UNDERSTANDING MATTHEW 26:17

A great many Christians have concerns regarding the words found in Matthew 26:17 (shown just below).  This verse seemingly places Jesus “very much alive” after the Passover day.  The explanation is quite easy, but it boils down to a King James translator (and their supervisor) not understanding Jewish colloquialisms/expressions.  This is understandable on their part, however it does not excuse their absolute failure regarding one of their inserted words.  In this verse, Matthew was using a very common expression of the Jewish folks in his day.  Maybe, just maybe, Matthew did not realize that he would be writing to a King’s English translator some 1,600 years later?


Back in the days of Jesus (and well before this, actually) a common expression was used to describe both the Passover event and the full week of eating unleavened bread which began the next day.  That expression was to call the day before Passover:  “the first day of unleavened bread.”  Even though this was very unofficial and not Scriptural at all, it was commonplace.  To understand this, one must understand a very simple series of events that took place, year-after-year, before a certain high sabbath day known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  So let us break this down into its pieces.

Matthew 26:17  Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?

Notice the words placed in italics above.  These words were not in the original Greek text written by Matthew:  they were added later by the King James translators.  Indeed, this is a good lesson for all, regarding the King James Version of the Bible.  If a word (or words) were not written in the original Hebrew or Greek texts, they are placed in italics:  for the entire world to see that the translators were merely trying to construct good English sentences for us.

In Matthew 26:17 above, the Greek word used for “first” was G4413.  (Link opens in a new window.)  This Greek word, protos, means the first of anything, the beginning of something, and yes, it might very well include the first day of something.  Again, notice the italics.

The Greek word used for “unleavened bread” was G106.  (Link opens in a new window.)  This Greek word, azymos, means “unfermented or unleavened” and that it all that it means!  This word has nothing to do with any sort of Feast, festival, or any special event.  The King James translators were wrong to include the words “Feast of” in this verse.

This verse has always been a problem for Christians.  If the Feast of Unleavened Bread comes after the Passover, then (according to the above verse) how could Jesus have possibly kept the Passover, died on the Passover, and then hurriedly placed in his tomb before the high sabbath began?  (This high sabbath being the Feast of Unleavened Bread.)

This can seem very confusing for Christians today because Christians do not understand God’s instructions regarding Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Only a few basics need be explained for the purposes of this letter.

1.  Passover begins at night.  It begins at the sunset of the thirteenth of the month (because the sunset of the thirteenth is actually the beginning of the fourteenth day for Jews).  Our modern world uses a peculiar time called “midnight” to begin a new day.  (Oddly, for most of the year, this is not even the middle-of-our-night!)  Well, God told the ancient world that the setting of the sun would begin a new day.  Remember this because you will be needing it throughout this letter.

2.  The high sabbath called the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins at the end of the Passover day.  This means just after sunset of the fourteenth day of the month.  Jews can do no work on any high sabbath or on the weekly sabbath (Saturday).

3.  Now, the day of Passover is not a high sabbath, indeed, it is a day where much work is commanded, by God, to be completed.  The Jews eat their Passover meal on the night of the thirteenth day (just after sunset) and then go to bed.  When they wake up in the morning, they are required to have their homes previously cleared of any food containing leavening.  This includes anything that has been fermented.  This includes any actual leavening they are storing for future use (meaning for wine, all forms of bread, biscuits, etc.).

4.  One would think that this work would be performed the actual day of Passover:  for this is a day when work is allowed; and indeed, is instructed by God, Himself (in Exodus 12).  But this is not quite accurate.  There is one further obligation that God placed upon all Hebrews back in Moses’ day (again, in Exodus 12).  In order to fulfill God’s commandments, the Hebrews were required to “unofficially” begin their unleavened bread practices on the thirteenth of the month!  What?  The day BEFORE Passover?  Meaning two full days BEFORE the “official” observance of God’s high sabbath called, the “Feast of Unleavened Bread?”  Yes!  And here is where the King James translators made their fateful error in Matthew 26:17:  they forgot Exodus 12:8; where God started all of this unleavened bread business in the first place.  (You will find the Exodus 12 verses just below.)

Now, it was a long tradition of the Hebrews and then later, the Jews, to call the thirteenth day of the month “the first day of unleavened bread.”  (You might now reference the words of Matthew 26:17 once again:  minus the italicized words added by the King James translators.)  Oh, all Jews knew-well of God’s Feast day, but in actual practice, the unleavened bread diet was commanded, by God, to begin exactly two days prior to the Feast.

In His words spoken to Moses, Christ gave certain instructions in Exodus, Chapter 12.  First, Christ made the fourteenth day of the month the Passover day.  The actual Passover “celebration” (if you will) began just moments after the day started.  This is when the lamb was killed, roasted, and consumed.  It was served with UNLEAVENED BREAD and bitter herbs.  Anything that was not eaten was to be burned that night (before going to bed) and not left for the morning-time.  (Please do note that unleavened bread and bitter herbs require a prior “preparation.”  And the thirteenth day of the month would be the best time to perform this work.)

Exodus 12:3  Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:

Exodus 12:5  Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year:  ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats:

Exodus 12:6  And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month:  and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.

Exodus 12:7  And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.

Exodus 12:8  And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

Exodus 12:10  And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning . . .

