Is the Date for Celebrating Passover Important to Christians?
JESUS CHRIST, the founder of Christianity, instituted the memorial of his death (the Lord’s Evening Meal) on a day marked by an annual observance, the Jewish Passover. This being the case, reasonably the Lord’s Evening Meal would also be an annual celebration. Hence the date on which the Passover was held would determine when the memorial of Jesus’ death should be commemorated. Christians therefore find it of more than passing interest to ascertain when Passover was observed. It is important, for they are under command to keep the memorial of Jesus’ death.—Luke 22:19.
According to the Jewish calendar, the anniversary date for the celebration of Passover falls in the month of Nisan. Regarding the lamb or goat that was to be eaten during the course of the Passover meal, Jehovah God commanded: “It must continue under safeguard by you until the fourteenth day of this month, and the whole congregation of the assembly of Israel must slaughter it between the two evenings.”—Ex. 12:6.
What does the expression “two evenings” mean? Does it have any bearing on the date for celebrating Passover?
Jewish tradition generally presents the “two evenings” as the time from noon (when the sun begins to decline) on until sundown. As the Israelites measured their day from sundown to sundown, this would mean that the Passover victim was slaughtered prior to the sundown with which Nisan 14 ended and Nisan 15 began. If this were correct, the Passover meal itself would have been eaten in Egypt on Nisan 15 and the Israelites would not have left Egypt until that date.
But the traditional Jewish view regarding the “two evenings” does not harmonize with the Bible account at Exodus 12:17, 18. There we read: “You must keep the festival of unfermented cakes, because on this very day I must bring your armies out from the land of Egypt. And you must keep this day throughout your generations as a statute to time indefinite. In the first month [Nisan or Abib], on the fourteenth day of the month, in the evening you are to eat unfermented cakes.”
Had the Passover victim been slaughtered as Jewish tradition holds, namely, in the last quarter of the fourteenth day, which ended at sundown, then the Israelites could not have left Egypt that “very day.” The event that enabled them to depart was the death of the Egyptian firstborn. But, as this took place at midnight, it would not have come until about six hours after Nisan 14 ended.—Ex. 12:29.
So we must look to a source other than Jewish tradition to find out when the Passover victim was sacrificed and then eaten. We need to examine the Bible itself to determine the significance of the expression “two evenings.” Directing our attention to Deuteronomy 16:6, we note that in the case of the first evening a time beginning considerably later than noon is involved. The instructions to Israel here read: “You should sacrifice the passover in the evening as soon as the sun sets.” So the first of the “two evenings” manifestly designates the time when the sun sets, whereas the second evening would correspond to the time when the sun’s reflected light or afterglow ends and darkness falls.
This explanation of the two evenings was also offered by the Spanish rabbi Aben-Ezra (1092-1167 C.E.), as well as by the Samaritans and the Karaite Jews. It is the view presented by such scholars as Michaelis, Rosenmueller, Gesenius, Maurer, Kalisch, Knobel and Keil.
Viewing the Biblical evidence as a whole, we can see that the Passover victim was slaughtered at sunset, at the start of Nisan 14, and the meal itself was eaten later that evening. Whereas the Jews of today, in keeping with tradition, eat the Passover meal on Nisan 15, their practice is not supported by the Holy Scriptures. The correct anniversary date is Nisan 14.
Thus Jesus Christ must have eaten the Passover with his disciples on Nisan 14 “after evening had fallen” and thereafter instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal. (Mark 14:17; Matt. 26:20-28) Jehovah’s Christian witnesses therefore observe the memorial of Christ’s death on its anniversary date after sundown on Nisan 14.