The Old Testament Evidence Concerning Paedo-Communion

Drastically reducing Venema’s arguments to a manageable blog size (hopefully without distorting anything), we come up with the following dictums.

1. The Old Testament evidence suggests that infants perhaps participated in Passover (this is another great example of Venema’s gracious interaction with PC advocates: he grants points that would favor the PC position, and does not shove any evidence under the rug. Venema only comes to the point of critique when it comes to the whole picture. This is why Venema’s book is the most valuable contribution to this debate from the critical side). This evidence is not unambiguous, however, and hardly supports the weight of the claims based upon it by PC advocates.

2. Ultimately, the New Testament evidence is the most decisive point. Here we must note that the New Testament evidence is not always allowed by PC advocates to have its full weight. The reason that non-PC advocates believe this is because the evidence is more explicit. As it will appear when coming to 1 Corinthians 11, the PC position cannot adequately exegete the passage. This is not dispensational argumentation. Rather, it is redemptive-historical, noting the development of doctrine from OT to NT.

3. The people of God in the New Testament must worship God in spirit and in truth.

4. PC arguments prove too much. With regard to the manna, even non-believers were allowed to participate. Presumably, not even PC advocates would allow professed non-believers to the Table.

5. There is a difference between the annual celebration of the Passover and the one-time original Passover. The annual Passover was only for adult males, while the original Passover included the entire household. To my knowledge, this point has never been addressed by PC advocates. The relevant passages are Deuteronomy 16:16, Exodus 23:17, and Exodus 34:23 (these also address the other pilgrim feasts such as the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths).

6. Perhaps the most important precedent for the Lord’s Supper is in fact Exodus 24. This was a meal that was only for Moses and the leaders of Israel. We are not suggesting that the Lord’s Supper is today only for the leaders. However, it does demonstrate the complexity of appealing to OT evidence in support of NT practices.

7. Piggy-backing on number 5, the fact that women and children did not participate in the annual Passover does not suggest that women and children should feel excommunicated or excluded from the community by the practice. In my opinion, this argument (that exclusion of infants from the Lord’s Table in effect excommunicates them) is the very weakest argument from the PC side. It really needs to be shelved.

More detailed exegesis of the relevant passages will follow in a series of posts directly addressing the OT evidence regarding the practice of paedocommunion. This post is intended as a summary post.



  1. Roy said,

    May 31, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Number 5 requires a significant qualification (which further supports Venama’s argumentation): not merely adult males, but adult males who have submitted to the covenant. Ie, both they and, if applicable, the males in their household, were circumcised.

  2. Roy said,

    May 31, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Oops, sorry: cf Ex 12:43-49

  3. Andrew said,

    May 31, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    1. Am delighted to learn that Venema does not try to argue children were excluded from the passover. This is the most monstrous eisegesis I have ever heard off in Reformed circles. You are quite right – this display of integrity is more likely to earn hime a hearing from PC sympathisers.

    2. Agreed – clearer passages, old or new, must interpret the less clear. Nor should we ignore the general NT pattern of greater inclusivity and generosity.

    3. Agreed

    4. No, the arguement from manna, or Christ the water, shows that the entire congregation or church participated. If the terms of adult membership in the New differ (profession of faith), that does not disprove that the sacraments of the church are intended for members of the church.

    5. As I understand it, these texts merely make it obligatory for adult males to attend – they don’t exclude women or children attending. In any case what would this prove – that women shouldn’t take the Lord’s Supper?

    6. Odd. If anything, the elders were there then as representatives of the people of Isreal, would suggests that the meal was for all the congregation.

    7. This depends on exclusion from the Passover being the OT equivilent of excommunication. I am open to being shown this, but establishing this would be necessary.

  4. Michael Saville said,

    May 31, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    RE point #5
    The PCA Minority Report in favor of paedocommunion dealt with this objection. Dr. Rayburn wrote:
    “The centralization of the passover in Jerusalem as one of the pilgrimage feasts, proves nothing. Women were likewise not required to attend and children did participate, indeed were required to participate, in other sacrifices and offerings (Deut. 12:4-7, 11-14; 14:22-26; 15:19-20; 16:10-11).”
    Anyway, how does Dr. Venema deal with the participation of whole households in other sacrificial meals, especially the Peace Offering where the idea of “communion” is especially apparent?

