Sunday, March 17, 2013


Today I would like to see the Bible's answer to the question, "Must Christians observe the Old Covenant Passover?".
And the answer is - No, Christians are not commanded to keep that observance.

Let’s look at why not.

(EXO. 12: 43, 48-49) 43 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: No foreigner shall eat it.
48 And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. 49 One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you.

What’s the very first thing we see? All non-Israelites are forbidden from eating it. Gentiles may not observe Passover. That’s the law. End of story.


Foreigners and even servants had to be circumcised to observe Passover. All the males had to be circumcised. Is it possible that circumcision just meant nothing for those people? Is it possible that the Gentiles would say, “Hey, we would like to eat that fine unleavened bread and lamb roasted with bitter herbs with you, and the Israelites would reply, “Let’s get you circumcised and then we’ll have dinner”?

Genesis 17 makes it clear that every male was expected to be circumcised in order to enter the covenant with Abraham. Verse 12 indicates that anyone wishing to join Abraham’s family must be circumcised. Anyone not circumcised was cut off from the people. That’s a bit more serious than just a quick trim and off to supper, wouldn’t you say?
In Genesis 34, circumcision as a condition of joining Israel was misused in order to take advantage of Hamor and Shechem. This should also demonstrate that the circumcision required to observe Passover was no light undertaking. This was a commitment!
In Exodus 4, God sought to kill Moses for neglecting to circumcise his firstborn son. In Joshua 5, all Israelite males had to be circumcised before they entered the land of Canaan and before God would take away the reproach of Egypt from the people. Uncircumcised became an idiomatic expression meaning unclean (LEV. 26: 41; JER. 9: 26; EZE. 44: 7-9). Like the word "Gentile", "uncircumcized" was an epithet.
Many of Paul’s statements indicate that circumcision was understood in his day as a sign of being part of Israel (GAL. 2: 7-8; PHP. 3: 5; COL. 3: 11).
It became part of the understanding of some Jews that no Jew could be saved if they went uncircumcised.

Simply becoming circumcised was not good enough. If all one needed to do was be circumcised, then several of the surrounding cultures had circumcision and all of those people would therefore be Israelites. Egypt practiced circumcision long before circumcision was adopted as a sign for the covenant with Abraham, yet they would never have been seen as anything other than Gentiles. The other half of the equation was the requirement to join the physical nation of Israel and participate in its Covenant. If you haven't done that, then it doesn't count.

Hopefully this gives us a better look at the importance of the act. It was no light matter. To require circumcision before Passover was not the same as requiring clean hands before supper. The only way a Gentile could eat it was to be circumcised, cease being a “Gentile”, and join with the nation of Israel. They were "as natives of the land". There is one law for all people for Passover. If the law is unchanged, and binding on all, with not one jot or tittle removed, then this is the law of Passover.


Some people refuse to accept this, however. There are many views within the various Church of God splinter groups on how this can be circumvented. I want to mention three of the main ones.

First is the claim that the law is eternal and binding.

The point is to simply bind us all to the Old Covenant law.
The base assumption is that all of the law of Moses is just somehow binding on all people. As Bereans Did has many articles on why this is impossible. I recommend you start by familiarizing yourself with what the Law of Moses is.
More later, but for now I won’t bother with it. Suffice it to say if the law is eternal then so is the condition that Gentiles cannot participate. If the law is unchanged then the Pharisees were right in Acts 10, Paul and Barnabas were wrong, and physical circumcision is a requirement. The only alternative is that the law has been changed, which means the law is not eternal nor binding on everyone.
So option #1 in circumventing the law in order to bind yourself to the law is self-defeating.

Second is the classic teaching of Herbert Armstrong; specifically I refer to British-Israelism (BI).

The point was to convince people that they are genetically Israelite, and therefore the Old Covenant applies to them.
BI is the belief that the English are descendants of the mythical “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel”. A Brit named Richard Brothers is generally credited with inventing BI around the turn of the 19th century. Most of the “proofs” of BI are nothing but fantasy and nonsense. BI has been convincingly refuted again and again. Here is just one example from the website.
There are many variations to BI. Herbert Armstrong taught that England is Ephraim and the United States is Manasseh. We would like to present to you an interesting alternative to Armstrong’s interpretation of the Genesis Prophecies. Ephraim and Menasseh might represent something wholly other than what you were told. Herbert Armstrong came to his variation by plagiarizing a book written by J. H. Allen (see for details). At the end of the day, the Old Covenant is still abrogated and gone; it is binding on no one.
So option #2 in circumventing the law in order to bind yourself to the law is a plagiarized bit of fantastical pseudo-history.

Third is the oft-repeated claim, “New Testament Christians are Spiritual Israel.”

