What Mean Ye?

By Dr. Richard Bacon

Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

4. The Passover: Prototype for the Lord's Supper

The night before God delivered Israel from Egypt He gave them the Passover meal (Numbers 33:3). Today in most Jewish homes a so-called Passover meal (or seder) is eaten by the entire family, including even some very young children if they happen to be present. Yet, we should not let this practice by itself influence our thinking. Rather, we should return to Scripture to see how and why the Passover was instituted by God, and what aspects of Passover are carried forward into the new covenant meal of the Lord's Supper.

As instituted by God through Moses, the lamb was the centerpiece of the Passover meal. Its blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of the house to protect the inhabitants of the house from the angel of death (Exodus 12:6-7).

Of course, after entering the land, the lamb was no longer to be sacrificed any place the people happened to be. Deuteronomy 16:2 says that the Passover was to be sacrificed in the place where God had set His name. This place was at Shiloh, until the ark was moved to Jerusalem and it was at Zion after that. This command is the basis for the distinction that the Mishnah places between the "Egyptian" Passover and the "Permanent" Passover.

Note also according to Deuteronomy 16 that the Passover was one of the three times in the year that all adult males were to appear before the Lord. "Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which He shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty" (Deuteronomy 16: 16).

Today there is no longer a temple in Jerusalem where God has placed His name; thus, since 70 A.D. there has been no Passover sacrifice and therefore no Passover. In fact, Christ instituted the Lord's Supper the night before He went to the cross and thus put the Passover behind us forever. The only lamb involved in the Lord's Supper is "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

But Exodus 12:3-4 speaks of a lamb for a house. Does this mean that everyone in the house is eating the lamb? It is to be "according to the number of souls" or persons. So does this settle the "fact" that all in the house partook of the meal? Let us examine this passage more closely. Let us start with a comparison of verses 6 and 21. In verse 6, Moses said that the whole assembly of the congregation was to slay the Passover. But in verse 21 he gave the actual mechanics of how that was done. The elders (i.e., heads of tribes or houses) actually drew out the lambs. This establishes the covenantal principle of heads acting for those under their charge. The elders made the count and it was "according to their eating" or according to the count that the lambs were slain. In their counting they were to assure that no "stranger" was among those counted (vv. 43, 45). Note here the importance of the elders "fencing" the table even in this prototypical meal.

What part do the children play in this meal? Does God simply leave it to our imagination? Does the Church have "discretion" as to what part the children take? No, for in verses 26-27 God informs us that the children are to serve a catechetical role. "When your children shall say, `What mean ye by this service,'" etc. The children are not told to ask, "What do we mean by the fact that we are eating." That would then indicate that they actually partook of the meal. Rather, they are to ask, "What do you mean by your eating in this service?"

The paedocommunionist's best argument is a syllogism to this effect:

"[Major:] If infants partook of the Passover, then they are also to partake of the Lord's Supper.
[Minor:] Infants partook of the Passover.
[Conclusion:] Therefore, infants are also to partake of the Lord's Supper."

This is a perfectly valid argument and, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true. But here we see that the minor premise above, that infants and young children partook of the Passover, is not merely unsubstantiated; the evidence of the pronouns is positively contrary to the premise given.

The paedocommunionist is required to prove either that infants were admitted as participants to the Passover or that they were admitted as participants to the Lord's Supper. The regulative principle does not require that the anti-paedocommunionist demonstrate beyond any shadow of doubt that infants were not partakers. Jordan, Lemasters, Keidel, et al. have apparently assumed that infants and young children actually partook sacramentally of the Passover. But, as we have seen, the Scriptural evidence does not indicate this.

In Exodus 12:43ff., Moses describes "the ordinance of the Passover." First, no strangers may eat it because it is a covenantal meal (43). Second, slaves may eat the meal only after they have been circumcised — thus receiving the sign of the covenant (44). Third, it is no ordinary meal (as a so-called agape feast would be), but a sacramental meal. The elements are therefore not to be treated as ordinary or common food (46). Finally, a stranger may partake if and after he accepts covenantal responsibilities (48-49). In verse 48, all his males must be circumcised, but only he (as an adult male covenantal head of the household) draws near and partakes. Upon drawing near and partaking of the sacramental meal, he is subject to the very same laws of God as the covenant people (49).

