Jesus Didn’t Eat A Seder Meal | Critical Reflections

Posted on April 7, 2017

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CT published, Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal: Why Christians shouldn’t eitheron April 6, 2017. April 10, they published Why Christians Can Celebrate Passover, Too. Given that our church has held seders for years, (the last four of them, in a synagogue) I wanted to provide my critique (in brackets: [via: …]).

Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal
Why Christians shouldn’t either.

Yehiel Poupko and David Sandmel/ APRIL 6, 2017

Passover has a special allure for Christians. It is on the night of Passover, as all Israel is offering the pascal Lamb and eating matza (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs on the slopes of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem that Jesus of Nazareth meets with his 12 disciples for the Last Supper. This may be the best-known Passover meal.

Both of these meals—Jesus’s Last Supper and the first Passover meal—are launch events. Each of them inaugurates a new religious civilization. Thus, for the believing Christian, it is no coincidence that Jesus convenes the disciples at the very moment of the Passover meal to signal that this meal is the fulfillment of and successor to that first Passover meal, and that like the first one, the Last Supper inaugurates a new faith community. For most of Christian history, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, replaced the Jewish Passover Seder. For Jews, however, the most important Passover meal is the very first, described in Exodus 12. It is the meal by which Israel celebrates its liberation from the pagan culture of Egypt/Mitzrayim by serving the One God and bringing an offering to the One God. That first Passover meal is eaten home-by-home, family-by-family. The guest list consists of all the members of the family, men and women, old and young, wise and foolish, learned and ignorant, boys and girls. In other words, present at that first Passover offering was the whole Jewish family in all of its delight and complexity. When Jews today celebrate the Passover, they are reenacting that moment and connecting with all Jews across time and space who have been celebrating the Passover Seder for millennia.

[via: Generally speaking, I think this is a nice summary.]

The re-emergence of Christian interest in the Jewish Passover and especially the Seder is due, in part, to the American context. Our social and political culture, where people are free to practice their faith freely as well as freely explore other faiths—has made it possible for Jews and Christians to satisfy their innate human curiosity and to come to know the other as never before. This ethos is felt nowhere more powerfully than in the encounter that takes place between Christianity and Judaism in Christian Holy Week and Passover, which fall in the same week approximately three out of every four years.

This interest can be traced to the emergence of post–World War II Jewish-Christian dialogue, in which the “model Seder,” led by a knowledgeable Jew, emerged as an opportunity to use the Passover/Easter connection to teach Christians about Judaism, but also because Christians wanted to better understand the Jewish background of their faith. But these well-intentioned goals were the victim of their own success. Increasing numbers of Christians wanted to have that experience, even if there were no Jews around to lead it. And so what began as an effort at interreligious and historical understanding morphed into a tradition for many churches’ Holy Week celebrations, so that in some settings the Seder has become a form of Christian worship. This trend has been exacerbated by the increased recognition of the Jewishness of Jesus and a desire among some Christians to do what Jesus would have done—good and faithful Christians want to experience a Passover meal like Jesus. In evangelical settings, the promotion of Christian Seders by those who identify as messianic Jews and other such affiliations has also contributed to its growth.

So this is a phenomenon that cannot be denied, but it is one that most Jews find particularly troubling.

[via: The sense that this “appropriation” of the Seder within Christianity is “troubling” is well-founded, and accurate. Many Christians (well-meaning) simply have not done the homework necessary to understand the rituals, the background, the history, and the evolution of many of these practices. As such, one can end up in a Seder that explains, for example, “the holes in the matzah remind us of the holes in Jesus made by the nails, spear, and thorns.” The problem is that modern matzah is produced by machinery that make those holes in the matzah we purchase today, and so the spiritual interpretation can only be made within a modern industrialized context. There is absolutely no connection to the original Seder of Jesus’s day.

In addition, running a Seder “even if there were no Jews around to lead it,” in some contexts gives more credit to Christians than perhaps they deserve. Many Christians run a Seder with the intention of changing, obfuscating, and/or re-appropriating as much of the “Jewishness” as possible. I concur that if Christians “want to experience a Passover meal like Jesus,” there’s a lot more work to be done to not dishonor the tradition, and consequently, dishonor Jesus himself, actually.]

