|Questions are occasionally asked about the type of bread that Jesus used as an emblem of His body in the Passover. Was it leavened or unleavened? How people answer this question determines which type of bread is used for the Passover or as some groups prefer—the Lord’s Supper.|
Confusion about “which type of bread?” can occur because of the all-encompassing nature of the Greek word used for “bread” in the New Testament. The Greek artos is unlike Hebrew, which has a specific term for unleavened bread, matzah. Hence the festival known as Hag Hamatsos.
Artos is the word used for bread of any description. By way of example, we see that manna is referred to as artos (John 6:31), as was the “showbread” in the tabernacle (Hebrews 9:2), specified in Leviticus 24:5. Yet these were unleavened loaves. When Christ performed a miracle to feed 4,000 people with seven loaves and a few fish (Matthew 15:32-37), the word used for loaves was artos, in this case probably leavened bread. Christ described Himself as the artos of life (John 6:48-51). And the bread taken at the Passover by Christ is also calledartos (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, John 13:18).
Not only could artos be used for bread, it could also be used metaphorically for food in general. For example, when Christ prayed that God would give us our daily bread or artos(Matthew 6:11), He was referring to the food we need each day for our physical sustenance—not just to bread.
In contrast, the term azumos, used some nine times in the New Testament, is not ambiguous. It means “without leaven.” As a result, some conclude that the use of the wordartos by itself without any qualification for the Passover bread means that leavened bread was used. But this is not the case.
Although azumos means “without leaven,” it is not used specifically to describe bread—it is used as the name of the festival itself. What we translate as the Feast of Unleavened Bread from the Hebrew would simply be “the Feast of Unleavened” when translated from the Greek. The term “bread” has been added in English-language Bibles (e.g. Matthew 26:17). Only once is the word azumos used to describe the state of being unleavened (1 Corinthians 5:7), and even there it is not related to bread, but to our spiritual state. And in the next verse we are told to celebrate the Feast with the azumos of sincerity and truth.
So the fact that artos is used for the Passover bread instead of azumos does not mean that the bread was leavened. Artos was used to describe bread of any description—azumos was not used to describe bread at all.
So how do we know whether the bread Jesus used as an emblem of His body in the Passover was leavened or unleavened? We simply need to understand that the all-encompassing Greek term artos has to be interpreted by its context.In this case, we need to remember that the New Testament was written principally to a Jewish audience. How would they have associated the use of the term artos with Passover? They would have seen it as unleavened artos because that was the type of bread used for the Passover (Exodus 12:1-8). Any problem we may have about what type of bread was used stems from our distance from those times and culture. Matthew 26:17 and Luke 22:7 record that the First of Unleavened Bread had come. As the Passover required matzah, then that unleavened bread was being prepared that day for that event. So the use of the term “bread” (artos) for the bread used in relation to the New Testament Passover bread should be understood in that context.