Should we eat a Passover meal in Church on Passover evening, before we partake of the New Testament Passover symbols of bread and wine?


We find that, in New Testament times, certain local congregations apparently had a Passover meal in Church before partaking of the Passover symbols of bread and wine, as can be seen in the passage in 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 (Authorized Version):

“Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 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…”

When discussing this passage, many commentaries conclude that at least some New Testament churches–like the one in Corinth–had a practice of eating a meal in Church on Passover eve, before partaking of the symbols of bread and wine. (Please note that many of the commentaries refer to the Passover with incorrect terms, such as, “Holy Communion” or “Eucharist.” An upcoming Q&A will also explain why the terminology of “Lord’s Supper” for the Passover today is misleading.)

The Broadman Bible Commentary states that “Verses 17-22 and 33-34 indicate that a meal was eaten at the time [when] the Lord’s Supper was observed… it appears that the Lord’s Supper is separate from the main meal and is taken after the meal has been eaten… “

The Ryrie Study Bible agrees: “The early Christians held a love feast in connection with the Lord’s Supper, during which they gathered for a fellowship meal.”

The New Bible Commentary: Revised adds: “In the early days the observance of the sacramental acts of the Holy Communion took place in connection with a common meal or ‘love feast’ (Jude 12) in imitation of the Last Supper.”

Commentaries are divided on the question whether local congregations should have observed the New Testament Passover in this way at all; that is, whether they should have had a meal in Church before partaking of the Passover symbols. When focusing on Paul’s statement, “This is not to eat the Lord’s Supper”, the commentary of Adam Clarke points out: “They did not come together to eat the Lord’s Supper exclusively, which they should have done, and not have made it a part of an ordinary meal.”

Other commentaries conclude that at least the way it was done in Corinth was wrong, so that Paul instructed them not to continue in that practice.

The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown writes:

“‘… there is no such thing as eating the Lord’s Supper; ‘it is not possible’ where each is greedily intent only on devouring ‘HIS OWN supper,’ and some are excluded altogether, not having been waited for, where some are ‘drunken,’ while others are ‘hungry’. The love-feast usually preceded the Lord’s Supper (as eating the Passover came before the Lord’s Supper at the first institution of the latter). It was a club-feast, where each brought his portion, and the rich, extra portions for the poor; from it the bread and wine were taken for the Eucharist; and it was at it that the excesses took place, which made a true celebration of the Lord’s Supper during or after it, with true discernment of its solemnity, out of the question.”

It adds: “‘at home.’ That is the place to satiate the appetite, not the assembly of the brethren.”
Matthew Henry’s Commentary agrees:

“In this passage the apostle sharply rebukes them for much greater disorders than the former, in their partaking of the Lord’s supper, which was commonly done in the first ages, as the ancients tell us, with a love-feast annexed, which gave occasion to the scandalous disorders which the apostle here reprehends.”

The People’s New Testament writes, commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:22: “‘What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in?’ The practice is rebuked. The place to eat… was at home.”

So, we see that Paul PROHIBITED the brethren in Corinth to have a Passover meal in Church, before partaking of the Passover symbols. Paul told them to eat at home, before coming to Church to partake of the New Testament Passover symbols (compare verse 34, Authorized Version: “And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye may not come together unto condemnation.”). This fact alone should tell us that it is therefore not mandatory to have a Passover meal in Church prior to partaking of the Passover symbols; otherwise, Paul could not have told them to eat at home. He would have SINNED when telling them that; and God would not have inspired it to be written down as a command in the Bible–and He would not have preserved it for us today–IF God had required of His disciples to eat a Passover meal in Church prior to partaking of the New Testament Passover symbols.

The fact that some New Testament Church congregations might have had that practice does not prove that it had to be done in that way. For instance, the early New Testament Church still offered sacrifices until the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., although it was no longer necessary to do so. It was not sinful to offer sacrifices, nor was it sinful NOT to do so. Even though Paul had clearly explained that sacrifices were no longer necessary, he himself subsequently brought sacrifices for the sake of unbelieving Jews (compare Acts 21:20-26).

The same can be said about circumcision. The early New Testament Church made the administrative decision, during a ministerial conference, as reported in Acts 15, that circumcision was not necessary in order to become a Church member. At the same time, the practice of circumcision was not sinful–Paul circumcised Timothy for the sake of unbelieving Jews (compare Acts 16:1-3). However, he did NOT circumcise him because he felt that circumcision was in any way necessary for salvation. He made it very clear that it was not. In fact, he stated that if someone felt that it was, then Christ died in vain for such a person, and that Christ’s death profited him nothing (Galatians 5:2). As will be discussed, the same is true when we think it is necessary to have a Passover meal (including the prior killing and roasting and the subsequent eating of a Passover lamb), together with partaking of the New Testament Passover symbols of bread and wine.