The first reason is historical. The Seder ritual, as it is practiced today, did not exist at the time of Jesus. It was only fully developed by the rabbis in the years following the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., in other words, at least two generations after Jesus. Many assume that Jesus, at the Last Supper, conducted what we now know of as a traditional Passover Seder with the Pesakh (pascal) offering of the lamb, matza, bitter herbs, the telling of the tale of the Exodus from Egypt, and other rituals as found in the Jewish Passover Hagada. This is incorrect. To put it bluntly, Jesus certainly celebrated Passover, but neither he nor his disciples ever attended a Seder, any more than they drove a car or used a cell phone.

[via: While there are elements that have evolved over time, specifically in the years after 70 C.E., to say Jesus never “attended a Seder” may be misleading. First, while rabbinical development absolutely began after the destruction of the temple, many scholars recognize that there was existing soil in which that development grew. Even the authors of this article qualify their argument by saying “only fully developed.” Rabbis post-70 C.E. did not simply make stuff up once the temple was destroyed. There’s good evidence, within Christian and Jewish sources to suggest that there were elements, perhaps even of an “order” of the meal, that was celebrated during the time of Passover, (such as the cups of wine, or the singing of the Hallel), and that would have been celebrated by Jesus and his disciples prior to 70 C.E. I concur that Jesus did not celebrate a “traditional Passover Seder” as we know it today. But that does not mean there was no order of a meal prior to 70 C.E.]

 

In the Last Supper, Jesus surely is making allusions to the Exodus, as does the Jewish Passover meal, but that event takes a back seat to his revealing himself as “the Passover lamb,” as the object of a new and revolutionary expression of faith. The Jewish Passover meal inaugurates the Jewish people into its history; it prepares them to fulfill the responsibilities of the mitzvot (commandments) given at Sinai. As such, it is an event designed for and limited to the Jewish people. Jesus of Nazareth, in the Last Supper, presents himself as the offering not just for all Israel, but for all of humanity. He is, in short, establishing a unique ritual. In our view, celebrating a Christian Seder to commemorate the Last Supper misses the point historically.

[via: The authors seem to dismiss the possibility that rituals can take on new meanings which, in this Passover example, can celebrate the full story with all of its developments. In other words, yes, the Passover “inaugurates the Jewish people into its history.” And yes, Jesus presents himself “for all of humanity.” And yesboth of these rich meanings can be found in and through a ritual, can they not? Perhaps celebrating a Christian Seder to commemorate the Last Supper is the historical point Christians want to make?]

Second, adopting another’s ritual shows a lack of respect. Even when pursued with the best of intentions, taking another faith’s sacred ritual and transforming it into an expression of one’s own tradition displays a misunderstanding of the complex nature of faith traditions. Good relations between Christianity and Judaism, and by extension, other faiths as well, may begin with acknowledging common principles, but also demand a clear articulation of the profound differences that separate them. However, it is surely not the goal of good interfaith relations for Jews and Christians to co-opt or reshape one another’s rituals for their own ends.

[via; While I agree that respecting and honoring the distinct rituals of traditions is a virtue, and one that needs to be attended to in order to have good inter-faith relationships (and to avoid fanciful, esoteric symbolisms as mentioned above), there’s a real deep historical problem (tension?) that exists here. And that is, everyone adopts and re-appropriates sacred rituals, symbols, traditions, forms, and practices. Rome co-opted from the Greeks (virtually everything). The Greeks appropriated from the Assyrians and Egyptians (imperialism, dress, tactics). Judaism borrowed from the Babylonians (synagogue) and the Greeks (afikomen and reclining), and the Romans (Hillel “sandwich”). Christianity took from, well, all of the above.