  5. Pete Myers said,

    June 1, 2009 at 3:07 am

    #3 & #4,

    It appears that Venema (& Lane) are simply arguing that the Old Testament evidence is more complicated that pcs usually make out, and that the pc argument (which I hear a lot) that reasons “infants were included in the OT paschal and festive signs, and so should therefore be included in the NT sign of communion” isn’t anywhere nearly as strong as it sounds.

    I don’t think Lane is trying to argue that the Old Testament practices directly support the credo-communionist position, rather, that the Old Testament practices don’t directly support any position.

  6. Michael Saville said,

    June 1, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Hopefully got it.

  7. Pete Myers said,

    June 1, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    #4 Michael,

    Though, on your comment. The quote you give from the PCA doesn’t deal with Lane’s point.

    It doesn’t deal with the data of the centralization of the passover, it simply presents other, more favourable data, to contrast with the less favourable data of the Jerusalem passover.

    Lane is saying “This stuff about X presents a problem/complexity for building the pc position from the Old Testament data.” But the response of saying “Well, who cares about X, when Y, Z and A do support the pc position” doesn’t actually engage with the argument properly.

  8. Michael Saville said,

    June 1, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    My point was that the centralization of the passover is not something that’s been left unacknowledged in the writings pc advocates. The response to this is that it can’t be an argument for credo-communion (because of the exclusion of women) and its not really a “big deal” in light of the other OT meals that involve household participation. For example, in his article on the Eucharist in the WTJ a few years back, C. John Collins argued for paedocommunion on the basis of household participation in the Peace Offering meal.

  9. Pete Myers said,

    June 1, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    #8 Michael,

    It’s not being used as an argument for credo-communion. It’s being used to undermine the argument paedo-communion from Old Testament practices (and not just that one).

    The point is, that, whether the passage has been referenced by pcs or not… it makes it illegitimate to move from one Old Testament practice that appears to support the pc position and say “this practice is a type of communion, therefore infants should have communion”, if the evidence of other practices which are also types of communion conflicts with that.

    Watch me make the same mistake:

    1) I want to argue that the Christ needed to be a Levite.
    2) I acknowledge that David is a type of Christ, and David is a Judean.
    3) However Moses is a type of Christ too, and Moses is a Levite, therefore the Christ had to be a Levite.

    In order to argue that Moses proves that Jesus had to be a Levite, I would need to demonstrate from elsewhere that Moses was a better model for Christ when it came to tribal membership than David.

    If there is a feast that is a type of Communion that don’t fit with the paedocommunionist position, then I can’t legitimately argue for paedocommunion from any of the feasts that are types of Communion until I’ve first demonstrated convincingly why I’m privileging one set of data over another.

    Because otherwise it just looks as though the bits of data that fit my thesis are the only bits of data that are allowed to be brought to the table.

    Lane’s point, therefore, is that this drives us to the New Testament to find the resolution to the paedocommunionist question, and that trying to build an argument for pc from Old Testament practice is flawed.

  10. Andrew said,

    June 1, 2009 at 4:03 pm


    To respond to the arguement that the OT practice was inclusion of children , Lane/Venema though will surely have to show not only that men were required to attend, but that women and children were included. Assuming that, they would have torefute the suggestion that adult males were their as representatives of the nation (and thereby inclusing the children).

    As well, don’t you think the Passover is obviously the feast that most clearly speaks of Christ, and would therefore be most helpful in understanding the Supper?

    Though if it came to it, children participating in any festival at all would establish the point for me in that it would show that children were counted as part of the community and should take part in the life of the community. If a CCer came up with feasts that the children were clearly forbidden from, all that would prove is that children should not be included when they are explicitly excluded. And so I would see what rabbits they might pull out of the hat of I Cor 11. If it doesn’t perform as they think, then the OT principal of inclusive would be decisive.

  11. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    June 1, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    1. Okay

    2. Qualified agreement. The OT background has to be taken into account, however, as it is with baptism. One of Wilson’s interesting points on the latter is something like this: “If the OC included the covenant children, but the greater, surer NC excluded them, we would surely see signs of such a monumental shift in the NT letters, akin to the shift away from circumcision…” Same thing could be said for PC.

