Children were allowed to eat the OT passover seder, so how do we know that both the last supper and the agape meal at Corinth were not simply meals where the bread and wine of the New Covenant, the “body” and “blood” of Christ, were not restricted to adult baptised members?
God, Jesus and Children
There is a place in God’s wisdom for children to have a relationship with God, our Father, and his Son, Jesus:
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.
Teaching children about God is important
Deuteronomy 6:7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Eph.6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Please search BibleQ to find other questions and answers on related topics, such as how do we engage our children’s spirituality? How do we let the little children come to Jesus?
But for here, now, to the specific question about whether this requires children taking bread and wine:
The Jewish passover
Children did eat the Jewish passover
Exodus 12:3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.
However the point is that children (boys) were circumcised on the eighth day. Therefore Jewish children (male or female) entered the religious congregation at birth. The following shows that circumcised children could eat, but an uncircumcised adult visitor could not:
Exodus 12:43 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. 45 No foreigner or hired servant may eat of it. 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”
In the New Covenant the basis of membership of the body is baptism not circumcision which was the basis of participation in the OT passover. Therefore an unbaptised child in the New Covenant is in the same position as an uncircumcised child (or adult) in the Old Covenant.
There is also the fact that Christ becomes a new passover, replacing with simplicity all the many complicated rules of the old Passover
1Co.5:7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
If a Christian wants to bring in some of the rules from Exodus 12 into the new passover (which include circumcising children remember) then why not all the other rules? Why not an annual breaking of bread lasting seven days? This contradicts Paul’s sayings that the Law is all or nothing (Gal.5:3 Rom.2:25)
The last supper
Some have theorized that the meal in the upper room included Jesus’ mother, the women who financed his ministry, Mary Magdalene, Mary, Martha, the wives of the disciples…. and their children. Therefore they all ate that meal. A child did not need to be baptised to eat the meal, or to be part of the Christ Body, for a Jewish child is “opted in” (i.e., counted as sanctified by his/her believing parents) until such time as he/she might decide to “opt out”.
It might just be possible that Mary Magdalene and the mother of John were there, but as far as children, ignores the following:
- Luke says the meal was with the “12 apostles” — no mention of anyone else.
Luke 22:14 “And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.”
Luke 22:24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
Luke 22:8 “Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations.”
Luke 22:39 And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.
There’s no sign in any of this that there was a second table with the women and children. Or that the disciples left the women and children to walk home alone in the small hours of the morning while they went with Christ to Gethsemane.
- It was a secret location.
Jesus could not even trust the disciples (because of Judas) so took precautions to prevent anyone knowing the location, there is no indication that the disciples would bring their children to a meal at a secret location when the high priests were seeking their master.
- Mark 14:14, Luke 22:11 records that the disciples met in the guest room at an “inn” not a home.
The Greek word is katalyma, the same word as the inn in Luke 2:7 where there was no room for Mary and Joseph. This confirms that the disciples are not sharing a Jewish seder with a host, his wife, his children, but having a private meal in a hired, and secret, location.
- Luke 22:20 distinguishes the passover part of the meal from the new covenant afterwards.
Even if there were children present eating the seder, the bread and wine were a “new covenant” after the meal. See verses below:
The Passover, and Passover cup
Luke 22:14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
The bread and second cup — the new covenant in my blood
Luke 22:19 And he took bread, and when he had 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.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this
Was the NT Last Supper even a passover meal?
Something else to consider, in relation to Luke’s account of the last supper, is the possibility that it was a pre-passover meal on the day of Preparation (Matt 27:62 Mark 15:42 Luke 23:54 John 19:14,19:31, 19:42) and not Passover. And this pre-passover meal was followed (see above Luke 22:20) by the breaking of bread. It is true that Jesus called it, “this passover” (Luke 22:14), but the emphasis on the “this” (not “the”) would be to underline what must have been obvious to the assembled disciples –that it was not yet Passover at all, but would replace Passover for them from then on. John 18:28 shows that the Last Supper was in fact the evening before the (Jewish) Passover for which he (Jesus) was to be the principal offering, fulfilling the precise timing specified for Passover (“between the evenings” ending Abib 14 and beginning Abib 15 — Ex. 12:6, etc).
