3. Passover – What Is It?

The חג (Khag; Festival) of Unleavened Bread forms part of the מועדי (moadi; appointed times) commanded by Yahweh, which gain their legal authority by means of a חקת (khoquth; statute).1

The term חג (khag) is also used when the entire seven days of eating unleavened bread is called the Passover.2

The first and seventh day of this khag are described as sacred מקראי (miqrai; gatherings for reading),3 i.e., a sacred convocation on a Sabbath or high Sabbath day during which Scriptures are to be studied.4

To understand the Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread, we must first define the meanings of these two terms and explain what prompts them to be festival observances.

The Covenant Meal
The Passover supper and the eating of unleavened bread for seven days are meant to be a celebration and a reaffirmation of the Abrahamic Covenants.5

It is centered around the festival meal of the Passover victim and the eating of unleavened bread for seven days. One of the important ingredients in the Passover and this seven-day khag, therefore, is the Passover repast.

In Hebrew culture, a meal binds one to an oath, vow, or contract and can be used to ratify a covenant.6 Herein, for example, is the source for the covenant meal of marriage which accompanies a wedding. The wedding meal is called a משתה (mishteh; banquet).7

The Passover supper, therefore, is in fact a covenant meal, binding one to the Abrahamic Covenants and to the messiah.8 The continued observance of the Passover repast and the seven days of eating unleavened bread during the centuries that followed the Exodus were expressly stated to be a זכר (zakar; memorial)9 khag.

The purpose of this memorial khag was to recall the significance of the Exodus parable signifying the fact that Yahweh would fulfill the words of his covenant to Abraham.10

Passover is also a “night of שמרים (shamarim; observations, guarding, watching),11 i.e., a night to establish the covenant. Since the Abrahamic Covenants are an agreement enabling men to obtain the divine nature (Yahweh’s love), after the resurrection of the messiah, the Passover supper was also counted among the Christian “ἀγάπαις (agapais; love feasts).”12

Meaning of Passover
Passover comes from the root meaning to “skip” or “limp” over or “pass over,” and by extension “to spare,” “protect,” or “set apart” something.13 It does not derive from the Greek term πάθος (pathos; to suffer) as some of the early Christians tried to claim.14

When Elijah challenged the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, the latter, we are told, פסח (phasekh; limped) beside the altar as part of their statutory procedure—this in an effort to ask their deity to perform a sign so that they could be delivered from the hands of Yahweh and his prophet Elijah.15

One could also phasekh (limp, pass over) at a funeral, in an attempt to ask a deity to spare or deliver the deceased. In this regard, Theodor Herzl Gaster writes of the term Phasekh:

Similarly, Heliodorus, a Greek author of the early Christian era, informs us specifically that the seafaring men of Tyre, on the coast of Syria, used to worship their god by performing a strange dance, one movement of which consisted in limping along the ground. Analogous performances are recorded also among the pre-Mohammedan Arabs and among the ancient inhabitants of both India and Ireland.16

Theodor Herzl Gaster then adds:

The performance of a limping dance happens to be a characteristic feature of mourning ceremonies among Arab and Syrian peasants—so much so that in the Arabic and Syriac languages the word for limp comes to be a synonym for mourn. “It is customary,” says the great Arabist Lane in his famous Manners and Customs of Modern Egyptians, “for the female relatives and friends of a person deceased to meet together by his house on each of the first THREE DAYS AFTER HIS FUNERAL, and there to perform a lamentation and a strange kind of dance. . . . Each dances with a slow movement and in an irregular manner; generally pacing about and raising and depressing the body” (italics ours).
Nor is this custom confined to modern times. An ancient Canaanite poem of the fourteenth century B.C. uses the word “hoppings” (or “skippings”) in the sense of mourning exercises; and a Babylonian document now in the British Museum lists the term hopper (or skipper) as a synonym for professional mourner. Moreover, it is significant that the standard poetic meter used in ancient Hebrew dirges was distinguished by a special limping rhythm—a fact which would be readily explicable if they were designed to accompany a limping dance.17

Therefore, it was ancient practice to phasekh as part of a funeral ceremony. There are Egyptian people who still limp for three days following a death. One might readily ask, “From where did this common meaning and tradition in the Near East arise?”

