Leaven in Scripture

(Encyclopedic Reference).

What is yeast?   We know that bakers use it to make the dough 'rise'; without it, our bread would be like flat, hard cakes.  In the days when people made their own bread, they would go to a brewer and get a jug of brewer's yeast.  It was fluid and yellow.  Nowadays, yeast is made commercially on a large scale.  The yeast you buy at your market, the yellow lumps done up in paper, has been compressed for convenient handling.

Commercial yeast is a by-product of the whisky distillers.  If you are a yeast producer your by-product will be methylated spirits.

Yeast is a plant, according to the biologists, and is capable of reproducing itself.  A piece of yeast consists of minute cells, with walls composed of cellulose, and an interior of living matter called protoplasm.  You can feed it with a solution of sugar to make it grow, or it can be 'killed' by 'starvation' or heat.  The ancients did not use yeast as we know it today; they prepared a leaven or 'barm' (which has the same action) from ground millet kneaded with 'must' out of wine-tubs.  Wheat bran was also used, kneaded with a three-days-old must, dried in the sun, then made into little cakes.  When required for making bread, the cakes were soaked in water, then boiled with the finest flour, after which the whole was mixed in with the meal.  Another old method for making barm was to prepare cakes of barley meal and water; these were baked on a hot hearth, or else in an earthen dish upon hot ashes and left until they turned reddish-brown.  Afterwards, the cakes were kept shut up in a vessel until they turned quite sour.  When wanted for leaven, they were first steeped in water.  Eight ounces of this was enough to make a quantity of bread of about 14 lb. or 6.3kg to rise.

The primary function of yeast is to supply carbon dioxide gas which inflates the dough during proof and the early stages of baking (oven spring).

To sum up, then, the dough is aerated by the action of the yeast. 

Ancient preparation for baking.

The leaven or ‘barm’ was prepared freshly, and applied to the mixture of water and flour, which was then left to rise, which with the ‘barm’ preparation could be many hours prior to baking, which means that unleavened bread is prepared and baked quickly, but leavened (which is often left overnight) even today is a relatively slow process, and even slower in ancient times. 

It is interesting and important to note that the active ingredient in the ‘barm’ was essentially alcoholic waste in the production of wine, and that its function was to increase the apparent volume (size), and to increase the palatability of the bread/cake.  The nutritional value would be little changed.

Scriptural references to “unleavened bread” etc.

It is difficult to escape the apparent conclusion that all reference to ‘leaven’ in Scripture (The Bible) is a reference to evil (at least that is the most common teaching), and therefore to the activity of Satan against God and man (as is witnessed in particularly the comments of our Lord in the Gospels re. the Scribes and the Pharisees).  However, with careful and prayerful reading, that is probably not always the case!

When examining the first mention in Genesis 19:3, we see that the man (not the woman)! "baked unleavened bread", in the face of immediate crisis and unexpected guests (angels), who had been sent by God to destroy the City of Sodom (vs 13 and 18:20), because the level of sin had reached extreme levels, and to warn Lot and his family to leave the City, (19:12-26). 

In this example, unleavened bread is baked to shorten the time to the meal, as when leaven is added the time to baking is greatly increased; and in this case the angels were going to act the very next day, and Lot and his family at least, needed sustenance that night! 

In Exodus 12:8, the children of Israel are instructed to eat unleavened bread with the “Passover Lamb”, for 4 days from the 10th day of the month, until the 14th day of the month (Abib (April)which became the 1st month of the year for them from then on as a Nation, later called Nisan).

They did this fully clothed, and with their belongings packed, and in haste (v.11).  This was in the instructions for “Passover of the Lord” (v.11), in the contest between Moses (God), and Pharaoh (Satan).

Here again is crisis and emergency, which necessitated unleavened bread for sustenance!  

In Exodus 12:15-20, unleavened bread is mentioned 4 times, all in connection with v.14; which states that “this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord (Jehovah) throughout your generations”.

The importance of this “memorial” is clear, to remind and to teach of the events of the Passover by means of the frugality of the food in unleavened bread, and the haste which accompanied the events.

In v.17 the instruction is to “observe the feast of unleavened bread”, which emphasises the point of remembering

In Exodus 12:39 the fact of haste as the reason for unleavened bread is emphasised.  

Exodus 13:6-7 reiterates unleavened  bread for remembrance of the Egyptian Deliverance, and adds the stipulation that it is to be observed annually in the month Abib, when Israel had arrived in the Promised Land, where the Canaanites dwelt!

The law of redemption of both man and beast is stated, to remember the consequences of not being under the saving blood of the Passover lamb (the deaths of Egypt’s 1st  born children and animals), and the covering of the children of Israel by the “Passover lamb” of those that obeyed. 

