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§ 265. Object of Christ in the Last Supper.

JESUS looked forward without fear, nay, with confidence, to the fate that awaited him. We need not necessarily presuppose that he was supernaturally informed of it; for it may be said that his friends in the Sanhedrim (and he had such) informed him of the negotiations of Judas. He foresaw that he would have to leave his disciples before the proper Passover,713713   I presuppose, with Ideler, Lücke, Siefert, De Wette, and Bleek, that the Last Supper was held, not on the 14th Nisan, the holy Passover eve, but on the 13th, and that the Friday of his passion was that holy evening. (a.) A candid interpretation of John’s Gospel confirms this supposition. We cannot infer much from xiii., 1, 2, although that passage seems to imply that the supper occurred before the beginning of the feast. But xviii., 28. tells us that the deputies of the Sanhedrim would not enter the Praetorium for fear of defilement, as they had to eat the Passover on that evening. The words ἵνα φάγωσι τὸ πάσχα must be applied, according to prevailing usage, both among Jews and Christians, to the feast of Passover. It is objected that this care was needless, as, if a defilement were thus incurred, it would not, on account of the טְבוּל יוֹם, last until the evening, i. e., until the beginning of the following day; but this is easily answered; many things had to be done as preparatory to the feast, which would trench upon both days. In xix., 31, the day of the crucifixion is treated as an ordinary Friday. No scruples were entertained about the crucifixion on that day, but only about leaving the bodies on the cross on the Sabbath, which was a fixed feast-day. But how could the Friday, if it were the first day of the principal feast, be treated as an ordinary Friday? All difficulties are removed by supposing that it was only a common Friday, and that the next day was at once the Sabbath and the first day of the Passover feast. Even if the Sanhedrim were compelled to expedite the crucifixion of Christ, and were impelled, in their fanatical hatred, to violate the sanctity of the feast by it, yet is it likely that they would have waited just to the holiest feast-day for the crucifixion of the malefactors, or that the pardon of a condemned criminal (granted by the Romans in honour of the feast) would have been delayed until the feast had begun? But the haste and the pardon would harmonize well with the view that the crucifixion took place before the feast, on the 13th Nisan. (b.) Lücke has called attention to two passages in 1 Corinthians, though without deeming them perfectly conclusive (Götting. Anzeig.): (1.) The first passage is 1 Cor., v., 7, 8, in which Paul seems to contrast the Christian with the Jewish Passover as held at the same time (Christ, as the spiritual Passover, as sacrificed simultaneously with the Jewish Paschal lamb; (2.) 1 Cor., xi., 23, speaks indefinitely of the night of Christ’s betrayal, not of his partaking of the Passover. (c.) It may, perhaps, be the case that in Matt., xxvi., 18, the writer presupposed that Christ really partook of the Pass over with his disciples; but may not the passage mean, “My time for leaving the world is at hand; and therefore I will celebrate the Passover to-day with my disciples, in anticipation?” (d.) In Luke, xxiii., 54, the day of the crucifixion is mentioned as a common Friday (the day of preparation), a day on which there could be no scruples about any kind of business; but would it have been so mentioned if it had been the first day of Passover the greatest feast-day in all the year? (e.) The general diffusion of the belief that Christ held a proper Passover with his disciples may be explained on the ground that Christ really did hold his last supper with reference and allusion to the Passover supper and the ceremonies that accompanied it; that the first Christians, intent upon the substance, paid little heed to chronological niceties; that the Jewish-Christians kept up the Jewish usage of the Passover, giving it, however, a Christian import; while the purely Gentile converts kept no such festal seasons. The interchange of the first day of unleavened bread (as the day of Christ’s passion) with the first day of the Passover feast may also have contributed to it. These grounds might suffice to explain the admission into the synoptical Gospels of the idea that the Passion occurred on the first day of the Passover; but are utterly inconsistent with the hypothesis that the author of John’s Gospel (whether it be admitted as genuine or not) could have inserted and got into circulation a statement invented by himself, and conflicting with the general stream of tradition. John’s chronology, as we have said, is consistent throughout; but that of the synoptical Gospels presents discrepancies that appear irreconcilable.
   Little use can be made of the ancient disputes about the Passover; from such mere fragments we cannot decide how far the Evangelical accounts were appealed to. The advocates of the occidental usage, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, Clement of Alexandria, and Hippolytus, appealed to John’s Gospel (if the fragments in Chronicon paschale Alexandrinum, ed. Niebuhr, Dindorf, i., 13, are genuine) to prove that the Last Supper was not a Passover proper. Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus (Eus., Hist. Eccl., v., 24) appealed to “the Gospel” in behalf of the opposite usage; but whether he appealed, under the title “the Gospel,” to one, or all of the Evangelists, we cannot conceive how he could reconcile the declarations in John with the Passover usages of Asia Minor (cf. Dr. Rettberg’s Abhandl. üb. d. Paschastreit, Ilgen’s Zeitschrift für Histor. Theol., ii., 2, 119). What is the meaning of the words of Polycrates, ἄγειν, τηρεῖν τὴν ἡμέραν? Not, certainly, the keeping of the Paschal supper; nor the Jewish Passover, assisted at by Christians; for the added words πάντοτε τὴν ἡμὲραν ἤγαγον οἱ συγγενεῖς μου, ὅταν τῶν Ἰουδαίων ὁ λαός ή̓́ρνυε τὴν ζύμην, would then be sheer tautology. He must have meant, then, “the day for commemorating the passion of Christ.” If, then, it is in this sense that Polycrates says of “all the bishops of Lesser Asia since the time of St. John,” that they πάντες ἐτήρησαν τὴν ἡμέραν τὴς τεσσαρεσκαιδεκάτης τοῦ πάσχα κατὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, he obviously means that they “all celebrated the 14th Nisan,” on which the Jewish Passover began, in commemoration of our Lord’s Passion; and for confirmation of this he might very well appeal to the Gospel of John.

   We must also allude to a remarkable passage in Hippolytus (in his first book upon the Feast of Passover, 1. c. p. 13), there reported as coming from the lips of Christ: οὐκέτι φάγομαι τὸ παοχα (surely Luke, xxii., 16, cannot be meant); as if Christ had predicted that he “would no more eat of the Paschal lamb, and hence not live to see another Feast of Passover.”
and determined to give a peculiar 385import to his last meal with them, to place it in a peculiar relation to the Jewish Passover, as the Christian covenant-meal was to take the 386place of that of the Old Testament. Perhaps, as the Sanhedrim had determined to carry out their plans against him before the feast, he spent Thursday, 13th Nisan, in Bethany, in order to employ these last hours with the disciples undisturbed. In the morning he sent Peter and John into the city, to make the necessary preparations for the Passover supper. To preserve secrecy, and avoid all hazard of surprise by the Sanhedrim, he designated the house at which the supper was to be held by a sign understood by its owner, without specifying the name of the latter.714714   I cannot see a miracle in this; it cannot be shown that Luke (xxii., 13) means to narrate it as miraculous.

Two prominent acts of Christ marked this last meal with the disciples, viz., the washing of feet and the institution of the Lord’s Supper.715715   John does not describe the institution of the Eucharist: it was known and commemorated in the Church regularly; but the washing of feet, not preserved by any such commemoration, he gives in detail, as an especially marked incident.


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