Spiritual Instruction for Those Called to Restore Israel
Bread, Jewish Law and the Sign of Jonah
Hannah Weiss & Arye Powlison
We want to thank Howard Bass for his thought-provoking piece, “Leavened or Unleavened Bread?” because it pushed us to search the Scriptures and double-check things we thought we knew. This article is the result.
For the record, our brother Howard made some good and necessary points about the oneness of the Body, and the spiritual insights to be gained from various sacrifices. Just because we are skipping them doesn’t mean we disagreed. There were other points made which we believe need to be tested against Paul’s gospel, but we won’t do that here either. This article focuses on challenging the idea that Yeshua and His disciples ate leavened bread during Passover, or that He or the apostles taught anyone to do that.
Which Bread is Acceptable for Communion?
As a preface, we should note that whether the Lord’s Supper should use leavened or unleavened bread is a different issue, which should only depend on whether the memorial is done during Passover. The most serious judgment from the Lord does not come from the kind of bread used, but rather from a failure to “judge the Body rightly” (I Cor.11:29) while taking part…grist for another discussion. The judgment among the believers in Corinth for this was illness and even physical death (being cut off from the earthly Body of the Lord).
However, there is also judgment on earthly descendants of Israel if they eat physical leaven during Passover, even if it’s for the Lord's Supper – being cut off from earthly Israel (loss of fellowship with the Jewish people). While we are to accept that loss as a possible price for confessing Yeshua (and even rejoice in it), being cut off for any other reason is not sanctioned by apostolic teaching – in particular, we are commanded to “give no offense to Jews” by what we choose to eat or drink (I Cor.10:31-32).
As a sidenote, wine is not an issue either for the Lord’s Supper or for Passover. The hametz (leaven) forbidden on Passover was connected to se’or (rising bread dough) – see Exod.12:15,19; 13:7; Lev.3:1, Deut16:4. The only time hametz in wine was forbidden was during a Nazarite vow (Num.6:3, translated as “vinegar”).
Which Bread is Acceptable for Passover?
The conclusion, that Yeshua ignored the Torah and used leavened bread on Passover, included an assumption that the common Greek and Hebrew words for “bread” automatically meant “leavened bread”. As we will show later, there is more at stake here than just Greek or Hebrew definitions. First, here are our reasons for why the Scriptures don’t support this picture of Yeshua and His disciples.
1. No new teaching handed down.
Such a radical departure by the Lord from a covenant command given to Israel would surely have been recorded. Yeshua’s rejection of rabbinic hand-washing is a good benchmark – His objections were strong and detailed (Matt.15, Mk.7) even though it was only a “tradition of the elders” (oral Law). How much more would there have been some explicit account of the Lord cancelling “an everlasting ordinance”? (Exod.12:14)
2. Apostolic church example.
The first martyr, Stephen, was accused of cancelling Jewish obligations to the Law in Yeshua’s name: “ This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Yeshua, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” (Acts 6:13-14) But Luke tells us that these were “ false witnesses”. If Stephen was innocent of the charge of “altering the customs”, that certainly would have included the custom of abstaining from leavened bread during Passover week.
Years later, Paul was told by the apostles in Jerusalem that a rumor was going around, “ that you [Paul] are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children, nor to walk according to the customs.” (Acts 21:21) Both he and they were equally determined to refute that rumor, and they agreed on a rabbinic ordinance as the proof (participation in the completion of a Nazirite vow by someone who didn’t keep that vow, a permission that doesn’t appear anywhere in Torah).
At the very end of his ministry, Paul was emphatic (Acts 28:17) that he had “done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers.” It would be hard to call him truthful if he had been “liberating” Jewish believers from those customs. How much more if he had “set them free” from “an eternal ordinance” given to “all generations” of Israelites? (Exod.12:14,17,24,42)
3. Recognized obligations for Jews.
The apostle Peter testified to God and man that he had “never” violated the kosher laws (Acts 10:14, 11:8). This implies that he had kept a Torah-faithful diet during his whole time with Yeshua. And after meeting Cornelius, Peter realized the vision he had seen was not about the freedom to eat anything, but about the Gentiles being cleansed (10:28, 11:17-18). Not only that, but note that Peter accepted a rabbinic precaution to not even associate with Gentiles, calling it “unlawful” (10:27). Likewise in Jerusalem, the objection they raised to Peter (11:2) was not about eating unkosher food, but against eating with Gentiles at all.
