This year, Passover observance begins Monday evening, April 21, which is Nisan 14 on the Hebrew calendar. Is that the right time? Are we sure? Jewish practice and even some with a church of God background say Nisan 15 is the right day. Do we know why the evening of Nisan 14 is the correct time to observe the Passover? Notice the scriptures that reveal when to observe it:
These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD'S Passover. (Leviticus 23:4-5; emphasis ours throughout)
Let the children of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time. According to all its rites and ceremonies you shall keep it. . . . And they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight, in the Wilderness of Sinai. . . . (Numbers 9:2-3, 5)
Now the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho. (Joshua 5:10)
Here are multiple instructions that Passover is on the fourteenth day. This is a clear and plain teaching that of itself should overrule any suggestion that includes the fifteenth day.
Not only do these verses tell us what day to observe Passover, but also what part of the day—at "twilight" (NKJV) or "even" (KVJ). (Some versions may also use a variation of the more literal "between the evenings." This changes nothing because in all of the Old Testament verses thus far quoted, it is the same Hebrew word, ben ha arbayim.) Which part of the day, then, is "even"?
Rather than look to human explanations, notice what the One who created it says: "God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day" (Genesis 1:5). God reveals that His days begin with the evening (the night portion) followed by the morning (the daylight portion).
The same Hebrew word translated "at twilight" in Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 9:3; and Joshua 5:10 appears for the first time in Genesis 1:5, where it is translated as "the evening." So Genesis proves that the "at twilight" in the three Passover verses is the time that begins Nisan 14 and comes before the daylight portion. But when does evening start?
. . . but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide, there you shall sacrifice the Passover at twilight, at the going down of the sun. . . . (Deuteronomy 16:6; see also Mark 1:32)
So it was, at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath. (Nehemiah 13:19)
These verses establish that sunset starts the evening, the start of a day in God's eyes. For anyone who observes the Sabbath, these facts should be a no-brainer, yet some who observe the Sabbath—believing their complex and convoluted explanations, and in other cases, preferring tradition over Scripture—reject the Bible's clear teaching.
Additionally, Numbers 28:16-17 requires Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread to be on separate days: "On the fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of the LORD. And on the fifteenth day of this month is the feast: unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days" (see also Leviticus 23:5-6). Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are distinct observances; God assigns each a separate day. One spilling over into the other, the result of a Nisan 15 Passover observance, contradicts this verse.
There is one final nail to hammer into the coffin of a Nisan 15 Passover, found in Exodus 12:5-6: "Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight." In an April 18, 1992, sermon, John Ritenbaugh commented on the word "until" in this passage:
[H]ere there was an additional factor. It is the word "until." The Hebrew word is ad (phonetically, in English); and it means "up to a specific point in time"—not through, nor beyond. It signifies "the limit of time itself." That came from Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures.
This means that the Passover lamb was to be kept up to Nisan 14, which, we say, begins at sunset. This creates a line not to be crossed. What always immediately follows sunset? The twilight or evening—the time between sunset and the dark. This is when the Israelites killed the lamb: in the evening of Nisan 14.
Exodus 12:8 identifies when we are to partake of the Passover: "They shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it." Verse 10 then pins down when the observance should be complete: "You shall let none of it remain until morning; and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire."
Exodus 12:6, 8, and 10 lay out a timeline for Passover observance. It begins at the sunset that begins Nisan 14 with the lamb killed in the evening or twilight that immediately follows (verse 6). The Passover is eaten that night (verse 8), and all is to be completed by the morning, the daylight portion of Nisan 14 (verse 10). All this happens on Nisan 14, just as the Bible requires.
A final note from the Internet on Passover observance by the Jews:
There are two differing definitions attached to ben ha arbayim [the "in the evening" of Exodus 12:6]. The Pharisees, in accordance with their man-made Talmudic adherence, defined ben ha arbayim as any time from afternoon to sunset. Conversely, the Sadducees, Karaites, and Samaritans, in accordance with the Biblical Torah (law), all interpreted ben ha arbayim as being the time from sunset to complete darkness.
Clear scriptures should govern the interpretations of others that are open to multiple understandings ("private interpretations," II Peter 1:20). For a word or verse with competing interpretations, the clear scripture is the tiebreaker that points to the correct interpretation. Because of the clear scriptures already covered, we can determine that the Pharisees (current Judaism) are wrong, and the Sadducees, Karaites, and Samaritans are correct.
This raises the question Christ asked the Jews of His day: "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?" (Matthew 15:3). Those who observe Passover on Monday evening rather than Tuesday evening are choosing the Bible as their authority rather than tradition or the complex and convoluted reasoning of men.
- Pat Higgins