal of Theological Studies.] , Apr. 1902), the most prominent representative of the view that the Last Supper bore no resemblance to the Passover, that the descriptions of it given in Mt. and Mk. do not suggest a Paschal meal, and in particular that the Iamb is never mentioned. This has been called a ‘significant omission’; a remark which assumes that, if Jesus had been observing the Passover, the Evangelists would naturally have given some account of the proceedings at the Jewish meal. But, since they had already stated with the utmost plainness that the meal to which He sat down with His disciples was an eating of the Passover, it was quite unnecessary for them to describe it in detail, since all Passover suppers were exactly similar. What they were concerned with were those novel and significant acts and words of their Master by which, while sitting at the table of the OT feast, He instituted the sacrament of the New Covenant.

(2) A similar objection is that at the Passover supper each participant had his own cup to drink from, while in the celebration of the sacrament there was only one cup. But this is to confound two things that are perfectly distinct. The fact that at the Jewish meal there was a cup for each person present is surely no reason why Jesus, in appointing the new rite of the Christian brotherhood, should not have taken one cup and passed it round to His disciples, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it.’

(3) A further ground of objection is found in the fact that Jesus draws no parallels between the Paschal meal and the Christian sacrament, and in particular that, when He is choosing a symbol to represent His body, He takes a loaf of bread for the purpose, and not a portion of the roasted lamb. To speak in this way suggests a poor conception of our Lord’s insight into the nature and destiny of His own religion. For, unless Jesus was altogether lacking in this respect, He must have foreseen, as clearly as we can see today, that the broken loaf of bread was infinitely better suited than a piece of the Jewish Paschal lamb to serve to the Church of the future as the symbol of His sacrifice of love.

Criticisms like these seem trivial at the best. And it must be remembered, on the other hand, that those who deny that there is any outward connexion between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper have to meet difficulties of the most pressing kind, arid above all the difficulty of accounting for the unanimous testimony of the Synoptics on this very point. What are we to make of this testimony, and especially of the testimony of Mk., presumably the most original of all? It is suggestive that Spitta solves the difficulty by pronouncing the whole paragraph in which Mk. affirms the Paschal character of the Supper (Mark 14:12-16), to be an interpolation that stands in no organic connexion with the rest of the narrative (op. cit. p. 228). But even if there were any grounds of textual criticism for regarding the statements of the first three Gospels as later interpolations, we should still have to explain how it came to pass that at a very early date in the history of the Apostolic Church a false tradition not only sprang up but became dominant, according to which the Last Supper of Jesus with His disciples took the form of a Passover meal. Spitta admits that in St. Paul’s view of the Sacrament the connexion with the Passover meal is evident (op. cit. p. 265; cf. Box, op. cit. p. 365). How, then, are we to explain this entire transformation of what, according to this theory, was the original tradition—a transformation so early that it must have been completed before Paul became a Christian and received from the first Apostles the story of what took place in the Upper Room on that night in which the Lord Jesus was betrayed? It is hard to see how, within a few years of Christ’s death, and at the headquarters of the primitive Church, there could have grown up a tradition as to a simple matter of fact that was an entire falsification of what the Eleven knew to be the truth.

We regard it, then, as practically certain that the Last Supper took the form of a Passover meal. And since it was held on the evening before the general Jewish observance, it must have been an anticipated Passover (cf. Sanday, Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ii. p. 634; Zöckler, PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ix. pp. 32, 42). It is sometimes affirmed that this view will not bear the slightest examination (Box, op. cit. p. 360; cf. Gwilliam, art. Last Supper, p. 8a). It is assumed, e.g., that it would have been impossible for our Lord and His disciples to procure the sacrifice of a lamb before the following day. But Chwolson, an expert in Jewish antiquities, anticipates these and similar objections, and shows how precarious the grounds are on which they rest (Das letzte Passamahl Christi, p. 37 ff.). And he further makes the interesting suggestion that a very slight textual error at this point in a supposed Aramaic source would account for the apparent identification by the three Synoptics (Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7) of the occasion of the Last Supper with the regular night of the Jewish Passover (ib. p. 11).