If the Spirit-filled elders of the first church didn’t break minor dietary laws (where the transgressor was only “unclean till evening”), and they needed an explicit revelation from the Holy Spirit in order to break a rabbinic command like avoiding Gentiles, can we imagine them ignoring a command that results in being “cut off from” Israel? (Ex.12:15)
4. Recognized freedom for Gentiles.
On the other hand, there is no command from the apostles for Gentiles to eat unleavened bread during Passover, or many other ceremonial laws given to physical Israel. Instead, the Gentiles were taught the spiritual reality symbolized by the ceremony of Passover (I Cor.5:6-8). To teach the Jews “to not walk according to the customs” was considered the opposite of “walking orderly” (Acts 21:21,24). In sharp contrast, the apostles taught the Gentiles that “they should observe no such thing.” (v.25, KJV)
This distinction was endorsed by Paul when he commanded each circumcised and uncircumcised believer to “ remain in that condition in which he was called.” (I Cor.7:20) Since he taught Gentiles that circumcision carried an obligation to keep the Law (Gal.5:3), it was quite a statement to urge his circumcised brothers to not seek release from that obligation (I Cor.7:18).
5. Spiritual unity with physical differences.
The above is one example of how the apostles taught Torah ceremonial obligations differently, making a distinction between physical Israel (citizens of an earthly covenant) and spiritual Israel (whose citizenship is in heaven). Before telling all men to stay as they were, Paul wrote (I Cor.7:19): “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.”
We thus understand that there are different “commandments of God” to define the “walks” of Jews and Gentiles. Some commands were addressed to all Spirit-filled believers (Gal.5:16-25 for example). Other commands were for the nation of Israel to perform, but were pictures of the spiritual realities that the Israel of God was to keep – for example the “feast” of spiritual Passover (I Cor.5:6-8) which requires exchanging “the leaven of malice and wickedness” for “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”.
The Gentile disciples were to apply the spiritual lessons of the customs they saw their Jewish brethren keeping, while the Jewish disciples were to practice both the customs and their spiritual applications. These are less important commands than those which impact our ability to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (as in Gal.5, I Cor.6, Rev.22:15,19). But the value in continuing to practice these spiritual object lessons is seen in Yeshua’s declaration that “whoever keeps and teaches” the least of these commandments “will be called great” in the Kingdom (Matt.5:19).
And contrary to widespread assumption...
... there is equal opportunity for both Jews and Gentiles to achieve this rank in the Kingdom. You can “keep” even the commands that don’t apply to you, by teaching and encouraging obedience among those to whom they do apply.
6. Greek and Hebrew bread-words.
We might assume the Greek arton and the Hebrew lechem mean “[leavened] bread” because of the words azimon and matzot which are used for “unleavened [bread]”. But a closer look at scripture shows more complexity.
In Torah, the Hebrew word lechem is used for both leavened “bread” (Lev.7:13) and unleavened “bread” (Ex.29:2,23; Lev.8:26,31). There is even “challah” (a word used today for braided yeast bread) which nevertheless is unleavened (Lev.8:26).
Meanwhile, in the LXX (Septuagint translation of the Torah), ìçí îöåú / lechem matzot (Ex.29:2) is translated to Greek as artous azimous; the phrase çìú îöä / challat matzah (Lev.8:25/ 26 in Hebrew) reads arton azimon; and in Lev. 8:31 we have “the artous in the basket,” which in 8:26 (Hebrew) was already called "the basket of the matzot". It’s true the New Covenant never uses these two words together, but if arton and azimon were mutually exclusive, these Septuagint verses would make no sense.
So when the risen Lord picked up “the arton” (Luke 24:30) provided by His disciples on that third day of Passover, their faithfulness to the Torah obligations for Israel tells us that this was a slab of unleavened bread.
Which Bread was in the Holy Place?
One of the supports cited for the idea that Yeshua was entitled to use leavened bread at Passover was that the Lechem Hapanim (the “Bread of the Presence”), the 12 loaves set in the Holy Place and eaten by the priests, were loaves of leavened bread, and that Yeshua chose to eat leavened bread to demonstrate His position as our High Priest – setting an example also for the saints who are spiritual priests.
