Was the Last Supper a Passover meal?
Many scholars claim that the Synoptists "clearly" describe the Last Supper as a Passover meal. And then the Apostle John clearly overturns that, indicating that the Passover was yet future of Jesus' trials and crucifixion.
Though reading the Synoptic Gospel accounts seems to indicate a Passover meal was being prepared, in actual fact, none of the Synoptists state that as a fact. However, they use language that is ambiguous and could be read either way.
But the language is clarified and harmonized with the Gospel account of John when the details are examined.
The Passover was to be sacrificed "between the evenings" on the 14th day of the first month (Abib/Nisan -- Exodus 12:6; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 9:2-3). The only flexibility to that law was due to uncleanness, being away on a long journey or (in the case of some) unpreparedness of the people. It could not be changed on a whim or by an individual. It was a serious judgment.
Deuteronomy 16 shows the time of the sacrifice to be synonymous with the decline of the sun before setting, as the sun is in the process of going down (a more in-depth study shows the same)--more specifically, between the ninth hour and sunset.
You may not sacrifice the Passover within any of your gates, which
Yahweh your God gives you; but at the place which Yahweh your God
shall choose, to cause his name to dwell in, there you shall sacrifice
the Passover at evening, at the going down of the sun, at the season
that you came out of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 16:5-6, WEB)
Thus, if we know the date that Jesus ate the Last Supper, that should clarify the issue.
All the Gospel accounts agree that the day of the crucifixion was before the Feast of the Passover and before the first Sabbath of the Feast. The first Sabbath of the Feast is the 15th day of the first month. Thus, Jesus was crucified on the 14th. And he died at the ninth hour--the time of the Passover sacrifice. And there is little doubt that the Last Supper was eaten on the night before.
Therefore, the Last Supper could not have been a Passover meal.
1) Wasn't the disciples' inquiry of Jesus made on the first day of the feast? Or on the 14th day, when the Passover lambs were to be killed?
On the first day of unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the
Passover, his disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and
prepare that you may eat the Passover?”
(Mark 14:12, WEB)
This passage has a number of assumptions attached to it.
And the first day of the unleavened food, when they were killing the
passover, his disciples say to him, `Where wilt thou, that, having
gone, we may prepare, that thou mayest eat the passover?'
(Mark 14:12, YLT)
1a) "On the first day of unleavened bread"
The day this is referring to was not "on" the first day of Unleavened Bread (a.k.a., the Feast of Passover)--the word 'on' is not in the manuscripts. As we saw above, the first day is the 15th. And by extension of common usage, the 14th day was considered a part of it. But this day referred to in Mark 14:12 is neither the 15th nor the 14th.
How is it not the 14th?
Jesus and his disciples came to meal at evening. The preparations of the Passover and the inquiry of Jesus happened before that. Evening being the end of the day, the inquiry must have happened on the 13th (as too, the preparations).
1b) "when they were killing the passover"
Also as we saw above, the Passover was to be killed at the end of the 14th day. This passage refers to a time before the beginning of the 14th day. This passage has a translation problem. "They" were not killing the passover at that very moment, but rather, the time of the custom of the killing of the lamb was imminent (that is, it was high time to make final preparations--the place needed to be cleaned of all leaven, and then the lamb was to be sacrificed the next day).
The argument is similar for Luke 22:7: "Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed."
2) Didn't Jesus refer to the Last Supper as a Passover?
And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover
with you before I suffer:
(Luke 22:15, KJV)
This is not a translation problem, but an interpretation one. What was Jesus referring to as "this passover"? The assumption has been, he was referring to the meal on the table in front of him.
However, it could properly refer to the upcoming Passover event. And in fact, he did not eat the Passover with them, because he was dead and buried by that time.
3) Jesus said he would eat/keep the Passover with his disciples.
Matthew 26:18; Mark 14:14; and Luke 22:11:
... I shall eat the passover with my disciples?
(Luke 22:11, KJV)
... I will eat the Passover meal?'
(Luke 22:11, Good News Translation)
Similarly with Mark 14:14.
... and I will eat the Passover meal with my disciples at your house.'"
(Matthew 26:18, NLT)
... I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’”
(Matthew 26:18, ESV)
... with thee I make the pasch with my disciples.
(Matthew 26:18, Douay-Rheims Bible)
Most translations do not have Jesus making a statement of determined or persistent intent ("I will") to keep or eat the Passover. In actual fact, there is no word in the original text translating to 'will' or 'shall' or even 'may'--it is supplied by the translators. The Douay-Rheims translation of this verse probably comes closest to its intended meaning. Jesus was merely making or preparing for the upcoming passover.
Trying to force-fit the Last Supper into a Passover scenario, leads to all sorts of conflicts (of which, I've only mentioned a few). But reading it as a non-passover meal, then there is harmony between the Gospel accounts.