While I agree sentimentally that “taking another faith’s sacred ritual and transforming it into an expression of one’s own tradition displays a misunderstand of the complex nature of faith traditions,” everyone does it, all the time. Perhaps, it’s just the way religious symbols and rituals evolve through our commonly shared humanity. By the way, this misunderstanding will no doubt continue. Rather than criticize it, we ought perhaps simply educate, rather than excoriate. While I mean no disrespect to any tradition, I am simply saying that no one has the credibility to criticize another faith for doing what all faith traditions have done, throughout history.]

On the other hand, for the Jew, the Passover Seder is not some quaint experience such as Thanksgiving dinner or a Fourth of July barbeque, which like other aspects of our American “civil religion,” Jews and Christians should and do share, readily and with ease. The Passover Seder expresses the belief that God who redeemed us once from Egypt will in the End of Days inaugurate the messianic era for the first time, redeem the Jewish people from the Exile in which we now find ourselves, and ultimately bring God’s eternal reign of peace and righteousness to the entire world. It is the meal that celebrates that Jews are God’s chosen people with a unique mission, and points back to what we believe is the first and only divine revelation, at Sinai.

[via: It is interesting that the authors share that “real meaning” of the Passover is about bringing “God’s eternal reign of peace and righteousness to the entire world,” but yet they disdain this (Christian) alternative celebration of that ritual, an alternative which in meaning is about the same ultimate mission. Jesus was, after all, Jewish through and through, so the “whole world redemption” theme would have absolutely been in the minds of Jesus and the disciples.]

We like to think of rituals as the lovemaking between a faith community and God. They are unique, and they express utterly distinct beliefs that Jews and only Jews hold, or that Christians and only Christians hold. In our experience, Jews who encourage a Christian adaptation of the Passover Seder view and naturally emphasize Jesus as a fine teacher, partaking of the Jewish culture of his times, interested in the same kinds of Torah learning as the Perushim, the righteous Pharisees whose teachings are foundational to rabbinic, and therefore, contemporary, Judaism. In doing so, such Jews do not realize they are showing profound disrespect and lack of understanding of Christian faith in Jesus. For the Christian, Jesus is not merely one more interesting and inspiring member of the Jewish scholarly community of the first century. Jesus was certainly part of that world, but for the Christian, Jesus is God incarnate, the risen Christ. For the Christian, the blood of the new Lamb of God on the cross is what atones not only for sin, but also brings salvation and life eternal.

Jews and Christians honor their traditions—and those of the other—best when we recognize that those traditions cannot be turned into something that they are not. We honor and respect each other when we do not trespass on the other’s most sacred ground, violating the very respect that love for neighbor requires. In our view, in the understandable Christian rush to embrace certain elements of the Jewish tradition, Christians far too often forget that rituals of any faith community are its most precious possession and that these rituals emerge from a unique set of beliefs, faith affirmations, and historical experiences.

[via: Again, that the rituals of any faith community “are its most precious possession” needs historical qualification, as there are myriads of developments and appropriations that have happened along the way. There is no “purely Jewish” ritual in that sense (nor is there a “purely Christian” ritual either.) As such, that any Christian is attempting to reclaim elements of the Passover to honor Jesus could also be seen as a way of honoring the Jewishness of Jesus, and therefore the Judaism of Jesus as well.]

Should a Christian want to know something of a Passover Seder, there is many a readily available Jewish host who would set a fine table for his or her Christian friends and neighbors. We have often welcomed non-Jewish visitors to our Shabbat dinner tables, our Passover meals, weddings, bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies, and the like. In these settings, it is clear that the ritual is a wholly authentic Jewish experience. There is a world of difference between being a guest in someone else’s home or house of worship, and the expropriation of another’s ritual for one’s own religious purposes.

[via: I kindly offer that there really isn’t “a world of difference” as explained above. Second, (and this should have been mentioned earlier), one of the rich lifeblood’s of Jewish thought is the radical redevelopment of rituals and practices for “one’s own religious purposes.” Summed up in the quip, “Two Jews, three/five opinions,” Judaism, to its credit, has ben able to maintain a strong faith identity and tradition (one that I have appreciated, and from which I have learned much), even when variegated ritual practices are “expropriated,” either from within Judaism, or from the surrounding culture.]

