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No. 37: Passover, Paedocommunion, and Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry

Rite Reasons, Studies in Worship, No. 37
Copyright (c) 1995 Biblical Horizons
January, 1995

What follows is a brief response to “Tape Set #1: The Passover Argument” in Dr. Gentry’s series “Paedocommunion: Faith or Fad?” which purports to be a “reformed response” to those who believe young children should be admitted to the Lord’s Table. His sermons are premised on the erroneous notion that the case for paedocommunion rests entirely on a belief that children partook of Passover under the Old Covenant. He attempts to disprove paedocommunion by disproving such partaking. Here are his major arguments.

Did Every Mouth Eat?

Dr. Gentry states that, “The paedocommunionist says Exodus 12 teaches that the Passover is to be given to every mouth in the house.” Appealing to a literal translation of the Hebrew, Dr. Gentry claims that v. 4 says a lamb should be chosen that will accommodate “each mouth’s eating” in the household. “This phraseology occurs here in Exodus 12 and only one other place in Scripture, Exodus 16.” When God explained how the manna was to be collected (vv. 16, 18, 21), He commanded that they should gather according to the number of persons eating, or “according to the mouth of eating.”

Dr. Gentry basically accuses paedocommunionists of begging the question, since the passages don’t say that all mouths will be eating Passover and manna, but rather command that the amount be determined by how much each mouth that will be eating will eat. “A suckling child, a two-day-old infant does not need to eat bread. . . . He has a mouth, but he’s not one who’s to be counted in the eating, because he cannot digest it.”

Since no one thinks that infants ate roast lamb, one wonders what the point of all this is.

Dr. Gentry moves next to Exodus 12:37, where it is said that the number of men is six hundred thousand “aside from children.” Aha! See that the men have been counted because they took part in Passover but the children were excluded? “They had just counted so that they had the right number of lambs. And then when the children of Israel leave Egypt, they know how many men are leaving because they just made the count for the lambs.”

How does one respond to this sort of argument? To resort to understatement, it is speculative and flawed. For one thing, each man was told to count the number of mouths in his own household and choose a lamb from his own flock. There is nothing in the Passover instructions to imply that it involved a general census. Furthermore, Dr. Gentry “proves” far too much. His use of the passage not only indicates women were excluded from the first Passover, but it implies that they were left behind in Egypt! After all, if the adding of children to the number of men means the children were not “counted” during Passover, then what are we to do with the missing mention of any women whatsoever?

Were Children Part of the Whole Congregation?

Dr. Gentry states that a second major argument for “infant” participation, is that the “all the congregation of Israel” which was to keep Passover (Exodus 12:47) included children and even nursing infants. Joel 2:15-17 is invoked by paedocommunionists because it mentions children and infants as being part of the congregation.

According to Dr. Gentry, there are four problems with saying that children were part of the “whole congregation of Israel” in Exodus 12:

1. The paedocommunion position is guilty of a logical fallacy’of "affirming the consequent.” Here’s Dr. Gentry understanding of the argument:

Dr. Gentry compares this to the following argument: “That which is black is a crow. My shoe is black. Therefore, my shoe is a crow.”

How anyone can be persuaded by this is beyond me.

2. Dr. Gentry says the paedocommunion case from Joel 2 involves “the problem of addition.” If children are part of the congregation, then Joel would not have mentioned children in addition to the congregation. “Not only does Exodus, chapter 12, lack reference to the infant and the young child when it establishes . . . Passover, but Joel himself felt compelled to add it when he reported what was going on in Joel, chapter 2.”

Let’s look at Joel 2:16a: “Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and the nursing infants.” Were elders not part of the congregation? The passage goes on to mention brides and bridegrooms, as well as the priests. Are they not part of the congregation? I assume Dr. Gentry knows about the parallel structure of Hebrew poetry. Joel is repeating himself for emphasis.

3. Paedocommunion contains the “problem of absurdity.” The absurdity is that in many places in Scripture “all the congregation” does things that nursing infants could not have done. “Christian, all the congregation does not necessarily involve each and every individual associated with the people of Israel.” Well, who denies this? There’s nothing wrong with defining the congregation according to contextual indicators. But Exodus 12 talks of “households” and “families” who are fed a midnight meal. God makes a point of saying who should be excluded from this meal’the uncircumcised.

