Is Jesus Really Our Passover Lamb?
My Response to a Jewish Skeptic
Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world John 1:29
Recently, I was asked by one of my friends to view a Youtube video attacking a basic premise of the Christian Faith, namely that Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb. The video to which I refer is called "The Passover Lamb-Debunked?" It critically challenges Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 and seeks to undermine the plain but symbolic meaning of Jesus becoming a type of our Passover Lamb, thus fulfilling the purpose of this Hebrew festival. So here is my basic evaluation of this video and my response to its claims:
Claim 1. According to Leviticus 1:2, Israel was only permitted to offer burnt offerings and sacrifices from the herds of clean animals and nothing else. So doesn't this invalidate the notion of Christ being made a sacrifice on our behalf since He is a member of the human race? Would God really accept a human sacrifice as a substitute for the animal sacrifices sanctioned in the Torah and deemed acceptable?
My Response: I think the argument being raised here is an obvious straw man argument. Protestants have never regarded Christ as a human sacrifice. This is why we so vehemently reject the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. We don't believe the bread and wine literally turn into the body and blood of our Savior. We realize that Jesus was offering His disciples a symbolic illustration of what His death on the cross would mean to those who accept it (eternal life). We partake in communion to remind us that Christ ransomed us from the consequences of sin and sealed our redemption through His death on the cross. Jesus never attempted to pose as an actual sacrificial lamb or Passover lamb. Should we now expect a series of videos to be made debunking the claims that Christ is the Bread of Life (Jn. 6:35), the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5), the Corner Stone (Mat. 21:42-44), the Door (Jn. 10:7), and the Vine (Jn. 15:1) because He wasn't edible and shaped like a loaf, didn't have the appearance of a lion, didn't resemble a stone, and wasn't woody textured like a door or vine? I hope not. Jesus applied these descriptions to Himself in order to symbolically portray the different roles of His ministry. The reason why Jesus is the "Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" is because He was pure and without sin, and innocent as a lamb. He is also described as the Chief Shepherd of our souls (Jn. 10:11) and the Great High Priest who makes provision for us to enter before "God's throne of grace" (Heb. 4:14-16). So we see that Jesus represents both the sacrifice and the One offering up the sacrifice. Therefore His role is complex, and all encompassing. So Christ's roles are symbolic for spiritual realities and bear important similitudes to the Old Testament system of sacrifice and offerings.
Now because Christ was the only innocent human being, He alone (like a sacrificial lamb) could atone for the sins of mankind. He alone could ransom us from the penalty of sin. And that's what Jesus did. He redeemed us from the penalty of sin imposed on every one of us. Bottom line, Jesus is our redeemer (Hebrew: goel), not a human sacrifice. He came to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, John 13:1-17).
Let us not forget that while God is exceedingly merciful, He is also a vengeful God who visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of all those who hate Him (Ex. 20:5). Therefore, as a result of Israel's heinous misdeeds, justice demanded that they be completely annihilated. Had not a Redeemer come to intercede on their behalf in the manner of Moses (Deu. 9:13-20), Israel would have been wiped out already. So just as Moses stood in the gap for Israel and fasted and prayed on their behalf for 40 days and 40 nights, afflicting His body for the sake of the people (Deu. 9:18), so too Jesus stepped in between God and man and bore our iniquity upon Himself. Wasn't this exactly what Isaiah 53 prophesied would happen?
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand" (Isaiah 53:5-10).
Now here's an important question. Do orthodox Jews accept and recognize the principle of the righteous atoning for the sins of the nation? Yes, they do actually. Notice the following quotes:
"The children of the world are members one of another. When the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, he smites one just man amongst them, and for his sake heals all the rest. From where do we learn this? From the saying [Isaiah 53:5], “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities." (Zohar, Numbers, Pinchus 218a)
“You must bear the sufferings and wounds by which the Almighty chastises you for Israel’s sins” and so it is written, He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities." (Midrash Konen; 11th century)
"The Messiah, in order to atone for them both [Adam and David], will make his soul a trespass offering [Isaiah 53:10] as it is written next to this parashah “Behold my servant” [Isaiah 52:13]. (Midrash Aseret Memrot)
Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. 29 Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs.” (4 Maccabees 6:28–29)
Rabbi Berel Wein said this, ..."the death of the righteous and innocent served as expiation for the sins of the nation or the world."