    3. Relevance? So, infants can’t worship in Spirit and in truth? And what will the elect infants do in heaven? This seems to me to be a red herring.

    4. See 1 Cor. 10: the baptism in the Red Sea is what qualified the covenant member to partake of God’s provision.

    5. Um, let’s talk about context. Exodus 23:15: “You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread, *as I commanded you*…” Exodus 13:7: “…no leavened bread shall be seen among you in all your territory.” So, what did the children and women eat if there was no leavened bread? Or Ex. 12:47: “The whole congregation of Israel shall celebrate [the Passover].” That’s the ordinance (v. 43). Deut. 16:11: “Rejoice before the Lord your God–you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites resident in your towns, as well as the strangers, the orphans, and the widows who are among you–at the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.” (cf. v. 14) I don’t see how v. 16 can then be taken to exhaustively described the practice of the annual Passover–it seems to be simply a mandatory minimum for those who might have said “I’m too busy to travel to the central sanctuary.” But the ordinances make it clear that the annual celebrations were for the entirety of Israel, not by any means limited to the adult males.

    6. The connection to Ex. 24 is not directly through the meal, though, but throught “blood of the covenant” language, which is clearly for the entire covenant community, which certainly would have included infants.

    7. Except for the fact that 5 only proves this by ignoring the context of the festival ordinances more or less entirely. The context of those passages, in fact, indicates that everyone in the covenant nation was supposed to participate (see also Ex. 12:43-49), and since the festival was to celebrated by what kind of food people ate, excluding them would leave them out–they wouldn’t get any food for a week. And simply asserting that that is the weakest argument doesn’t mean it is.

    I’ll reiterate why I think it is not that weak:
    -the Supper is called “the communion of the body of the Lord.” This language establishes the strongest and closest possible connection between the covenant ritual and its blessing–cf. “this is my covenant…every male shall be circumcised.” Circumcision is the covenant; the supper is the communion. To not receive circumcision was to be outside the covenant; to not receive the supper is to be outside the communion.
    -communion with Christ is the essence of the inheritance, the essential right of citizenship in the heavenly politeuma. That means it is not like a non-essential privilege, like a driver’s license or a bar license (it is possible to be a full citizen one’s entire life without either), but like the equal protection of the law.
    -the covenant child and the pagan are in the same relation to the supper: excluded. Except for the fact that the pagan has not been baptized–so we have a child who has had union with Christ, et al. signified and sealed to him, yet is still not admitted to the table. Who else fits that description? Baptized, but excluded? Those under discipline…So, the baptized, non-communicant child is somewhere between a pagan and an apostate, in terms of their status relative to the most central visible participation in the benefits of Christ.

  12. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    June 1, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    The data regarding the Jerusalem passover are not “less favorable.” The data regarding the centralized, annual passover, are that they were for the entire community, not simply males. See the context of Deut. 16, and the governing ordinance of Ex. 12. I’m afraid that point 5 only works when a basic principle of exegesis is neglected (i.e., that those individual verse are cited as “data” completely out of context).

  13. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    June 1, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    I should once again point out that I’m not sure I’m fully convinced by the PC position, but refutation requires one to state the opposing case as strongly as possible. Out-of-context prooftexting does not count as good argument either way.

  14. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    June 1, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Sorry to harp on this, but I feel like I’ve missed something. The clearest mention we have of the actual practice of the annual central passover is from Luke 2, in which it is clear that the entire family went.

    I’m just boggling here: Lane, did you over-summarize Venema’s position on Deut. 16:16, etc.? ‘Cause as it stands, it’s a pretty glaring error of exegesis, taking those texts completely out of context and presenting them as some sort of “contrary data” about how the feasts were celebrated, when Deut 16:1-12 are the actual instructions for the central, annual passover, and v. 16 has moved on to general points about festivals. And none of the Exodus passages are read against the background of chapter 12, where the ordinances for the annual passover are clearly established as community-wide…

  15. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    June 1, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    See also Exodus 10:9-11–Pharaoh tries to limit the festival to the adult males, but that is clearly not sufficient. Yet, then, God turns around and legislates for His covenant people the same way Pharaoh wanted to?!?

  16. July 7, 2009 at 8:28 am

    […] 7, 2009 at 8:24 am (Communion) Just to know where we are currently, this post and this post have not yet received a response from […]

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