Christians Celebrating the Passover? (Ursinus)

It is a trend in some Christian circles and churches to host and celebrate Jewish feasts or meals that are connected to the Passover.  You don’t have to look too hard online to see what I mean.  I suppose it’s one thing to watch a video or read a book to learn how Jews celebrate the Passover; it’s another thing to actually partake and make these Jewish meals part of church or Christian life.

In Reformed theology we say that the Old Testament’s “ceremonial laws are now abrogated” in the New Testament era (WCF 19.3).  “We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law ceased at the coming of Christ, and that all the shadows are accomplished, so that the use of them must be abolished among Christians (BCF 25).  There is firm biblical reason for this Reformed position.  Zacharias Ursinus comments:

That the ancient Passover, with all the other types which prefigured the Messiah which was to come, was abolished at the coming of Christ, is evident,

1. From the whole argument of the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews respecting the abolishing of the legal shadows in the New Testament. “The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old.” (Heb. 7:12; 8:13.)

2. From the fulfillment or these legal shadows. “These things were done that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. A bone of him shall not be broken.” “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” (John 19:36. 1 Cor. 5:7.)

3. From the substitution of the New Testament; for Christ, when he was about to suffer, and die and sacrifice himself as the true Passover, closed the ordinance relating to the paschal lamb with a solemn feast, and instituted and commanded his Supper to be observed by the church in the place of the old passover. “With desire, I have desired to eat with you this passover, before I suffer.” “This do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:15, 19.) Christ here commands the supper, not the ancient passover, to be celebrated in remembrance of him. As baptism has, therefore, succeeded circumcision, so the Lord’s supper has succeeded the passover in the New Testament.

It may seem interesting and even spiritual to reenact ancient Jewish feasts and meals, but we need to remember that Hebrews tells us not to go back to the copies and shadows of the old covenant (Heb 8: 5, 13).  As Hebrews makes very clear, you can’t have the old and the new together – the old is fulfilled, the new is here, so don’t go back!  Or, like Paul says in Galatians 4:9-11, a Gentile Christian putting himself under the Jewish ceremonies and laws is the same as going back to their pagan religions!  Commenting on Galatians 4:9, C. K. Barrett said, “To go forward into Judaism is to go backward into heathenism” (see also Douglas Moo and F. F. Bruce on Gal. 4:9).

Since we have Christ, the Passover Lamb, and his final sacrifice, we don’t need to sacrifice animals, have altars, celebrate Jewish ceremonies, feasts, Passovers, and so forth.  Instead, we celebrate the Lord’s death by blessing and sharing bread and wine like he told us to do until he comes again (1 Cor. 11:23ff).

The above quotes are found in Zacharias Ursinus trans. by G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 440.

(This is a re-post from July 2016)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Has The Passover Been Abolished?

It is a trend in some Christian circles and churches to host and celebrate Jewish sort of meals that are connected to the Passover.  You don’t have to look too hard online to see what I mean.  I suppose it’s one thing to watch a video or read a book to learn how Jews celebrate the Passover; it’s another thing to actually partake and make these Jewish meals part of church or Christian life.

In Reformed theology we say that the Old Testament’s “ceremonial laws are now abrogated” in the New Testament era (WCF 19.3).  “We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law ceased at the coming of Christ, and that all the shadows are accomplished, so that the use of them must be abolished among Christians (BCF 25).  There is firm biblical reason for this Reformed position.  Zacharias Ursinus comments:

That the ancient Passover, with all the other types which prefigured the Messiah which was to come, was abolished at the coming of Christ, is evident,

1. From the whole argument of the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews respecting the abolishing of the legal shadows in the New Testament. “The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old.” (Heb. 7:12; 8:13.)

2. From the fulfillment or these legal shadows. “These things were done that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. A bone of him shall not be broken.” “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” (John 19:36. 1 Cor. 5:7.)

3. From the substitution of the New Testament; for Christ, when he was about to suffer, and die and sacrifice himself as the true Passover, closed the ordinance relating to the paschal lamb with a solemn feast, and instituted and commanded his Supper to be observed by the church in the place of the old passover. “With desire, I have desired to eat with you this passover, before I suffer.” “This do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:15, 19.) Christ here commands the supper, not the ancient passover, to be celebrated in remembrance of him. As baptism has, therefore, succeeded circumcision, so the Lord’s supper has succeeded the passover in the New Testament.

It may seem interesting and even spiritual to reenact ancient Jewish feasts and meals, but doing so is actually going back to the copies and shadows of the old covenant which is obsolete (Heb 8: 5, 13).  As Hebrews makes very clear, you can’t have the old and the new together – the old is fulfilled, the new is here, so don’t go back!  Or, like Paul notes in Galatians 4:9-11, for the Gentile Galatian Christians to go under the Jewish ceremonies and laws is the same as going back to their pagan religions!  Commenting on Galatians 4:9, C. K. Barrett said, “To go forward into Judaism is to go backward into heathenism” (see also Douglas Moo and F. F. Bruce on Gal. 4:9).