The Seder is uniquely Jewish, born of the Jewish reading of the Torah, shaped by the architecture of our magisterial Perushim-Pharisees and their rabbis, and given artistry and beauty through 2,000 years of Jewish experience. Christians best honor their Jewish neighbors, to whom they wish to express the love of Christ, by recognizing that the Seder meal is the unique spiritual heritage of the Jewish people and respecting it as such.

[via: Our church continues to celebrate the Passover, knowing its historical development, and emergence from a deep Jewish tradition, rooted in the Torah, and developed through rabbinical and talmudic thought (and yes, influenced by cultural realities). I pray that these authors, and others, like our Jewish friends who host us in their synagogue, recognize we do so with deep respect and honor to the spiritual heritage of the Jewish people. For us, Jesus, as a Jewish person, deserves that respect.]

Rabbi Yehiel Poupko is rabbinic scholar at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
Rabbi David Sandmel is director of interreligious engagement for the Anti-Defamation League.


Recently, Christianity Today published an article entitled, “Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal: Why Christians Shouldn’t Either” by rabbis Yehiel E. Poupko and David Sandmel. The article argues that Christians should refrain from participating in Christian Seders as a matter of historical and ecumenical respect. We disagree on both points.

There is great interest today by Christians to learn more about and participate in Seders to help them better understand the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. In particular, knowing more about the Seder helps Christians explore the Jewish background of the Last Supper celebrated by Jesus, whom we know was a first-century Jewish teacher, and his disciples, who were also Jewish. Both Jesus and his disciples would have grown up observing the Passover in whatever fashion Jewish people living at the time observed the feast.

We agree with the rabbis regarding the importance of caution in the way the sacred traditions of the Jewish faith are handled.

The Last Supper accounts in the Gospels record a number of themes and practices held in common with the Passover Seder.

We also agree that Jesus did not celebrate the Passover the way Jewish people commonly observe the festival in the 21st century. However, the Last Supper accounts in the Gospels record a number of themes and practices held in common with the Passover Seder. Perhaps the Last Supper should be viewed as a primitive Seder, which was used by Yeshua as the backdrop for his claim to be the fulfillment of the types and prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures for a greater Lamb, a greater redemption from bondage (to sin), and a new perspective on salvation through his shed blood.

[via: Though this may feel like a quibble, there is a “replacement theology” or “supersessionism” (a.k.a. “fulfillment theology”) that is may be operating here with the words “greater” and “types” and “prophecies” in Glaser’s/Bock’s description. Replacement theology is the idea that Jesus came to “replace” or “supersede” Judaism, because of its flaws or shortcomings, or perhaps the whole point of Judaism was for the coming of Jesus. In other words, Jesus was Jewish essentially to save Judaism from itself.

The primary problem with this view is that if the Hebrew Scriptures, and all that is taught in them are mere symbols or “types” that ultimately “point to Christ” without any inherent meaning in them, then the entire enterprise of Jesus is unfounded. This theology is quite literally cutting off the branch you are standing on. (The Hebrew word for “Christian” in Israel today is “notzri,” from the Hebrew word “netzer,” meaning “shoot/branch.”) This is problematic, because, as mentioned above, “salvation” is seen as freedom from “bondage to sin,” which in modern definitions means a depraved soul, or moral failing. However, Jesus most certainly wasn’t simply saving us from a “depraved soul” (especially since the concept of “soul” in Hebrew means more “life” whereas the Hellenistic definition of the word refers more to the ontological spiritual entity of our being.) Salvation, meant, literally, “victory” over the forces of evil in this world.

All that to simply say that the authors of this article are demonstrating the lament of Poupko/Sandmel in the previous article.]

Many Christians and especially Messianic Jews (Jewish believers in Jesus) exercise caution in the way the Messiah is linked to the Passover Seder. In the introduction to a new book entitled Messiah in the Passover, which we edited, Christian readers in particular are encouraged to both study and celebrate the Passover as a way to deepen their appreciation for the Jewishness of the Savior. To describe the book’s approach, Glaser writes,

In general, we have taken a very cautious approach and will try and understand the Jewish backgrounds of the New Testament as best we can and not simply presume that the mishnaic tractate Pesahim or today’s Passover Haggadah can simply be read into the Last Supper. Yet, we point out where we do find striking parallels between the religious customs observed by Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper with later Jewish religious developments, and so many of our authors will suggest that these traditions could have been practiced during the Last Supper.

