The Last Supper: Leavened or Unleavened Bread?
Scripture reveals the answer to this question in two separate parts. In this first part, we will first look at the Greek and Hebrew words for Leavened and Unleavened Bread and a few Torah references for Unleavened and Leavened Bread, and then summarise our conclusions.
Leavened vs Unleavened: Greek and Hebrew Words
In an attempt to determine whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal, many evangelicals today focus on the issue of whether the bread of the Last Supper was leavened or unleavened.
The question is, “Do the Greek words for leavened and unleavened bread reveal the type of bread used at the Last Supper?”
We will look at a brief of review of Scripture to determine the answer.
First let us notice that the Greek word for Bread (‘artos’) is used in John chapter 6, when referring to manna from Heaven as the ‘bread’ from heaven, the (‘lechem’) as quoted in Exodus:
Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread (‘artos’) from heaven to eat. (John 6:31)
Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread (‘lechem’) from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. (Exodus 16:4)
And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread (‘lechem’) which the LORD hath given you to eat. (Exodus 16:15)
When John said, “as it is written, He gave them bread [‘artos’] from heaven to eat,” he was referring to the passages in Exodus 16:15, Nehemiah 9:15, and Psalms 105:40 — which all use the Hebrew word ‘lechem’ for bread.
So we can easily see that the Greek word for bread [‘artos’] used at the Last Supper is equivalent to, and has the same meaning as, the Hebrew word for bread [‘lechem’] when referring to manna.
Let’s next notice the Greek word for bread [‘artos’] is used in (Hebrews 9:2), when speaking of the unleavened bread seen in Exodus:
For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread [‘prothesis artos’]; which is called the sanctuary. (Hebrews 9:2)
The table, and his staves, and all his vessels, and the shewbread [‘paniym (presence) lechem’], the candlestick also for the light, and his furniture, and his lamps, with the oil for the light, (Exodus 35:13-14)
And unleavened bread [‘matstsah lechem’], and cakes unleavened tempered with oil, and wafers unleavened anointed with oil: of wheaten flour shalt thou make them. (Exodus 29:2)
And one loaf of bread [‘lechem’], and one cake of oiled bread, and one wafer out of the basket of the unleavened bread [‘matstsah’] that is before the LORD: (Exodus 29:23)
These passages show the Greek word ‘artos’ used in Hebrews 9:2 referring to both the unleavened bread [‘matstsah lechem’] and shewbread [‘paniym lechem’] of the Tabernacle. What is the significance here? Notice what kind of bread Yahushua used at the Last Supper:
And he took bread (‘artos’), and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. (Luke 22:19)
So we see that the ‘artos’ used to describe the unleavened bread of Torah is the same word ‘artos’ used to describe Yahushua’s body which was given/broken for us — which we know was without corruption — without leaven.
But how do we know that the sacrifice of Yahushua’s body is to be represented as unleavened bread? Notice the following passage regarding the blood sacrifice of Passover:
Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning. (Exodus 34:25)
So we see that because His blood is representative of the Passover Sacrifice, then His body can not be representative of leavened bread, but must speak of unleavened bread.
Now notice the Hebrew word for ‘Leavened’ bread:
Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves (‘lechem’) of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the LORD. (Leviticus 23:17)
Thus we see that the Hebrew word for bread [‘lechem’] is used for both leavened bread and unleavened bread.
Likewise, the Greek word for bread [‘artos’], just like the Hebrew word [‘lechem’], can likewise refer to both leavened and unleavened bread.
What else do we see about the Greek words?
- The Greek word ‘artos,’ Strong’s number , is used 99 times throughout the NT. This word used for bread in general, both leavened bread and unleavened bread. This same word for bread is used in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ in Matt 6:11.
- The Greek verb ‘zumoo,’ Strong’s number , [‘to leaven’], is based on the noun ‘zume,’ Strong’s number , [‘leaven’]. Together these two words form the basis for the Greek word ‘azumos’ meaning “without leaven; unleavened.”
- This word ‘azumos’ is used 9 times in Scripture, and 7 of those nine do not refer to bread, but refer to the name of the Feast Days of Unleavened. The remaining two uses of the word refer to ‘figurative’ unleavened bread; none of these usages refer to literal bread.
The only Greek word used for literal bread, both Leavened and Unleavened, is the Greek word ‘artos.’ Thus the bread used at the last Supper, as to leavened or unleavened, can not be determined only by observing the Greek and Hebrew words used for bread. There are many other clear markers that tell us which bread is used, which we will see in subsequent posts.
One clear indicator using the Greek word ‘artos’ is seen in Luke 24:13-35. Here we see two disciples on the road to Emmaus have an encounter with Yahushua, who walked with them, and later sat at meat with them, and ate bread with them. In this event, We are told two pertinent facts regarding the bread:
But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done. (Luke 24:21)
And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread [‘artos’], and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. (Luke 24:30)
In Luke 24:21, the ‘third day’ since the crucifixion was still within the 7-day ‘Feast of Unleavened,’ the seven days after Passover in which no leavened bread is to be found in the house, nor eaten — but only unleavened bread is allowed.
In Luke 24:30, we know Messiah would not tempt the disciples to sin, by offereing the disciples leavened bread during this 7-day Feast of Unleavened, so we know that the bread in the Luke 24:30 passage was indeed unleavened. So although there is no direct use of unleavened artos, we know from this encounter that the word artos does indeed apply to bread that is both leavened and unleavened.
Using the same reasoning, we know that by the 14th day of the first month all leaven is to be removed from the house, in preparation for the Passover meal. And since Messiah tells us He would eat the Passover meal with His disciples that night, which was the start of the 14th Biblical day, we know that the bread on this occasion was also unleavened (Mt 26:18-19; Kk 14:14; Lk 22:11).
We have seen that the Greek word ‘artos’ is used in Scripture to refer to both Unleavened and Leavened bread. Likewise, the Hebrew word lechem is used to describe both Unleavened and Leavened bread.
However, if we consider only the direct usage of the Greek words, we can not from this alone determine whether the bread eaten at the Last Supper was Leavened or Unleavened.
The type of bread eaten at the Last Supper must be determined using the many other evidencee of Scripture, other than the Greek and Hebrew words used for bread. We will see this Scripture next in Passover Thoughts #5.
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