2. The spiritual connexions.—In order to establish these, two things are necessary. First, we must understand what the Passover meal meant to Jesus and His disciples; next, we must trace the links between the Paschal supper in the Upper Room and the Christian sacrament that sprang out of it.

(1) What did the Passover mean to Jesus and the Twelve? For evidently it is with the Passover of our Lord’s time that we have primarily to do. It is not uncommon to meet with doctrinal constructions of the Lord’s Supper (e.g. Gore, Body of Christ, p. 12 ff.; Illingworth, Divine Immanence, p. 126 ff.) in which a leading rôle is assigned to ideas drawn from the modern study of Comparative Religion as to the significance of the ancient rite of the blood-covenant (see Trumbull, The Threshold Covenant, p. 203 ff.), or as to a sacrificial ‘eating of the god’ on the occasion of a harvest festival (see W. R. Smith, RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites.] p. 461; Frazer, Golden Bough2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , ii. ch. 2). But it seems safe to conclude that archaeological considerations such as these were not uppermost in the mind of Jesus when He said to His disciples, ‘With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer’ (Luke 22:15), and that what He and they alike were thinking of was the Passover of Jewish history and tradition. Nothing could be further from the minds of a pious Jewish company at the dawn of the Christian era than the notion that God would partake of human food, or that they could enter into communion with the Highest by drinking the blood of a slain animal, or even by drinking wine considered as a substitute for blood (cf. Acts 15:20; Acts 15:29). What, then, did the eating of the Passover primarily mean for Jesus and His disciples?

(a) In the first place, it was the memorial of a great historical deliverance—that redemption of Israel from her bondage in Egypt which was also her birth-hour as a nation (Exodus 12:3 ff., Exodus 12:26 f.).—(b) But further, the Passover was a covenant-meal based on the fact of the covenant made by sacrifice at Sinai (Exodus 24:3-8). It is certainly impossible to find within the circle of ideas suggested by the narrative of the first Passover in Egypt a full explanation of the words of Jesus at the institution of the Lord’s Supper. One of the special merits of recent critical investigations into the nature of the sacrament is that they have brought fully into view the connexion between our Lord’s words about the New Covenant (Matthew 26:28 ||) and the story of the covenant at Sinai, taken along with the great prophetic anticipations (Jeremiah 32:40, Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26, Isaiah 55:3) of what the author of Hebrews calls ‘a better covenant established upon better promises’ (Hebrews 8:6). It does not follow, however, as some have thought, that the covenant idea excludes that of the Passover, much less that the combination of them was altogether impossible (so Schultzen, Das Abendmahl in NT, p. 40). On the contrary, the narrative of the first Passover in Egypt appears to anticipate that of the covenant made at Sinai, while apart from the former the latter would have no historical explanation. In any case, in the time of our Lord, the Jewish Passover was an annual covenanting feast at which the nation’s covenant fellowship with Jehovah was solemnly renewed. The narrative of Exodus 24:3-8 makes it clear that the original covenant rested on the fact of a covenant-sacrifice, and there seems little reason to question that in its essence this sacrifice was of a piacular nature (cf. A. B. Davidson in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible i. p. 512). The annual renewal of the covenant at the Feast of Passover evidently rested in like manner on the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, and that this sacrifice also was conceived of as having a propitiatory effect it is hardly possible to doubt.—(c) Once more, the Passover was a joyful social meal, the meal of Jewish brotherhood, in which the participants, as members of the Divine covenant, gave expression to their covenant fellowship with one another as well as with Israel’s God.

(2) If the Lord’s Supper in its external relations sprang out of an immediately preceding Passover meal, and if that meal had for those who partook of it some such meaning as has just been described, the spiritual connexions between the two are evident. The thought of the Jewish Passover underlies the Supper, helping us to determine its true nature and purpose and religious significance.

