A Better Understaning of Passover
First Passover Timing

by: Jim Rector

March 2006


God next instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to take a male lamb or goat, without blemish, of the first year, and set it aside on the 10th day of the first month, keeping it until the 14th day (Ex. 12:6). The word until in the Hebrew is the preposition ad. Just so that we understand what this word means and how it is used, notice the following. Quoting from Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, we read:

“The ad is a preposition that means, as it is correctly translated, until. It is a specific preposition that INCLUDES THE NOUN TO WHICH IT REFERS .That is, ad ALWAYS INCLUDES THE LIMIT, the terminus to which it refers. It stands in contrast to the Hebrew word al, which means to or toward, and does not include the limit” (p. 606, #5703).

 In other words, the use of the word until not only brings one up to the time in question, but also includes it or a portion of it as well. The clearest Old Testament reference demonstrating the accuracy of this definition is found in Exodus 12:15, where God gives instructions with regard to the Days of Unleavened Bread. You will notice immediately the correct usage of the word until. God says:

“Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread; even the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eats leavened bread from the first day UNTIL the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel” (Ex. 12:15).

In one verse, any controversy with respect to the Old Testament meaning and usage of the word until is solved. In the above passage, it is crystal clear that until the seventh day absolutely includes the seventh day, even as read in the definition from Gesenius earlier. 

Returning now to the narrative in Exodus 12, we see that the Israelites were instructed to keep the lamb until the 14th day of the first month.We now have established from the Scriptures the meaning of such language.  The 14th is clearly included in the statement, and nothing with regard to the further instructions can occur before this day.

Now that the appropriate day has been determined, the next piece of information God gave them was the precise time on the 14th day that they were to offer the Passover sacrifice. As most Bible students know, the KJV Bible does not translate Exodus 12:6 correctly. It should read as follows:

“And you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it between the two evenings.”

The Hebrew phrase is actually ben ha arbayim, and indicates a specific time of the day. It is used 12 times in the Old Testament.  In every case, it has the same meaning. Perhaps the clearest Scriptural explanation of this term is found in Numbers 28:3-4.  It concerns the instructions for the morning and evening sacrifices.  Notice how it reads:

“And you shall say unto them, This is the offering made by fire which you shall offer unto the Lord; two lambs of the first year without a spot day by day (Heb. in a day), for a continual burnt offering. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning (Heb. between the two mornings), and the other lamb you offer between the two evenings.”

At first glance, the significance of this passage may not be clear. The point is that the daily sacrifices were divided into two offerings on each day.The first one was to be offered in the morning. Interestingly, the Hebrew here actually means between the two mornings, which will be explained in a moment. The second sacrifice of the day was to be offered between the two evenings.  So, what does this tell us with respect to the timing of the Passover sacrifice? Just this.  The evening sacrifice had to be offered in the SAME DAY as the morning sacrifice, and it had to be offered AFTER the morning sacrifice.  If it was to be sacrificed on the same day, but after, the morning sacrifice, then the time designated as between the two evenings unquestionably must occur on the day in question and at or nearer the latter portion of the day.This is incontrovertible and irrefutable evidence that offers powerful testimony upon which we can accurately establish the timing of the paschal offering.  Even though the precise moment in time may not be indicated, it gives us enough information to know the general time frame involved, and certainly rules out any other portion of the day in question.

In the first century, the morning and evening sacrifices were still being offered faithfully at the Temple.  Josephus comments on this sacred practice in the following manner:

“Anyone may hence learn how very great piety we exercise toward God, and the observance of His Laws, since the priests were not at all hindered from their sacred ministrations, by their fear during the siege (Roman siege of Jerusalem), but did still twice each day, in the MORNING at the 3rd hour (9 AM) and ABOUT THE NINTH HOUR (3 PM), offer their sacrifices on the altar” (Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, 14:4:3).

The Misnah, the major body of Jewish oral law, clearly states:

“The daily whole offering of the afternoon generally is slaughtered at half after the eighth hour (2:30 PM) and offered up at HALF PAST THE NINTH HOUR (about 3:30 PM)” (Pesahim, 5:1).