4. The paedocommunion argument ignores the “contextual indicators” in Exodus 12 itself. Since Moses spoke to “all the congregation of Israel” (v. 3) and there were over two million Israelites, he could not possibly have spoken to each and every individual. Obviously, Moses did not make a point of speaking to two-day-olds.

Furthermore, “the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel” is to kill the paschal lamb at twilight” (v. 6). Are infants, small children, husband and wives all to hack at the lamb at once? Obviously not.

Of course, while Dr. Gentry raises the question of who killed the lamb, he never mentions the question of who eats the lamb. The answer in Exodus 12 is households and families. Again, the only people excluded are the uncircumcised. On what basis does Dr. Gentry exclude children?

The Argument from the Presence of Children

Dr. Gentry states, “The paedocommunionist says the Passover was performed originally in the home with the children present, therefore we expect that the children partook.” They point to Exodus 12:26 where the children are supposed to inquire about the meaning of Passover. “But as with all of their arguments, it incorporates major error in the outworking of it.” Why? The child only asks, “What do you mean by this service?” He does not ask, “What do we mean?” According to Dr. Gentry this is proof positive that children are observers only.

But if the child is a participant who does not understand the meaning of the rite, then obviously it is the parents for whom the rite has meaning, not the child himself. Furthermore, the meaning of the rite is “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord because He passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but delivered our homes” (Ex. 12:27, NASB, emphasis added). Contextually, the children are part of the homes that were passed over. In fact, as Jim Jordan points out in his tapes on paedocommunion, when Pharaoh offered to permit adults to go, Moses specifically insisted that the children must be allowed to leave Egypt to “hold a feast to the Lord” (Ex. 10:9). The contextual cues are overwhelming in favor of children’s participation in Passover.

Moreover, as Jordan also points out, Exodus 12:26 does not say that the child asks this question during the Passover meal. It only says that whenever the child asks about it, this is the answer to be given.

Next, Dr. Gentry considers a “second aspect of their argument,” which he labels an “emotional” argument. Paedocommunionists ask: “Would parents eat a meal and exclude their children?” Since the Passover was a meal that was to prepare them for long march in the night, wouldn’t children have needed to eat something?

Dr. Gentry replies that Passover was not simply a common meal but a sacrament. God is the one who must tell us who is to partake of His sacraments. Well, God said that all the congregation must eat of it, every household, but not the uncircumcised. Given Dr. Gentry’s logic, God is obligated to tell us if there are further exceptions.

Dr. Gentry tries to bolster his case by conflating the rules regarding Passover and other feasts in Deuteronomy 16:1-17 with Exodus 12. Dr. Gentry points out that sons and daughters are mentioned in context of the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths but not in context of Passover. Rather, only the men are required to attend Passover.

But, while children are mentioned in regard to the other two feast, they are not required to attend any of them. Only the men are required to appear at the Tabernacle for the feasts three times a year (Dt. 16:16).

Remember, the two feasts which mention children mention them in describing a celebration. Passover, on the other hand, mentions “the bread of affliction." It is more somber in character and is almost as much a fast as a feast. Obviously, if journeying from the outskirts of Israel is a hardship, men will be less likely to bring the whole family along for Passover, than for the other feasts. This doesn’t mean they are prohibited, any more than the mention of children with the other feasts means that they are required to attend. Since Dr. Gentry himself declares that both Mary and Joseph attended Passover annually (Luke 2:39), his argument is obviously fallacious. If Mary can attend despite an absence of any mention of women attending, then why can’t children?

Moreover, the other feasts were every bit as “sacramental” as Passover, since they also involved eating sacrificial meals. If children were included at these sacramental meals, as Dr. Gentry must admit they were, then what makes him think they were excluded from Passover?

The Design of Passover

This is supposed to be a positive argument instead of a refutation. But most of it is repetitive of what Dr. Gentry has already said. Roast lamb is not for nursing infants, etc.

Then he says that Exodus 12:48 proves that only adults partook of Passover: If a Gentile lets “all his males be circumcised,” then he may “come near to celebrate it.” Since only the stranger is mentioned, not all the rest of the household, this constitutes proof in Dr. Gentry’s mind. By contrasting the language of Exodus 12:48 with Acts 16:14-15 in which Lydia’s whole household is baptized, he makes his most cogent point. But this is again an argument from silence. Furthermore, if it proves anything it proves too much, since it excludes all other males in the household regardless of age.