Note: this is of course a precursor to the Death of Messiah Christ Jesus, 1st for the Nation of Israel, and latterly to all the world’s peoples; “as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin (and sins) of the world”, (John 1:29).  The transition to the Gentiles as prime object, occurred at Acts 28:28, and was because the Jews had finally rejected Jesus as Messiah, at Paul’s last witness at the last of the major Synagogues in the known world!

The Gentiles were in God’s Plan prior to Acts 28:28, but were not “prime object”, but secondary; and had Christ been accepted as Messiah by the Jews, they will/would have been in the inheritance of Abraham!       

Exodus 23:15 is a reminder of the earlier instruction for unleavened bread. 

In Chapter 29 of Exodus the unleavened bread, cakes, and wafers are all symbolic in the consecration of the priests, and for their office.

Verses 24-27 indicate the importance of the “wave offering” and “the heave offering”.  Dr. Bullinger comments that “wave offering turned to the 4 corners of the Earth”, and “the heave offering, lifted up to Heaven for Jehovah only”, indicating the universality of the offering (all mankind), and the "heave offering" indicating the Risen Christ Jesus as the "first fruits". 


This has the supreme parallel in the risen Lord to Mary Magdalene, when He told her not to touch Him, (John 20:17), and said; “I am not yet ascended to My Father”.  This comparing to Leviticus 23:10-11, as the Risen Christ Jesus became the “first fruit before Jehovah” as the wave offering and the heave offering, and the first fruits from the dead (1Cor. 15:23). 

Exodus 34:18, is a reminder of the earlier instructions. 


It is seen above that unleavened bread is not in itself a “holy” item, but one of necessity and urgency due to the circumstances that surround the specific events! As we move into Leviticus and its detailed instructions to the Jews re. the “memorials” and “ceremonies”, it is clear that the instructions of Exodus are being ‘fleshed out’, and particularly at Lev. 23, for the Christian with the advantage of hindsight; Christ Jesus is viewed!  


The references in the Chapters 2 to 8, refer to details of Ceremony and Remembrance, and many examples can be paralleled to parts of our Lord’s self-sacrifice.

In Lev. 23:15-17, there is a clear picture of Christ Jesus after His Resurrection as  "the sheaf of the wave offering" (v15  and note above), and 50 days later; (vs 16-17) a new meal offering to the Lord (Jehovah); which is to be leavened! 

Now in the understanding and teaching of most Churches that leaven is always representative of evil, this would be an offering which is evil, which cannot be!  What then is the meaning of this verse?

The key is in the word “new” regarding the 2 wave loaves, which had not happened before!

It is easily speculated that the two leavened loaves represent Israel and the Gentiles, as the events of Pentecost in Acts 2, 50 days after the Lord’s Resurrection, are directed at the Jew first and the Gentile; and after Acts 28:28 the Gentile first and the Jew!  The leavened loaves were to “rise” with the leaven of the truth of Salvation in Christ Jesus, as even though for now the Jews have rejected Jesus Messiah, that is only temporary, and the “loaf” will eventually be fully risen!

The great lesson here seems to be clear; to take “leaven” in Scripture as always representing evil must be wrong, and that view is reinforced in Matt. 16:12, where Jesus explains to His disciples that He had been talking about the DOCTRINE of the Pharisees, not the “leaven” of bread! 

When seeing the above, we then understand that the “influence” or “doctrine” or “teaching” etc. are the mediums of “leaven”!

In one outstanding example in Scripture, the contaminant (leaven) were the "Tribes" adjacent to Israel when they entered the "promised land"; the more so as most if not all were "contaminated" by "Nephilim"!  Had Israel "mixed" genetically with them, the promise of Gen. 3:15 would have been thwarted; and as it was, they very nearly did! 

One major leaven in Scripture is equated to the subtle influence of Satan, working quietly, often unseen, and not acknowledged by the world, to make something seem other than what it is; a good example at present is worldwide Christendom, which most people think is "good", but which hides Satan's manipulation of Scripture, and his lies regarding the Truth.

His efforts started in this Creation as soon as Eve was given to Adam, in his successful manipulation of God’s Words, to cause the Fall of her and Adam; but the promise of Gen. 3:15 put in train the solution, which is being worked out by Christ Jesus. 

In that context, the two references our Lord made to the 3 measures of meal in Matt. 13:33, and Luke 13:20-21; hold special significance regarding a number of misconceptions.

Matt. 13:33 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened”. Luke’s quote is identical. 

Most commentators state that because “a woman” was involved, it must be evil, which is clearly nonsense in this case, and they state such because of references in parts of Scripture where a woman or women are representative of evil. As has been seen, Lot in the first ref. to unleaven was the cook!

The fact that most of the time cooking is the prerogative of women is certainly the reason our Lord used the phrase.

The leaven she “hid” in the measures, probably/possibly represents the 3 attempts God has made to draw mankind to Himself; Noah, Moses and Jesus; which will eventually be fully risen; and the Kingdom of God on earth will be in evidence! 

Praise him!


The key will always be; which leaven is involved! 

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