The timing of the daily sacrifices is so well established that there is really no elaborate discussion required. It was offered twice each day, the first one generally mid-morning ( 9 AM), and the second around mid-afternoon (3 PM). The Bible calls the time of the evening or second sacrifice of the day as occurring between the two evenings. This is simply Hebrew idiom and another way of saying mid-afternoon.

Dr. J. P. Lange in his Commentary on the Holy Scriptures states:

“Into the temple at the hour of prayer being the ninth hour . . . the two apostles proceeded from the city to the mount of the Temple, which they ascended at the hour of prayer (Acts 3). Already Daniel (Dan. 6:10) prayed thrice every day upon his knees (cf. Psa. 55:17); in the later age of the apostles, custom had firmly established the three hours of prayer, namely, the third hour of the day, in the morning; the sixth, at noon; and the ninth, IN THE EVENING.The first and third coincided with the hours in which the morning and evening sacrifices were respectively offered. On the present occasion, the hour of evening prayer is to be understood, or our 3 O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON.”

So we have Biblical testimony that between the two evenings was in the latter portion of the day in question, and we have Jewish and extra-biblical sources that it was mid-afternoon or around 3 PM.  There is, in fact, an almost inexhaustible amount of historical material available to confirm the accepted meaning of this unique Hebrew phrase.  This time is established beyond the shadow of a doubt.  It was the occasion of the daily evening sacrifice, and, most significantly, it was also the time of the annual Passover offering.

Putting what we know together, God commanded the Israelites to set their chosen lambs aside on the 10th day of the first month, keep them until the 14th day, and slay them between the two evenings or mid-afternoon of the same day. After that, the lambs were prepared, roasted, and eaten after sunset on the approaching day, which would commence the 15th day of the first month.

The first-century Jewish historian and general Flavius Josephus has left us an invaluable source of eyewitness information with respect to the practices of the Jews in Israel at that crucial time in history. Not only does he comment on the time of the daily sacrifice, but also specifically of the Passover offering itself. He writes:

“So these high priests, upon the coming of the feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the NINTH HOUR TO THE ELEVENTH HOUR (3-5 PM), but so that a company not less than ten belong to every sacrifice (for it is not lawful for them to feast singly by themselves), and many of us are twenty in a company” (Wars of the Jews, 6.9.3).

Another first-century Jewish commentator was Philo Judeaus. He also testifies concerning the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread as follows:

“And afterwards . . . comes . . . the Passover, which the Hebrew people call pascha, on which the people offer sacrifice, beginning at noon and continuing till evening.And this festival is instituted in remembrance of, and as giving thanks for, their great migration which they made from Egypt, with many myriads of people, in accordance with the commands of God given to them . . . And there is another festival combined with the Passover, having a use of food different from the usual, namely, of unleavened bread . . . And this feast is begun on the FIFTEENTH DAY OF THE MONTH . . . the feast is celebrated for seven days . . . And of the seven days, Moses pronounces two, the first and the last, holy; giving, as is natural, a preeminence to the beginning and to the end” (The Works of Philo, The Special Laws II, XXVII).

Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his book, The Temple–Its Ministry and Services, makes mention of the Passover sacrifice. He states:

“The name of Passover, in Hebrew Pesach, and in Aramaean and Greek Pascha, is derived from a root which means to step over . . . and thus points back to the historical origin of the festival (Ex. 12) . . . it was ordained that the head of every house should, on the 10th day of Nisan, select either a lamb or a kid of the goats, of the first year, and without blemish . . . The lamb was to be killed on the eve of the 14th, or rather, as the phrase is, between the two evenings (Ex. 12:6, Lev. 23:5, Num. 9:3, 5, 11, etc.). From the contemporary testimony of Josephus, and from Talmudic authorities, there cannot be a doubt that, at the time of our Lord, it was regarded as the interval between the sun’s commencing to decline (noon) and its actual disappearance (sunset). This allows a sufficient period for the numerous lambs which had to be killed, and agrees with the traditional account that on the eve of Passover the daily evening sacrifice was offered an hour, or if it fell on a Friday, two hours, before the usual time.”

