Questions From Readers
Since the Jews were commanded to have “nothing leavened” during the Passover, why did Jesus use wine—a product of fermentation—when instituting the Memorial of his death?—Exodus 12:20; Luke 22:7, 8, 14-20.
The Passover observance, marking the Exodus of the sons of Israel from Egypt, was instituted in 1513 B.C.E. When giving instructions for its observance, Jehovah said: “Nothing leavened are you to eat. In all your dwellings you are to eat unfermented cakes.” (Exodus 12:11, 20) This divine prohibition applied only to the type of bread to be eaten during the Passover. There was no mention of wine.
The primary reason for the restriction on leaven was that the Israelites’ departure from Egypt was hurried. “The people carried their flour dough before it was leavened,” explains Exodus 12:34, “with their kneading troughs wrapped up in their mantles upon their shoulder.” The absence of leaven during subsequent Passover observances would serve to remind future generations of this important fact.
In time, leaven often came to be viewed as a symbol of sin or corruption. Referring to an immoral person within the Christian congregation, for example, the apostle Paul asked: “Do you not know that a little leaven ferments the whole lump?” Then he said: “Clear away the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, according as you are free from ferment. For, indeed, Christ our passover has been sacrificed. Consequently let us keep the festival, not with old leaven, neither with leaven of badness and wickedness, but with unfermented cakes of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) Only unleavened bread could serve as a symbol of Jesus’ sinless human body.—Hebrews 7:26.
The use of wine at the Passover observance was a later addition by the Jews. Likely, it was added after their return from Babylonian exile. The Bible records no objection to this innovation, and therefore Jesus could properly make use of wine at the Passover meal. Of course, the natural fermentation that took place in wine of ancient times was different from what occurred in connection with bread. In the case of dough, fermentation required the addition of yeast, or leaven. Wine made from grapes needed no such additive. The elements of fermentation were already present in the grapes. Plain grape juice would not have been available at the Passover because it would not have remained unfermented from harvesttime in the fall until Passover in the springtime.
Hence, Jesus’ use of wine as a Memorial emblem does not in any way conflict with the Passover instructions regarding leaven. Any red wine that is not sweetened, fortified, or spiced is appropriate for use as a symbol of Christ’s “precious blood.”—1 Peter 1:19.