The answer proves important not only in the story of the Exodus and the death of the first-born in Egypt at that time, but in the story of Yahushua’s own death and subsequent resurrection after three days.

The Jewish priest Josephus (first century C.E.) and the Christian theologian Pseudo-Chrysostom (late fourth century C.E.) both give us the theological interpretation. Josephus notes that Passover “signifies ὑπέρβασια (hyperbasia; passing over),18 because on that day the deity passed over our people when he smote the Egyptians with a plague.”19

Pseudo-Chrysostom similarly writes:

. . . for Passover means “ὑπέρβασις (hyperbasis; passing over),” when the Destroyer who struck the first-born passed over the houses of the Hebrews.20

Philo translates Passover as διαβατήρια (diabateria), meaning “the crossing-festival.”21 Similarly, Origen,22 Gregory of Nazianzus,23 and other Christian writers render it διαβασις (diabasis),24 meaning “passage.”25

The Vulgate gives the Latin form transitus (passing over).26 In classical Greek διαβατήρια (diabateria) are offerings made before crossing a boundary, and also “before crossing a swollen river.”27 The sacrifice, accordingly, was performed to assure one’s safe passage or crossing.

F. H. Colson, meanwhile, argues:

Philo consistently uses διαβατήρια or διαβασις = πάσχα [[Paskha; Passover]], and several times, e.g. Leg. All. iii. 94, allegorizes it as in §147, shewing that he traces the name not to the passing over of the Israelites by the destroying angel (Ex. xii. 23 and 27), but to the crossing of Israel itself from Egypt, the type of the body, and no doubt also the crossing of the Red Sea.28

F. H. Colson’s understanding is not quite complete. Philo also equates διαβατήρια (diabateria) directly with the πάσχα (Paskha) of the 14th and the events of the death angel, indicating that all of the events associated with the Exodus migration out of Egypt were included.29

Even Jerome, who wrote the Vulgate version of the Bible, applies the Latin word transitus to both the passing over of the destroyer and to the passing through of the Suph Sea (Red Sea) by the Israelites.30

Escaping the death angel was in fact part of their safe passage. The sacrifice of the Passover flock animal by the Israelites was meant to assure a safe journey for the followers of Yahweh both through the land of Egypt and through the Suph Sea (Sea of Termination)31 at the time of the Exodus.

To פסח (phasekh), therefore, means to skip or pass over, or to pass around something, showing mercy and sparing it. For this reason it is simply called “Passover” in English.

The Aramaic Targum Onqelos (fifth century C.E.) supports this when it renders “זבח פסח (zebakh Phasekh; sacrifice of the Phasekh)” as “דיבח חיס (diybakh khiys; sacrifice of mercy).”32

Likewise, the LXX at Exodus, 12:13, where the Hebrew has, “I will phasekh over you,” renders phasekh as I will “σκεπάσω (skepaso; cover over)” you.33

Isaiah, 31:5, indicates the same sense when it notes that Yahweh will defend and deliver Jerusalem, “פסוח (phasukh; passing over), and saving it.” The LXX of this verse translates the form פסוח (phasukh) as περιποιήσεται (peripoiesetai), meaning to “keep safe.”34

In Scriptures the name “Passover” is applied to three different aspects of the festival:

• In both the Old and New Testaments, Passover is the name of the lamb that is sacrificed, roasted, and eaten.35

• It is the name of the festival day upon which the lamb is sacrificed.36

• The name is also applied to the entire seven-day Festival of Unleavened Bread.37

The reinstitution of the Passover sacrifice after the revolt at Mount Sinai, when the Israelites built the golden calf, was meant to look back at the par­able type that the original sacrifice performed in Egypt represented, which pointed to the coming death of the messiah.

