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It is often pointed out that Jesus was not and could not have been a vegetarian since as the perfect observer of the Law he was obligated to eat the lamb during the Passover festival. It is further claimed that if Jesus did not eat the Passover lamb then he was a sinner and a breaker of God’s Law. It amazes me that these same people never charge John the Baptist of breaking God’s Law by not observing the Passover and by not eating the lamb during the Passover season.
If Jesus was obligated to observe the Passover and to eat the lamb, then it follows that John the Baptist was also obligated to observe the Passover festival. But the bible clearly shows that John the Baptist spent his entire life in the desert and that he never went to Jerusalem to observe the Passover. In Luke 1:80 we read of John the Baptist the following:
“And the boy grew and became strong in spirit; and he was in the desert UNTIL the day of his appearance to Israel.”
According to Luke, the Baptist spent his life in the desert and he never went to Jerusalem to observe any of the festivals. But if all the injunctions in the Jewish Pentateuch were originally given by God, then the Baptist failed to fulfil God’s Law. Even after he began his ministry, the Baptist refused to observe the Passover and he refused to even eat the unleavened bread during the Passover season because he objected to the festival and considered it wrong to eat the lamb and since the unleavened bread was connected with the lamb he refused to partake of it.
The Jewish historian Josephus who was contemporary of the Apostles wrote concerning John the Baptist the following:
“At that time a man was going about Judea remarkably dressed: he wore animal hair on those parts of his body not covered by his own...all he did was to baptize them in the Jordan and dismiss them with an earnest exhortation to abandon their evil ways...he was a strange creature, not like a man at all. He lived like a disembodied spirit. He never touched bread; even at PASSOVER FEAST he would not eat the unleavened bread or pronounce the words ‘in thankfulness to God, who delivered the nation from slavery, shall you eat this; it was given for the flight, because the journey was made in haste.’ Wine and other strong drink he would not allow to be brought anywhere near him, and ANIMAL FOOD HE ABSOLUTELY REFUSED – fruit was all that he needed” [The Jewish War, translated by G.A. Williamson from the Slavonian Version].
The Church Fathers believed and the Church in general that James, the brother of Jesus, was a vegetarian from birth. Hegesepius who lived not long after the Apostles, wrote everything he knew about them. His writings were often quoted by the later Church Fathers. This is what Hegesepius had to say concerning James the Just:
“James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ATE NO FLESH, never shaved” [The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3. p. 361].
Eusebius Pamphilius wrote:
“This apostle was consecrated from his mother’s womb. He drank neither wine nor fermented liquors, and abstained from animal food. A razor never came upon his head” [Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, p. 76].
St. Augustine wrote:
“St. James never ate animal food, living on seeds and vegetables, never tasting flesh or wine” [Ecclesiastical History, 2 Vols. Translated by H.J. Lawlor and J.E.L. Oulton].
The Catholic Encyclopaedia art. St. James the Less, states:
“The universal testimony of Christian antiquity is entirely in accordance with the information derived from the canonical books as to the fact that James was Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem. Hegesepius who lived about the middle of the second century, relates (and his narrative is highly probable) that James was called the "Just", that he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor ate animal food...”
If James was a vegetarian from his mother’s womb and if he never tasted flesh, then he obviously never ate the flesh of a lamb during the Passover season. If James and John the Baptist did not eat the Passover lamb and were guiltless, why then should we assume that Jesus was obligated to eat the Passover lamb and that if he didn’t that he was a sinner and a breaker of God’s Law?
I should also point out that there were and still are Jewish vegetarians in the rabbinical Judaism and that even some rabbis are vegetarian and that all these Jews never eat the lamb or any meat whatsoever during the Passover observance. But I will prove from the bible itself that Jesus did not eat the lamb nor did he observe the Last Supper on the Passover night as commonly supposed.
John states that six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus gave him a banquet [John 12:1-2]. On the next day he rode into Jerusalem [verse 12]. Then in 13:1 John states that the Last Supper took place BEFORE the Passover. He also shows that Jesus was reclining on the couch and the disciple he loved which means that the meal was not the Passover lamb for they could not eat that meal in a reclining position but in a standing position. Likewise, if that night was the Passover night then all the shops would have been closed for the shop keepers would have been in their homes, eating the lamb. Yet the disciples thought that Judas went into the night in order to buy something they needed for the Feast [13:29]. Neither could have the trial taken place during that night for the chief priests and other priests and witnesses would have also been in their homes eating the Passover lambs. Also, in accordance to the Passover command and tradition, the Jews remained in their homes all night during the Passover night and only in the morning they burnt whatever was left of the lamb. But John clearly shows that Jesus with the disciples did not stay in the house all night but rather went across the Kidron brook [18:1].
He was arrested that very night which proves that it could not have been the Passover night since the Temple guards and the soldiers were not in their homes observing the Passover. In 18:28 John makes it very plain that the night of his trial was not the Passover night:
“Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning: Next he was taken to the palace of the Roman governor. His accusers wouldn’t go in themselves for they would “defile” them, they said, and they wouldn’t be allowed to EAT THE PASSOVER LAMB” [The Living Bible – Life Application Bible].
Therefore the morning of the 14th of Abib was before the Passover night and that is why they were worried lest they be defiled and thus not be able to eat the lamb that evening. Because those who were defiled or were on a journey had to observe the Passover on the 14th at evening, the following month, as prescribed in the Jewish Pentateuch. After questioning Jesus, Pilate brought him before the people about noon – still being before the Passover night:
“It was now about noon of the day before Passover” [19:14 The Living Bible].
“And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour” [King James Bible].
By noon, being the sixth hour of the day, the Jews removed all leaven from their homes and about three in the afternoon the priests began slaughtering and roasting the lambs on that day so that the people could eat the Passover that coming night. Because it was the preparation day and the people had to get ready for the evening meal of the Passover – the authorities wanted the bodies removed as quickly as possible, since the following day was the 15th of Abib and therefore the day following the Passover night and being the FIRST day of Unleavened Bread Festival and therefore an annual Sabbath:
“The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day [for that sabbath day was a high day,] besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away” [19:31 King James Bible].
“There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ PREPARATION DAY; for sepulchre was night at hand” [19:42 King James Bible].
I have presented the evidence from the gospel of John which irrefutably proves that the Last Supper was not the Passover night and therefore this proves that Jesus did not eat the lamb that night. The synoptic gospels seem to contradict John. It appears that the three evangelists say that the Passover meal was eaten on the night of his arrest. But this creates a problem. If this was true, then it follows that Jesus was crucified on the 15th of Abib - the very Feast Day - the ANNUAL SABBATH. But that was impossible. The three evangelists call the day of the crucifixion PREPARATION DAY. If the lambs were killed on the first day of Unleavened Bread Festival as the synoptic gospels indicate, that could not have been the Preparation Day but rather the Feast Day - the annual Sabbath - when no crucifixion could take place. The story is complex and it is beyond the scope of this article. For those who accept the New Testament as infallible, the evidence of John is sufficient to prove that Jesus did not observe the Passover night and therefore those who claim that he ate meat of the lamb are wrong. Likewise, if Jesus was a Law breaker for not eating the Passover lamb, then also were John the Baptist and James, the brother of Jesus. It is as simple as that.