Passover and atonement

I made a bit of a mess of this—the system let me down—but I’ve moved this lengthy conversation about the passover and atonement to a separate thread. It arose from this paragraph in response to Peter Wilkinson:

And I still don’t get this argument about the passover. I see no reference to the passover in Romans 3:21-26. I can’t find any connection in the LXX between apolutrōsis (“redemption”) and the passover. The language of justification is nowhere associated with the passover. Ezekiel 43 makes no reference to the passover—sacrifices are made for the consecration of the altar (cf. Ex. 29:37). The nations are “justified” in Isaiah 45:25, but the nations do not take part in the return from exile, whether or not it is thought of as a second exodus. Where else is dikaioō used to describe “God’s bringing his people out of the Babylonian exile in Isaiah”? The passover itself was not in any case an atoning event, the passover sacrifice was not a sacrifice for sin. The “blood of the covenant” in Matthew 26:28 is a reference to Exodus 24:8, which is also not a sacrifice for sin, rather than to the passover lamb. When Paul describes Christ as “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7), he is not thinking of the atoning significance of Jesus’ death.

Comments

This is an appendix to my post of a moment ago - just to make things as clear as possible.

When “hilasterion” in Hebrews 9:5 is taken into account in interpreting Romans 3:25, the only other usage in the NT, the question then arises of the derivation of the word as used in Hebrews, applied also to Romans. A similar word is used in the LXX Ezekiel 43:17, 20 etc., which others apart from myself (eg Cranfield, Moo) maintain is the origin of the NT uses.

The context of Ezekiel 43 is the temple, and also the unique part played by the Davidic prince in the temple offerings - Ezekiel 44. This leads us to his role in Ezekiel 45:21-24, where the Passover offerings are conflated with atonement offerings. As I pointed out, there is no celebration of the Day of Atonement in Ezekiel’s temple. The celebrations have merged with the Passover celebrations, as described by the offerings. In Romans 3:21-26, it is the Davidic prince (Romans 1:3) who makes atoning sacrifice and is raised from the dead (Romans 1:4).

Paul’s debt to Ezekiel is much wider then is commonly acknowedged, and can be illustrated in other contexts.

“Apolutrosis” (redemption) is a Passover/Exodus term. We’ve been here before, when first you denied that this was the case, the changed your mind when you looked further at the OT evidence.

That seems a very convoluted way to argue for a passover background to Romans 3:25.

Hebrews 9:5 is explicitly part of an account of the tabernacle under the first covenant (9:1). There is no reason whatsoever to connect it either with the Passover narrative in Exodus or with Ezekiel 43-45. It depends on Exodus 25:17-22: “You shall make a hilastērion…, etc.”

The whole argument about Ezekiel 43-45 is irrelevant, even if it made sense. In his commentary on Romans Moo connects hilastērion in 3:25 with Exodus 25, Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9:5. He doesn’t mention Ezekiel 43-45. He argues that the word refers to the ‘OT “mercy seat,” the cover over the ark where Yahweh appeared (Lev. 16:2), and on which sacrificial blood was poured’ (232). There is no mention of the hilastērion or of the sprinkling of blood in Ezekiel 45:21-24. There are sin offerings which accompany the passover celebration (as in Num. 28:22), but these do not make the passover itself an atoning event. I can’t think of anything in Paul that connects his argument about Jesus with Ezekiel’s vision of the restored temple.

The verb lutroō is used for the redemption of Israel from slavery in, for example, Exodus 6:6; 15:13; Deut. 7:8; 9:26. Perhaps Paul has that in mind when he speaks of the apolutrōsis that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24). But given the association with hilastērion both here and in Hebrews 9, it seems to me much more likely that apolutrōsis evokes the day of atonement ritual. Jesus’ death is an apolutrōsis in Hebrews 9:15, but the context is entirely the sacrifice that the high priest makes in order to enter the Most Holy Place. I can’t find any connection between the apoluō word group and the exodus. I notice, incidentally, that in his discussion of apolutrōsis Moo does not mention the exodus.

