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Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder?

Following are comments from two sources that will give you some information on your question regarding the precise nature of the last supper. As you can see, it is a hotly debated topic.

From The New Bible Dictionary

The Last Supper. This ‘farewell meal’ was also a pre-arranged (Mk. 14:13-16) and deliberate act. It was in some sense a *Passover meal, though possibly held a day before the official celebration, in the knowledge that the next evening would be too late. (See *Lord’s Supper, I. a for details of the date.) At the meal Jesus gave some vital last instructions to his closest disciples in view of his imminent departure, and also revealed that he was to be betrayed by one of their number (though without apparently identifying the traitor explicitly, except perhaps to John, Jn. 13:23-26). But the focus of the meal was the symbolic sharing of bread and wine which he gave as tokens that his coming death was to be for the benefit of his disciples (and beyond them of ‘many’). This symbolic act (performed in the context of the Passover celebration of redemption) was the clearest statement Jesus ever made of the redemptive purpose of his death, and it has fittingly become, as he himself directed, the focus of worship among his followers. (See further *Lord’s Supper, . b for the significance of the words used on this occasion.) It finally put an end to any doubts his disciples may have had of his commitment to death, as the will of the Father for him.

I. The Last Supper

a. Was it the Passover?

The precise nature of the meal which the Lord shared with his disciples on the night in which he was betrayed is one of the most warmly debated topics of NT history and interpretation. Various suggestions have been made.

1. The traditional explanation is that the meal was the customary Passover feast, and this can claim the support of the Gospel records, both Synoptic (e.g. Mk. 14:1-2, 12-16) and Johannine (e.g. 13:21-30). There are features of the meal which students of Judaism (notably P. Billerbeck and G. H. Dalman) have noted as distinguishing features (of the Paschal feast, e.g. reclining at the table (*Abraham’s Bosom), the distribution of alms (cf. Jn. 13:29), and the use of the ‘sop’ which is dipped in the special h£aro„set sauce as a memorial of the bitterness of the Egyp. bondage. See the full details in G. H. Dalman, Jesus-Jeshua, E.T. 1929, pp. 106ff., and J. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, E.T. 21966, pp. 41ff. But the evidence is not so compelling as to exclude all other interpretations, although there is a tendency today, especially since the first publication of Jeremias’ book in 1949, to give more respectful consideration to the Passover view than was formerly done. The earlier judgment was similar to that expressed by Hans Lietzmann, who dismissed the Paschal theory of the Supper as containing scarcely ‘the least vestige of probability’ (Mass and Lord’s Supper, E.T. 1953, p. 173). There has been a reaction from this extreme negativism.

2. The data which caused some questioning of the traditional view are mainly derived from the Fourth Gospel, which apparently dates the events of the Supper evening and the passion a day earlier than the Synoptics. According to Jn. 13:1; 18:28; 19:14, 31, 42, the crucifixion happened a day before Nisan 15, which is the Synoptic reckoning, and the Last Supper was, of course, eaten on the evening before that. Thus it cannot have been the regular paschal meal, for the Lord died at the same time as the lambs for that meal were being immolated in the Temple ritual. Thus there is an apparent impasse, which is further complicated by the allegation that the Synoptic account is not consistent with itself; for instance, Lk. 22:15 may be read as an unfulfilled wish. For those scholars who prefer to support the Johannine dating (e.g. J. H. Bernard in the ICC on John) and believe that the last meal could therefore not have been the Passover, the question arises, what type of meal, then, was it? They answer this question by postulating a sabbath Qiddu„sh, i.e., according to this view, Jesus and his followers constituted a religious group which met on the eve of the sabbath and the Passover, and held a simple service in which a prayer of sanctification (Qiddu„sh) over a cup of wine was said.

3. As a modification of this suggestion Hans Lietzmann put forward the idea that the meal was an ordinary one, and the Lord and his disciples, who shared it, formed a religious association called a h£abu„ra„h, similar to the groups in which the Pharisees met. All these ideas have met with severe criticism, and there is apparent deadlock in the debate; though it is now being reopened through the investigation of the new evidence of the Qumran scrolls.