Jesus Before Pilate 28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters.  It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.
That the bodies had to be removed from the cross (John 19:31) also demonstrates that the Passover meal was still future when the last supper was held in the early opening hours of Abib 14 (whereas the Passover meal was to be held at the same time of the next day, that is, on the 15th. In the gospels the daylight hours of Abib 14 are consistently called “the day of preparation” (Matt 27:62 Mark 15:42 Luke 23:54 John 19:14,19:31, 19:42). This observation helps to distinguish more clearly between the breaking of bread and Passover. The two rites both involve analogs of the body and blood of Christ, but they are not equivalent and the significance of the timing helps to more clearly distinguish between them.
The agape meal at Corinth
Similar arguments are advanced for the agape meal at Corinth. The assumptions being:
- that children and unbelievers must have been present
— a reasonable assumption since both are mentioned elsewhere in 1Co.
- that those children and unbelievers took part in the social meal, the agape
— a not totally unreasonable assumption, seeing as it was a meal eaten to “satisfy hunger” according to Paul.
- that the agape at Corinth was a normative behaviour among the NT churches
— and that if the Corinthians did it so should we.
However these assumptions have four major problems:
- The agape meal may not be a weekly event.
In the only contemporary record of agape feasts among Jews (Philo records such a meal among charismatic synagogues in Egypt), the agape meals only took place every seventh week, not weekly.
- Paul does not approve the agape meal ,
In fact the contrary: he tells the Corinthians that if the agape meal is interfering with the bread and wine then they shouldn’t do an agape meal, and eat at home instead (1Co.11:22).
- Paul’s “one baptism” argument for unity.
Paul’s appeal to “one loaf” unity in Corinth (“one loaf” = “one body” = “one baptism” 1Co.10:17 + 1Co.12:13) depends on having inclusive (all baptised) and exclusive (all unbaptised) effects. Therefore Paul’s unity argument is based on excluding unbelievers, unbaptised, unbaptised children. If “one loaf” does not equal “one baptism”, then Paul’s argument doesn’t hold together.
- There is no record of children taking the New Covenant cup in Corinth.
Given that Paul has distinguished “children” in 1Co.7:14 we would expect to see a mention if unbaptised children in Corinth were taking Luke’s second cup, the “participation in the blood of Christ”, while adult unbaptised visitors were denied what was allowed unbaptised children.
This brings us to 1Co.7.14
So what does “Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” mean?
1Co.7:12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Does not this suggest that children with one believing parent should take part in the agape meal? Well, no. Because the verse also says that the unbelieving husband is made holy. Does this mean that an unbelieving unbaptised husband should accompany his wife in eating the body and blood of the New Covenant? Obviously not. Paul either means that the marriage is still “sanctified”, holy, in God’s eyes and that the children are legitimate, or means that the children — having the opportunity to learn from their mother, or perhaps attend Sunday School — will be more “holy” than children with both parents unbelievers. Or indeed Paul could mean both. But again if ‘holy’ means unbaptised children breaking bread, then it means unbaptised and unbelieving husbands breaking bread too.
Back to “one loaf” = “one baptism”
We are left with a very simple model in 1Co. People (whether adult or children) are either in Christ, or out. Children who are not baptised are not “in Christ” simply because of their parents’ belief (or one parent’s belief), they have their own decision to make just like anyone else. The New Covenant is not a ‘national covenant’ with a race of Christians who are circumcised (or christened) at birth, but individuals, from all nations, and those individuals enter by being baptized into Christ’s body, not by being born into it.
1 Co.10:17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
1 Co.12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and all were made to drink of one Spirit.