We can also ascertain that in Old Testament times, New Moons were celebrated–even though the Bible does not command this. Therefore, it is of course not sinful NOT to celebrate New Moons.

When focusing on a Passover meal in Church, though, additional considerations must be taken into account. It is true that in Old Testament times, beginning with Moses and the Israelites in Egypt, one Passover lamb was slain for each household, and the Passover lamb was eaten at home, in individual houses, as part of a family meal. However, as can be seen from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, this was no longer true in New Testament times, when the Passover ceremony was observed by some in Church–not in private homes. Further, Christ did not only change the symbols of the Old Testament Passover (by introducing footwashing and the symbols of bread and wine, and replacing thereby the Passover lamb, see below), He also changed certain aspects of the Passover observance: He did NOT partake of the Passover with His family in the privacy of His home, but He observed it with His twelve apostles in a “rented” facility. Neither the wives nor family members of the twelve apostles were present, nor was Mary, the mother of Jesus, nor were any of His brothers and sisters and other relatives.

It has been said that Jesus observed the Passover only with His apostles, because He was away from home, perhaps on a missionary journey or a baptizing tour, while the rest of His disciples and family members were still at home, and not in Jerusalem, so that they could not have participated with Jesus at His last Passover. However, the Bible does not support this conclusion at all. We read that Christ was accompanied by many of His disciples (male and female) when He was on “missionary travels”; and we also read that His mother and other family members and disciples WERE present in Jerusalem to observe the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. Please note that Mary and other relatives and disciples were assembled at the cross, or looking at it from afar, after the Passover evening and before the first day of Unleavened Bread began (Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 23:49; John 19:25-27). It specifically says in Mark 15:41 that many of His female disciples had come up with Him to Jerusalem. To claim that they only reached Jerusalem AFTER the Passover eve is contradicted by Scripture. Mary and Joseph, for instance, kept the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem, together with their children, as was their CUSTOM–and they arrived in Jerusalem before the Passover began, and they stayed in Jerusalem for all the DAYS of the Feast (compare Luke 2:41-43; Exodus 12:15).

Further, we read that we are to “eat” Jesus Christ–the New Testament Passover Lamb–by partaking of the SYMBOLS of bread and wine. There is no hint that we are still to kill and eat lambs, in addition (compare 1 Corinthians 5:7). As mentioned, if we were to insist that we ought to do that, then we would go backwards–as those Jews did in Galatia who insisted that Gentiles need to become circumcised. Paul said that with such an approach, Christ will profit us nothing (Galatians 5:2, 6; compare 1 Corinthians 7:19).

We should realize that at times, physical observances (“shadows of things to come”) may end, when the spiritual purpose has been completely achieved, which purpose was foreshadowed by the physical observance (compare Hebrews 10:1-10; Galatians 3:24-25, referring to the sacrificial law which foreshadowed things and events which by now HAVE come to pass). At the moment of the complete spiritual fulfillment, the necessity of the physical observance, foreshadowing that fulfillment, might have ceased. (However, this is not to imply, as some have erroneously concluded, that the Sabbath or the annual Holy Days are no longer to be observed, as, allegedly, the “spiritual reality” of the Sabbath, Jesus Christ, has come. Nowhere in Scripture do we find such an analogy. See discussion below.)

Jesus Christ–our Passover lamb–died for us; hence, it is no longer necessary to kill a lamb which foreshadowed THE Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. By analogy, remember that Israelites placed blood on their doorposts in Egypt to be protected from the death angel; however, there is no evidence that they ever did so again during subsequent Passover celebrations [NOR, that they ever did so BEFORE the events in Egypt]. The purpose of the blood on the doorposts–protection from the death angel–was limited to that one spectacular event in Egypt and had been achieved during that first Passover night. Although we are commanded to keep today the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, partly as a memorial of what God did for Israel in Egypt, we are not commanded to place blood on the doorposts of our houses.

There is another important reason why it could be dangerous to eat a Passover meal while partaking of the bread and wine. That reason is that the Passover bread must be DISTINGUISHED from an ordinary meal–it must NOT be viewed as part of an ordinary meal. Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 not to eat the bread and drink the wine in an unworthy manner. Rather, we must examine ourselves and then partake of the Passover symbols in a worthy manner. We must “discern” the Lord’s body (verse 29), which is–in the context of that passage–symbolized by the bread. As we break and eat a small piece of unleavened bread, we meditate on the fact that Christ’s physical body was beaten for our transgressions–so that we can obtain healing from our physical sicknesses. In order to AVOID the danger NOT to discern the Lord’s body; NOT to reflect on the symbolic meaning of the piece of the Passover bread; NOT to just treat it as part of an ordinary meal; the apostle Paul tells us to eat at home first, if we are hungry (verse 34). We are NOT to eat the Passover bread to satisfy our hunger.