Yahushua the messiah is the “lamb” of Yahweh who was sacrificed for our safe passage.38 The apostle Saul, for example, writes, “For also the messiah, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”39

Unleavened Bread
The Festival of Unleavened Bread was built around the consumption of unleavened bread. The Hebrew word for unleavened bread is מצה (matzah), a term meaning “sweetness (not soured).”40

Leavened bread (שאר; seor), on the other hand, is made by retaining a piece of dough from a previous batch which has become yeast, i.e., fermented and turned acidic. This piece is mixed or hidden in the flour and kneaded along with it. When baked, the leavening, which has diffused itself throughout the dough, causes the bread to rise.

In Scriptures, leavening implies corruption and sin.41 It represents malice and wickedness,42 false teaching,43 hypocrisy,44 and false doctrine and culpable ignorance.45

Conversely, unleavened bread represents incorruption and sinlessness. The unleavened bread of the Passover supper, to demonstrate, represents sincerity and truth.46 It also signifies the sinless body of Yahushua the messiah.47

In another place, in association with the time of Passover, Yahushua called himself “the bread of life,” “living bread,” and the “manna”48 bread that was sent “out of heaven” to the Israelites in the wilderness.49

Since the messiah has always been without sin,50 these statements make it clear that sinlessness is equated with the incorruption of unleavened bread.

Be sure to continue on with our next post titled
4. Passover – The Story.

For further reading see the publication by Qadesh La Yahweh press titled The Festivals and Sacred Days of Yahweh.


Click this link for Bibliography and  Abbreviations.

1 E.g., Exod. 13:3-10; Deut. 4:12-14, cf., Exod. 21:1, 23:14-17; and see discussion FSDY Chap. I, pp. 16-22.

2 Ezek. 45:21; cf., Exod. 34:18; Deut. 16:1-8, 16; 2 Chron. 30:2

3 Lev. 23:7-8. And see FSDY Chap. I, p. 15, n. 71.

4 For example, Lev. 23:3, reads, “Six days work is to be done, and on the seventh day is a Sabbath sabbathon, a sacred מקרא (miqra; gathering for reading), not any work you shall do. It is a Sabbath for Yahweh in all your dwellings.”

5 For the connection between the act of cutting meat and eating a meal as part of the act of confirming a covenant see FSDY Chap. II, pp. 37-38, p. 38, n. 27.

6 E.g., Gen. 14:18-24; 26:30; 31:51-54; Josh. 9:14.

7 SEC, Heb. #4960; e.g., Gen. 29:16-30, esp. v. 22.

8 The Passover lamb served this covenant function. Joachim Jeremias notes that, “The blood of the lambs slaughtered at the exodus from Egypt had redemptive power and made God’s covenant with Abraham operative” (EWJ, pp. 225f, and cf., his ns. 4 & 5).

9 זכר (zakar), means, “prop. to mark (so as to be recognized, i.e. to remember . . . a memento . . . impl. commemoration:—memorial, memory, remembrance” (SEC, Heb. #2142, 2143); “mediate upon, call to mind” (HEL, p. 74).

10 Exod 12:14, 13:6-10.

11 Exod., 12:42, cf., 12:7, 25. שמרים (shamarim), from שמר (shamar), “prop. to hedge about (as with thorns), i.e. guard; gen. to protect, attend to, etc.” (SEC, Heb. #8104); means, “observance of a festival” (HEL, p. 272); “observances” (YAC, p. 708). The LXX of Exod. 12:42, translates the Hebrew to read, “It is a watch kept to the sovereign, so that he should bring them out of the land of Egypt; that very night is a watch kept to the sovereign, so that it should be to all the children of Israel to their generations.”

12 Jude 1:12 (cf., 2 Pet. 2:13; 1 Cor. 11:20-34). NBD, p. 754, notes that, “The separation of the meal or Agapֿe  from the Eucharist lies outside the times of the New Testament.” It is very pos­sible that the term Agapֿe was applied early on to all of the early Christian festival meals, from Passover to Tabernacles. Yet, as time proceeded, this term lost its connection with the scriptural festival suppers and was broadly applied to any fellowship meal. Also see NCE, 1, pp. 193f; ISBE, 1, pp. 69f; ADB, 3, p. 149, “Christ placed the new rite in close connexion with the Passover.

