Why “Passion Week”?

I’ve made brief reference to this earlier in my “Passion Tuesday” series, but why do Christians sometimes refer to Crucifixion Week, the week of Christ’s death (and for some, the week when they commemorate it), as “Passion Week?”  It goes back to the Authorised Version translation of Acts 1:3.  Modern translations have replaced the word — but maybe they’ve lost something.

Acts 1:1-3

1 The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:
3 To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:

Well, ok, but what does it mean?  When we think of “passion,” we usually think about someone having their emotions all stirred up.  If you work yourself into a passion, you are making yourself angry.  If you are passionate about a sport team, it probably means you act like an idiot when they win (or when they lose, for that matter).  Or it may mean you are feeling very romantic.

That obviously is NOT what this is talking about.  Jesus showed Himself alive to His disciples after His death and resurrection for forty days before He ascended into Heaven.  So this “passion” obviously has to do with His death and/or resurrection — the context makes that clear.

When we look at the Greek word, we see that it is a form of pascho, which means “to be strongly affected” — almost always in the sense of suffering or being afflicted (the word is related to pathos from which our English word of the same spelling is derived).  Luke chose this word to tell us that, not only did Jesus have affliction, He truly felt it, He truly suffered.  It tells us not just of the fact that He died for us, but that He felt all the feelings that a human being would feel in such a case.  The fact that He is God did not diminish in the least the emotional and physical suffering He endured.

Our translators, then, chose “passion” to convey for us the strong emotional content of the word.  They could have said, “after His suffering,” and it would have been accurate.  Many modern translations do exactly that, just as the AV translators did with the same word in other places.  But the word conveys more than that, and I’m thankful the AV translators brought out the emotional connotations of it at least this once.  It seems particularly fitting here, doesn’t it, in a passage about His resurrection?  He fully suffered in every way, but He is now risen!

In fact, the English word “passion” is derived from the Latin passio, with the primary meaning of “suffering” or enduring.  So it was actually a wonderful choice, conveying suffering which deeply affects the person on the emotional as well as physical level.  The English word is rarely used with the meaning of “suffering” any longer (outside of its Christian usage), but Christians still often use it to refer to the death of Christ, and use “Passion Week” to describe the week of His death.

Why?  I suppose they do it mostly for historical reasons now — it has been used that way for centuries, and Christians have written many books, preached many sermons, and even composed a few blog articles 🙂 that use the terminology.  Probably for many, it is simply a tradition to refer to the “Passion of the Christ,” or to speak of “Passion Week” — they may not even really know where the term came from or why it is used.  And probably more and more Christians don’t use the term at all now.

But I’d suggest it is a tradition with a wonderful origin, and one we should teach about and encourage, rather than simply let it die, or allow it to become stale tradition that people still use but no one understands.  This particular way of translating the Greek word, which our translators used only in Acts 1:3, emphasises a blessed and poignant truth for believers.  It reminds us just how fully the Incarnate Word became a man for us, how fully He bore our sins, how complete was His suffering for us.

It is little surprise that this word should grab the attention of believers.  And it is little surprise, when they understand its meaning, that they would want to remember it.  In fact, it makes all the sense in the world that they would choose this one word to name this most important week in Christian history — the week of our Saviour’s passion.

It reminds us to love Him, as it reminds us how completely He first loved us.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s a reminder worth having and thus a tradition worth keeping.  “Passion Week” (and “Passion Tuesday”) is terminology I’ll keep using.

Link to other articles on Passion Tuesday / Crucifixion Tuesday.

 

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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