The impact of Hebraic thinking on everything biblical, especially discipleship, is what captivated my pastoral sensitivities so many years ago, and has ever since. The Bible presents a much fuller vision of salvation and sanctification without which God's people are impoverished. As a case in point, consider the relationship between Easter and Passover.
The date is AD 325; the city is Nicaea, a place found in modern-day Turkey. In what turns out to be the religious equivalent of his Senate, Roman Emperor Constantine has convened and is overseeing a council of Christian bishops. He wants them to consolidate power and strengthen ecclesiastical authority by solving several doctrinal disputes. It is here that they make a fateful decision to separate celebrations related to the resurrection of Jesus (already called Easter) from Passover.
This act sets in motion the development of a calendar strategy ensuring two things to this very day: Easter will always fall on a Sunday, and, it will remain distanced from the Passover according to the Jewish way of reckoning time. Constantine writes a letter explaining their decision as a, "truly divine command; for all which takes place in assemblies of the bishops ought to be regarded as proceeding from the will of God." Hard to accept from a missive laced with anti-semitic slurs like this,
“When the question relative to the sacred festival of Easter arose, it was universally thought that it would be convenient that all should keep the feast on one day.” … “It was declared to be particularly unworthy for this, the holiest of all festivals, to follow the custom [the calculation] of the Jews, who had soiled their hands with the most fearful of crimes, and whose minds were blinded.” … “In unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews.” … “How can they be in the right, they who, after the murder of the Saviour, have no longer been led by reason but by wild violence, as their delusion may urge them?”
In this article, I want to examine in brief, broad strokes what was lost by that decision almost 1700 years ago, what can be found with a Hebraic approach today, and most importantly, some hope-full suggestions towards reconciliation and shalom for the people of God. This is not a purely academic exercise; it is about discipleship. As you read, think about the impact on your Christian neighbor and how your heart is to help them understand these things. That is where I am coming from.
What Is Lost
The connection between the Testaments (Latin for the Hebrew concept Covenant) is the first casualty when Jesus' passion disconnects from the biblical realities portrayed in the historical events related to Passover (Pesach). Slowly but surely the way Yeshua, his devout family, and the nation of Israel understood their scriptures—particularly evidenced by how they relived the Exodus together (Luke 2:41)—becomes irrelevant. Unknowingly, essential truths get filtered out and replaced with non-biblical ideas when reading the NT, which can have a corrupting effect on the way we perceive the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob ... and Jesus.
The coherence in the character of the Creator disappears when Easter is distanced from its Passover origin. A false dichotomy between the "hard" God (the Law-giver) in the OT and the "soft" God (the Grace-giver) in the NT is one such gross mischaracterization. This error, like weeds, is everywhere despite his declaration, "I am YHWH, I do not change." Most Jewish school children know something most Christians fail to grasp. One of the primary goals of the Exodus was the return of the presence of the Holy One to remedy our sin problem, "let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst." That was good news indeed—for the humble and repentant.
Our continuity as the people of God suffers when Easter is severed from its Passover root. Another life lesson from our Hebraic heritage is that the Father liberated and forged Israel, as a redeemed people from whom his dwelling presence could emanate and bring blessing to the world. Do we see our salvation and sanctification in terms of a people, on pilgrimage, for his purposes? Separated from the covenant continuum taught in the Bible, we become blind to the fact that we, as his Body, fail our great God in much the same way as our faith fore-bearers did. "Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did."
What Is Found
When Easter and Passover are reunited, the epic narrative of the Bible becomes apparent. From a big picture point of view, covenant history flows effortlessly into the new covenant with one greater than Moses now on the scene in Second Temple Judaism. More specifically, the events of the Exodus, which begin with Abraham and lead to Mt. Sinai tell a complete story that is embodied by Yeshua, Israel’s Messiah, and King to all who repent and partake of his saving grace.
During Passover, Jesus was crucified.
During Unleavened Bread, Jesus was raised from the dead.
During First Fruits, Jesus appeared to, instructed his disciples, and ascended to the right hand of God.
During Pentecost, the Spirit of Jesus was poured out in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.
This is God’s doing, and it is marvelous in our sight. Now, I have a question for you. After carefully considering the historical events in the Hebrew Scriptures, from Passover in Egypt to Pentecost at Mt. Sinai, what key themes and lessons show up in the NT?
What To Do
After the work of identifying potential problems comes the hard part, working to find solutions. Simplistic calendar solutions will not suffice because—within both Christianity and Judaism—calendar controversies still divide the faithful. Debates about which remembrances are right and which are wrong polarize people and fail to address the core theological issues. I believe reformation is needed and education is a step in the right direction. Ministries like ours can effect change. So can you. We are commanded to diligently “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." To do so, we must practice this ancient Christian proverb: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and, in all things, charity.
Here are some practical suggestions that genuinely make a difference. Where do these ideas come from? Sacred scripture (cf. Romans 14:5-7) lived out in the laboratory of our home and many years of pastoral experience among doctrinally diverse populations.
First, become familiar with the biblical connections between Easter and Passover. One of my favorite resources is David Emanuel's landmark study, "The Exodus Motif from Genesis to Revelation." This kind of knowledge leads to understanding and worship—as you seek to read, live, and teach the Bible in step with God’s Spirit.
Second, read the story of God the Bible tells from right to left and left to right. Do you participate in Holy Week celebrations? Remember the events of Passover as you do. Do you participate in Passover celebrations? Remember the events of Holy Week as you do. My children are remarkable examples that this type of reconciliation is possible. Wherever they are and whoever they are with they celebrate the things that are important to our Holy Father. And they seek to understand and embrace those with likeminded faith who see non-essentials differently.