To answer this question, we need to describe the historical background briefly.
As we pointed out in the Q&A of Update #137, dated April 2, 2004, the Bible distinguishes between the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. Both are annual Feast days, to be kept once a year. The Passover is to be observed at the beginning of the 14th day of the first month (which month is called Abib or Nisan), according to the Hebrew calendar (Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 28:16). The First Day of Unleavened Bread is to be observed at the beginning of the 15th day of the first month, according to the Hebrew calendar (Leviticus 23:6; Numbers 28:17). It was during the Passover night–the night of the 14th day–that the death angel passed over the Israelites who were in their houses (hence the name, “Passover,”), while killing the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 12:6-13). But it was on the 15th day–“on the day AFTER the Passover”; that is, one entire day LATER–that the Israelites went out of Egypt, and it is on THAT day (at the beginning of the 15th day of the first month) that we are to celebrate the Night To Be Much Observed (Exodus 12:42; Numbers 33:3). (Remember that according to the Hebrew calendar, days start and end with sunset.)
Today’s Jewish community is totally confused about this distinction. In fact, they keep the PASSOVER at the END of the 14th and in the beginning of the 15th day, TOGETHER WITH the Night to Be Much Observed, as if the two distinct events were one and the same. But this is not according to Scripture. As stated, Scripture commands that we partake of the Passover at the BEGINNING of the 14th day, while observing the Night to be Much Observed at the beginning of the 15th day–one entire day LATER! God said that at the END of the 14th day (or in the beginning of the 15th day), we are to eat unleavened bread until the END of the 21st day–that is, for seven days (Exodus 12:18).
As the Passover is to be kept one day before the Seven Days of Unleavened Bread, why do we teach that the New Testament Passover symbol of the bread has to be unleavened? For instance, many Christian organizations allow for leavened bread during their “communion”–which they also observe more than once a year, which is another clear violation of Scripture.
Some point out that in New Testament times, the Passover was sometimes included in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but then the entire time was counted as lasting eight days, not just seven days. One of the reasons why the day of Passover was included as an “unleavened” day was that the Jews, when leaving their homes to go to Jerusalem, had to remove all leaven from their homes, before they left (Exodus 12:19). But this would not compel us to abstain from eating leavened bread, per se, during the day of Passover. Just based on Scripture, there is NO COMMAND for us today to remove all leaven from our houses before the first day of Unleavened Bread. Scripture only requires that all leaven must be removed, at the latest, DURING the Passover DAY, so that no leaven is to be seen in our houses for seven days, BEGINNING with the First Day of Unleavened Bread.
Still, the Church teaches that we must use unleavened bread, when partaking of the SYMBOLS of bread and wine during Passover. Why?
There is both a spiritual and a literal reason for this command:
From a spiritual standpoint, leaven, during the Passover season, is symbolic of sin (1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Matthew 16:12; Luke 12:1-2), and Christ was sinless (Hebrews 4:15). To use leavened bread as a New Testament symbol for His broken body would not convey the spiritual significance of His sinless life. The same would be true for the practice of some Christian churches, which, during their weekly “communions,” don’t partake of wine at all–maybe only the ministering priest does–or they partake of white wine. However, in order to stay with the symbolic meaning of the wine, as representing Christ’s blood, the wine needs to be red; it needs to be received by baptized Church members during the Passover night; and in that religious setting, it must only be partaken of ONCE a year, and NOT more often than that. After all, Christ did not change the Passover, which is an annual celebration–He only changed the SYMBOLS to partake of DURING the annual Passover celebration.
In addition, the Bible specifically prohibited the Israelites in the Old Testament to eat leavened bread together with the Passover meal. This proves that there was no leavened bread available during the Passover MEAL (as distinguished from the rest of the Passover day). As Christ and His disciples partook of the regular Passover meal that night (Luke 22:14-16), Christ would not have had available leavened bread, when He introduced the New Testament symbols during the Passover meal (Matthew 26:26-28). This can clearly be seen, when analyzing the Scriptures of Exodus 12:8 and Deuteronomy 16:1-3:
In Exodus 12:8, God told the Israelites that they had to eat the Passover lamb (verses 3, 6) with “unleavened bread.” In Deuteronomy 16:3, God commands that “no leavened bread” shall be eaten “with it”–that is, with the Passover lamb compare verse 2). The rendition of the New King James Bible is confusing here, as they insert a paragraph between verses 2 and 3, and translate the passage as follows: “(2) Therefore you shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God, from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to put His name. (3) You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction…”
However, the insertions of these paragraphs are arbitrary, as they cannot be found in the original. Notice how the Tanakh (The Jewish Bible) translates this passage, without placing a paragraph between verses 2 and 3: “(2)You shall slaughter the passover sacrifice for the LORD your God, from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD will choose to establish His name. (3) You shall not eat anything leavened with it; for seven days thereafter (Lit. “upon it”) you shall eat unleavened bread…” This rendition makes it very clear that nothing leavened was to be eaten with the Passover lamb; and that nothing leavened was to be eaten during the seven days of unleavened bread, following the day of Passover. This proves that the bread which Christ gave His disciples during the Passover meal was UNLEAVENED, based on the INSTRUCTIONS in God’s Word. In following Christ’s example and the godly commandment, we, too, must partake of unleavened bread and red wine during the annual Passover service.
Lead Writers: Norbert Link and Dave Harris