13 פסח (Phasekh), a prim. root, “to hop, i.e. (fig.) skip over (or spare); by impl. to hesitate; also (lit.) to limp, to dance:—halt, become lame, leap, pass over . . . a pretermission, i.e. exemption; used only tech. of the Jewish Passover (the festival or the victim):—passover (offering) . . . limping . . . lame (SEC, Heb., #64526455); “be lame, limp . . . limp around (in cultic observance)” (CHAL, p. 294); “passed over for defense, defended, protected” (HEL, p. 211); “TO PASS OVER, TO PASS BY . . . to pass over, to spare . . . sparing, immunity from penalty and calamity” (GHCL, p. 683); “Passover, Heb. pesah, comes from a verb meaning ‘to pass over,’ in the sense of ‘to spare’ (Ex. xii. 13, 27, etc.)” NBD, p. 936); “to ‘pass over,’ to ‘spare’ (BJK, p. 324); “meaning ‘to pass or spring over,’ also ‘to limp’” (MDB, p. 648); “to pass through, to leap, to halt . . . then topically to pass by in the sense of sparing, to save, to show mercy” (CBTEL, 7, p. 733). J. B. Segal shows that, like the term עבר (heber), Passover can also mean to “set apart,” as something “singled out (for forgiveness or kindness)” (THP, pp. 185ff). On various theories of the etymology of the word Passover see THP, pp. 95–113.

14 The popular interpretation among many early Greek-speaking Christians that the word Passover is derived as a pun from the Greek term πάθος (pathos), “paschein being the present infinitive, pathein the aorist infinitive of the same verb” (EEC, p. 138, #21, n. a), meaning to “suffer,” is, as Raniero Cantalamessa concludes, a “naive etymology (deriving a Hebrew from a Greek word” (ibid.). It was apparently derived from the Greek-speaking Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria (Philo, Heir, 40, §192, Cong., 19, §106); cf., Ambrose (Epist. 1, 90), who connects the Passover with πάθος (pathos). This etymology quickly became popular among the Greek-speaking Christians of Asia (e.g., Melito, Pas., 46; an unnamed Quartodeciman writer, Ps.-Hippolytus, 49, see SC, 27, pp. 175–177) and spread among the Latin writers (e.g., Tertullian, Marc., 4:40:1; Ps.-Tertullian, 8:1; Ps.-Cyprian, 2; Gregory Elv., 9:9). The primary reason for this popularity was the allusion to the sufferings of the messiah at Passover. Despite the efforts of Origen (Pas., 1) and others (e.g., Augustine, Tract., 55:1, on 13:1–5), who correctly and strongly opposed this interpretation, it prospered for a long time.

15 1 Kings 18:26, in context with 18:17-19:1.

16 PHT, p. 23. For the Tyrian dance in honor of Heracles see Heliodorus, 4:17, cf., Herodian, 5:5:9.

17 PHT, p. 24.

18 GEL, 1968, pp. 1860-1861.

19 Jos., Antiq. 2:14:6.

20 Ps.–Chrysostom, 1:4. Also see the Chron. Paschale, 1, pp. 424f; Gaudentius, Tract., 2:25; Maximus, Serm., 54:1.

21 Philo, Spec. 2:27.

22 Origen, Pas., 1:18, 22, 2:17, 4:18, 22, as well as “ὑπέρβασις (hyperbasis; passing over)” in 45:14, 47:33.

23 Gregory Naz., Orat., 45:10.

24 E.g., Eusebius, Pas., 1–3, 7; Didymus, 5:88; Chron. Paschale, 1, pp. 424f; CBTEL, 7, p. 734.

25 GEL, 1968, p. 390, “crossing over, passage.”

26 HLD, p. 1891. Cf., Ambrose, Epist., 1:10, Exp. Luc., 10:34, Sac., 1:4:12; Pas. Proclam., Exsult, 4; Jerome, Com. Matt., 4, on 26:2; Augustine, Tract., 55:1, on 13:1-5.