4. In the light of recent researches into the influence of separate calendars which were used for calculating feast-days, it is now possible to consider again the older submissions of P. Billerbeck and J. Pickl that the two strata of Gospel evidence may be harmonized on the assumption that both are understandable, with each reflecting a different tradition. Billerbeck and Pickl distinguished between the Pharisaic date of the Passover which Jesus used and the Sadducean dating a day earlier which lies behind the Fourth Gospel. This was dismissed by critics as lacking in supporting evidence, but the Dead Sea Scrolls show that there were divergent calendars in use in heterodox Jewry, and it is possible that separate traditions were, in fact, in vogue at the time of the passion. Mlle A. Jaubert has recently reconstructed the events on this basis so as to harmonize the data of the Gospels and early liturgical witnesses (in her book The Date of the Last Supper, E.T. 1965. See for an acceptance of her thesis, E. E. Ellis, The Gospel of Luke2, NCB, 1974, pp. 249f. and Mlle Jaubert’s later contribution in NTS 14, 1967-8, pp. 145-164.

Whether the date of the Supper will ever be conclusively determined is uncertain; but we may certainly believe that, whatever the exact nature of the meal, there were Passover ideas in the Lord’s mind when he sat down with the disciples. The Jewish Passover, based on Ex. 12 and interpreted in the Hagga„da„h for Passover and the Mishnaic tractate Pesah£im, provides the indispensable key to an understanding of the meal and also the meaning of the Lord’s Supper in the early. church. This conclusion is reinforced by recent studies in typology which have shown the importance of the OT events in their ‘typological’ significance for the NT writers; and no complex of saving events comes more decisively to the foreground in the thinking of early Christianity than the Exodus and redemption from Egypt (cf. H. Sahlin, ‘The New Exodus of Salvation according to St Paul’, in The Root of the Vine, ed. A. Fridrichsen, 1953, pp. 81-95; J. Daniélou, Sacramentum Futuri, 1950, Book IV, pp. 131ff.). Reference may also be made to the important contribution of T. Preiss, Life in Christ, E.T. 1954, p. 90, who shows the place of ‘the totality of the events of the Exodus centering on the Passover’ in both Jewish and Christian traditions.

The Following is from the Wycliffe Bible Enclyopedia

Date. Christian scholarship generally accepts the traditional view that the day of the crucifixion was Friday because the day following was the sabbath (Mk 15:42; Lk 23:54; Jn 19:31), and because the women visited the tomb the next day after the sabbath, the first day of the week or Sunday (Mt 28:1; Mk 16:2; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1).

Assuming that Friday was the actual day of Christ’s death, the problem is in trying to determine whether or not the Last Supper was a Passover meal. The Synoptic Gospels state that the meal which Jesus and His disciples ate on Thursday evening was the Passover (Mt 26:17–20; Mk 14:12–17; Lk 22:7–16). However, the picture in John is that the Passover meal of the Jews occurred on Friday evening, after the death and burial of Christ.

There are basically two arguments for this: (1) John 19:14 states that the day of Jesus’ trial and execution was “the day of preparation for the Passover” (NASB), implying that the Passover was the next day. The term “preparation” both in the Synoptics (Mt 27:62; Mk 15:42; Lk 23:54) and in John (19:31, 42) always has reference to the day before the sabbath, i.e., to Friday. So in the present passage the “preparation for the Passover” may simply be interpreted as “Friday of the passion week.” (2) John 18:28 states that the Jewish accusers of Jesus “did not enter the praetorium, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover” (RSV). In conclusion, then, the Synoptics present the picture that the Last Supper was the Passover meal, whereas John gives the idea that the Passover was not celebrated by the Jews until after Jesus’ death and burial.

An alternative in which Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover meal earlier than most of the Jews is worth consideration and may well be the answer to the problem. There are several approaches within this basic solution. Some feel that Jesus arranged for an early Passover meal because He foresaw that His death would occur at the time of the official Passover sacrifice. Others think that Jesus and His disciples followed Qumran calendar and ate their Passover on Tuesday evening (FLAP, p. 297) while mainstream Judaism had it on Friday. Regarding these two views, however, it is difficult to understand why the priests at the temple would have slain a lamb especially for Jesus’ disciples before the official time.

Finally, others think that the Galileans and/or the Pharisees ate the Passover on Thursday night (Nisan 14) and the Judeans and/or the Sadducees ate the Passover on Friday night. Hence, Jesus and His disciples were among those who ate the Passover on Thursday. Since a great number of people would be eating the Passover on Thursday evening, the priests would accommodate them (as in other years) with an earlier Passover sacrifice. Mark (14:12) literally says, “when they were sacrificing [Gr. ethuon, imperfect tense] the Passover,” that Jesus’ disciples asked Him where to prepare to eat the Passover.

Related Topics: Crucifixion

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