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Thursday, September 14, 2006 

The Date of Passover and the Pitfall of Inerrancy: Part 5

Part 4


Part 3

Part 2

Part 1


Now it is time to critique proposition two which states:

2.) The reference in Jn 18:28 to the desire of the Jews to "eat the passover" most probably is a general reference to "celebrating the feast" which probably would have been the chagigah meal on the Day after Passover, namely, the day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. (2 Chron 30:21)

Kostenberger's argument here is essentially that phagosin tou pascha (to eat the passover) does not refer to the pesach meal which is celebrated on Passover day but refers instead to the chagigah feast on the day after Passover, the day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. He claims that "to eat the passover" would be a general phrase meant to convey a desire to "celebrate the feast" (which is itself a reference to the following seven days following the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the chagigah being eaten on this first day). He cites 2 Chron 30:21 and Num 28: 18-19 to be cross referenced. Let's look at them briefly:

"And the people of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness; and the Levites and the priests prased YHWH day by day singing with all their might to YHWH. And Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good skill in the service of YHWH. So the people ate the food of the festival for seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to YHWH the God of their fathers." (2 Chron 30:21-22)

"On the first day there shall be a holy convocation: you shall do no laborious work, but offer an offering by fire, a burnt offering to YHWH: two young bulls, one ram, and seven male lambs a year old; see that they are without blemish." (Num 28:18-19)

It is not altogether clear why Kostenberger cites these two passages in support of his interpretation. Even reading them as they stand I do not see where Kostenberger gets the notion that these texts exhibit a tradition which uses the phrase "to eat the passover" as a circumlocution for "celebrating the feast" or more specifically, eating the chagigah. All that the first passage informs us is that the people ate food for the seven days of the feast and gave peace offerings. Likewise the second passage states simply what the people are to sacrifice on the first day of Unleavened Bread. Neither one of these texts indicate a tendancy to correlate "celebrating of the feast" with "eating the passover."

At this point, I need to make a clarication. In doing this series it may seem like I'm presenting Kostenberger's interpretations of these key passages as novel. But they are not. In fact, the first to propose the type of solutions that Kostenberger presents was Charles C. Torrey back in 1931 in Vol. 50, No. 4 (pp. 227-241) of the Journal of Biblical Literature. Thus it was Torrey who first suggested that in Jn 18:28 the phrase "to eat the passover" is a general reference to "celebrating the feast." Torrey is also responsible for seeing 2 Chron 30:21-2 as evidence for this. What he attempts to do there is to say that in vs 22 the Hebrew translates literally as "so they ate the feast" but then then says that the literal translation is too literal and that on the basis of the fact that the passage cannot mean they ate "through the feast" as some English translates the phrase. . Thus he retranslates it as "they celebrated the feast" and then states that this is equivalent in Greek to "ephagon to pascha" which is, except for a difference in tense , the same as Jn 18:28: "phagosin tou pascha." Why the translation move? Because Torrey argues that leaving it as "they ate the feast" "would imply too much eating, besides being untrue to the Hebrew" (240)

Is this convincing? Not at all. For even if we allow Torrey's shuffling around of the translations, it is still not clear at all that this passage is equating "to eat the passover" with "celebrating the feast" for no such equation is ever posited. Torrey is simply inferring this based on the fact that the previous context of 2 Chron 30 speaks of passover. The passage in its fuller context is as follows:

"And they killed the passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. And the priests and the Levites were put to shame, so that they sanctified themselves, and brought burnt offerings into the house of YHWH. They took their accustomed posts according to the law of Moses and the man of God; the priests sprinkled the blood which they received from the hand of the Levites. For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had to kill the passover lamb for every one who was not clean, to make it holy to YHWH. For a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them saying, 'YHWH pardon every one who sets his heart to seek God, YHWH the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary's cleaness.' And YHWH heard Hezekiah and healed the people. And the people of Israel that were present at Jersualem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness and the Levites and the priests praised YHWH day by day singinging with all their might to YHWH. And Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good skill in the service of YHWH. So the people at the food of the festival for seven days..." (15-21)

Forgive me for quoting this passage at length but it was necessary to show one important thing, namely, that even if we grant Torrey's translation of the last sentence as "they celebrated the feast" the only time the passage uses the phrase "eat the passover" (v18) it is without a doubt in reference to the lamb which was slain for passover in v15. Moreover, the "eating of the passover" in verse 18 clearly takes place before the "celebration of the feast" in verse 21 because when the Passover was partaken of, it was done improperly which caused Hezekiah to pray for his people. It was only subsequently, after this prayer that the text tells us the people then celebrated the feast (or the seven days following the passover meal). Thus a distinction is made in the text between the passover meal and the subsequent feast of seven days. And, again, when we do find the phrase "eat the passover" it is without a doubt in reference to the lamb. There is absolutley no responsibly, exegetical way in which to argue from this passage that "to eat the passover" can generally mean "to celebrate the feast" so that Jn 18:28 can be interpreted as celebrating the feast of the chagigah.