The Cleanliness Code Impossible for Children

The basic thrust of this argument is that children cannot keep themselves ceremonially clean and therefore were not admitted to Passover. “These regulations I believe are beyond the capacity of the very young to keep” because they “require a maturity of mind and an upright standing with God.” Since Dr. Gentry has already admitted that children partook of the other feasts, he has himself conceded that this argument won’t work. All the sacramental meals of the Old Testament involved the same cleanliness requirements.

Episcopal Confirmation Classes

In this “positive” argument, Dr. Gentry uses Exodus 12:26, Luke 2:41-51, and Proverbs to “prove” that children were not admitted to Passover until the age of thirteen after passing an exam before the elders at the age of twelve. He tries to make this “proof” seem less ridiculous by several quotations from the Mishnah and the Apocrypha. (The Mishnah is the written form of the demonic oral law tradition that Jesus and Paul condemned in the harshest terms imaginable. Not the best source for a Christian to rely upon when doing theology!)

Dr. Gentry quotes Isaiah 7:13, which states “He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good” (NASB). The fact that the Bible acknowledges that certain types of food are appropriate to certain ages, and that these ages are associated with varying degrees of maturity, indicates to Dr. Gentry that the sacraments are only for those who have reached a certain age. Children should not partake of the Supper until they can discern between good and evil.

Once again, these speculations prove nothing. Dr. Gentry has yet to show us that the Lord’s Supper is not to be administered to children capable of digesting it. Furthermore, if his argument constituted proof, it would prove far too much. According to the Bible, those who “have no knowledge of good and evil” (Dt. 1:39) are those who are who are not yet twenty years old (Num. 14:29).

Then Dr. Gentry moves to Proverbs 22:6, which promises that if we train a child, he won’t depart from that instruction when he grows older. “It’s interesting that the word ‘train up’ here . . . literally has the connotation of ‘pour date syrup in his mouth.’ He’s talking about baby feeding.” Dr. Gentry never explains how the term connotes this. He infers that the text is telling us to “teach a child in a way that’s conformable to his youth.” But what does this have to do with the Lord’s Supper? “Well it’s very interesting, and it’s fascinating, and it’s helpful to our argument to notice that the verb form ‘when he is old’ is in the noun ‘beard.’” So the proverb promises that, once a beard forms, a son will not depart from what he was taught as a young child in an age appropriate fashion. What does this have to do with Passover or the Lord’s Supper? “But the point here, that I’m wanting to make is, that given history’in the Jewish Mishnah and other writings’given Scripture, the child is considered one who is in training under age, until such a time that he grows the beard, and such a time and such an age that at that time he comes to maturity. The Passover is a mature meal. It is not a giving of date syrup. It’s not curds and honey. It is a mature meal that is to be taken. And it requires a mature understanding that, generally speaking, comes upon a child around puberty.” Thus, Dr. Gentry “proves” that children are to be barred from the Lord’s Supper until they pass inspection of the elders at the age of thirteen.

Dr. Gentry tries to make Luke 2:41-51 support his position: Because the text says that the parents went up to Jerusalem every year (v. 41) and then says Jesus went with them when he was twelve (v. 42), that proves He never went to Jerusalem before. “Who went up? The parents of Him, and only the parents of Him. That’s all you find in that verse.” This is not only another argument from silence but a distorting of the verse which does not say that “only” the parents of Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

In addition to the argument from silence (v. 41), Dr. Gentry argues that Luke records how all the ritual laws are being kept by Jesus “and here comes a major one”‘His first Passover. Just how can a “major ritual law” not be written in the Law? Nowhere is there a command for twelve-year-olds to be examined by the elders and then admitted to Passover the following year.


Throughout the tapes Dr. Gentry requires that the paedocommunionist prove his position beyond a shadow of a doubt, while assuming that his own position is self-evident. But not only is his own argument an argument from absolute silence, but it makes God guilty of leaving us exposed to an “uncovered pit” (Ex. 21:33-34). We are told we must respect a boundary that we cannot see. This barrier-boundary between baptism and the Lord’s Table is simply invented ex nihilo by Dr. Gentry without anything close to a Biblical argument. If such a boundary exists, God’s righteousness’and, for what it’s worth, the regulative principle of worship’demands that He explicitly reveal it in His Word. Given what Dr. Gentry claims is at stake, his arguments from silence lend plausibility to the paedocommunion position and render his own position incredible.