Nathan (Nata) ben Moses Hannover in his work Yeven Mezulah‘Rabbi Chiya Bar Abba said: "The sons of Aaron died the first day of Nisan. Why then does the Torah mention their death in conjunction with the Day of Atonement? It is to teach that just as the Day of Atonement atones, so also the death of the righteous atones."
In Midrash Exodus rabbah Moses said to God: "Will not the time come when Israel will have neither Tabernacle nor Temple? What will happen with them then?" The Holy One, blessed be He, said: "I will then take one of their righteous men and keep him as a pledge on their behalf so I may pardon or atone for all their sins."
"When Israel was in the Holy Land those services and the sacrifices that they did took up from them all the sicknesses and sufferings of the world. Now Messiah takes them from the world..." (Zohar 212a).
Immediately after discussing the use of Para Adumah [Red Heifer] ashes to purify a person who came into contact with the dead, the Torah tells us of the death of Miriam [Bamidbar 20:1]. The Talmud says [Moed Katan 28a] that the juxtaposition of these two parshios teaches that “Just as the Para Adumah atones, so too the death of a righteous person atones”.
Now in Numbers 35, cities of refuge were designated to protect the unintentional man-slayer from the avenger of blood. Only the death of the high priest could expiate the man-slayer and protect him from further pursuit and slaughter by the avenger of blood. In this way, the death of the High Priest symbolically atoned for the unintentional man-slayer just as the death of Christ our High Priest atoned for our own sin.
In 2 Samuel 21, we find an interesting account. A severe famine cripples the land of Israel. After seeking God, David is made aware that he must turn over the descendants of King Saul to the Gibeonites in order to settle an old score and satisfy divine justice. King Saul broke covenant with the Gibeonites and now someone had to pay the ultimate price. It was agreed that the Gibeonites would slay Saul's innocent offspring to rectify this old injustice. God then removes the famine from the land, and Israel is made to prosper once again. From this account, the Talmud deduces that the death of the righteous or innocent atones.
"Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (1 Pet. 2:24 24).
Israel broke covenant and Someone had to die. Jesus became our ransom.
Claim 2. The meaning of pesach is not passover. This is a Christian misconception. Instead, Pesach (fasach) means to stand immobile as if lame over one's house. God was standing guard at the door of the homes of those Israelites who availed themselves of the lamb's blood, protecting them.
My Response: Even the official website of the orthodox Jewish community of New York acknowledges that pesach means, to pass over, but also gives alternate meanings for this Hebrew/Aramaic word (see here). By further looking up pesach in the strong's concordance, we find that pesach's primary interpretation is to "pass over", but an alternate interpretation is, "to be lame" (see here).
A clear indication that pass over is the correct interpretation of pesach where it is employed in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 and elsewhere in Scripture is found in Exodus 12, which gives its clearest meaning: "That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD'S passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped" (Ex. 12:27).
By misrepresenting this basic truth, the man responsible for this video makes his argument less credible and trustworthy, in my opinion.
Claim 3. There are six types of offerings or sacrifices in the Torah: cleanse/sin offering (chatat), reparation/compensatory (asham), dedication offering (olah), peace offering (shlamim), meal offering (mincha), and incense offering (anan). The traditional passover lamb slaughtered every passover was not a sin offering (zevach chatat), but rather a peace offering (zevach shlamim). Jesus could not be our Passover Lamb because He is designated as a sin offering by the New Testament (He made atonement for sin). He did not present Himself as a peace offering (zevach shlamim).
My Response: There is ample reason to believe that the passover lamb was indeed a type of sin offering because it was a peace offering. In other words, without sin, a peace offering was not necessary. Nevertheless, this point does not need debating, because Jesus fulfills ALL of the sacrificial types, not just one. Christ was the cleansing sin offering (John 1:29). He was the reparation offering. He paid our debt and ransomed us (Mat. 20:28; Rom. 6:23, 1 Cor. 6:20, 1 Pet. 1:18-19). He was our dedication offering. Joseph and Mary dedicated Jesus to the service of the LORD on our behalf (Luke 2:22). He was our peace offering (Passover Lamb): "And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself..." (Col. 1:20). He was our meal offering--the bread of life of which the priesthood partook (Lev. 2:10, Jn 6:35). He was our meal offering too. The meal offering was given as a thanksgiving offering alongside the burnt offering. It had to be free of any leaven. Jesus was free from sin/leaven and through His life we offer continual thanksgiving to God our Father (Heb. 13:15). Jesus was the most pleasing incense offering ever presented to God. His life was a "sweet aroma" and well pleasing in God's sight (Mat. 3:17). But it must be noted that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. He did not just cover sin, He removed it altogether (Heb. 9:8-14).