And the fundamental point remains: the passover is nowhere in the Old Testament viewed as an act of atonement. Even as a lutrōsis, the exodus is a redemption from oppression, not from sin.

Hebrews 9:5 is explicitly part of an account of the tabernacle under the first covenant (9:1)… . It depends on Exodus 25:17-22: “You shall make a hilastērion…, etc.”

So far, so good. No disagreement whatsoever.

The academic argument about hilasterion in Romans 3:25 however is that the death of Jesus was a public event, while the ceremonies to do with the temple hilasterion (mercy seat, cover) took place hidden from public view in the most holy place. Which is why commentators seized on hilasterion as used to describe the atoning significance of the death of the Maccabeean martyrs to supply the meaning of Romans 3:25.

If the latter interpretation is correct, what is the significance of ‘blood’ and ‘redemption’ in the death of Jesus as described in Romans 3:24-25? If it refers to the mercy-seat, it would be inappropriate to apply it to a martyr’s death, however holy they were: Maccabean or otherwise. So Moo favours the interpretation that hilasterion in Romans 3:25 means the mercy seat of the ark. But what about the public nature of the event? Is there another context in which “blood”, in particular, and “redemption” are used, apart from these?

The death of Jesus took place at the Passover. This is the public context. “Blood” was the significant propitiatory sign which averted God’s judgment from the Israelite firstborn. “Redemption” is the significant word which describes the whole Passover/Exodus phenomenon. It’s simply splitting hairs to say that Paul uses apolutrosis and not lutrosis. Yes it referred primarily to redemption from oppression and slavery in Exodus, not sin, but Paul is introducing the word to an atonement context.

There is a clear case for arguing that the temple imagery associated with the mercy seat (hilasterion) and blood is combined with Passover/Exodus imagery of blood and redemption. Redemption, as far as I’m aware, is not a word directly associated with the temple sacrificial ceremonies in themselves. It is, however, associated with the substitution of the Levites for the firstborn of Israel as temple priests, through the payment of redemption money - Exodus 13 - Numbers 3:11/Numbers 18, and the lingering suggestion that God still required something from the firstborn which was supplied in the death of Jesus.

Whichever way you look at it, there were also sacrifices for atonement which took place at the temple celebration of Passover. The reason for focusing on Ezekiel rather than simply Exodus is that the Davidic prince is introduced in Ezekiel 44 to make the sacrifices at the Passover feast. The Ezekiel Passover celebration brings together atonement and the deliverance which the Passover celebrates through his activity.

It’s also not true to say, as you do here and have said on previous occasions, that there is no atoning significance in the original Passover. The blood of the lamb used at the Passover was to avert God’s judgment on the firstborn of Israel. Although we are not told why, the Israelite firstborn were at the same risk of judgment as the Egyptian firstborn. Within the slaughter of the lamb and the blood ceremony was a propitiatory event which had an atoning significance. If you disagree with this, explain why the Israelites had to go through this ceremony.

Jesus was killed as a lamb at the Passover. It would be odd indeed if it were to be argued that he was not killed as a Passover lamb, but only as a lamb who brought atonement for sins akin to the temple sacrifices. It would be equally odd to say that he was a Passover Lamb, but that had no connection with his death as atonement for sin. Yet this is where your argument is taking you.

In the NT, the atoning death of Jesus for sin lay at the heart of the meaning of the Passover feast. Jesus was the lamb “who takes away the sin of the world”. The lamb identified by John the Baptist in John 3:29 was the same lamb of Revelation 5:6, whose blood “purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” - 5:9, the same lamb of 5:12 and 5:13, representing the Jesus who died on the cross at the Passover as the Passover lamb. Whether the author of Revelation was same as the author of John’s gospel or not, it would be eccentric to say that the lamb of Revelation 5 was not the same as the lamb of John 3:29.