Since we have Christ, the Passover Lamb, and his final sacrifice, we don’t need to sacrifice animals, have altars, celebrate Jewish ceremonies, feasts, Passovers, and so forth.  Instead, we celebrate the Lord’s death by blessing and sharing bread and wine like he told us to do until he comes again (1 Cor. 11:23ff).

The above quotes are found in Zacharias Ursinus trans. by G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 440.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

God’s Calendar, God’s Time

God made time, God can change time.

1) The creation week was a liturgical, creational calendar that celebrated God the Maker and Sustainer.  Creation’s calendar said, “Six days of work then one day of rest.”  It was patterned after God the creator’s “week.”

2) The exodus event was a real sort of de-creation then re-creation (see Fretheim and Enns, for example).  Among other things, the calendar was “tweaked.”  There was a new first month: Abib (Ex 12.18, 13.4, etc.).  A huge redemptive event, a new creation of sorts, meant that Yahweh would “tweak” the creational calendar.  Now the Hebrews had their own unique calendar based on God’s re-creative work which was patterned into their very existence.  In other words, God stretched the creational calendar at the exodus.

3) The OT exodus event pointed to the NT exodus fulfillment: God’s eternal, “firstborn” Son, the true Israel, the true Passover Lamb, the true Bread of Heaven, etc. came to keep and complete (fulfill) all the OT signs, symbols, sacraments, ceremonies, and calendars.  His death meant blood covering God’s people, it meant justice was paid and people were released.  It meant a new creation – Jesus is the firstborn from the dead (Rev 1; cf Col 1).   No surprise: Jesus re-arranges the calendar that he made, tweaked, and now fulfilled.  The “newly created” people of God (the church) meet on the first day of the week (cf. Acts), the great day that Jesus set apart by defeating death and began making all things new.  This first day is patterned into the existence of the church.  The Creed says it too: “the first day he arose again from the dead.”  Everything is new: death is whipped, the new has come, and a new calendar and liturgy reflect this truth.   God is not only the Maker and Sustainer, but the Redeemer as well.  The Christian calendar is the liturgical way to say as much.

4) Finally, this New Exodus-Christian calendar begs for the end of itself: patterned into the Christian calendar is the end.  Every first day preaches that there will be a last day: Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! On heaven’s calendar, each “day” is the great new Sabbath because of the completed work redemption.  The calendar we now have between Jesus’ “exodus” (his resurrection/ascension) and our “exodus” (his parousia) is a New Exodus Pilgrim calendar that we won’t need after this age.

God made time, God can change time!

Note: this was pieced together from the above commentaries/books (namely, the IVP OT Background Commentary, Enns, Exodus, Fretheim, Exodus, and several of Kline’s works, including God, Heaven, and Har Magedon) along with the Westminster Confession of Faith 21.7 and the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Childs on the Difficulties of Texts (esp. Exodus 11-12)

Exodus 11-12 – the famous Passover text (including the exodus proper and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or Matstsoth) – has some difficulties that have to do with chronology and timing.  If you read through it, it is tough to get a firm chronology of when the things are instituted and when they are actually celebrated (see 12.28, 39, and 50 for example).   I don’t have the time to sum up all the difficulties, but in short, the text is pretty tough.  It’s so tough that Sarna writes, “Without doubt, the chapter is a composite of several strands of tradition” (Exodus, p. 53).

Childs is good here.  After he discusses some of the difficulties, he writes this.

There are some broader implications for understanding the passover pericope which arise from our literary analysis of the final form of the present text.  If an expositor takes seriously the final redaction, he can recognize an important biblical testimony to the relationship between word and event in the redactor’s manner of linking commands to narrative material.  The Biblical writer brackets the exodus event with a preceding and succeeding interpretation.  He does not see the exodus as an ‘act of God’ distinct from the ‘word of God’ which explains it.  In theological terms, the relation between act and interpretation, or event and word, is one which cannot be separated.  The biblical writer does not conceive of the event as primary or ‘objective’ from which an inferential, subjective deduction of its meaning is drawn.  The event is never uninterpreted.  Conversely, a theological interpretation which sees the subjective appropriation – whether described cultically or existentially – as the primary event from which an event may be reconstructed, is again introducing a theological scheme which has no warrant in the theology of the redactor.