First, any connection made between the Levitical priesthood and Yeshua’s priesthood is negated by Hebrews, which tells us: “Now if He [Yeshua] were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law.” (Heb.8:4) If even the risen Yeshua was not qualified to eat the physical Bread of the Presence, He would not have presumed to take a liberty reserved for the sons of Aaron while still in His mortal body.
But that argument becomes irrelevant in light of discussions in the Mishnah (Menachot 95) and Talmud (Sukkah 55b), which record that the Lechem Hapanim was made of unleavened bread (challot matzot), with elaborate precautions taken all year round to keep it from becoming leavened.
Which Bread was at the Last Supper? (And) Why Does it Matter?
With all that said, we at Restorers of Zion believe the arton of the Last Supper was leavened bread, because there are plenty of other indications that it was not yet Passover that night. To see these clues for what they are, we need to introduce some of the Jewish “customs” that were familiar to the writers of the Gospels.
In second Temple times (and possibly earlier), two “first days of Passover” were recognized. This was based on Exodus 12:15, which commands leaven to be removed “on the first day”, but also requires all leaven to be gone before “the first day” even begins. So Nisan 13-14 (evening to evening) became the “first day” when leaven was gradually removed and other preparations were made for the feast; this included slaughtering the lambs at the Temple so they could be roasted and eaten that night. Then followed Nisan 14-15, the “first day” of the seven days without leaven, a holiday Sabbath when most work was forbidden (Exod.12:16).
There is ample testimony that the Last Supper was on the evening of that first “first day,” the “day of preparation” before the holiday Sabbath (Matt.26:17, Matt.27:62, Mk.14:12, Mk.15:42, Luke 22:7-9, Luke 23:54, Jn.19:14,31,42). This is also confirmed by other details:
This background is important, but not because it tells us what kind of bread was used for the Last Supper…
it tells us if Yeshua was the promised Messiah or not!
The Violence Done to Yeshua's Sign
We know that the Lord gave “the sign of Jonah” as proof of who He was. In fact, He said it was the only sign that would be given to that generation (Matt.12:39, 16:4; Luke 11:29). So a great deal depends on its fulfillment.
Yeshua was also explicit about connecting the time of Jonah's imprisonment in the fish (Jonah 1:17) with His own stay in the grave: exactly "3 days and 3 nights" (Matt.12:40). Yet He was buried in a hurry “before the Sabbath” (Luke 23:56, Jn.19:31,42); and the women returned to finish the job “after the Sabbath” (Matt.28:1, Mk.16:1, Luke 24:1). Countless believers have stumbled over this apparent contradiction, which leaves them with either a “Good Friday” crucifixion that includes a Sabbath but fails the test of 3-days/3-nights, or contradictory accounts across the four Gospels that fail the scriptural-reliability test. It has forced some into blind faith on the one hand, and others into leaving the faith on the other.
The dilemma is resolved by a Jewish understanding that includes those neglected, often belittled "customs of the fathers". When applied to the Gospel witness, we rediscover the two “first days” of Passover, plus the fact that in the year of Yeshua's crucifixion, there were two Sabbaths coming in back-to-back. Yeshua gave His life on the Passover “day of preparation” (Thursday afternoon – day 1), the Passover Sabbath was Thursday eve-Friday (night 1, day 2), and the regular Sabbath was Friday eve-Saturday (night 2, day 3). He rose at dawn on Sunday, “the first day of the week” (after fulfilling night 3).
It was another ancient Jewish custom to count a partial day as “a day” which began or ended “at evening”, specifically when counting days for cleansing (based on commands like Lev.15:5-13, 27-28 and Num.19:11-12). Even in the attempts of the unbelieving leaders to keep "the sign of Jonah" from being fabricated (Matt.27:62-64), we see that they equated “after three days” with the need to guard the grave “until the third day” rather than “until the fourth day”.
For anyone out there in the Body who’s been trying to make sense of all four accounts of the Lord’s death and resurrection in an intellectually honest way, this new picture will be a great relief.
More than that, it deepens our appreciation for how the Law reflects in minute detail everything that Yeshua did. No wonder He began “with Moses” when He explained how all the Scriptures applied to Himself (Luke 24:27) – and no wonder their “hearts were burning” (v.32) as they listened!
Restoring lost understandings like these is just one way in which Jews and Gentiles who learn Torah at the Messiah’s feet can serve the rest of the Body, so that everyone’s faith is made more secure on the Bedrock of the Word of God.
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