I don’t see anything convoluted about anything I’ve proposed. the proposal acknowledges the NT meaning of hilasterion as mercy seat, with all its associations with blood in the sacrifices of atonement. It also addresses the problematic issue of the public v. hidden characteristics contained in Jesus’s death v. the temple sacrifices of atonement, and provides the context for “redemption” (Romans 3:24) which is Passover/Exodus rather than simply temple sacrifices of atonement for sins.

Ezekiel is important because it provides a prophetic perspective on temple and passover ceremonies which both find their meaning and fulfilment in Jesus as the Davidic prince. The context is the entire passage, Ezekiel 42-45, not one part separated from the other. I’m grateful to you for pointing out hilasterion in Exodus 24:17-22, but it is Ezekiel 43-45 which makes the connection between hilasterion (in a slightly modifed form of the word), Davidic prince, and the Passover celebration, with sacrifices of atonement included.

“Blood” was the significant propitiatory sign which averted God’s judgment from the Israelite firstborn.

The blood of the lamb used at the Passover was to avert God’s judgment on the firstborn of Israel. Although we are not told why, the Israelite firstborn were at the same risk of judgment as the Egyptian firstborn. Within the slaughter of the lamb and the blood ceremony was a propitiatory event which had an atoning significance. If you disagree with this, explain why the Israelites had to go through this ceremony.

Certainly I disagree with this, because it is entirely unfounded.

What the blood of the lamb signifies is that “the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Ex. 11:7).

The final plague is not explained as punishment for Egypt’s sin—the fact that only the firstborn are killed, but including the firstborn of the cattle, makes this apparent. It is rather, like the other plagues, a demonstration of YHWH’s power over the gods of Egypt (cf. Ex. 7:3-5; 11:9; 12:12).

There is not the slightest suggestion that the firstborn of Israel risked being destroyed because of their sin along with the Egyptians.

The significance of the firstborn in the account is underlined by the instruction to consecrate the firstborn after the departure from Egypt: it is a sign that Israel belongs to YHWH (Ex. 13:2). The Egyptian firstborn are destroyed, presumably, because they likewise represent Egypt’s relation to its gods (cf. 12:12).

The passover will be a celebration of the fact that the Lord brought his people out of the land of Egypt (Ex. 12:17).

So why did the Israelites have to go through the ceremony? Because it marked them out as belonging to YHWH.

There is no reason to connect the lamb of John 1:29 and Revelation 5:6 with the passover. Lambs were killed as sin offerings in the temple without any reference to the passover (eg. Lev. 4:32). Jesus’ death no doubt was associated with the passover (e.g.. Mk. 14:12; 1 Cor. 5:7), but not to make the point that it had atoning significance.

So there was not the slightest connection between the death of lamb at the passover, the blood on the lintels and doorposts, and every other lamb subsequently sacrificed as atonement for sin, not to mention the ram sacrificed as a substition for Isaac’s life?

Judgment on the firstborn of Egypt had nothing to do with Pharaoh’s sinful resistance of God’s requirement to “Let my people go” made through Moses, and was purely a demonstration of power, unlike any other judgment which God demonstrated against those who opposed Him?

Why did Israel need to be marked out to spare them from judgment? Could the angel of death not distinguish them from the Egyptians? Trouble with map-reading, maybe? No significance to the lamb and the blood other than a quick meal and a substitute for paint?

When Jesus came, was there no connection between him as the lamb of John 1:29 and his death at the passover - as the passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7)?

The craziest kind of logic here is to say that Jesus fulfilled the functions of the passover lamb and the lamb as atonement for sin, but they were entirely unconnected, and need to be thought of as two totally different functions.

The reality is that Jesus was fulfilling both functions in one person and one action, his death on the cross, because the two functions were intimately connected, and he provided in himself the meaning of the connection.

Just taking this in a little more detail:

What the blood of the lamb signifies is that “the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Ex. 11:7).

