Jesus is like the paschal lamb, and it’s O.K. to say so

April 15, 2014

I probably agree with Rebecca Cynamon-Murphy, a lifelong practicing Christian in an interfaith marriage to a Jew, that Christians shouldn’t host their own Passover Seders. What do we know about Seders? And, anyway, does our present-day understanding of the Seder meal correspond to the meal that Jesus and his disciples would have celebrated?

In my experience with Christians taking part in Passover Seders, however, they are usually hosted by messianic Jews who know how to conduct a Seder. If these Jewish Christians don’t have a problem their Gentile Christian brothers and sisters taking part, why should I? (I’m sure she would reply that Messianic Jews aren’t authentically Jewish, so they don’t count, but I disagree with her.)

Moreover, I strongly disagree with her main reasons for arguing against Christians taking part in Seders:

Christians mounting their own reading of the Haggadah almost always want to discuss how Jesus is like the paschal lamb, using the occasion to show how all the Hebrew scriptures point to Jesus as fulfilling the prophecies. This theological exercise, known as supersessionism, is problematic enough in a purely Christian context, but as part of a Jewish ritual it is deeply out of place.

Spinning the “Old Testament” this way reduces the prophecies, the ambiguities that Jewish scholars have debated for centuries in the Talmud and in yeshivas, the morals derived from stories of flawed protagonists and, in fact, the entire narrative arc of the Jewish people as simply a preamble to the main act. Because Jewish people do not believe this interpretation of their holy texts and given the atrocities committed by members of our own faith because of this difference in belief, it’s like adding salt to the wounds of history for a Christian family to take one of the most sacred Jewish celebrations and twist it to reflect our own beliefs.

I’m sorry: it’s not “twisting” this sacred Jewish celebration to discuss “how Jesus is like the paschal lamb,” or use the occasion of Passover “to show how all the Hebrew scriptures point to Jesus as fulfilling prophecies.” I’m certain that at some point during her church’s own observance of Holy Week and Good Friday, either her pastor or the church’s liturgy will find an analogy between Christ’s sacrifice and its antecedent in Passover—and in plenty of other Old Testament texts.

And there’s nothing wrong with that!

From my perspective as a Christian, all the Hebrew scriptures do point to Jesus as fulfilling prophecies. The Old Testament, whatever else it is, is also the story of Jesus. The stories of all its “flawed protagonists” are also the stories of us present-day Christian believers. And we Christians are justified in calling these scriptures the Old Testament (without scare quotes) and not merely the “Hebrew Bible” (the politically correct nomenclature of mainline Protestant seminary).

Do I need to also point out that present-day non-Christian Jews are free to disagree with us? In fact, I should expect them to! It’s more than slightly condescending for us Christians to tell our Jewish friends that our religions’ competing truth claims don’t really matter. No, we respect our Jewish friends by appreciating the genuine differences that separate us.

She may knock what she regards as “supersessionism” all she wants, but what’s her alternative? Let me guess: two covenants? God has his covenant with Jews, which is their path to God, and we Christians have our covenant with God, which is our path. These paths are “separate but equal” paths to God and salvation.

I see no way to reconcile this “two covenants” theology with the New Testament: All the promises that God made with Abraham and God’s covenant people, Israel, are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Gentiles are “grafted into” God’s covenant people through faith in Christ. God’s covenant people—call them “Israel” or not—now consist of both Jewish and Gentile believers in the Messiah Jesus. And, along with the apostle Paul, we look forward to the day when ethnic Israel will also come to believe in Jesus as their Messiah, Savior, and Lord.

N.T. Wright, as he so often does, has many helpful things to say here. I’ll leave you with his words:

Behind this muddled thinking lies, of course, a deep divide over how Christians should read the Old Testament.  In what way, by what means, does this extraordinary book become our book?  How can we claim that we, Jew and Gentile alike in the body of Christ, are the children of Abraham, the one people of promise?  Is not this a denial of the specialness of Israel?  Does it not constitute in itself the beginning of anti-Semitism?  Such charges are regularly laid against Christians who claim such things, basing their claim on Paul, 1 Peter and other New Testament writings.  But this is a case of being condemned if you do and condemned if you don’t.  Exactly the same charge is leveled against Christians who forget their Jewish roots, who construct a neo-Marcionite system in which Abraham and the covenant are left behind (Marcion was a second-century heretic who denied that the God revealed in Jesus was the same as the God of the Old Testament), who speak of Paul’s doctrine of justification as Paul’s attack on ‘Judaism’, who see ‘the Jews’ in themselves as the problem, and Christianity as the answer.  The New Testament itself, of course, from start to finish sees the gospel of Jesus as the fulfilment of all that God had promised to his people in the Old.  On the road to Emmaus, Jesus expounded to the two puzzled disciples all the things in the scriptures which concerned himself.  That remains the foundation of Christian existence.

