Was the Last Supper a Jewish Passover meal?

I have always assumed that it was rather obvious the Last Supper was a Jewish Passover meal. The Synoptic gospels make this clear, and I guess I just never thought that much about the fact that John’s gospel suggests otherwise. And it is what I was always taught.

However, I just finished reading Pope Benedict XVI’s book “Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week: The Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection”. He devotes about 10 pages to this topic. He presents looks at various theories to the question (as you see in the whole book, treating all opinions with the utmost respect) and seems to conclude otherwise.

A couple of quotes from the book (pages 112-113):

The most meticulous evaluation I have come across of all of the solutions proposed so far is found in the book *A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus *by John P. Meier, who at the end of his first volume presents a comprehensive study of the chronology of Jesus’ life. He concludes that one has to choose between the Synoptic and Johannine chronologies, and he argues, on the basis of the whole range of source material that the weight of evidence favors John

We have to ask, though, what Jesus’ Last Supper actually was. And how did it acquire its undoubtedly early attribution of Passover character? The answer given by Meier is astonishingly simple and in many respects convincing: Jesus knew he was about to die. He knew would not be able to eat the Passover again. Fully aware of this, he invited his disciples to a Last Supper of a very special kind, one that followed no specific Jewish ritual but, rather, constituted his farewell; during the meal he gave them something new: he gave them himself as the true Lamb and thereby instituted his Passover.

Well, I did a little searching on the Web about this question, and came up with this article by Jimmy Akins: jimmyakin.com/was-the-last-supper-a-passover-meal

Mr. Akins (and others) come down squarely on the other side of the question. In particular, they devote a lot of attention to the structure of the meal being similar to a Seder meal, and he even concludes with this

Thus John also understands the meal to be a Passover seder. Confusion suggesting otherwise is simply due to lack of understanding of the Jewish customs and terms of the time.

I believe Scott Hahn has written on this same subject and also favors what Mr Akins has said, in even more detail (although I don’t have that in front of me right now).

In this regard, Pope Benedict, says

Yet Meier is right to point out that in the description of the meal itself, the Synoptics recount as little of the Passover ritual as John. Thus with certain reservations, one can agree with his conclusion: ‘The entire Johannine tradition, from the early to the late, agrees perfectly with the primitive Synoptic tradition on the non-Passover character of the meal’.

Of course I have a hard time attributing to Pope Benedict a “lack of understanding of the Jewish customs and terms of the time”.

I am curious as to what some of our CAF experts on scripture say about this question. The Pope’s book was fascinating and informative in all areas, but this was one part of it that really took me by surprise.

Since we know virtually nothing of the first century seder meal other than the scriptural Passover regulations and what’s recorded in the Gospels, the Pope cannot accurately say that the meal “followed no specific Jewish ritual.” There is no evidence to support such a claim.

One can also compare the Last Supper to Seders from centuries later and note differences and similarities, but again, that’s about it. I would say that between these two pretty serious errors, the one of anachronism (coming from people like Hahn and Akins) are much more common–that is, the conflating of Jewish traditions not attested until many centuries after the time of Jesus with various elements of the New Testament. The bottom line is that neither Akins nor the Pope should be making claims about “Jewish customs of the times” without the evidence to back it up.

Pope Benedict wrote that this conclusion is acceptable “with certain reservations”. And the fact that specific Passover rituals were not cited, and possibly not done, does not mean it was not a Passover meal. Possibly it just means that it was not ritually the same as the ritual at the time.

There is a very good reason for this.

It was not a Passover commemoration, it was the TRUE PASSOVER of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. The real, tangible Passover, seen only in “shadow” by the original one that was ritually commemorated annually.

Correct me someone, if I’m wrong.

Everything that had been previously symbolized (the place for Elijah, for example), had come to pass in actuality. John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah and was martyred prior to the Last Supper. Our Lord was the actual Lamb. etc.

A couple of points.
Pope Benedict said one could agree with Meier’s conclusion, not just that they were acceptable. And I did not type in the whole 2 or three pages of the Pope’s agreement and what he derives from this. So his conclusion is a little stronger than “acceptable”.

As to the “certain reservations”, I also did not elaborate on those. They deal mainly with the way Meier explains the synoptic Gospel’s saying it was a jewish Passover meal. This is the part of Meir’s conclusion which the pope disagrees with, in particular that the passages in the synoptic gospels specifically referring to it as a Passover meal were later additions to the writing, and likely not in the original texts.

The part about it being possibly not the same ritual as the Jewish Passover is the whole point. Many people have used the ritual’s of the sedar meals as a basic for explaining many of the theological points of the Last Supper. It seems as if the Pope is saying that is a little misguided.

It was not a Passover commemoration, it was the TRUE PASSOVER of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. The real, tangible Passover, seen only in “shadow” by the original one that was ritually commemorated annually.

This is correct, you are certainly not wrong.

I wonder why it is important that the Last Supper be a Jewish Passover or that a passover lamb be present in the meal?
Here is my reasoning.

First, to me, St. John explicitly states that it is not a Jewish Passover. He says:
John 13
1Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him;

This is a reference to the Last Supper, is it not? Therefore, the Last Supper is not a Jewish Passover. And for us to cling to this idea seems illogical since it is not necessary in order to confirm Catholic Doctrine and in order to prove that it is so, we must force our interpretation on the text of Scripture. Besides, it is easier to harmonize the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper without this idea since the Synoptics are not explicit about the matter, either way.