The blood is not the grounds of the distinction you mention here; the passage describes the silence of the Egyptian dogs as the Israelites and their livestock pass by. Maybe you’ve got the wrong passage? The blood was to be a sign to Israel - Exodus 12:13; clearly a sign of her protection. But was it just a symbolic visual aid?

The blood was also for YHWH to see when he passed over - Exodus 12:12, 23, so that “the destroyer” would not enter that house - Exodus 12:23. Israel was herself in danger when YHWH passed over with the “destroyer”. It may have been danger to the entire community, but it seems more likely to have been danger to the firstborn. The reason she was in danger is not explained, but there must have been grounds for it.

That the blood was more than a convenient material for making a sign becomes evident in the instructions given for the celebration of the passover in the years to come. The lamb eaten was to be an unblemished yearling - Exodus 12:5. Leaven was to be cleared from the house, and anyone found eating it in the seven day preparation period was to be “cut off” from Israel - Exodus 12:17-19. There was a meaning to the event which was contained in the instructions for the cultic ritual practices which followed.

The final plague is not explained as punishment for Egypt’s sin—the fact that only the firstborn are killed, but including the firstborn of the cattle, makes this apparent. It is rather, like the other plagues, a demonstration of YHWH’s power over the gods of Egypt

The plagues were a judgment on Egypt’s gods - Exodus 12:12, not just a demonstration of his power over them. The word “judgment” here means judgment on sin, as it does in other contexts in which it used. Pharaoh’s intransigence to Moses, and to YHWH’s command which Moses brought, brought down judgment on him, as the representative of the gods. The whole nation suffered, but they were not innocent victims. They worshipped the same gods as Pharaoh, and as was the case in the ancient world, the king represented the people. In the final plague, the firstborn represented the family, and thereby the whole nation.

There is no necessary connection between the death of the Egyptian firstborn and the consecration of Israel’s firstborn to YHWH. The consecration of the firstborn has, however, been seen by Hooker - (1959 Jesus and the Servant SPCK) as the referent of lutron in Mark 10:45, rather than the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, where the term lutron is not found in the Greek text. I entirely accept the explanation you offer of the comparison (and contrast) between the association of the Egyptian firstborn with their gods, and the Israelite consecration of the firstborn to theirs.

So why did the Israelites have to go through the ceremony? Because it marked them out as belonging to YHWH.

I hope I have shown this comment to be simplistic.

There is no reason to connect the lamb of John 1:29 and Revelation 5:6 with the passover. Lambs were killed as sin offerings in the temple without any reference to the passover (eg. Lev. 4:32). Jesus’ death no doubt was associated with the passover (e.g.. Mk. 14:12; 1 Cor. 5:7), but not to make the point that it had atoning significance.

This is the issue I have been addressing. There is a greater argument, supported by further evidence which I am willing to supply, that Romans 3:21-26 has a passover setting, and that the temple ceremony of the Davidic king in Ezekiel 43-45 was influential in shaping NT thought about Jesus, including the combination of passover celebration with atonement offerings.

Just taking the problem of the meaning of the slaughtered lamb and the blood at the passover yet further: in Joshua 24:14,23, Joshua commands the Israelites to “throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt”.

It seems that worship of Egypt’s gods had been a practice of the Israelites in Egypt. When we’re looking for a reason why the Israelites needed protection from the “destroyer” at the passover, it’s possible that this is it.

It’s conjecture, but relates to the question why the Israelites needed to be distinguished from the Egyptians in this way, and what the sigificance of a slaughtered lamb and its blood really was.

It’s not merely conjectural, it’s utterly groundless, and I really don’t understand why you think it is necessary to insist that the killing of the passover lamb had atoning effect for the sins of Israel.

Joshua 24 is hardly a commentary on the passover, but in any case atonement for the supposed “sin” of worshipping Egypt’s gods, whether for the past or present generation, does not form part of his argument. Joshua does not appear to think that atonement is relevant: it is either obedience or judgment (Josh. 24:19-21).

