Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Did the New Testament Church Observe God's Annual Festivals?

God initiated seven annual festivals and sabbaths in the Old Testament. These days represent steps in God's plan to save mankind through Jesus Christ. Ancient Israel never understood the meaning of those days, but God's Church is able to keep those days with understanding of their true meaning as ancient Israel was not able to do. Yet most of traditional Christianity has rejected God's holy days and feast days that are given in the Bible in favor of days based on the traditions of men, such as Christmas and Easter, with the fertility symbols of the evergreen tree, rabbits, and eggs so common among pagan religions in ancient times. You can look up those symbols and rituals in any encyclopedia to see where they come from. And God clearly tells us not to worship Him imitating the way pagans worship their gods, but to worship God exactly the way He tells us to worship Him (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).

In rejecting God's ordained annual festivals in favor of man-made religious festivals, man is following the same pattern of choosing the traditions of men as he has followed in substituting Sunday for God's seventh-day Sabbath.

Some ministers teach that to keep the annual holy days of God is to deny the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Is this true?

We can look to the New Testament Church of God to see what they practiced. Did the first century Church of God keep these festivals?

The New Testament Church of God kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Was it only the Jewish Christians who kept this feast? No. Paul was apostle to the gentiles, and he taught the Church of God at Corinth to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The description of this festival is in the Old Testament. Notice: "On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it" (Leviticus 23:5-8). Now notice how Paul likens leavening to sin in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, and he compares unleavened bread to sincerity and truth. Notice especially verses 6-8. After talking about the sin of sexual immorality in that congregation, he says, "Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." This helps us understand the meaning and lesson of this feast, that is, we put leavening out of our houses for seven days and this represents the lesson that we are to put sin out of our lives, or in other words, the lesson of repentance (Acts 2:38).

Notice especially Paul's statement, "let us keep the feast" (1 Corinthians 5:8). This shows that Paul instructed and commanded the Corinthians to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, one of the seven annual feasts of God, for there is no other feast that would fit this context.

Does keeping God's annual feast days invalidate or deny the sacrifice of Christ? No, because Paul would not have instructed the Corinthians to keep the feast if that were the case.

However, since the Levitical priesthood has been replaced by the priesthood of Jesus Christ, there is no Levitical priesthood to offer animal sacrifices, so those are omitted.

For more information on this festival, see The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance.

For those who might be interested in observing this festival, but don't know the dates, the Days of Unleavened Bread in 2009 are seven days starting Thursday, April 9 through Wednesday, April 15. The first and last days are Sabbath days of rest. God counts days from sunset to sunset, so from sunset Wednesday, April 8 till sunset Thursday, April 9 I will observe a sabbath rest and likewise from sunset Tuesday, April 14 till sunset Wednesday, April 15. During the entire seven day festival I will refrain from eating any products with leavening in them (yeast, baking soda, baking powder), and I will make sure I do not have leavening or products with leavening in my house or personal space if I am living in someone else's house. I will also eat some kind of unleavened bread each of those seven days, such as matzos.

Taking the time to clean my space before these days start and making sure I get rid of any leavened products reminds me each year of my personal responsibility to examine my life and get rid of sin wherever I find it. Being careful to not forget and accidentally eat leavened products like donuts at work or anyplace during this time reminds me of the lesson that I have to be diligent to not sin by breaking God's commandments in the letter or spirit. Eating unleavened bread each day reminds me of my need to seek the righteousness that is from God and to seek God diligently each day in prayer and Bible study.


Todd G said...

While studying and reflecting on the feast days and sabbaths is very rewarding, I do not agree that Christians today are required to keep them.

Colossians 2:14-17 says, "having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."

So we see the ceremonial laws were nailed to the cross. When it says let no one judge you in "food or drink", this language is specifically referring to these annual feast days and sabbaths which were done away with. When it says these sabbaths were shadoes of things to come (Christ), which sabbaths was it talking about? Certainly not the weekly Sabbath of the Ten Commandments, so that leaves only one option: the annual feasts and festivals.

Christ said to His disciples "eat this passover with Me", which is when He initiated the communion service. Now it the communion service isn't like the passover before. There is no killing of a lamb in the communion service. So we see that all Jewish feasts went through a radical change, and today we apply them spiritually.

Also, when the Bible says let no one judge you about "festivals", which were abolished, is the same word translated "feast" when the Bible says Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast day in John 5:1. The word is "heorte".