27 Plutarch, Luc., 24; cf., Philo, Spec. 2:27 §147.

28 Colson, Philo, vii, p. 394, n. a.

29 Philo, Moses 2:41-42, Spec. 2:27-28.

30 Jerome, Com. Matt., 4, on 26:2.

31 The Hebrew name ים סוף (Yam Suph; Sea of Suph) is found in the Greek sources (LXX, Exod. 13:18, 13:8; Jos., Antiq. 2:15:1; and many others) as ἐρυθρὰν θάλασσαν (eruthran thalassan; Red Sea). Many modern day translators assume that the name Yam Suph was Egyptian and equate it with an Egyptian word that signifies a seaweed resembling wool, hence it has been popular to call it the sea of reeds or weeds (e.g., DOTB, pp. 785f; DB, p. 556; NBD, pp. 1077f). Nevertheless, the word is not Egyptian. The ancient Egyptians never even referred to this body of water by that name. It is Hebrew and means “to snatch away, i.e. terminate:—consume, have an end, perish . . . to come to an end . . . a termination:—conclusion, end, hinder part” (SEC, Heb. #5486, 5487, 5490). The Suph Sea was the sea that formed the border of the ancient frontier of Egypt proper; it was at the end of the land (VT, 15, pp. 395–398). It was also the sea in which Pharaoh and his Egyptian army perished—an event that terminated the Exodus experience. Accordingly, some understand Yam Suph to mean the “sea of extinction” or something quite similar, indicating “the primal significance of the miracle at the sea” (MBD, pp. 738f).

32 Targ. Onq., Exod., 12:27.

33 GEL, p. 732.

34 GEL, p. 630, “a keeping safe, preservation . . . a gaining possession of, acquisition, obtaining . . . a possession.” The term basically means to gain possession of something in order to keep it safe.

35 E.g., Exod. 12:6, 8, 11, 21, 27; Deut. 16:6; 2 Chron., 30:18, 35:13; Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:12, 14, 16; Luke 22:7, 8, 11, 13, 15; John 18:28; 1 Cor. 5:7 (verb).

36 E.g., Exod. 34:25; Josh. 5:10; Luke 2:41; John 13:1.

37 E.g., Ezek. 45:21; Luke 22:1.

38 Isa. 53:1-12; John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:6-6:1, 16, 7:9-17, 9:7-9, 21:14, 22-23, 22:1-3.

39 1 Cor. 5:7.

40 SEC, Heb. #4682, “prop. sweetness; concr. sweet (i.e. not soured or bittered with yeast); spec. an unfermented cake or loaf.”

41 Gal. 5:7-10.

42 1 Cor., 5:6-8.

43 Matt. 16:6-12; Mark 8:15.

44 Luke 12:1.

45 Matt. 22:23, 29.

46 1 Cor. 5:8.

47 Matt. 26:19-20, 26; Mark 14:16-17, 22; Luke 22:13-14, 19; 1 Cor. 11:23-24.

48 Manna was unleavened bread. This detail is verified by the fact that manna, after being delivered in the morning from heaven, did not survive until the next morning, unless by divine intervention on the sixth day of the week—and then it would only last until the morning of the first day of the week—at which time it would rot and be unusable (Exod. 16:13-34). Also, only manna was available for bread during the Israelite 40-year sojourn in the wilderness (Exod. 16:35), yet during that time they continued to keep the Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread (cf., Exod. 34:18-26; Num. 9:1-5). For example, the Israelites were given and continued to eat manna in the first few days of the Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread during their first year in the land of Kanaan (Josh. 5:10–12).

49 John 6:4, 26-59. Manna was not allowed to be used once it fermented (Exod. 16:13-22). Therefore, it was always eaten as unleavened bread.

50 E.g., 1 John 3:5; 1 Pet. 2:21-22; Heb. 4:15.

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