Hooker’s argument may be correct, but it doesn’t help your case. The firstborn of man was to be redeemed by the payment of five shekels (Num. 18:15-16). The lutron is not an animal killed because of sin, it is money paid; and there is certainly no link with the passover.

The explanation given in Exodus is that the blood is a sign for the Israelites; the Lord will see the blood and pass over their houses, the destroyer will not enter (Ex. 12:13, 27); it is not the people but the houses that are protected—if anyone goes out of the house, he is not protected (Ex. 12:22-23). This has nothing to do with the sin of the Israelites, nothing to do with atonement, and nothing to do with Romans 3:21-25.

This must be my last comment on the subject, but you are still avoiding reflection on the issue, and being very dogmatic about it. It’s absurd to say that at the passover, the Israelite houses were being protected but not the people. The people were to stay in the houses because that is where the blood over the lintels/doorposts protected them. The blood had the effect of protecting them, whilst they stayed under its cover. If they moved out from under its cover, they were no longer protected. Of course the people were bring protected by the blood.

In Joshua 24, Joshua is challenging the people to whole-hearted loyalty to YHWH, which involves abandonment of their Egyptian gods. (Astonishing that they still had them). Nobody is saying that there is a fully formed, explicit statement of atoning significance in the passover lamb’s blood in the passover account, or at all in Joshua’s challenge. I’m simply asking the rather obvious question: why did the Israelites (in their houses) need protection from YHWH? What had they done which might put them in danger of the same judgment as the Egyptian firstborn? (Please don’t keep saying that the blood was only a “sign” when you haven’t answered the question why they or YHWH or “the destroyer” needed a sign).

Romans 3:21-25 has the passover feast as its context through its timing; blood and redemption are words and concepts which are crucial in the passover/Exodus story. Blood (but not redemption) also applies to the sacrifice of atonement for sin. You haven’t considered at all the detailed argument about the meaning of hilasterion (in the light of proetheto - Romans 3:25) which is central to the discussion here. The passover and forgiveness of sins are brought together in Jesus’s passover meal with the disciples and in his death on the cross. Jesus does not try to make a distinction between them. If there was a distinction, tell me where it is clearly made.

Jesus was his own commentator on the atoning significance of the passover. Another example of this is in the passover feast of John 6. In the context of that passover and the feast of unleavened bread, Jesus throws down the challenge of eating his flesh and drinking his blood in order to have life and be raised up on the last day (ie final judgment). The bread here is associated with the manna in the wilderness, but the context is passover and the associated feast of unleavened bread. Jesus is now that bread. His blood is not to be daubed on doorposts, but to be drunk.

Once again, the key imagery of the passover is being pressed into the service of associations beyond the passover, and the people were just as outraged as you are at the suggestion (and of course, more, with the invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood). Life was in Jesus’s blood, which was to be drunk if those who came to him were to have life. Life was in the blood of the sacrifices of atonement (Leviticus 17:11, 14). The blood on the doorposts of the houses granted life in place of death to the occupants.

The counterpart to life of condemnation for sin is not developed in John 6, but it is in the immediately preceding chapter. John 6 continues and expands on the same themes, which are also central to John’s gospel. It would be absurd to say that John 6 has nothing to do with the preceding chapter, or all of these key themes.

I fully realise that the association of atonement with the passover has rarely been made by commentators (although it has been observed by Dunn and Howard). I also realise that to make the association is provocative, but I thought that this above all places was where provocative ideas could be aired and thoughtfully considered, without incurring instant dismissal.

This rather intense ‘conversation’ arose, if you remember, because I connected “justified” and “counted/credited as righteousness (as “covenant forming”) in Romans 4:1-4 with “justified” in Romans 3:24, which is explained as being “through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a hilasterion, through faith in his blood” - Romans 3:24-25. Initially it was prompted by a sense of the need to fill out your explanation of “credited as righteousness” in Genesis 15 as “doing the right thing”.

