Q. My Bible clearly says that on the “first day” of Unleavened Bread (Ex 12:15) we are to remove leaven from our dwelling. Why do you teach you should take it out before then?
A. There is misunderstanding of Scripture when it is taken out of context. Though this is not readily evident in this particular verse, i.e., in most all translations, it is when we look at the original Hebrew wording.
The one word we must take a close look at is the word “first.” It is Strong’s Hebrew word #7223 “rishon” which has two very different meanings depending on the context in which it is used:
“The suffix ôn makes this term an adjective or adverb as determined by context…First, the word can refer to the first of two or more items. In this capacity, it also occurs in a series as an ordinal number. Second, it functions as an adverb, ‘before,’ ‘formerly,’ and is often used with words pertaining to time,” The Complete Biblical Library, by World Library Press Inc.
In the case of Ex 12:15 the word rishon is found two times and going through verse 18 the word appears for a total of 4 times. Three times meaning one thing and one time meaning another. The first time the word rishon is used in Ex 12:15 we find it can only mean “previous” or “prior.” The reason for this is the context in which it is used. It is actually sandwiched in between two confirming statements highlighted as follows:
Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the [prior] (#7223) day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first (#7223) day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel, Ex 12:15.
The last highlighted statement is also reiterated, because of importance, in verse 19:
Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land, Ex 12:19.
It is basically saying that if you eat leavened bread on any of these days you’re a dead man! It had that kind of impact on the people. They would have been very alert to what exactly was required. This is why there is no question as to what rishon meant the first time it was used in Ex 12:15. It meant that leaven was to be removed “prior” to the Days of Unleavened Bread, because if you ate it during those days you were to be removed and cut off from Israel!
It is clear, in context, what rishon was saying. It was even in between two confirming statements, to make absolutely sure it was understood clearly.
There are other words in Scripture (both in the Hebrew and Greek) that have double meanings such as Strong’s Greek word # 4151 “pneuma” which can mean “wind” (breath/blow) or “spirit,” again, depending on context. Notice John 3:5-8 in which the word pneuma is used 5 times. Four times meaning one thing, and one time meaning another:
Yahshua answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit (#4151), he cannot enter into the kingdom of Elohim. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit (#4151) is spirit (#4151). Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind (#4151) bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit (#4151), John 3:5-8.
One of the few translations that has Exodus 12:15 correct, i.e., having translated rishon correctly within context by using the word “Previous” instead of “first,” is the Stone Edition of the Tanach, 1996, by Mesorah Publications:
For a seven-day period shall you eat matzos, but on the previous (#7223) day you shall nullify the leaven from your homes; for anyone who eats leavened food - that soul shall be cut off from Israel, from the first (#7223) day to the seventh day, Ex 12:15.