(a) This outward relation between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper goes far to decide the question whether or not the Supper refers to our Lord’s death. Spitta’s elaborate efforts to dissociate the Last Supper altogether from the Jewish Passover find their chief motive in his theory that the Supper had no bearing whatsoever on the death of Jesus, but was meant to have a purely eschatological reference, as an anticipation of the glorious Messianic meal in the heavenly Kingdom (op. cit. pp. 266 ff., 282 ff.). But if, on the other hand, it was at the close of a Passover meal that Jesus broke the bread and gave it to His disciples, saying, ‘This is my body for you,’ the analogy between the slain lamb and the broken bread can hardly be mistaken.—(b) It bears, again, on the question whether or not the Supper was meant by Jesus to be repeated. From the fact that in the Mk.-Mt. text of the institution of the Supper we do not find that command for a repetition of the observance which is given in Paul-Lk. (1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Luke 22:19), a number of critical scholars have concluded that Jesus never spoke the words, ‘This do in remembrance of me’; that He had no thought of instituting a rite for perpetual celebration by the Church; and that His purpose in breaking the bread and passing the wine was merely to bid His disciples a solemn farewell, to set before them a striking parable in action, or at most to point them forward to the hope of a glad reunion in the heavenly Kingdom (Jülicher, Theol. Abhandl. pp. 235 ff., 245 ff.; Spitta, op. cit. p. 301 ff.; cf. P. Gardner, Origin of the Lord’s Supper). But to a Jew the Passover was essentially a memorial feast to be kept by Israel throughout all her generations (Exodus 12:14). And if the Supper was deliberately set by Jesus in the closest relation to the Passover,—so deliberately that He even anticipated by a day an observance which otherwise His death would have rendered impossible,—this goes to confirm the view, supported not only by the text of Paul and Luke, but by the unhesitating praxis of the earliest community from the first (Acts 2:42; Acts 2:46; cf. Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 10:16), and the Apostolic tradition as that was handed on to St. Paul at the time of his conversion (1 Corinthians 11:23), that Jesus both intended and commanded that the Supper should continue to be observed in remembrance of Himself.—(c) If the Lord’s Supper sprang historically out of a Passover meal, it naturally falls heir to the chief meanings and associations of the more ancient rite. It is not only a memorial of Jesus, but a memorial of His sacrifice. ‘Our passover also hath been sacrificed,’ says St. Paul, ‘even Christ’ (1 Corinthians 5:7); and he tells us that as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we ‘proclaim the Lord’s death till he come’ (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Passover was a renewal on the part of the OT Church of the covenant with God that had been made at Sinai; and every Supper is a renewal by the Christian people of the covenant made for them upon the Cross. The Passover was not only a renewal of the covenant fellowship with God, but a festive social meal at which the links of Jewish brotherhood were forged afresh. And the Lord’s Supper is the occasion of a glad spiritual communion of those who belong to the household of faith, both with Christ Himself—the Elder Brother and the Head—and with their fellow-members in the one family of God.

Literature.—Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , artt. ‘Covenant’ (A. B. Davidson), ‘Passover’ (W. J. Moulton), ‘Jesus Christ’ (Sanday, vol. ii. p. 634); PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , art. ‘Passah, isr.-jüd.’ (von Orelli); Bickell, Passover and Lord’s Supper; Spitta, Urchristentum; Jülicher, Theol. Abhandlungen; P. Gardner, Origin of the Lord’s Supper; Schultzen, Das Abendmahl im NT; Chwolson, Das letzte Passamahl Christi; Schaefer, Das Herrenmahl; Lambert, Sacraments in NT; G. M. Mackie, ‘Jewish Passover in the Chr. Church,’ ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] xiii. (1902), 391; JThSt [Note: ThSt Journal of Theological Studies.] , Apr. 1902, p. 357 ff., Jan. 1903, p. 184 ff.

J. C. Lambert.


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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Passover (ii. in Relation to Lord's Supper).'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/p/passover-ii-in-relation-to-lords-supper.html. 1906-1918.

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