Passover Included Children [Part 1]

Passover was not withheld from Hebrew children who could eat food.

One of the more contentious pieces of the paedocommunion debate is whether the Passover included children in the Old Testament.  Over 4 posts, I will show that children were participants.

The argument against paedocommunion falls on Ex 12.26 for backing, assuming that the “What do you mean by this” means the children do not participate.  Here is the passage (a similar one is in Ex 13):

And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover… (Exodus 12.26-27)

This moment is a pedagogic moment; the pericope with the question is not here in the text in order to demonstrate division in practice between young and old; rather, it is here to reinforce continuation of the practice through discipleship.  It is not establishing “confirmation” boundaries, but it is establishing succession expectations.

It seems clear that people (like Calvin) who use this line of argument, are happy to find some textual foothold to hang an argument on.  Unfortunately, this reveals a wishful reading of the passage that does not see its immediate context.  Let me show you the passage again in larger context:

24You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever25And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service26And when your [sons] say to you, ‘What do you [intend] by this service?’ 27you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the [sons] of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.  28Then the [sons] of Israel went and did so; as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.  (Exodus 12.24-28)

1) Your SONS Observe the Statute that YOU observe.

What is very helpful is verse 24.  The restriction that Calvin relies on is destroyed by the grammar of the introductory clause to the passage.  Who observes the rite?  YOU do…as long as “you” means “you and your sons.”

By the way, “sons” is how you say “sons and daughters” in normal Hebrew shorthand.

2) Throughout the Torah, “your sons” has the connotation of “future generations.”

The passage (Ex 12) does not indicate that the young will be excluded until they get what is going on.  Quite the opposite, the passage explains just what truth must be attached in the future for people who were not here on the night when God acted.

There is no indication that the “sons” here are young.  Of course they will be young if they don’t know what the passover is for, but the point of the verse is not about age, but about succession and continuation of covenantal truth: “when future generations need to learn about this event, teach them in this way.”  Simply put, there is absolutely no restriction in the sentence about who is eating.

The passage does not say “Why do YOU GROWNUPS keep passover?”  It says, “What is YOUR INTENTION in the meal that ALL ISRAEL keeps?”  (for “All Israel”, see Ex 12.47).  This is not describing a necessary exact question, but the outline of the instruction to be given to future “sons of Israel.

It is a formulaic way of presenting succession material.  This is really no different that repeating the Lord’s Prayer: “Pray then like this” (Mt 6.9); or the institution of the Lord’s Supper, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread” (1 Cor 11.23).

This is liturgical, and liturgy is for paideia (childrearing) amongst other things.

In [Part 2], I will show other passages that use the same “you and your sons” language for UNITY.

In [Part 3], I will show other passages that use the same “What do you mean?” question for institutions that the asker is already involved in.

In [Part 4], I will show that the text explicitly expects young sons and daughters to participate, and that only uncircumcised Gentiles were excluded.


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