These parallels include the drinking of at least two cups of wine:

And when He [Jesus] had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” . . . And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:17–18, 20)

The breaking of bread, which should be understood as matzah, unleavened bread, as we know this meal took place on Passover. Luke records, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching” (Luke 22:1). Yeshua says,

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19)

Bock notes in his chapter,

What makes this meal so different is that Jesus not only refers to the Exodus and ties the meal to Israel’s history, but also completely recasts the meal as a vehicle for describing His coming death as a substitutionary sacrifice. The Lucan reference “for you” points to the substitutionary nature of the sacrifice. In Mark 14:24 Jesus speaks of His shed blood given “for many,” an allusion to Mark 10:45, presenting the idea that Jesus will die as a “ransom for many.” This is in fact a very likely Messianic allusion to Isaiah 53:12, where the Servant bears the sin of the many.

In the Lucan version, the bread is his body and the wine pictures his blood shed for his disciples. Whether Jesus spoke of “the many” as in Mark 14:24 or of the sacrifice being “for you” as in Luke 22:19–20, the point is crystal clear, as Jesus is about to die as an offering made on behalf of others. The allusion to establishing a covenant (Mark 14:24) or a new covenant (Luke 22:20) also assumes a sacrifice and the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:15–22) to inaugurate a covenant.

In the gospels, the meal is portrayed as a commentary on Jesus’ forthcoming work, which is the ultimate act of deliverance the Passover anticipated.

So in both versions the meal is portrayed as a commentary on Jesus’ forthcoming work, which is the ultimate act of deliverance the Passover anticipated. What started as Israel’s deliverance also had in mind ultimately blessing for the world (Gen. 12:1–3). In places within the meal and service where you would naturally expect to hear about the deliverance of Israel through the first Exodus, we see Jesus pointing his disciples to his substitutionary death for sinners—a second and even greater Exodus deliverance.

[via: Generally, this is a nice summation, and several elements above are evidence of what was discussed earlier, that there is evidence of some elements prior to 70 C.E. However, it is also demonstrated in this description that Glaser/Bock are re-appropriating the meal with the Christian concept of “substitution.” The statement “the ultimate act of deliverance the Passover anticipated,” is again exposing the supersessionism that exists in Christian theology. If you asked Jesus, the Passover didn’t anticipate the sacrifice of Jesus. The Passover was, in its own right, a momentous act of divine deliverance, for the Hebrews, and for the world. Jesus is now molding himself into the full and complete Exodus story, as replaying and retelling the same story, now in His life and crucifixion. If the Passover merely “anticipates” there is no story to retell.]

Glaser’s chapter refers to Passover traditions embedded in the Gospel of John, which reflect first-century Jewish life and parallel the celebrations of today. First, John sets the time of the events recorded as taking place during the time of the Passover: “Now before the Feast of the Passover…” (John 13:1).

The foot washing that takes place alludes to the various washings in the context of the Passover meal (John 13:3–12). Both the significance of the ritual and the timing as taking place during the meal goes beyond the usual custom of foot washing upon entry to a Jewish home. The dipping of the morsel seems to be more ceremonial than part of a meal and could refer to one of the dippings of the Seder, albeit these were further developed in time to come. We are suggesting that Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover the same way any other first-century Jewish family may have done at the time.

[via: “We are suggesting that Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover the same way any other first-century Jewish family may have done at the time.” I concur.]

It is understood that the Messiah did not celebrate what was created over multiple centuries. Yet oral traditions may have existed at the time that was eventually included in the Passover celebration.