These four concepts contained in the ordinance of the Passover are quite instructive with respect to the subject of paedocommunion. We learn that the Passover is a covenantal meal and so the table is to be fenced. Neither strangers nor household servants were to partake of the meal until first receiving the sign of the covenant. Additionally, all their male offspring were required to receive the token of the covenant. But if there were household servants and strangers "within the gate" who had not previously been circumcised and "drawn near" then they were not to partake of the meal. Although it is a common practice for American Jews to invite "Gentiles" to their homes to participate in the seder, it is a practice clearly prohibited by God. Thus we should not lean very heavily upon the understanding of modern Jewry for insights into how the Passover was to be eaten.

But just as importantly, it shows the extent to which paedocommunionist Vance Lemasters has misread the ordinance. He states in his Journey Magazine article, "the text [Exodus 12:12] is specifically meaning the basic family structure: husband, wife, children and servants." But verse 44 expressly tells us that servants were not to partake of the Passover on the basis of their masters' inclusion in the covenant. They were not to partake, in fact, until they themselves were confirmed in the covenant by accepting circumcision as adults. Lemasters goes on to ask with apparent irony if the rest of the family fasted while watching Dad stuff himself. The answer is not precisely what Lemasters might expect. The servant neither partook nor fasted. The same can readily be said of the rest of the family.

Much is also implied here with regard to the "specialness" of the meal. James Jordan, in his two articles, "A Letter on Paedocommunion" and "Theses on Paedocommunion," tries to make a strong argument for paedocommunion from an argument for the non-special character of the sacrament. Mr. Lemasters seems to follow this line of argument when he states, "it becomes evident that the Reformers and writers of the Westminster Confession allowed the influence of the Roman Catholic tradition to shape their view of not allowing children to receive the elements." The implication in the article seems to be that if orthodox churches deny the elements of the Lord's Supper to their children, then they are guilty of a view as false as that of transubstantiation. Lemasters implies this by his approving quotation of Jordan that "with the growth of a superstitious view of the sacrament, people feared to spill so much as a single drop of the transsubstantiated [sic] blood of Christ."

But the fact that a sacrament is special does not necessarily imply superstition. A view would be superstitious only to the extent that it is false, not to the extent to which it sees the sacrament as special or non-special. Exodus 12:10 informs us that this was not an ordinary meal. God told the Israelites that they were to hold nothing over until the next day, but were to burn "leftovers" rather than consuming them at another time. If we were to follow Jordan's reasoning in his "A Letter on Paedocommunion" in Journey Magazine, we would ask, "Do we keep leftovers until the next opportunity to eat them?" With an ordinary meal we do, but with the Passover Israel was instructed not to so do. One of the questions that a Jewish boy asks at the seder is, "How is this meal different from all others?" When our Westminster Larger Catechism (# 162) states that a sacrament is "an holy ordinance," it makes reference to the very fact that it is not common or profane.

Jordan additionally implies in his article, "Theses on Paedocommunion," that "infrequent communion" follows logically and necessarily from a view of the specialness of the sacrament. That this is not the case can be seen from a very simple example. Modern Baptists have an extreme view of the non-special character of the Lord's Supper and yet tend to celebrate it quite infrequently. The Westminster divines, on the other hand, who held that the Lord's Supper was special in that it was "an holy ordinance" also maintained that "the Lord's Supper is to be administered often" (Larger Catechism, # 177).

Accusing orthodox Christians of superstition is tantamount to accusing them of idolatry. Charity alone, not to mention wisdom, would seem to dictate that a doctrinal position be absolutely irrefutable before accusing a brother of superstition because he differs.

The institution of the "second-month" Passover is found in Numbers 9. It is here that we learn the Passover had a significance which required examination of the would-be participants. The Passover was to be kept when and how God Himself instituted it (v. 3). But certain men had been present at a funeral, so by reason of ceremonial or Levitical uncleanness they were not permitted to keep the Passover (cf. Numbers 5:2-3). Both men and women contracted ceremonial uncleanness (Numbers 5:3), so we must suppose that either (1) no women were at the funeral or (2) that women were not required to keep Passover anyway, so being at the funeral made no difference. Since women were never circumcised in Israel and only the circumcised could partake of the meal, it seems more likely that the latter is the case.