Then there's Ephesians 2:15 saying, "having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances", which is a clear reference to Moses' ceremonial law.

For these reasons I am persuaded that the Bible teaches that those things which were a "shadow of things to come" were done away with at the cross, where the things they typified were fulfilled. Including the sacrificial system, feast days, sabbaths, and many other things contained in the ceremonial law which pointed to the work of Christ.

In regard to Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 5, "Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."

It seems clear to me that since Paul was speaking specifically of the feast of unleavened bread, or Passover, and advising to keep the feast, that he was speaking of the Communion service which Jesus Christ initiated with His apostles in the upper room on Passover. Indeed, Christians should continue in the Communion service (Passover)just as Jesus taught us. I believe that is what Paul is referring to.

Just my opinion in light of these Bible texts...always open to new understanding.

God bless you and keep you, you know I enjoy reading your blog.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Hi Todd,

I am going to do more in-depth research into the issues you have raised along with other issues addressed in this blog, and will post my results. I hope to understand the epistles of Paul better than I do today.

Let me share some preliminary thoughts, however.

Jesus said that till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle would pass from the law and the prophets, till all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-20). Someone said that this showed that the Ten Commandments were done away since Jesus fulfilled them by obeying them. But I think I showed the fallacy of that reasoning. Rather than show that the law has been done away, this shows the durability of the law, that it continues. The "law and the prophets" refers to the Old Testament as a whole, though "the writings" are not mentioned. It includes all five books of Moses and all the books by the prophets.

There are different kinds of law in the Old Testament, and I need to research this so I understand it better.

Some things are not now in force. Physical circumcision is not a requirement at this time. Animal sacrifices are not required because there is no longer a Levitical priesthood to offer them.

But I need to set a very high standard of proof that the Old Testament holy days are no longer in force before I would agree that this is true. Without that proof, Matthew 5:17-20 applies to the annual holy days as much as it applies to anything else in the law (books of Moses) and the prophets (books of the major and minor prophets).

In other words, Matthew 5:17-20 seems to show that there is a general continuation of all Old Testament law into the New Testament era, unless there are specific changes stated in the New Testament. Circumcision is a specific change documented in the New Testament. There are specific scriptures that say that physical circumcision is not required (Romans 2:25-29, Romans 3:27-31, Romans 4:9-12, 1 Corinthians 7:17-19, Galatians 5:1-12, Galatians 6:11-15). There are no such scriptures that say that the annual feasts of God no longer should be observed.

I would have to see proof that "handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us" is referring to God's annual holy days. It is hard to imagine how it could be since the annual sabbath days are not "contrary to us" anymore than the weekly Sabbath day is against us. Rather, both the weekly Sabbath and the annual Sabbaths are blessings from God.

What is contrary to us is the just requirement of the law that we pay the death penalty for our sins when we violate the law. It is the death penalty that is against us. I have read someplace (I cannot confirm this, but it makes sense) that during Roman times when a man was crucified, a list of his crimes was posted on the cross as a testimony against him so onlookers could see what he is being killed for. When Jesus died in our place, in effect all our sins were listed on the document on His cross, figuratively speaking. This may be what Paul is referring to when he says "handwriting of requirements that was against us". The "requirements" include the requirement that we pay the penalty of eternal death for our sins. That is what was done away, nailed to the cross. God's feast days are not against us. I have kept them just as I have kept the weekly Sabbath, and I am a witness that they are a blessing, not something against me.

What does "law of commandments contained in ordinances" include? If it includes the annual holy days, I would need proof. The principle of Matthew 5:17-20 requires that I look for proof. I cannot assume this means "ceremonial law" and then assume that the annual sabbath days are ceremonial. I need a proven tie-in between "law of commandments contained in ordinances" and the annual holy days of God.

"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17). I have read an explanation about this, and this will be something I will look into. According to what I read, the word translated "substance" is the same word translated "body" in other places including verses that call the Church "the body of Christ", and the word "is" is not in the original. This seems to be confirmed in the King James Version of the Bible which puts the word "is" in italics (meaning not in the original language). Thus it could read, "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body of Christ". In other words, it is the Church, the "body of Christ", which would judge how we are to keep the festival days, not just any man. In many of Paul's epistles, it is evident that he had problems with people, not from Paul, attempting to judge other members of the congregation in many things and spreading false ideas and doctrines. Look carefully at verses 20-22. This is talking about principles of the world (not God) and the commandments of men (not the commandments of God). There is no way that the annual holy days could be the commandments of men or the principles of the world. They come from God. So it may be that certain men, not having authority to teach and not from Paul, were promoting certain "do's and dont's" among the congregation regarding HOW they were to keep the holy days. They may have been adding their own human ideas and making these days a burden just as the Pharisees made the weekly Sabbath a burden by their traditions of men.