Nevertheless, there are many Jews who view the paschal lamb as propitiation for sin, including the most revered Rashi and Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra. Here are some of their own quotes:
Rashi: “I see the Paschal blood and propitiate you. . . . I mercifully take pity on you by means of the Paschal blood and the blood of circumcision, and I propitiate your souls” (Ex. R. 15, 35b, 35a).
Rashi: “It is as if a king said to his sons: ‘Know you that I judge persons on capital charges and condemn them. Give me therefore a present, so that in case you are brought before my judgment seat I may set aside the indictments against you.’ So God said to Israel: ‘I am now concerned with death penalties, but I will tell you how I will have pity on you and for the sake of the Passover blood and the circumcision blood I will atone for you’” (Ex. R. 15.12, on Exodus 12.10).
Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra: “The mark of blood was designed as an atonement for those within the house who partook of the paschal offering, and was also a sign for the destroying angel to pass by the house” (Soncino Chumash, pg. 388).
Claim 4. The codex Sinaiticus proves that the traditional reading of 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 is false and must therefore be rejected. The actual correct reading of these passages is as follows: "And in truth, the passover is ours, was killed Christ, thus we shall celebrate the festival".
My Response: This fourth claim is easy to debunk. First, the man responsible for this video is obviously unfamiliar with the rules of ancient Greek grammar, as it would seem, because he greatly contorts the obvious meaning and order of words present in the original Greek. He is also lacking in a sufficient understanding of textual criticism. He makes a big deal of using the very "oldest and best" manuscript, the Sinaiticus, to produce the "correct" rendering of the text. When in fact, I can offer strong evidence to prove that the Byzantine text is far more reliable and more accurate than the Sinaiticus. If you go to this site here you can actually view catalogue images of the Sinaiticus manuscript which plainly reveal that this text has been heavily corrected and edited many times over. Very little of the original text is even distinguishable any longer.
It is also rather presumptuous to suppose that we can handle the Greek text far better than the hundreds of scholars who diligently undertook the task of translating the New Testament Scriptures for the past 14 centuries. Some of which were the finest Greek and Hebrew scholars the world had ever seen. [Study the history of manuscript transmission and translation to see just how astute these men were at faithfully translating our New Testament Scriptures.] So why should we trust this single individual's biased opinion over the diligent research and work of the numerous paleographers and Bible scholars preceding him?
You see, when you start off with a faulty premise, your end result will lack integrity also. And since this man's starting premise is faulty (Jesus is not the Passover Lamb), he is forced to rearrange the order of the Greek words located within these passages and apply a whole lot of eisegesis (imposing one's interpretation into the text) in order to make sense of the verses. Even so, his translation still doesn't make sense. Notice: "And in truth, the passover is ours, was killed Christ, thus we shall celebrate the festival".
But let's look at how 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 actually reads in both the Sinaiticus and Byzantine:
1 Corinthians 5:7-8 NIV (based on the Codex Sinaiticus )
7 "Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
1 Corinthians 5:7-8 King James Version (based on the Byzantine)
7 "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 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."
As we can see there is little variance between the Sinaiticus reading or the Byzantine. Both indicate the same thing, namely that Christ is our symbolic Passover Lamb, a covering of protection for those who take refuge in His atoning work.
Now as far as matching the original Greek words to their English counterparts, you can do so rather easily by downloading an e-Sword concordance here. Or by visiting the online interlinear Bible (a parallel Greek to English reading) here. With the easy use of a Greek concordance we see that all the words match perfectly to their intended English counterparts.
It's easy to see that in spite of the attempts of many to disqualify our Savior's sacrificial atonement and to devalue its symbolic significance, the record of Scripture and the simple understanding of the Gospels' testimony continue to remain impeccably trustworthy.