I don’t mean to say that the Last Supper is not a Passover. Because Scripture also says:
Luke 22:15
15And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:

But Jesus frequently said things which had double meaning. And I believe that Jesus was here referring to the first Christian Passover. The first Mass. That is the Passover which He desired to eat with the Apostles.

Nor am I saying that a lamb or some other meat dish was not there being eaten. But it need not be a lamb killed to celebrate the Jewish Passover. The bottom line is that Jesus established the first Christian Passover, what we call the Mass, during the Last Supper when He said:
Matthew 26:
26And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

And thus fulfilled the words of St. John 6:
John 6:51
King James Version (KJV)
51I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.


De Maria

Depends on which gospel you read.

Hi De Maria, that’s a great question.

While we don’t have much evidence about Passover celebrations concurrent with Jesus’ earthly life, the Mishnah gives us some later - though in many respects, still contemporary - information.

With regards to this issue, I’d suggest a look at Pesahim 9, which covers the Passover Seder and suggests that two permissible Passover Seder meals could be lawfully celebrated (that is, Passovers on different nights). This would allow for harmonisation in the Gospel accounts, that is, Jesus celebrated an earlier Passover meal with his disciples because his execution took place on the day generally observed for Passover.

God bless.


The Last Supper was the institution of the Mass. We bring our gift and Jesus offers his and we say the Our Father.

A gift is a sacrifice.

The Jews didn’t gift themselves; they gifted a lamb.

Their sacrifice was their nation for the Glory of God; it took 1500 years from the time of Moses to bring the sacrifice to completion. The cool thing is that it was recorded and you can still read about it today.

Their sacrifice brought us closer to the anticipation of the resurrection at the end of time and was evidenced by the resurrection of Christ with the symbolism and message of Jonah–symbolized by the three days and the intersection of the beams on the Cross.

The crucifix was of the Roman form of Capital punishment. Stoning was per the Law of Moses. The Jews crucified their anticipated King and had the Roman Military do it for them. The lack of love lead to destruction of the temple and the institution of the Church with our infallible leader–something that can’t be said of the Jewish kings.

And the King will come to judge the living and the dead…which is chronologically reversed from that of the history of Israel. The King will likely judge with mercy.

I’m not on the top of my game about this subject. But, one thing that has not been mentioned is that Jesus and the apostles seem to have celebrated the meal in a section of the city where Essene sensivities prevailed (the man carrying the jar of water).

That might be significant to resolving this question, in a relative way to the practices of the Essenes.

I come down on the side that this was “a” passover meal, but perhaps not the ritually prescribed one.

After all, Jerusalem was crowded, and the crowds had to be accommodated probably over several evenings – the same common sense way that weekend Masses today are spread over Saturday and Sunday.

The same common sense way that the “makeup” Passover celebration was observed after the next full moon, for those who could not attend the ritual celebration.

In Jesus’ day, the scribes were the literalists but then there were the Pharisees, who tended to respond to the need to “interpret” and “apply” the Torah in practical ways.

for anything related to Jewish things and Judaism I refer to **The Jewish Study Bible **and to The Jewish Annotated New Testament, both from Oxford U. Press.

The latter is a commentary on the NT by a group of Jewish scholars.

In the footnote in the Gospel of John, the remark is that the “last supper” was not a passover meal, because a lamb is not mentioned.

But, the latter reference also contains several essays about Judaism and related topics, after the text of the study bible.

What bears on the main question in this thread may be the following quote from the essay on “The Law”: “These examples [just prior in the essay] illustrate that ancient Jewish Law is not defined by the plain, literal sense of any given passage from the Torah.” (p 517)

Well, if that’s the case, then it may be futile and pointless to debate our question, at all.

Jesus is the new lamb.

Jesus is the Son of the Father.

Btw… did anyone see the moon last night? It will be in the same place next Year during Holy Week.

Did you know that Easter revolves around the Lunar Cycle?

Yes, the Benedict covers the Essene angle in much detail. Namely that the Essenes had a different calendar and would have celebrated Passover possibly on Tuesday night. If Jesus did this, then it would allow more time for the trial, in three seperates places, and the Jewish leaders would have been celebrating on Friday, as implied by John.

After describing the possibility in much detail, Benedict says it is unconvincing. In particular, he sights evidence in the Gospels where Jesus celebrated other feasts in sync with the Jews of the temple.

One thing that is interesting and pointed out by Pope Benedict in his book. If the Jewish Passover was on Good Friday, as indicated in the Gospel of John. Jesus, the true Pascal Lamb, died on the cross on Good Friday at the same time of day that the lambs in the temple would have been killed in preparation for the Passover meal.

Thank you for this most interesting thread.

Would it be acceptable to use the ritual Passover seder to shed light on the Paschal Mystery, but not the actual Last Supper in itself?

First of all, you are welcome, I am glad you find it interesting also. I don’t know the answer to that for sure, but my inclination would be yes it could be. And maybe I was too strong in my wording that the ritual Passover meal should not be used to explain the last supper/mass; that it being misquided was my interpretation of the Pope’s overall meaning, not his words; and after second thought it is probably too much.

seder means order, and pessach seder refers to the order of celebration of this particular seder.

No, the seder is not biblical in origin and there are many variations (I just read, the other day, in the [Jewish] Artscroll seasonal catalog).

Just wondering how you can read John’s Gospel and come away with his suggesting otherwise when it’s the most complete version and in no way suggests or alludes that it wasn’t the Passover meal?

John. Chapter 13:1-2 certainly suggests it is not, and John 18:28 is very explicit that the Passover meal that year was on the day Jesus was crucified, not Holy Thursday.

Also, at the end of chapter 19, it twice refers to Good Friday as the day of preparation.

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