Paul’s Passover Purpose

By Sam Nadler

The congregation at Corinth, like any congregation, had its problems. (There were people in it!) Unfortunately, none of us are perfect, so when we come together for fellowship and worship, sometimes our imperfections come with us. “The First Church of Corinth” was in need of maturity: you name it, they were probably doing it! To help correct this predominantly Gentile congregation, Paul wrote to the Corinthians why their immorality (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-5) was detestable and culpable before God, and amazingly uses the Passover to drive the point home. “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are, in fact, unleavened. For Messiah, our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

A ‘Puffed-Up’ Lump

Paul speaks about “boasting” as leaven. What did he mean? Traditionally, families that celebrate Passover clean out the leaven/yeast products from their homes before the feast can be enjoyed. This, of course, is from Exodus 12:15: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.” (See also Deuteronomy 16:4) Why? Leaven (yeast) is a natural rising agent in breads and is a biblical picture of natural corruption. Though the loaf is no larger in substance, it swells in size. Like pride, this produces an inflated, false sense of growth (1 Corinthians 8:1). This is why there were no offerings with leaven given in the Temple (Leviticus 2:11). Messiah used the idea of leaven to symbolically represent the corruption of false teaching (Matthew 16:6, 11, 12).

“Let us keep the feast”  Even the Gentiles Understood Passover!

There are three insights we get from this portion. First, Passover was understood by all first century believers. Paul could readily refer to Passover regarding spiritual areas of their lives because they all understood the issues of Passover. The apostles’ method of discipleship included teaching on the Feasts of Israel as the basis to understanding the salvation experience (Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits), their sanctification and growth in the Holy Spirit (at Pentecost), and their future hope in Messiah (Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Tabernacles). In fact, these feasts are literally “appointed times” (mo’adeem, Leviticus 23:4); God’s appointed times to meet with His redeemed people. I sometimes wonder if Paul could so easily use such references in our congregations and churches today as he did in the first century. Paul, and the other apostles might well be shocked at the lack of teaching and awareness regarding the Biblical Feasts among New Covenant believing churches.

A Present Picture

Passover was relevant to all first century believers: It was a constant reminder that we are no longer slaves in the bondage of sin, but are now spiritually free to follow and honor the Lord because Messiah, our Passover, also has been sacrificed. We are to no longer live as slaves to sin but live as new creations through Messiah’s gracious atonement. Passover clearly demonstrates that we are free from bondage and not that we might foolishly do as we please, but, that we might follow God into the ‘Land of Promise,’ and be pleasing to Him. Passover is a present picture of living the fulfilled life, not merely a record of some ancient biblical event.

For All Believers, For All Time

Passover was observed and celebrated by all New Covenant believers. Paul was not telling the Corinthians that they should start keeping the Passover, they already were. The point is that they needed to do it properly. Paul’s point is that Passover should be celebrated with a pure heart, otherwise it is a demonstration of hypocrisy. Paul understood that, for believers, Passover was to always be celebrated as Moses taught. In 1 Corinthians 5:8, Paul uses the very same Greek word that is used for ‘celebrate’ in the Greek version of Exodus 12:14: “Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthians (and us), “Therefore let us celebrate the feast” he may have been thinking of this very verse that Moses shared with Israel. We can see clearly the messianic fulfillment of the Passover in Yeshua, and we should celebrate it with the eternal perspective of Messiah, and to His glory.

Tradition or Truth?

Some have suggested that Paul’s use of ‘old leaven’ might refer to ‘the Jewish traditions.’ Thus we would need to celebrate Passover only in the Lord’s Supper, not as the Jews do, for that would be “old leaven”. This idea is wrong for two reasons: First leaven refers to moral corruption, not traditional observance because Yeshua, himself, celebrated Passover according to the customs of the day, and He certainly never sinned; Secondly, “old” in the Greek is the same word as in Ephesians 4:22, “in reference to your former manner of life.” Thus, this old yeast (5:7) refers to the old self that is crucified with Messiah (Romans 6:6). Paul is telling believers to keep celebrating it without impurity: not as in the former manner of life with malice and wickedness (an evil attitude and wicked activities). We’re to celebrate it with purity, with the unleavnened bread of sincerity and truth: that is, with a pure attitude and in accordance with the truth of God.

You Mean, We Gotta?

Am I saying that, Biblically, all believers are required to celebrate Passover in a traditional Jewish style? No, we are certainly free in Messiah (see Col. 2:16, 17). I am saying that, Biblically, celebrating Passover is normative for followers of Messiah; it gives insight on the spiritual truths of the Scriptures and is a healthy reminder to live pleasing to the Lord. Those New Covenant believers and congregations that do choose to celebrate Passover and study their “Jewish roots” discover great truths and blessings. They more clearly recognize God’s faithfulness, and “they do not support the root, but the root supports them” (Romans 11:18).

This year, ‘let us keep the feast.’ We invite you not only to come to enjoy our annual Seder banquet, but invite a Jewish friend to Passover to hear that Messiah is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).