So my proposal is that atonement and passover/Exodus are identified in one person through one event (or nexus of events) in Jesus, which was the substance of the new covenant fulfilled in him. It looks as if we need to agree to disagree, but please don’t keep saying that there is nothing in the text to support the case I’m advancing.

It’s absurd to say that at the passover, the Israelite houses were being protected but not the people.

I don’t think so. It makes the point that the blood is a sign of protection rather than atonement.

What had they done which might put them in danger of the same judgment as the Egyptian firstborn? (Please don’t keep saying that the blood was only a “sign” when you haven’t answered the question why they or YHWH or “the destroyer” needed a sign).

They hadn’t done anything. The point appears simply to be that the destruction was inherently indiscriminate, like the previous plagues. For example, Moses warns Pharaoh to get people and livestock out of the fields before the hail comes, otherwise they will die (Ex. 9:13-26). The hail did not fall in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were. The marking of the doors with blood corresponds to the sparing of the land of Goshen. It is a matter of the protection of the Israelites, who are God’s chosen or firstborn people, from these demonstrations of the power of YHWH (Ex. 9:14). Atonement for sin has nothing to do with it.

You haven’t considered at all the detailed argument about the meaning of hilasterion (in the light of proetheto - Romans 3:25) which is central to the discussion here.

I don’t follow you here. The word “redemption” is certainly not crucial in the passover/Exodus story. I said before that the link via lutron is just about conceivable but the association with hilastērion in Hebrews 9:15 rather suggests that the thought is entirely of the day of atonement. I haven’t checked this, but I don’t think elsewhere Paul speaks of a redemption from slavery, which might perhaps allude to the exodus, using the apolutrōsis/lutroō word group. He speaks of being set free (eleutheroō) from slavery to sin, and in Galatians 4:5 he uses exagorazō.

In his commentary on Romans Dunn writes:

The uncompounded word (λύτρωσις) is more widely used, in the LXX at any rate (about 10 times), in the same sense of “ransoming”; it is quite possible that Christian tradition or Paul himself deliberately chose the weightier compound form to strengthen the sense of ransoming from (sin) or back (to God…). But it is almost impossible to doubt that behind the text lies the strong OT motif, expressed in regular use of the verb λυτροῦν, particularly of God as redeemer of his people Israel and especially of Israel’s being ransomed (from slavery) in Egypt….

But even if this is correct (I am not convinced—Paul does not appear to connect this language with the liberation from slavery to sin), it does not mean that Paul thought of the passover lamb as a sacrifice for sin. Nowhere in the LXX is lutroō used with reference to sin offerings. Nor is the redemption language connected with the passover sacrifice specifically. Typically the exodus redemption is seen—with reference to the demonstration of YHWH’s power over Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt—as an act of “great strength” (cf. Deut. 9:26), not as an act of redemption.

The fact that Jesus brings together the passover and forgiveness of sins in the supper does not mean that he understood the passover sacrifice to be a sin offering. It is not the blood of the passover lamb that is poured out for the forgiveness of sins but the “blood of the covenant” (Matt. 26:28), which, as I said before, is a reference to Exodus 24:8. Jesus identifies himself with the manna in the wilderness, but the blood is not part of that story, and the blood of the passover sacrifice was not drunk. He has simply expanded the bread argument in anticipation of the institution of the last supper.

So I’m afraid I still see i) nothing in the text to support the view that the passover entailed an act of atonement for the sins of Israel, and ii) almost nothing that supports the view that Paul has the passover in mind in Romans 3:21-25. Yes, I’m being dogmatic, but if you want to use my blog to such an extent to publish your own views, you shouldn’t be surprised if I say what I think in response. I have not instantly dismissed your arguments. On the contrary, I have spent a great deal of time looking at them and writing detailed replies—and it’s been an instructive exercise. But I can’t help it if I still come to the conclusion that you are wrong on the particular points that I have stressed here.