Who Should Celebrate Passover?

Dinner set for Seder (Jewish Passover meal)Photo by Gilabrand at en.wikipediaUsed under CCA-SA

Dinner set for Seder (Jewish Passover meal)
Photo by Gilabrand at en.wikipedia
Used under CCA-SA

[Originally published as a Helium article 11 March 2009]

Passover … is a Jewish and Samaritan holy day and festival commemorating God sparing the Israelites when He killed the first born of Egypt, and is followed by the seven day Feast of the Unleavened Bread commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the Israelites from slavery.

~ Wikipedia (Full citations at end of article)

So, who should celebrate Passover? Is it just a quaint custom that an ancient people kept? Is it only for the Jews today? You might be surprised by the answer!

Your spiritual life depends upon the answer! There is a lot to cover in a short article to adequately answer the question. In fact, the answer depends upon answering many other questions, but we will concentrate upon:

  • What was the meaning of it in the Old Testament (OT)?
  • What is the New Testament (NT) meaning of Passover?
  • Was it replaced by the “Lord’s Supper”?
  • Was it replaced by the Easter celebration and what is “Quartodeciman”?
  • Finally, what should a Christian’s attitude be towards it?

The OT Meaning of Passover

The Passover lamb was to be chosen on the tenth of the first month (Ex 12:3). One was chosen for each family, unless the family was too small for an entire lamb and they would share it with another family (v4). It was to be “without blemish” (v5) and killed on the fourteenth at twilight (v6; Lev 23:5; Nu 28:16). It was to be kept as a “memorial … throughout your generations” (Ex 12:14) to commemorate the first Passover of their last evening in Egypt. At the first Passover, the blood was splashed upon the mantel and doorpost of the house. When the Angel of Death came through Egypt, he would “pass over” any house that had the blood so splashed upon the doorframe (v13).

Passover, then, symbolizes the breaking of the bonds of slavery (vv26-27). The Passover meal was eaten with bitter herbs to represent the bitterness of slavery (v8; Nu 9:11; cf Ex 1:14). It was the 10th plague that God sent upon the Egyptians. Any home without blood on the doorposts would have the firstborn male killed within it. Even Pharaoh’s house was not spared. The Israelites were to eat of the Passover with their shoes on their feet and their staffs nearby to be ready to flee (Ex 12:11). They were to eat unleavened bread, which symbolized the haste in which they left would be such that there wouldn’t be time for the bread to rise (vv8, 34, 39). Unleavened bread was also to be eaten for 7 days following, also symbolizing affliction (Dt 16:3).

The NT Meaning of Passover

Jesus was chosen by the Father to be the ultimate Passover Lamb, Who was without blemish (Jn 1:29, 36; 1Co 5:7; 1Pe 1:18-19; cf Rev 5:5-8). He was crucified during the Passover at Jerusalem as recorded in all of the Gospel accounts.

Jesus fulfilled the meaning of the Passover Lamb, so He gave new meaning to some old symbols that were used in the Jewish Passover meal. The unleavened bread symbolized His broken body, and the wine symbolized His blood of the New Covenant (Mt 26:26-29; Lk 22:19-20; 1Co 11:23-26). It is important to remember that a covenant involves the shedding of blood (Ex 24:8; Heb 12:24).

The NT Passover also symbolizes the breaking of the bonds of slavery! The OT was a forerunner, a foreshadowing, of the NT! Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (Jn 8:34; cf Ro 6:6-7).

Note that many years after the death of Jesus, Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

~ 1Co 5:8

This shows that Passover and the subsequent Feast of Unleavened Bread were being kept by the NT Church!

“Passover” or “Lord’s Supper”?

Some would question if Passover really needs to be observed. After all, wasn’t it changed to the Lord’s Supper? Can’t we celebrate it any time we desire? Is this logical, though? Do you go out with your spouse to celebrate your wedding anniversary on any day you want? Do you keep Thanksgiving on any day you want? Are memorials to other important events kept whenever we want? It would be odd, wouldn’t it, if we were to commemorate 9/11 on April 15th? God said Passover was to be a “memorial”. Jesus said, “this do in remembrance of me”, or in other words He was establishing it as a memorial to be done once a year. When did He die? Passover!

“But,” some would counter, “didn’t Paul say that ‘as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup’ in 1 Corinthians 11:26?” Yes, Paul did say that. However, notice that in vv24-25 just above it, we still find the phrase “in remembrance of me”! When would we do that? On the anniversary of “the same night in which he [the Lord] was betrayed” (v23)! It says nothing about changing how often we do the service, but that when (as often as) we do the service, it is to “show the Lord’s death till he come”. The CEV even puts it:

26 The Lord meant that when [when? on the anniversary of His death!] you eat this bread and drink from this cup, you tell about his death until he comes.