One of the specific things on which the New Testament insists, again and again, is that in the life, death and supremely the resurrection of Jesus the promised new age has dawned. The return from exile has happened.  ‘All the promises of God’, says Paul in 2 Corinthians 1.20, ‘find their “yes” in him.’  This is in fact the great Return, even though it doesn’t look like people had thought it would.  Instead of Israel as a political entity emerging from political exile, we are invited in the gospel to see Israel-in-person, the true king, emerging from the exile of death itself into God’s new day.  That is the underlying rationale for the mission to the Gentiles: God has finally done for Israel what he was going to do for Israel, so now it’s time for the Gentiles to come in.  That, too, is the underlying rationale for the abolition of the food laws and the holy status of the land of Israel: a new day has dawned in God’s purposes, and the symbols of the previous day are put aside, not because they were a bad thing, now happily rejected, but because they were the appropriate preparatory stages in God’s plan, and have now done their work.  When I became a man, I put away childish things.  Lift up your eyes, says Paul in Romans 8, and see how the promises to Abraham are to be fulfilled: not simply by a single race coming eventually to possess a single holy strip of turf, but by the liberation of the whole cosmos, with the beneficiaries, the inheritors of the promise, being a great number from every race and tribe and tongue, baptized and believing in Jesus Christ and indwelt by his Spirit.

5 Responses to “Jesus is like the paschal lamb, and it’s O.K. to say so”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    I agree with most of this. Everyone who has been saved has been saved by grace through faith, Old and New Testaments, as Paul points out in Romans. And certainly MANY of the Old Testament prophesies pointed to Christ, but I think it is somewhat of an overstatement to say they ALL did. Obviously many of the Old Testament prophecies were about events to come in Israel’s history BEFORE Christ came (such as Jeremiah’s prophecy of release from exile in 70 years, which Daniel so understood and prayed for its fulfillment, which occurred). So, could there still be SOME such prophecies which pertain to “hereditary” Israel after Christ? Paul in Romans 11 seems to prophesy of a turning to Christ by the Jews FOLLOWING the turning to Christ of the Gentiles. Obviously not ALL Jews, just as obviously not all Gentiles, but a “shift.” So, there may still be some distinction between “national” Israel and “the Church,” even though all must come to SALVATION in only one way, through Christ, who is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament that Judaism pointed to.

    Do any of those “still outstanding” prophecies, such as those which relate to the time of the Second Coming of Christ, have any peculiarly “Jewish” components? That may remain to be seen, but I don’t think that can be ruled out a priori by an exegetical principle that EVERYTHING was fulfilled in Christ. I do find it hard to believe that the restoration of Israel to its homeland after around 1900 years of exile is simply “meaningless” as far as prophesy is concerned.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I realized I left out the Romans 11 piece in my original post and added it in a revision. If you read the email (versus the web post) you might have missed it. Regardless, whatever outstanding prophecies remain, they still pertain to what Christ accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I just checked: I said all prophecies are fulfilled ‘in Jesus.’ That’s fair to say, right?

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Well, certainly Jesus is the “centerpiece” of prophetic scripture and scripture as a whole revolves around Christ. But I think the question is whether there are still some “outstanding” (as yet unfulfilled) prophesies; and, if so, whether some of them relate to “ethnic” Israel (as you reference in your revision). Paul’s prophesy, at least, suggests the answer is yes. I am suggesting there may be others also.


  2. Of course we should see Jesus as the Paschal lamb – this is an ancient affirmation full of beauty and meaning. But I think our Book of Worship is right in saying Christians should not host our own seders – this is as disrespectful as non-Christians having a baptism or eucharist and using it to their own ends. I love NT Wright. Always happy to hear from him. Thanks, Brent.


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