Edersheim is informing us that it was the practice of the Israelites to slay the Passover between noon and sunset on the 14th day of Nisan.The normal evening sacrifice of that day was moved back one hour, so it would be offered around 2 PM.If the 14th day fell on a Friday, the day before the Sabbath, then the evening sacrifice was moved back two hours to 1 PM. This was simply to allow the necessary time to complete the Passover sacrifices before the onset of the 15th day, which commenced the Days of Unleavened Bread, and which would be a high Sabbath.If the high day should fall on a weekly Sabbath, more sacrifices would be required, so extra time was provided.

Hastings Dictionary of the Bible gives much the same information by saying:

“The regular evening sacrifice was killed and offered an hour earlier than usual (i.e., at 1:30 PM) in order to give opportunity for sacrificing the Passover . . . The time of the Passover offering is defined in the Law as between the two evenings. This was interpreted to mean the hour of the sun’s decline until its setting, and this was the later Temple practice (see Mishna: Pesach, v. 1, Jubilees, 49, Jospehus’ Wars of the Jews, 6.9.3)”


We read further in Unger’s Bible Dictionary, under the article Festivals:

“At its first institution, just before the Exodus, the keeping of the Passover was as follows: Every head of a family chose a male of the first year without blemish on the 10th of Nisan. On the 14th of Nisan the animal was slain between the two evenings . . . understood by the rabbis as the time when the sun begins to descend to its real setting (from 3-6PM) . . . It was eaten that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs . . . All who partook having their loins girded, shoes on their feet, and staff in hand, reach to march out of Egypt.The Feast of Unleavened Bread followed and lasted 7 days, from the 15th to the 21st of Nisan.”

Among many other scholarly sources, I will refer to just one more regarding this particular issue. From McClintock & Strong, concerning the phrase between the two evenings, we read:

“From AFTERNOON TO THE DISAPPEARING OF THE SUN, the first evening being from the time when the sun begins to decline from its vertical or noontime point toward the west; and the second from its going down and vanishing out of sight . . . But as the Paschal lamb was slain . . . it generally took place from 2:30-5:30 PM . . . We should have deemed it superfluous to add that such faithful followers of Jewish tradition as Rabbis Saadia, Rashi, Kimchi, Ralbag, etc., espouse this definition of the ancient Jewish canons . . . Now Rashi most distinctly declares, From the sixth hour (noon) and upwards is called between the two evenings, because the sun begins to set for the evening. Hence it appears to me that the phrase between the two evenings denotes the hours between the evening of the day and the evening of the night.The evening of the day is from the beginning of the 7th hour (1 PM) (Commentary on Exodus 12:6).Kimchi says almost literally the same thing. Between the two evenings is from the time when THE SUN BEGINS TO INCLINE TOWARD THE WEST, which is from the sixth hour (noon) and upwards” (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological & Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. VII, 1877, p. 735).

It is therefore established that the Passover lambs were ordained to be slain at or about mid-afternoon of the 14th day of Nisan. Upon completion of the sacrifice, the Israelites were commanded to strike the lintels and doorposts of their dwellings with the blood.   Then the lambs were to be prepared, roasted, and eaten after sunset, beginning the 15th day. The specific instructions were:

“And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread, and with bitter herbs they shall eat it . . . And thus shall you eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hands; and you shall eat it in HASTE: it is the Lord’s Passover” (Ex. 12:7-11).

It is significant to note that originally, the Passover was not simply a period of time, even though there was a specific hour involved in the actual slaying.The Passover was, above all other considerations, the sacrifice itself. Granted, the term Passover later came to mean other things, but it is important that we never forget its initial meaning. The reason for this is obvious in that it relates directly to Yahshua the Messiah, who, as the apostle Paul clearly states, is our Passover, sacrificed for us (I Cor. 5:7).  Nothing with respect to this whole subject supercedes the reality that the Messiah is THE PASSOVER!! It is also necessary to recognize the original intent of the term in order to fully appreciate the later Scriptural references to it as pertaining primarily to the slaying of the sacrifice itself.

Once the blood was applied and the meal prepared, the people ate the Passover at the beginning of the 15th day. It was instructed to be consumed with unleavened bread, and for good reason, because the Feast or Days of Unleavened Bread commenced on that very same night, thus allowing no break in the eating of unleavened bread from the time of the Passover meal to the end of the seven days of Unleavened Bread.