Do I Need to be Circumcised to Keep Passover?
Written by — Caleb Hegg
About two months ago I received a phone call from someone who had questions about the festival of Passover. The biblical holiday was just around the corner and I was getting daily calls and emails from people asking about observance, traditions, and order of service. As the call began to wrap up the man on the other end of the phone made an interesting statement. He said, “I won’t be celebrating Passover this year, but I want to be prepared for next year.” This was perplexing as we had just talked about Passover for about 10 minutes and he seemed excited about the festival. “Why aren’t you going to celebrate Passover this year?” I asked. “Well, I’m not circumcised so I know the Scriptures say I can’t celebrate the holiday.”
Such a view comes from a cursory reading of Exodus 12 which states:
“This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. 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. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 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 it. (Exodus 12:43-48)
Certainly, if the biblical text says it, we should obey it. But in our time celebrating Passover in your home with friends and family does not require circumcision.
Circumcision and Passover
One of the more interesting aspects of the Passover narrative is the continued emphasis on circumcision. When Moses is sent by God to speak to Pharoah, the narrative breaks, and suddenly God seeks to kill Moses because one of his sons is not circumcised (Ex. 4:24-26). Likewise, in the passage cited above, we see that no male servant is allowed to eat the Passover without being circumcised.
Circumcision is so closely intertwined with the Passover seder because circumcision symbolizes the miracle of the virgin birth, the deity of our Lord, and the promise of the Messiah that would die for the sins of His people. Passover is a celebration of Israel’s liberation from Egypt, but it is also a prophecy of every believer’s personal story of salvation in Christ. We can see the themes of redemption and the cross throughout the Exodus story.
Those who would be considered covenant members and enter the congregation of Israel were expected to celebrate the covenantal rituals prescribed in the Torah. The mark of the Abrahamic covenant was the circumcision of the males. Passover marks the first sacred day in the cycle of festivals for the entire year. What is more, it was the holiday that told the story of God’s redemption of His people from enslavement to an oppressive nation. It was at the core of Israel’s identity and their service to the redeemer.
You could not be a covenant member without being circumcised and you could not keep the Passover without being a covenant member. Now we can see why some believe they should not celebrate Passover without being circumcised first. But is this actually what the text implies?
What Does “Keep the Passover” Mean?
The question we need to ask is, what does the Exodus text mean when it says “keep the Passover”? From the Exodus text itself, we can see that the celebration of the Passover centers around the sacrificial lamb. Israel was directed to sacrifice a lamb, and after the temple was built this task could only be done within its walls:
But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around so that you live in safety, then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD… Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, but at the place that the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you. (Deuteronomy 12:10-11, 13–14 ESV)
The celebration of the Passover had to take place within the walls of Jerusalem and the lamb had to be sacrificed at the temple. This is why Passover is known as one of the pilgrimage festivals, those who would celebrate it had to travel from wherever they were to Jerusalem:
Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, (Deuteronomy 16:16 ESV)
This may seem like good news for those who live close to Jerusalem, but we can’t forget about that lamb. The Exodus 12 text continues to talk about “eating” the lamb. We are told that slaves are able to “eat of it” but that “no uncircumcised person shall eat it.” Within the text, “keeping” and “eating” the Passover are inseparable.
Can We Truly Keep the Passover?
In order for anyone in our modern-day to keep the Passover they would need to:
1. Go to Jerusalem.
2. Go to a temple that is not currently standing.
3. Bring a lamb to an established priesthood in said temple.
4. Have a lamb slaughtered by the priest.
5. Take your lamb and roast it over an open fire
The basic point here is that no one in the world today can keep the Passover. Celebrating the Exodus from Egypt on Nisan 14 in your home with friends and family does not require circumcision. Nor does celebrating Passover with a new focus of Christ’s death and resurrection. Contrary to what some may believe, circumcision is not required for entrance into the covenant people of God. Abraham became a covenant member when he had faith and was declared righteous. Only then was he commanded to be circumcised.
If you are a believer in Yeshua and have accepted Him as your savior, you are a covenant member. If you are a male that believes in the risen Lord and have not been circumcised, I believe you should consider taking on this mark in the flesh that proclaims the Messiah. And if the temple is rebuilt and you want to go to Jerusalem to sacrifice a Passover lamb and observe the Passover, then you will need to be circumcised first. But, if you simply want to celebrate the exodus and the death and resurrection of our Lord with your family on Nisan 14-15, you do not need to go through the physical act of circumcision first.
Caleb Hegg is Director of Operations at Torah Resource Institute and Founder of Growing in Messiah alongside his wife, Lacacia. To learn more about Caleb and Lacacia's ministry, check out growinginmessiah.com.