Unleavened Bread In The Bible

Unleavened bread is a form of bread. It is made without using any leavening agents, like yeast. Unleavened bread is featured in the Biblical accounts of the Last Supper of Jesus, which led to the Christian tradition of using unleavened bread for the Eucharist. The word “unleavened” derives from the ancient Greek word for leaven: ἄζυμον (ázymón).

Unleavened bread is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, as a symbol and metaphor for all kinds of things. This article explores the kinds of unleavened bread available in Biblical times, the symbolism of unleavened bread, and how biblical worship was conducted.

The word “unleavened” is mentioned 25 times in the New Testament. It is used in reference to the Passover (Matt 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7) and to our sins (1 Cor 5:7). Unleavened bread, also called matzo, was one of the symbols of the Passover.

Unleavened bread is mentioned throughout the Bible. It was used by God to describe the lives of His people. Unleavened bread was also a part of the prescribed offering meant to be used during religious rituals and spiritual observances.

Unleavened Bread In The Bible

Round, flat cakes of bread made from flour and water without yeast. The ordinary bread of nomadic peoples was unleavened (Hebrew maṣṣâ ), as it still is today in the Near East, and was baked on hot coals or on a grill over an open fire. It can be quickly prepared, as there is no delay in waiting for the dough to rise; hence, it is mentioned in the Bible in cases where haste was required: Sarah baked unleavened bread for “the three strangers” (Gn 18.6), Lot did the same for the two angels (Gn 19.3), and the sorceress of Endor for Saul (1 Sm 28.24).

The legislation of the Pentateuchal priestly writers prescribed the use of unleavened bread for various cultic offerings. However, this usage was much more ancient; it was probably for religious reasons that gideon provided unleavened bread with his sacrifice of a kid (Jgs6.19), and the laws prohibiting the use of leavened bread with a sacrifice occurred as early as the book of the covenant (Ex 23.18) and the ritual decalogue (Ex 34.25). The priestly legislation described the cereal offering (Hebrew minḥâ ): when baked, it had to be unleavened and made with oil instead of water (Lv 2.4–10). The unleavened cakes accompanied a bloody sacrifice (Lv 7.12; 8.2; Nm 6.15).

The principal cultic use was for the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 23.15; 34.18; Dt 16.16), which lasted seven days, during which all leaven was to be banished from homes and only unleavened bread eaten (Ex 12.15–20; 13.6–10; Nm 28.17). An agrarian feast, it marked the beginning of the barley harvest; probably it was borrowed from the Canaanites, though it early assumed distinctive Israelite characteristics. The feast fell in the month of Abib (near the spring equinox), but in ancient times the precise day depended upon the maturity of the crop. Since the Feast of passover was celebrated at the full moon of the same month and also required the eating of unleavened bread, the two feasts were combined shortly before the Exile, the Passover being fixed on the 14th of Abib (later called Nisan) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread from the 15th to the 21st of this month (Ez 45.21; Lv 23.5–8). The Feast of Unleavened Bread (ἡ ἐορτὴ τ[symbol omitted]ν ἀζύμων) is mentioned several times also in the New Testament (Mt 26.17; Mk 14.1, 12; Lk 22.1, 7; Acts 12.3, 20.6).

Unleavened Bread In The Bible

Several scriptures record these instructions: “On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.” (Leviticus 23:17, Numbers 28:25, Deuteronomy 16:8)

There were also particular offerings and sacrifices to give. Numbers 28:24 instructs, “In this manner, you shall offer the food of the offering made by fire daily for seven days, as a sweet aroma to the Lord.” Each day of the feast, the priest prepared special temple sacrifices of unblemished rams, goats, and lambs. Sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s ability to continually cover our sins as the holy and blameless Son of God. 

  • Rams, first offered as a sacrifice in Genesis when God provided a substitution for Isaac as a picture of Jesus’ eventual death on the cross, were required as guilt offerings for unintentional sin.
  • Goat, used in their typical sacrifices, represented sin and the need to have sin carried away by a scapegoat. At the same time, an unblemished lamb portrayed the importance of the pure and innocent dying so that the guilty might receive mercy.

Messy and disturbing, animal sacrifice demonstrated that the Israelites could not meet God’s holy standard and reminded them of their need for the Messiah.

While Orthodox Jews still celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it was neglected for many years. This can be inferred from Bible verses such as 2 Kings 22:8 in which Hilkiah the priest, a man who should have known and studied the word of God, announced, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord…” 

While we might point fingers, our lives grow full of distractions. Diversions. Different paths. Perhaps God is reminding us as He did the Israelites, “Spend time in my presence. Create space for me in your lives. Stop striving, working, chasing, and Shabbat-rest-with me.”

Does the New Testament Mention the Feast of Unleavened Bread?

The Feast of Unleavened Bread played an important role in the early church and Christ’s death. One of the most significant verses about the celebration is Mark 14:1:

“After two days, it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death.”

Jerusalem was bustling with devout followers who had gathered to offer sacrifices at the temple. Already, Jesus had incited anger among the religious leaders. Rumors of his healing miracles taunted them, and the men felt their tenuous grasp on power slipping like sand from between their fingers.

As a result, they crucified Him and fulfilled the beautiful imagery of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The night of the first Passover, God’s people ate roasted lamb prepared with bitter herbs. None of the lamb’s bones were broken. The meal also included unleavened bread. Each of the items illustrates how Jesus fulfilled prophecy through His death:

  • Not one of Christ’s bones was broken. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies (Psalm 34:20) and completed the picture created before the Exodus. 
  • The Lamb, in agony on the cross, tasted gall—or bitter herbs mixed with wine. After tasting what the Romans offered as a pain killer, Jesus refused it and fulfilled the words of Psalm 69:21, “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.”
  • As Isaiah 53:9 declares, “there was no deceit in his mouth.” As a holy and perfect sacrifice, Jesus appropriated freedom for people under the yoke of bondage to sin. 

While Moses was a deliverer, Christ is the Deliverer. Anyone suffering under the weight of bondage to sin—pride, hatred, unforgiveness, sexual immorality, witchcraft, or any other wrongdoing—can find freedom in Jesus. The final sacrifice and the Bread of Life. 

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

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