At this point some of you may be recalling the fact that in a previous post (here) I argued that by the time of the first century some Jews, as evidenced by the gospels and Josephus, began to conflate the Day of Passover with the First Day of Unleavened Bread. If this is the case then it seems at least a possibility that the phrase "to eat the passover" could have come to refer to the chagigah feast since there was a tendancy to conflate these feast days. But let us grant that this is in fact the case and that in Jn 18:28 we should translate "to eat the passover" as "celebrate the feast" so that Jesus is crucified on the Feast of Unleavened Bread. However, recall Luke 22:7 which says:

"Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed."

What's the problem? The problem is that as it stands in the biblical text there would still be a contradiction because Luke (and his synoptic counterparts) would be presenting Jesus as being crucified on the day after Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread whereas John's Jesus would then be crucified on the day of Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread. Either way you end up with a contradiction in dates. Therefore, though it initially appeared this might help Kostenberger's case in actuality there would still be a contradiction in dates between the Synoptics and the Gospel of John.

I've unfortunately gotten lost and would probably have to re-read (slowly) to understand your last few posts. I am, however, looking foward more to your discussion on your view of inerrancy and how this all applies, and what we should expect of the Bible, and how is still authoritative and all that.

"The Awful Facts" of history, just visit the URL for the spoken word mp3 and say.....AMEN (hotep IV).


This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Hey, Chris. I've been enjoying the essays. I wasn't familiar before with Kostenberger's work on the subject, so it's been enlightening. In any event, I just wanted to post a few critical remarks concerning what I perceive to be a flaw in this last post of yours.

If the gospel of John is referring in 18:28 to the chagigah offering, then the gospel would indicate a date of 15 Nisan for Jesus' crucifixion. That is, according to this hypothetical interpretation, John 13-17 describe at some point the passover meal of Nisan 14/15 with all its goings-on; John 18 describes the time afterword spent in Gethsemane, the arrest late that night, and ultimately the transition in v. 28 to the trial before Pilate following daybreak, Nisan 15, with mention being made of the Jews' concern for ritual purity vis-a-vis the "chagigah offering"; Jesus crucifixion then ensues shortly thereafter. On this, in any case, I think we both agree. However, it’s of course here that you posit a contradiction between this interpretation of John, and the synoptics, and on that point I do not agree.

I would suggest that in Luke 22:7 (and synoptic parallels) Luke is using the phrase Feast of Unleavened Bread to refer even to Nisan 14. Clearly this is so, I think, since, as Luke tell us, this first day of the Feast was "the day on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed," i.e., Nisan 14 (Ex. 12:6). (Josephus, incidentally, sometimes uses the phrase Feast of Unleavened Bread in this more inclusive sense as well. See e.g. Wars 5.99: "And on the feast of unleavened bread, which was come, it being the fourteenth day of the month Xanthicus [Nisan]...") According to this chronology, then, the synoptics ultimately place Jesus' crucifixion on 15 Nisan, thereby agreeing with the hypothetical interpretation of John 18:28 defended by Kostenberger et al.


Hmmmm. Interesting.

I suspect that the author of the fourth Gospel wanted to make a theological point, namely that Jesus was the "Lamb of God" who "died for the sins of the world." Hence, he told the story of Jesus's death as if Jesus had died on the exact same day that lambs were being slaughtered for Passover.

Note that only in the fourth Gospel does John the Baptist refer to Jesus as "The Lamb of God Who Takes Away The Sins of the World" [John 1:22]. John the Baptist is never said to have said such a thing in the previously written three synoptic Gospels. Hence my suspicion that the author of the Fourth Gospel is indulging in theological fantasy, adding words to John the Baptist as well as adding a story about Jesus being sacrificed on the same day as the lambs for passover.

I think that perhaps everyone should read Chris's excellent post, elsewhere in his blog,
titled, "The Triumph of the Gospel of John in American Evangelicalism"

The three synoptic Gospels were all written earlier than the fourth Gospel, and probably contain more authentic sayings of the historical Jesus, and less late theologizing than the fourth Gospel.

That blog entry also mentions further difficulties involved in trying to harmonize the synoptics with the fourth Gospel. Such difficulties are not limited to one example concerning whether or not Jesus died on the same day the lamb's were being slaughtered.

Also, as an aside, I find the typological similarities that the author of the fourth Gospel tried to inject into his narrative, to be unconvincing theologically for the following reasons:

1) The Passover lamb was not slaughtered for sin.

2) It was the scape goat that carried away the sins of the people, and that was on a different holiday I believe, and neither was the scape goat killed, but it was simply made to run into the desert to carrying away the people's sins.

3) Jewish prophets (contra Moses and the priests) taught that repentence was far better than sacrifice, and Jesus himself taught in the synoptics that we are assured of God's forgiveness if we forgive others:

"Forgive us our trespasses [Father God], as we forgive those who tresspass against us... For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." (Matthew 6:12,14)

So did the historical Jesus believe his suffering was for "the sins of the world?" How could he believe that and remain true to the prayer he taught in Matthew above, which preached direct forgiveness?

Schweitzer suggested that Jesus may have believed his death was to help fill up God's cup of wrath and initiate the tribulation and final judgment and thus initiate the coming of the Son of Man.

Or maybe Jesus's followers simply came to interpret Jesus's death in a "salvific" way (and wrote it back into their theology and Gospels) for the same reason that the Jews during the Maccabean revolt could not believe that their crucified fellows had simply suffered and died in vane, but that they had to have accomplished something positive with their death, there had to have been a meaning to it.

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