by David C. Grabbe
CGG Weekly, April 10, 2015
"An idle life and a holy heart is a contradiction."
In Ezekiel's Millennial vision, he records God's instructions for worship after Jesus Christ returns, including the annual festivals. Within this record, the instructions seem to say that the Passover should be observed for seven days:
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall observe the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten. And on that day the prince shall prepare for himself and for all the people of the land a bull for a sin offering. (Ezekiel 45:21-22)
Before looking at the specifics of this passage, it is worth remembering another common misunderstanding, the one concerning Jesus' famous statement in Luke 23:43: "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." This is Protestantism's proof text that the thief on the cross went to heaven the day he died, from which they assume that all others will too. If this rendering is correct, though, it contradicts numerous clear scriptures that show that Jesus Himself was not in Paradise that day, that the dead do not rise until the resurrection, and that even the Old Testament faithful have not gone to heaven.
In spite of all the contradictions this rendering introduces, many still stubbornly cling to it to prop up an untenable belief. As experienced Bible students know, the confusion is the result of where translators chose to insert the punctuation—in this case, a comma—that does not exist in the original language. If Scripture is to remain unbroken (see John 10:35), the comma must be placed after "today"—"Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise"—rather than before it.
Ezekiel 45:21 is a nearly identical occurrence. Many translators have chosen to punctuate this section in a way that makes it appear that Passover is seven days long. In addition, that rendering also causes it to seem that Passover is part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Yet, this breaks other clear scriptures. For example, Exodus 12:1-20 shows that the Passover is to be killed/observed at the beginning of Abib/Nisan 14, and then unleavened bread is to be eaten until the twenty-first day (which makes eight days total). Passover falls on one day, followed by seven days of Unleavened Bread. We also see this in Leviticus 23:5-6, 8:
On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. . . . The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.
This is very clear: Passover is observed on Abib/Nisan 14, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread starts on Abib/Nisan 15 and lasts for seven days (until Abib/Nisan 21). The exact same instruction is given in Numbers 28:16-25—Passover is on the fourteenth, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread starts on the fifteenth, lasting for seven days (until the twenty-first). These passages provide a threefold witness (see Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16).
Nevertheless, Ezekiel 45:21 is held up as a proof text that Passover is part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the whole occasion should be seven days long. This common rendering of Ezekiel 45:21 sets up two possibilities: Either God did away with His previous threefold witness with this single verse, or something is amiss in the way this odd-one-out is translated.
As it turns out, many translators have punctuated Ezekiel 45:21 without paying close enough attention to the Hebrew. Like biblical Greek, biblical Hebrew does not contain punctuation, but it does use a system of accents to indicate where pauses should occur in the text. These accents show that there should be a logical pause in the middle of the verse (see Analytical Key to the Old Testament by John J. Owens). That is, the text itself separates the mention of the Passover in the first half of the verse and the mention of the "feast of seven days" in the last half. The accents indicate that the two halves are not intended to be fused into the same instruction: First, God instructs that Passover should be "on the fourteenth day of the month," and then He commands the observance of a feast of seven days during which unleavened bread must be eaten.
A number of translations, though, have correctly picked up on this separation:
"On the fourteenth day of the first month you shall observe the feast of Passover; for seven days unleavened bread must be eaten." (New American Bible-Revised Edition)
"In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall celebrate the feast of the passover [sic], and for seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten." (Revised Standard Version)
"In the first month, the fourteenth day of the month, you shall observe the solemnity of the pasch [the Passover]: seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten." (Douay-Rheims Bible)
As with Luke 23:43, punctuation makes a big difference! The Hebrew does not say that Passover is a feast that is seven days long but that, one, the Passover must be observed on the fourteenth and that, two, for seven days unleavened bread must be eaten. A technical rendering of the Hebrew puts a logical pause in the middle, separating the two thoughts and making the instruction perfectly complementary to Exodus 12, Leviticus 23, and Numbers 28 rather than contradictory to all three.
We should also notice the instruction in Ezekiel 45:22: "And on that day the prince shall prepare for himself and for all the people of the land a bull for a sin offering." If "that day" is referring to the Passover, then this introduces another contradiction: The Passover sacrifice was to be a lamb or a kid of the goats (Exodus 12:3-5), not a bull! Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb—not our Passover Bull. The prince's offering is for the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, not the Passover.
In summary, while Ezekiel 45:21 shows that by the time of the Babylonian captivity (when Ezekiel was written) it had become common to refer to the whole eight-day festival season as "Passover," the verse does not say that Passover is the first day of Unleavened Bread. Nor does it say that the two festivals together should only be seven days long. The Bible consistently teaches that Passover and Unleavened Bread are separate festivals, each with its own detailed instructions and spiritual meanings.