Of course, this doesn’t wipe away all the difficulties, but it is a good reminder as we encounter this and other hard spots in the OT.  We’re not usually going to have bare, objective, uninterpreted “brute facts” in texts; rather, they are acts which are interpreted in the text, or by the text.  G. Vos said it this way: “Word and act always accompany each other…without God’s acts the words would be empty, without his words the acts would be blind” (“The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline”).

The longer quote above was taken from page 204 of Brevard Childs, Exodus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Exodus 4.24-26: The Bloody “Bridegroom”

Though the brief and “bloody” episode of the circumcision that Zipporah performed is tucked away in the OT, there have been scores of articles and essays written on it.  It would be too tedious to list them all here, but for the record the ones I found helpful were written (in various commentaries and journals) by William Propp “That Bloody Bridegroom,” Ronald Allen “The ‘Bloody Bridegroom’ in Exodus 4:24-26,” Bernard Robinson “Zipporah to the Rescue: A Contextual Study of Exodus IV 24-6,” Julian Morgenstern “The ‘Bloody Husband’ (?) (Exod. 4:24-26) Once Again,” and commentaries by Brevard Childs, Peter Enns, Nahum Sarna, Terrence Fretheim, John Calvin, and a few others.  One should also consult Wellhausen’s etiological description, as well as important Jewish commentaries.

We  note from the outset that the Hebrew text is anything but crystal clear:  On whose “feet” does Zipporah wipe (nagah) the bloody foreskin?  Does ‘feet’ (regel) mean legs, feet, or private parts here?  Which son does Zipporah circumcise?  Who is the ‘bridegroom’ (hatan) of blood?  What does ‘bridegroom’ (hatan) mean here – relative, in-law, or wife’s father?  Who let whom go?  Certainly there are more questions that are not so easy to answer; the LXX is only somewhat helpful on this passage.

Here are a few things from the passage that can be stated with relative certainty: 1) Yahweh is angry with Moses and put him in a death grip.  2) Zipporah circumcised her son.  3) Zipporah’s bloody actions rescued Moses from death.

Here are two major OT episodes that parallel this passage grammatically and theologically: 1) Look back – Gen 32.24-30 – Jacob wrestling with the man/angel.  In the Moses episode and in the Jacob episode, there was a struggle (someone held someone), both struggles happened during a return journey, both involve a “touching” (nagah), both involve resistance to God’s call, both are followed by a favorable meeting with and kiss from a brother (Esau, Aaron).  You’ll find more parallels as well, making the connection quite tight.

2) Look forward – the Passover.  Both the Moses episode and the Passover involve the anger of Yahweh against sin, cutting, a son(s), blood, smearing (nagah) blood, and death being avoided by the shedding of blood.  Again, you’ll find more parallels, making the connection even more striking.

As Enns and Childs both note, circumcision here is quite important, also making the reader recall Gen 17, where the penalty for being uncircumcised was to be “cut off” from the covenant community.  Perhaps Yahweh is angry with Moses for unbelief and disobedience (cf. Ex 3.1-4.17, esp. 4.14), perhaps he is angry with Moses for not circumcising his son (possibly Gershom).  Perhaps both.  Either way, Yahweh was angry with Moses for sin, there was a cutting and a blood-shedding; the wiping of the bloody foreskin on (possibly) Moses may symbolize a cutting off in the stead of Moses.  Again, this has Passover written all over it.  Ultimately then, though maybe indirectly, it points to the first Passover. Then it brings us through the first Passover to the last, the final shedding of blood for sin in the “cutting” of the Lamb, the Son of God, the Messiah.

One more interesting interpretation – another plausible one, perhaps even complementary – is how Moses represents Israel.  Moses really pre-lives Israel’s journey, from a birth-deliverance through water to Mount Sinai in the wilderness, to this episode of Yahweh being angry with a recalcitrant child.  More specifically, in Fretheim’s terms, “Just as Moses was saved by the blood of his firstborn, so Israel would be saved by the blood of the Egyptian firstborn” (Exodus, p. 80).  In Isaiah’s terms, “I give Egypt as your ransom (kofer)” (43.3).  As still one more interesting side note, a few verses before this episode, Yahweh calls Israel his firstborn and declares that he will cut off Egypt’s firstborn to save his.  Yahweh’s sermon before this instance of the bloody briedgroom should help contextually interpret it.

This is just one tiny step forward in discussing this difficult text while noting and summarizing the scholarly positions.  Again, see the above named authors for more detailed information.  My presuppositions are akin to Enns’: the fact that Christ has risen from the dead profoundly affects our interpretation of the OT (Exodus, 26).  In other words, there are glimmers, shadows, types, symbols, events, prophecies, hints, and arrows in the OT that bring us to the cross, empty tomb, and session of the Messiah.  In Jesus’ own terms, Moses wrote about me.

shane lems

sunnyside wa