In fact, if women had partaken of the Passover, we should expect roughly twenty-five per cent of the women of Israel to be approaching Moses with the same kind of question that these men had, for twenty-five percent of the women of Israel in each of the four weeks of every month would have been unqualified to partake (if for no other reason) due to their menstrual period (Leviticus 15:19-30). Additionally, because Israel observed a lunar month, the solution that God gave to Moses would have been absolutely no relief for menstruating women. They would have been unclean on the fourteenth of the following month as well.

However, there is no such complaint to Moses in Numbers 9. Are we to believe that these unclean mothers cooked and served the Passover to their Levitically clean infants? Surely this is a thought so completely out of keeping with the nature of the meal that even paedocommunionists will reject it. Rather, it makes much more sense both theologically and hermeneutically to maintain that neither the mothers nor the children ate the meal sacramentally.

Now God Himself made a provision for a Passover to be held a month later for those who were ceremonially unclean on the fourteenth of Abib (Nisan). Moses did not simply make something a new tradition, but instead consulted God for His Word on the matter. The application for today is obvious. Neither are we to simply add ceremonies and rituals and traditions to the worship of God in order to make ourselves feel good. Rather, we must worship God as He has ordained in His Word.

This provision for a Passover in the second month was actually used for the entire nation of Israel during the reign of Hezekiah (II Chronicles 30:2-3). We learn in that account that it is not merely for ceremonial uncleanness that a person is prohibited from partaking of the sacramental meal. The instruction in verse 8 is "yield yourselves unto the Lord . . . and serve the Lord your God." This account teaches us that something more than ceremonial uncleanness could keep an ancient Israelite from the feast. An unyielded heart also disqualified the ancient Israelite from partaking of the sacrament of the Passover meal, even though he had been previously circumcised. Note also the "fencing" that took place in vv. 17-19.

What we have learned from Exodus, Numbers, and II Chronicles so far is that Passover was not eaten indiscriminately by every member of the nation. In fact, at least three things could exclude someone from eating the meal: uncircumcision (Exodus 12:48), ceremonial uncleanness (Numbers 9:6; cf. 5:2), and an unyielded heart (II Chronicles 30:8).

But a person could not simply and independently determine on his own whether or not to eat the meal. For the same sanction against uncircumcision found in Genesis 17:14, that of being cut-off from the covenant community, is also given against the willful non-communer in Numbers 9:13. This is a covenant meal and is thus to be eaten covenantally.

This covenantal aspect of the Passover is brought out more fully in Deuteronomy 16:5 ff., where it is moved out of private houses and ultimately to the temple in Jerusalem. The Passover in the land was not to be killed within the gates of the home (v. 5). Rather, it was to be killed and eaten near the tabernacle and later the temple (v. 6). Furthermore, the people who partook were not to return home until the next day (v. 7).

The covenantal aspect of the Passover becomes especially apparent when we contrast it to the offering of the firstborn found in the previous chapter (Deuteronomy 15:19-23). In the case of that offering, the entire household (including even the unclean) was allowed to eat it (vv. 20, 22). Additionally, rather than being eaten at the temple in Jerusalem, it was to be eaten within the gates of the home (v. 22). These distinctions are placed back to back by God in Scripture. One type of sacrifice was to be eaten in homes by everyone. The other, the Passover, was to be eaten outside the home by circumcised, ceremonially clean, yielded adult males (Deuteronomy 16:2; Exodus 12:48; Numbers 9:6; II Chronicles 30:8).

Another Old Testament passage that paedocommunionist Lemasters brings into the discussion is I Samuel 1:1-28. Lemasters claims that this passage reveals "how the devout Jew kept the yearly feasts, including Passover." The fact that Passover is not mentioned even one time in the entire passage should cause us to wonder why Lemasters thinks that it is normative; but there are even greater questions involved.

First, we learn that this "devout" Jew was a polygamist contrary to God's commands in Genesis 2:24 and Deuteronomy 17:17. Then we learn that he went to Shiloh yearly rather than the three times per year, as was required by Deuteronomy 16:16. This hardly seems like an example from which we should learn obedience to God! But let us suppose that the prohibition against polygamy in Genesis 2:24 and Deuteronomy 17:17 applied exclusively to the king; and let us further suppose that when this passage says "yearly" that we are to understand that as meaning "three times per year." That is giving Lemasters much, but it is necessary in order to say that we have the example before us of a "devout Jew."