So, this was the schedule of God’s events.  On the fourteenth day of the month, all Hebrews were to be prepared to celebrate the Passover meal.  This began at sunset:  meaning the last glimmer of light.  The lamb was to be killed, bled-out, roasted, and consumed before going to bed.  The blood of the lamb was to be sprinkled on the door posts before going to bed so that when the Spirit of the LORD came that night, only the first born males of the Egyptians would be killed.  The Hebrews slept in peace.

ALL OF THE ABOVE ACTIVITIES WERE GOD’S INSTRUCTIONS

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NOW, CONSIDER THE HUMAN SIDE

(Meaning Matthew’s side of this story)

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Now, everything stated above is correct, from a Biblical point-of-view.  But we must also consider the human factor.  Oh, but it gets worse.  We must consider the housewife factor!

Did you notice the instructions in Exodus 12:8?

Exodus 12:8  And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

We are talking about the housewife’s side of these instructions:  meaning the real-life side of all of these events which took place in every home!  Shortly after the sundown of the thirteenth, which began the fourteenth day of the month, she had to have unleavened bread prepared (well in advance!) and read to serve her family.  In this, she did not just “pop the bread” into her oven.  No, it meant that the night before, she went into the back yard and built a fire in her rock oven just before bedtime.  Then, being the first to rise, in the wee hours of the morning, she prepared her unleavened bread, swept out the coals, placed her hand in front of the door to test the heat, and when it tested “right,” she put her unleavened bread into that rock oven for about twenty-minutes.  Yes, she had to prepare bitter herbs too, but we are talking about the unleavened bread just for now.  So, time wise, we are now two-full-evenings ahead of God’s official Feast of Unleavened Bread (which lasted for seven days).  God might have commanded all of this, but the housewives made it happen!

AN INTERESTING SIDE NOTE FOR OUR MODERN DAY:

God’s instructions to the Hebrews was that prior to the Passover day ending, they were to have all “leavening” out of their homes.  This included all “sourdough” starter they had going in their homes.  This included completely washing any and all bowls that might have had sourdough (meaning yeast) balls growing in them.  (And yes, this truly was a significant event, back then, because it can take a few weeks to get a good sourdough starter viable again; depending on the skills of the housewife and the weather.)  The ancient Hebrews did not have grocery stores to purchase pre-packaged yeast.  Every housewife had to grow her own!  (Or borrow from a neighbor if hers died from neglect or an accident.)  These housewives did this by ever-so-slowly collecting yeast spores from the air in their homes.  Try this yourself:  it can take weeks, if you are new to it.

Discover, for yourself on the Internet, just how to make a sourdough yeast starter.  Under normal conditions, it takes about twenty-one days!  A seasoned housewife might finish it in just over a week.  Seriously, try it yourself.  See if you can get one loaf of bread produced within your first two months of labor:  it will barely cost you ten-dollars, but the lesson will be invaluable.  This truly was a vital function in every ancient household!  And yes, they were better at this than anyone today.  But, growing naturally existing yeast spores, from the air, can prove difficult to get started!  Once a sourdough starter is growing, the housewife would tear a good-sized piece of it off and add it to her daily bread recipe.  She would also perform her daily task of feeding that starter dough (with just flour and water) for continued future use.  Please click here for the instructions regarding this ancient tradition.  (Link will open in a new window).


It is for this reason . . . that the thirteenth day of the month (which is actually the day before Passover) was commonly called the first day of unleavened bread (in the average Hebrew household).  Because the housewife was required to have her unleavened bread prepared before sunset of the thirteenth day!  And she could not produce any leavened bread on that day, or for the next eight days!  But considering their day-to-day affairs, this little season seemed to go on forever.  You see, unleavened bread is a polite term for crackers.  Oh, you can salt and pepper it, add seasoning or bitter herbs, or pour oil on it to soften it up a bit.  But for nine days straight, folks only consumed meat, vegetables, and crackers.  Oh, but it gets worse.  The housewife could not begin producing her sourdough starter dough until the end of these nine days, which added possibly two weeks to the “season of eating crackers.”  Hence the appropriate name for this annual season of eating crackers.  When Matthew wrote about “the first day of unleavened bread,” everyone alive, in that day, understood EXACTLY what he was referring to.

So, what could we use as a modern day (non-Jewish) equivalent to this lesson of Matthew?  Well, the easiest example would be Christmas.  We officially observe Christmas on December 25.

But, when do we unofficially observe Christmas-time today?  Might it just be a few scant hours after we have completed our Thanksgiving Day meal (in November)?  Is it called “Black Friday”?  And when do radio stations begin playing Christmas music?  And when do TV stations begin playing Christmas movies?  And when are many homes and trees decorated in preparation of the “official” observance of December 25?

So . . . this author asks you now!  When does Christmas begin?  We certainly love the birth of our Savior; and we certainly enjoy that day we have chosen to celebrate His birth, but it is easy to groan at the thought of the approaching “season.”

So, to all Christians, please understand that in Matthew 26:17, Matthew was referring to the common folks’ term for that season:  the beginning of the unleavened bread days.

How do we know this for sure?

Because so, so many other Scriptures place Jesus dying on the cross at the end of the Passover day, just as the high sabbath was about to begin.  Simply spoken, this one little verse (written by Matthew) only needs to be taken in the proper context.

 
 
 
Copyright (2019) by jpw@wisdomi.org