Christians read and believe the history of Israel recorded in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament. Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Jesus believe the Passover is a paradigm for salvation that finds its fulfillment at the Last Supper when Yeshua gave new meaning to what was observed at that time. Christians who observe the Passover almost always use an adapted version of the Haggadah that takes this Messianic fulfillment into consideration. This is what Messianic Jews and various church groups and Christian church denominations encourage.

The rabbis might very well misunderstand what transpires during a Christian or Messianic Jewish Passover Seder. As the authors of the article suggest,

. . . adopting another’s ritual shows a lack of respect. Even when pursued with the best of intentions, taking another faith’s sacred ritual and transforming it into an expression of one’s own tradition displays a misunderstanding of the complex nature of faith traditions.

It can be assumed that the great themes of redemption and salvation had already woven their way into first-century Jewish Passover observance, as nascent as it may have been at the time of Jesus. Jesus affirms this and does not dismiss the importance of the original Passover deliverance commemorated at the Feast. He simply assured the disciples that there was more to come. This was why he used the Passover celebration as a jumping-off point to declare that God’s New Covenant with the Jewish people would begin with his sacrificial death.

[via: “It can be assumed that the great themes of redemption and salvation had already woven their way into first-century Jewish Passover observance, as nascent as it may have been at the time of Jesus.” I’m perplexed by this statement. “Nascent?” What else was the Passover, except a “freeing,” “delivering,” “redeeming” and “taking” of the people? (Exodus 6:6-7). That’s woven right into the heart of the story! Second, the feast was celebrated throughout Israel’s history with those themes in mind. (2 Chronicles 30) In addition, the “New Covenant” of which they speak is also a Hebrew concept and idea (Jeremiah 30-33). So, the “New Covenant” doesn’t “begin with his sacrificial death.” The New Covenant continues in new form and place within Israel’s (and the world’s) history.]

The rabbis would do well to view Christian observance of the Passover as fulfilled in Jesus as a sign of appreciation and a way of honoring Jewish tradition. In fact, many Christians who take the Lord’s Supper in the context of a Messianic Passover Seder find it far more meaningful as it ties two of the most profound statements of Jesus to both Jewish and salvation history.

The first-century Jewish background to Communion drives so many Christians to identify with the Jewishness of their faith. This should be viewed as a step forward in Jewish Christian relations, as for so many years the chasm between Christians and Jews was wide and even antagonistic. Progress has been made, and in many ways there is a greater appreciation and respect among Christians today for the Jewish faith than ever before.

[via: To this I agree, and celebrate.]

Many have noted the deep roots of Torah, from Exodus 12, in whatever Jesus celebrated that evening with his disciples. The links between the two events existed historically and remain canonized in Scripture. Paul said Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). What Jesus did at this meal was to fulfill an Old Testament type established in the Book of Exodus. Both the original Exodus and the Cross deliver people and show that God keeps his promises. When believers in Jesus observe a Seder, they affirm and celebrate these links and the continuity of the testaments.

The rabbis conclude,

The Seder is uniquely Jewish, born of the Jewish reading of the Torah, shaped by the architecture of our magisterial Perushim-Pharisees and their rabbis, and given artistry and beauty through 2,000 years of Jewish experience. Christians best honor their Jewish neighbors, to whom they wish to express the love of Christ, by recognizing that the Seder meal is the unique spiritual heritage of the Jewish people and respecting it as such.

We believe such statements undo the bridges built over the last 50 years of Jewish-Christian relations. The question of whether or not Jesus celebrated a Passover Seder as we now know it today is to some degree moot. He observed the Passover in the same way as any other first-century Jew. This event can draw Jews and Christians closer to one another rather than driving an additional wedge between our faith communities.

What is concerning to us is when Christians do not see any identification with the Jewish people and the Jewish backgrounds of their faith. But more to the point, we simply cannot rob Christians of their heritage in Jesus—especially not the events of the Last Supper, which was clearly some type of Passover celebration.

[via: And perhaps this can be stated without the theological animosity that comes with our “heritage in Jesus.”]

We believe respect cuts both ways.

Mitch Glaser is president of Chosen People Ministries, and Darrell L. Bock is executive director of Cultural Engagement and senior research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary.

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