Was Passover replaced by the “Lord’s Supper”? There is only one verse in the entire Bible that uses that phrase.

20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.

21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

~ 1Co 11:20-22

The question, then, is what does “not” refer to? Does this mean it is not a “supper” or does it mean that it is called the “Lord’s Supper” but that they were doing it incorrectly? The word here for “supper” is the Greek “deipnon” (Strong’s G1173). It means “feast” or “meal”. It always refers to a festive meal. However, when you look at Paul’s instructions, it is quite clear that this occasion is supposed to be a symbol of what occurred the night Jesus was crucified. It is not supposed to be a large, festive meal! It is not a “supper”! Calling it the “Lord’s Supper”, then, is the opposite of what Paul meant here!

No, Paul is reinforcing that we are to, on the anniversary of Jesus’ death, take a portion of the bread and a portion of the wine, just as Jesus’ Apostles did, and not have an all-out meal taken whenever we want.


Rather than doing away with the celebrations, Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were used as metaphors in Paul’s writing to the Corinthians (1Co 5:7). He strengthened the symbols by referring to them in his writings to them, undoubtedly around the time they would have been celebrated. If they were not being celebrated, then the metaphor would not have made sense to a predominantly Gentile church, even as it often requires explanation to people today! Yes, even Gentile converts kept these “Jewish Holy Days”!

Polycrates was a disciple of John. In the late 2nd Century, he defended keeping the 14th of the 1st month on the Hebrew calendar. This was going on while Victor of Rome was excommunicating those who kept the 14th of the month instead of Easter. Polycrates wrote that he “scrupulously observe the exact day” of “the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month, in accordance with the gospel”. Those who kept this practice were labeled “14th-ers” or “Quartodecimans”, which reinforces the fact that Passover is not only to be kept by Christians, but also which night it is to be kept.

The controversy between a Sunday “Easter” and a “Quartodeciman” Passover continued for some time, although both were commonly still referred to as “Passover” (Wikipedia). This controversy continued until the Council of Nicea in 325. What should be noted about the Council of Nicea is that it was presided over by Emperor Constantine, an unbaptized pagan emperor.

Constantine was not yet a baptized Christian when he settled matters of Christian dogma and the Arian Controversy at the First Nicene Council (First Council of Nicaea), which ended on August (or July) 25, 325.7

Even if “presided” is watered down quite a bit, to say he had no influence upon doctrine is akin to sticking your head into the sand, especially given his other active interventions into church affairs.

What Should a Christian Do Today?

The Passover is the “Lord

‘s Passover” (Ex 12:11). Nowhere do we see a clear example of it being done away. Rather, we see it being referred to and explained in more detail in the writings of Paul. Jesus changed the symbols and the meaning has a deeper meaning of the ultimate breaking away from spiritual slavery, but the basic pattern still remains.

In fact, that deeper meaning is why we must examine ourselves and partake in it in a worthy manner (1Co 11:28-29; 2Co 13:5). This implies that only baptized members should partake of the break and wine, seeing as it is only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the acceptance of His sacrifice that truly makes us worthy (cf Ex 12:47-49)! Teens and young adults should be encouraged to help out, usher, etc., and observe, however, if they are not baptized. This will allow them to truly ponder their own standing with God and, if His will, lead to their own conversion.

The celebration of Easter, however, is manmade. It supposedly celebrates Christ’s resurrection, something we are never commanded to do in Scripture. Furthermore, when you look at the symbols of Easter, such as eggs, bunnies, sunrise services, hot cross buns, they all come from pagan sources. God instructs us to not worship Him in the manner of the pagans (Dt 12:3-4, 29-32).

29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

~ Ac 5:29

9 Then he [Jesus] told them, “You have such a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your own tradition!

~ Mk 7:9 (ISV)

13 Now as to the person who is clean and isn’t traveling, but fails to observe the Passover, that person is to be eliminated from his people

~ Nu 9:13a (ISV)

So, which will you keep? God’s commands or men’s traditions?



  1. Passover“, Wikipedia
  2. Did Jesus have a Passover, Lord’s Supper or Communion?“, BibleStudy.org
  3. What is the meaning of Passover and the ‘night to be much observed’?“, BibleStudy.org
  4. Why Should Christians Keep the Passover?“, The Good News Magazine, March/April 1998
  5. Pagan Origins of Spring Myths: Springtime and the Easter Bunny
  6. Quartodecimanism“, Wikipedia
  7. N.S. Gill, “Constantine the Great – Emperor Constantine I“, About.com

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