The point in this claim is to say that Gentiles have become Israelites by becoming Christians.
Notice how this claim flies in the face of Acts 15. The desire to undo the law has now undermined the authority of the Apostles and the very Holy Spirit of God. This is not something I recommend!
There are flaws in this claim. Have you ever tried to find the phrase “Spiritual Israel” in the New Testament? It’s not there. Being “Spiritual Israel” would not somehow grandfather anyone into the abrogated Old Covenant anyhow. We do not somehow all stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai. You don’t want to be at the foot of that Mountain anyway, in bondage (GAL. 4: 24-25), where 3,000 people died and Moses wore a veil to cover the glory of God. That Covenant is gone! Its terms and its blessings/curses are no longer an option for anyone.
The claim assumes that all Christians are Israel, when that is not what the Bible says. The two loaves of the Wave Loaf ceremony, in our understanding, represent the Jewish and the Gentile converts to Christianity. Not one loaf, but two; distinct but together. Paul speaks of only one metaphorical olive tree, but the tree isn’t Israel. The tree is Christ. He is the root. He is the Vine. He is the Seed. He is the cornerstone. We are His body. It is in Christ that we receive the promises of Abraham, not in Israel. The metaphorical tree spreads into Israel, many of whom rejected the Gospel and were cut off so the Gentiles could be grafted in. Gentiles are not grafted into Israel but into Christ.
Throughout Romans Paul contrasts the Gentiles and Israel. Know that Romans 9: 6 does not make a single Gentile into an Israelite; rather it disqualifies physical Israelites who reject the Gospel. Paul isn’t adding people in, he’s pruning people out until only a remnant is saved. These rejected Israelites are blinded until the full number of Gentiles are grafted into Christ alongside of the Israel of God. This cannot be so if we are suddenly all Israel.
So option #3 in circumventing the law in order to bind yourself to the law is to misapply scripture and contradict the Apostles and the Holy Spirit.

There are others ways than these three. There are many assumptions people make and string together with proof-texts in order to reach the desired outcome of binding themselves to a host of cherry-picked laws. But these are three of the most popular options. We can see they don't quite work.


Acts 15 should have settled this issue forever. 
The Jewish converts were demanding that Gentile converts had to be circumcised (thus ceasing to be Gentiles) and keep the law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas opposed them. A Council was called to settle the matter. The decision of the Holy Spirit was no, they do not have to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.
Acts 15 was towards the beginning of Paul’s ministry; Acts 21 was towards the end. Acts 21: 25 solidifies that the Council’s decision remained in force and was never changed. No further expectation was left out. No later training in the law was implied.

It is preached from the pulpit in the Armstrong splinters that the Jews only complained about circumcision and that is the only issue the Council took up. Not so!

(ACT. 15: 5) But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

So as we can see the Council was not just called to decide about circumcision. If you took my advice earlier and read our article on the law of Moses, you would see what the claim of the Jewish converts really was. It entailed the whole law.

Hear the words of Trypho, a Jew of the early second century. Justin Martyr the Christian was having a conversation with Trypho the Jew, when Trypho made it clear what the Jews expected:

If, then, you are willing to listen to me (for I have already considered you a friend), first be circumcised, then observe what ordinances have been enacted with respect to the Sabbath, and the feasts, and the new moons of God; and, in a word, do all things which have been written in the law: and then perhaps you shall obtain mercy from God. -Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, chapter VIII
The expectations of the Jewish converts in Acts 15 and the expectations of Trypho are the same: circumcision, Sabbath, new moons, annual holy days. As Paul put it, “Days and months and seasons and years” (GAL. 4: 10). In other words they expected a return to the Old Covenant. To put it plainly - physical circumcision brings the whole law with it, and to reject one is to reject the other.

(GAL. 5: 3) And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.

The decision of the Council was not that Gentiles should keep a little law now and a lot of law later on, but that no other burden would be laid on the Gentiles (v. 20, 29). That decision was not amended later, as Acts 21: 25 demonstrates.

Yes the “necessary things” expected of the Gentiles can be found in the Old Testament. This does not somehow negate the decision of the Council, however. These necessary things were also found in the Noachide Law, which all Jews would accept. These necessary things were expected of the Gentiles so that the Gentile converts wouldn’t be a complete offense to the sensibilities of the Jewish converts. It was a compromise in love, reminiscent of Romans 14.

Think about it. Why would Paul and Barnabas dispute with the Jewish converts if they really agreed with them the entire time? What sense is it to call a Council to decide whether the Gentiles had to keep the law of Moses and then say “yes, they do” but only in some linguistic loophole? If the answer was “yes, they do” then why not just come out and say so? Why hint? Why leave things unsaid? Worse yet, why go out of your way to make it look like the answer is "no"?
The reasonable explanation is plain – they said precisely what they meant and they meant precisely what they said. The answer really was "no". They never came to the conclusion of changing the law in order to bind the Gentiles under the law. Law was not added later because when we look at later we see the original decision unaltered. The Gentiles were strangers to the Old Covenant and never under the law, and that wasn’t going to change.


This leaves us with two choices: Passover is forbidden to Gentiles, or the law was changed.

If you believe the law must be unchanged, and if you quote “not one jot or one tittle”, then Passover remains forbidden to people who are not physically Israelite. If you wish to observe any of the law without changing it then you must be circumcised if you are a male, or marry an Israelite if you are a woman (like Ruth), and thus join yourself to the physical nation of Israel. Only after you have joined and become like one of the natives of the land is there any expectation of observing the law of Moses. That is the law.

If you believe this law was changed, then there are far-reaching consequences for you. I know that Herbert Armstrong taught that only the sacrificial laws and the national laws of Israel were changed; this is not one of those. This is law regarding Passover, which Armstrongism demands is binding. Ergo, if one demands Passover then one admits the law itself was changed; the "eternal and unchanging law" is neither eternal nor unchanging. "Not one jot or one tittle" becomes fulfillment in Christ. And that is tantamount to admitting precisely what Mainstream Christianity claims.

Choose wisely.


In conclusion, no, Christians are not expected to be Jews in order to be Christians, nor are they expected to observe the Old Covenant Passover.

And now, for the rest of the story regarding the Days of Unleavened Bread in the New Covenant, please continue on to read this fine article from Caleb: Were Gentiles in Corinth Observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

1 comment:

Caleb said...

Excellent, no nonsense article that very quickly gets right to the point!