Pass Over & Passover

The term 'Passover' is a technical term which is a rendering of a unique word in both the Hebrew and the Greek. The combination 'pass over' is a rather broader expression and can be rendered from five different Hebrew expressions (four of them word-pairs) and two different Greek words. The aim of this brief essay is to describe some of the details involved.

Possibly one of the most famous of the Old Testament feasts is the Passover. It is, of course, related to the famous Ten Plagues of Egypt and it is the feast around which the death of our Lord was set. In the Hebrew this feast is called pesach(H6453). This is a derivative of pâsach (H6452) which literally means 'to hop' and thus to 'skip over' or spare[1]. We thus see that the primary focus of the feast from the Hebrew mind-set was that this was the time when they were excluded from the death of the first born. On the forty nine occasions the word is used it is always rendered 'Passover'. The Greek word for Passover is pascha (G3957); it occurs twenty-nine times is always rendered 'Passover' and Strong's confirms what is visible to the naked eye: that it is a derivative of the Hebrew term pesach[2].

Moving from proper nouns one of the Hebrew words rendered 'pass over' either individually or in combination is ‛âbar (H5674). This is a primitive root meaning 'to cross' and can really apply to any transition dependent upon the context. There are 27 occasions upon which this word alone is rendered as pass over[3]. Other common renderings of this word are pass (appx 250), over(appx 150), go(52), went(39), passeth(28) etc.

There are two common word combinations which include ‛âbar and are rendered 'pass over'. The first is ‛âbar 'êth(H853) occurring 10 times[4]. Strong's describes as a demonstrative entity properly rendered 'self' but usually not represented in English. Thus this longer expression really means to 'pass myself over' 'êth itself (when rendered) becomes: what(46), even(25), whom(19), whose(10), whatsoever(3) and who(2).

The second word combination is ‛âbar ‛al (H5921). It actually provides the first Biblical use of 'pass over' in Gen 8:1. The pattern occurs on one other occasion: Pro 19:11. ‛al is a very common preposition meaning above, over on or against[5]. It therefore emphasizes the 'over' nature of the transition ‛âbar. The word is otherwise rendered: against(541), over(414), on(355), therefore(132), because(93), concerning(84), at(81), off(70), above(69), before(54), into(50) etc.

‛al occurs on two other occasions rendered 'pass over' this time in the expression pâsach ‛al. The two occurrences are Exo 12:13 and Exo 12:23. They are the prototypical descriptions of the Passover before it became a proper noun. As discussed previously the expression really means to 'hop over' or 'skip over'. pâsach is also rendered became(2), lame(1), leaped(1), halt(1) and passed(1).

The Aramaic form of ‛al occurs four times in a combination rendered as 'pass over'; all in the fourth chapter of Daniel. The phrase is chălaph ‛al. Here chălaph(H2499) refers to the passing of time[6] and thus the expression is showing that time will 'pass someone by'.

The Greek only has two other words rendered as pass over both occurring once. Parerchomai (G3928) really means to approach or go away[7]. In Luke 11:42 the Lord uses it to describe the way that the Pharisees treat judgment. The word is usually rendered as just 'pass' (22) or away(5).

The other is dierchomai (G1330) which means to traverse[8]. It is used in Mar 4:35 to describe the cross of a sea to get to the other side. The word is variously rendered: pass(18), through(8), went(6), go(5) etc.

We therefore see that by far the dominant meaning of 'pass over' in the Bible is the Passover itself. As such a major event it has been granted its own proper noun which is used consistently in both the Hebrew and Greek. The Hebrew however grants us two prototypical usages of the term which show into to mean to 'hop over' or 'skip over' something; it describes the way God was over the doors of the Israelites preventing harm. The other occasions 'pass over' has been rendered are rather more mundane and simply show a transition either through space or time.


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