The commentary of Jamiesson, Fausset and Brown explains: “… not discerning-not duty judging: not distinguishing in judgment (so the Greek: the sin and its punishment thus being marked as corresponding) from common food…”

The Geneva Study Bible adds: “The supper of the Lord was instituted not to feed the belly, but to feed the soul with the communion of Christ, and therefore it ought to be separated from common banquets.”

It is therefore strongly recommended that we eat at home to satisfy our hunger BEFORE we come to Church services to partake of the New Testament Passover symbols of bread and wine. But as will become clear below, we should not prepare and eat a time-consuming elaborate meal at home, just prior to attending Passover services. [For further explanations on that important aspect of the Passover service, please read our free booklet, “The Meaning of God’s Spring Holy Days.”]

Ultimately, it all boils down to an administrative issue–to a question which needs to be decided by the Church, so that there is no confusion in the body of Christ. Paul said that it is the Church that must determine and “judge” how to keep the Sabbath and the Holy Days. Colossians 2:16-17 says, correctly translated from the Greek (compare the Authorized Version, which is close to the Greek, but not totally accurate): “Let no man therefore judge you in eating and drinking, or in respect of an holiday, or of a new moon, or of the Sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come, but the body of Christ.”

It is the body of Christ–the Church of God (Colossians 1:18)–which is to judge, HOW to keep the Sabbath and the Holy Days. Paul said: “Let no one judge you… but the body of Christ”; in other word, let the body of Christ–the Church–judge or determine this issue.

As we explain in more detail in our booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days,” and in our new booklet, “Is That in the Bible?–Man’s Holidays and God’s Holy Days,” the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days are still to be kept today. They are, in part, memorials of what God did in the past, and they are foreshadowing certain future events (the spiritual fulfillment of those “things” has not yet come–compare Hebrews 4:1-11). This is still true in respect to those who have been called today into God’s truth–and it is most certainly true for the vast majority of mankind, who will be called during the Millennium and the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:4-6, 11-12).

It was the Church–the “body of Christ”–that made the administrative decision, based on Scripture, that it was not wrong to eat and drink on the Sabbath and the Holy Days (with the exception of the Day of Atonement), even though some were judging the brethren in Colossae for doing so, wrongly insisting that they had to fast on all of those days.

It was the Church which made the administrative decision, in Acts 15, that Gentiles didn’t have to be circumcised.

And it was the Church which, through the apostle Paul, explained to the Jewish Christians, for instance in the book of Hebrews, that they did not have to offer sacrifices anymore, or participate in Temple worship and services.

The Church of the Eternal God and its international affiliates, the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship in Canada, and the Global Church of God in the UK, have made it clear from their inception that they will follow the teachings of Mr. Armstrong, as long as they are not contradicted by Scripture. Our Statement of Beliefs reads, under “Doctrinal Foundation”: “The major doctrines of the Church are those, which were taught by Herbert W. Armstrong, derived from the Biblical teachings as followed by God’s faithful servants, and originally established by Jesus Christ through the founding of His Church in the time of His chosen early apostles. Since we are to increase in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we are committed to review and alter any of our teachings, if and when proven to be wrong by the Bible.”

Under Mr. Armstrong, the Church never had a “Passover meal” in services, combined with the partaking of the symbols of eating bread and drinking wine. Part of the reason for the Church’s practice and decision was Paul’s explicit prohibition of a Passover meal in Church prior to the solemn occasion of partaking of the New Testament Passover symbols.

Based on the foregoing discussion, we conclude that the practice of the Church, as established under Mr. Armstrong, is to be upheld.

The Passover evening is one when we reflect on the supreme Sacrifice of Jesus Christ and what He did for us; it also focuses on the terrible hours of His arrest, trial and subsequent death. The elaborate preparation and the eating of a “family” meal in Church [or even at home, see above] just prior to partaking of the Passover symbols does not seem to be appropriate for such a solemn, deeply meaningful and thought-provoking occasion. The preparation of an elaborate meal in Church [or at home] just prior to Passover would also mean added work and labor, especially for the ladies, forcing them to focus on physical matters such as time-consuming and elaborate cooking, thereby diverting their attention from the real spiritual meaning of the solemn New Testament Passover evening. As one lady said, “There would be no rest for the women and they would be so tired that the whole purpose would be in vain. We could not even reflect on the true meaning of the Passover night.”

In conclusion, the Church of the Eternal God and its corporate affiliates continue to adhere to the decade-long practice of the Worldwide Church of God, which was established under Mr. Armstrong, to conduct a Church service, on Passover evening, during which we participate in the footwashing ceremony and during which we partake of the symbols of bread and wine. At that time, we reflect on the supreme love and Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, rather than allowing ourselves to be detracted by a family meal in Church, which would be accompanied by inherent dangers, as the example of the Corinthian Church has shown.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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