God commanded that the Israelites shall not break any bone of the Passover Lamb and it was fullfilled in Christ Jesus. My doubt is "what is the significance of this command, that the "bone shall not be broken"?

  • Hi Anson, welcome to BH.SE - thanks for contributing, this is a very interesting question. (+1) Look forward to seeing its answers! – Steve Taylor Feb 5 at 8:28
  • The bones are seen as a matter of personal integrity in scripture but this is a matter of interpretation and comparison of many scriptures. Jesus suffered, but his own integrity remains intact. Up-voted +1. – Nigel J Feb 5 at 8:48

Actually, John 19:36 about Jesus' bone being unbroken is a quotation from Ps 34:20 -

He protects all his bones; not one of them will be broken.

This is clearly interpreted as a Messianic prophecy by John.

However, Paul also tells us that Jesus was the anti-type of the Passover lamb:

  • John 1:29 - Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world
  • 1 Cor 5:7 - For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
  • 1 Peter 1:19 - but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

This last text is the key to understanding the prophecy about no bones being broken. In Ex 12:5 we are told about the requirement for choosing the Passover Lamb:

Your lamb must be an unblemished year-old male, and you may take it from the sheep or the goats.

Ex 12:46 - ... and you may not break any of the bones. (see also Num 9:12)

This was fulfilled by Jesus and His sacrifice; His bones were not broken, AND we are also told that Jesus was -

Heb 7:26 - ... One who is holy, innocent, undefiled, set apart from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.


Semantic range of etsem

Before anything else, let's look at the semantic range of etsem, which means "bone" or "skeleton". The first thing to notice is not just the similar sounding "tselem" (image) but the corresponding meaning of self or same. Bone (etsem) is used as a synechdoche for the person as a whole, containing their essential character. The following is excerpted from the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament article on etsem.

It is also used as part of the kinship formula "flesh (basar) and bone (etsem)" in many places to denote identity or kinship (Gen. 29:14; 2 S. 19:14)

But here there is a nuance between "flesh" and "bone". The bone is the lasting part of the body, the part that remains after the flesh goes away, and so can be a metaphor for what remains after death. ("bone" is a much better word to dig up in the old testament when looking for resurrection than nefesh, or life.)

In this sense we have a couple of meanings:

  • In Ezekiel 37.1-10, God brings bones back to life, but only when they are dry (no flesh is present).

  • In general, as dead bodies are unclean, the bones from a corpse are "very" unclean and require special rituals if touched. Nu. 19:16, 18

  • ..but the bone of a righteous man, Elisha, restored a dead man to life (2 Kings. 13:21) again a hint of resurrection

Jewish Traditional interpretation

The main interpretation takes a cue from the unity "it will be eaten in one house" and view it as a sign of unity/lack of division:

In the Book of Jubilees, 49.13, we have:

There will be no breaking of any bone in it because no bone of the Israelites will be broken.

VanderKam, J. C. (2018). Jubilees: A Commentary on the Book of Jubilees, Chapters 1–50. (S. W. Crawford, Ed.) (Vol. 1 & 2, p. 1166). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Modern commentaries tend to follow this interpretation also:

No bone of the sacrificial animal is to be broken, to ensure that the meat will remain inside, in the one house set apart for the worship of remembrance (so Dussaud, Les origines, 211), and perhaps as a symbol of the unity of the family worshiping (Noth, 101) and even of the covenant community.

Durham, J. I. (1987). Exodus (Vol. 3, p. 173). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

I have no bones to pick with this as one interpretation, but we can dig much deeper.

Messianic Interpretation

With the messianic interpretation, we can associate this requirement to Ps 34.19-22, as noted by Dottard.

Many are the distresses of the righteous, but Yahweh delivers him out of them all. He protects all his bones; not one of them is broken. Evil will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will incur guilt. Yahweh redeems the life of his servants, and none who take refuge in him will incur guilt.

There are a few things going on here:

  • The righteous one (it is singular) will go through many trials, but these trials will affect his flesh only, not his bones, which wont be broken.

  • Yahweh will redeem the life of his servants

So this should be viewed as a prophecy of short term suffering but long term redemption of the righteous one, and now we can link it to Passover via the gospels.

But passover is a sign of passing from Egypt through the sea and into the promised land. This is the redemption or deliverance of the righteous one, passing through death, and as his bones are untouched, this suggests a successful passage even though the flesh is burned off (via exodus, the flesh must pass through fire and be wholly eaten, leaving only the bone).

Thus this is directly about Christ, his death and resurrection in a glorified body, and so is also a type of the church doing the same.

This is also pre-figured in Joseph's bones being carried out of Egypt.

So I think the messianic interpretation gives us a much richer exegesis of the text than a simple view of unity and no division, even though the unity interpretation is also a valid one.

  • "no bones to pick", "dig up"...nice =) – Hold To The Rod Feb 9 at 17:01

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