The question remains as to whether the portion given to Hannah had anything to do with a sacramental meal. On what authority would a "devout Jew" have been allowed to give someone a double portion of a sacramental meal? Lemasters simply begs the question at this point. We know he was a devout Jew because he went to Shiloh three times per year. And we know that he went to Shiloh three times per year rather than merely once per year because he was a devout Jew. Furthermore we know that this was Passover because a devout Jew would be required to be at Shiloh for Passover and we know that it was right for him to give Hannah and the others portions because he did it. We are told in verse seven that whatever Elkanah was giving to Hannah, she did not want to eat it. But then what are we to say about Hannah in light of Numbers 9:13?! This non-eating on Hannah's part previous to verse 8 evidently took place "year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord." Would Lemasters here claim that Hannah was committing "spiritual suicide?"

The "Permanent" Passover included four cups of wine, yet Hannah informed Eli in verse 15 that she had neither "drunk wine nor strong drink." This does not prove absolutely that Hannah did not partake of the Passover meal, but it raises some very serious questions. Once again, it is necessary for the paedocommunionist, if he wishes to use this passage, to prove that this was in fact Passover, that it was being observed properly, and that Hannah actually ate the sacramental meal. None of these are supported by the text. Lemasters faults Dr. Francis Nigel Lee (of Queensland Presbyterian Theological Seminary) for saying that this was the same feast as the three-bullock feast of verse 24. Lemasters admits three times in a few paragraphs that no mention is made in the text as to which feast is being observed by Elkanah, yet insists that only bullocks being mentioned — at a feast which requires a lamb — presents him with no difficulties.

Dr. Lee is quite wise in refraining from any attempt to name which feast is in view in I Samuel 1. In fact, in referring to it as a three-bullock feast, Dr. Lee is not attempting to add a feast to those required by Scripture. He is simply acknowledging that we are not specifically told in Scripture which feast is in view, and is naming it for the specific offering that Hannah brought in I Samuel 1:24.

The onus remains with the paedocommunionist to prove that this was Passover. However, if there was an occasion given in the Old Testament at which an Israelite was to appear "before the Lord" to worship and sacrifice (v. 3) on an annual basis (vv. 3, 7, 21, etc.) and to pay vows (v. 21), then we should at least examine the possibility that it was that occasion rather than Passover that brought Elkanah to Shiloh.

Actually, there was a specific occasion, in addition to the three times annually, in which the ancient adult male Israelite was to appear before the Lord. The "devout Jew" was to go to the tabernacle for "Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of thy oil, or the firstlings of thy herds or of thy flock, nor any of thy vows which thou vowest, nor thy freewill offerings, or heave offering of thy hand: but thou must eat them before the Lord God in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates: and thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God in all that thou puttest thy hands unto" (Deuteronomy 12:17-18).

This passage should be taken together with Deuteronomy 14:22, 26b, "Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year [emphasis added] . . . and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household." In other words, a "devout Jew" was to go up to Shiloh (and later to Jerusalem) annually (i.e., year by year — the exact wording of Deuteronomy 14:22 and 1 Samuel 1:3, 7, 21) to pay his tithes and vows. This is precisely what we are told Elkanah was doing. And at that feast, the entire household (including women, children and servants) was to partake of the offerings.

Now in conclusion, Lemasters has not shown that this is the Passover. We have learned of a probable reason for Elkanah's pilgrimage, however, and that reason is most certainly not the Passover. Again, the Reformed position does not have to prove what offering this was. It is sufficient to prove that there were offerings other than Passover that this could have been. It is incumbent upon those who insist that it is Passover to prove it from the context or from another reference to it.

The reader must now decide for himself if he thinks that this has been a fair treatment of the Old Testament texts. Some may object that nothing has been said about the manna of Exodus 16. The gathering and eating of manna was never tied to the Passover either in Exodus 16 or in subsequent redemptive history. Therefore it will suffice to observe that (1) this meal was not a sacrament, and (2) therefore all who could eat it were welcome to do so.


  Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Page Last Updated: 01/10/08 02:16:59 PM