I also have to consider Leviticus 23:1-44. This chapter starts out by saying, "these are My feasts" and saying they are holy convocations (or assemblies). The chapter ends with this verse "So Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the Lord" (verse 44). Between verse 1 and verse 44 is a listing of all the "feasts of the Lord". Notice that it includes the weekly Sabbath and Passover. The New Testament Church of God continued to keep both. The only thing that changed with Passover is a change in symbols, to use the bread and wine rather than sacrificing a lamb. This may seem to be circumstantial evidence, but the fact is, the annual holy days and feasts are included in the same catagory as the weekly Sabbath. The context of God listing the annual sabbaths and feasts along with the weekly Sabbath may be important.

While there were animal sacrifices offered on these days, there were also animal sacrifices offered on the Sabbath. These animal sacrifices were not the purpose of these days anymore than animal sacrifices were the purpose of the weekly Sabbath. The main "ingredient" to both the weekly Sabbath and the annual sabbaths is the day of rest and assembly for worship and instruction, associated with the particular meaning of the day. Animal sacrifices were of lesser importance.

Also it is clear that the Feast of Tabernacles will be kept in the millenium after the return of Christ (Zechariah 14:16-19).

So I have to keep these things in mind. However, I will research this more thoroughly, and I will post what I find in this blog.

Feel free to share with me any other scriptures that apply to this topic that you find.

Jack Proffitt said...

Forgive me for intruding on the topic, but I must in some way respond to Todd G’s opening statement. In it he sights Colossians 2:14-17 as the verse of primary importance. As I understand the verse, there exist four possible explanations or “interpretations.” I believe, “PTG” that one of them, the Ceremonial law view, is held and expressed by your church affiliation, “The Church of God.” While I would agree that the Ceremonial law was fulfilled in and by the appearance and death of the promised “Seed” (Gal. 3:19), I don’t believe this verse by itself does away with the ordinances contained therein.

PTG your explanation was excellent. The point of the passage is that false worship leads to man made laws. In the question that Paul is posing, the “subjects” are not two brethren, but rather between a “brother” and the unconverted. Paul is asking or rather begging the question, “Why would you allow such men to judge you?”

In order to reach the conclusion that Todd G has you must read into the text. The verse does not say, as would be assumed from the argument, “Let no man judge you for not keeping!” The word “not” must be supplied and I believe results in a misinterpretation. Ironically, this proves the point of the passage.

There are, as pointed out by you, only four possible interpretations. A reading of the entire chapter (Col. 2) reveals the solution to the problem. The chapter concludes, as you have again pointed out, with the following statement: “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not, taste not, handle not; Which are all to perish with the using) after the commandments and doctrines of men?” The question asked, if understood, has already been answered. You shouldn’t!

Realistically this is the only logical conclusion that one can infer. A brief summary of what was nailed to the cross may be appropriate (I know you already did).
1. The Law (as a whole) – Sin is the transgression of the law (1 Jn. 3:4). If we take away the law, there is no definition for sin. There would be no need for a Redeemer. What would God have to forgive?
2. The Ceremonial Law (only) – I would agree that this verse supports the argument better or more fully described in Hebrews 9-10, however, there was no Temple worship in Colose!
3. The amendments of the Pharisees – I can understand how one could reach this conclusion especially based on the scathing remarks of the Messiah found in Matthew 23. But again, I must ask, “To whom were the people of Colose subject?” Certainly it was not to the leadership of the Pharisees!
4. Finally, and what I believe to the thrust of the passage, is the “ordinances” imposed by the unconverted in their heathen worship. They apparently once obeyed such doctrine (dogma), but are no longer (and should have never been) bound by them.

Jesse said...

Author, very good blog. Actually though, I found the most interest in your interpretation of the 'handwriting of ordinances.' I had assumed that the it was referring to the traditions of men being cast down, but in the historical context that makes sense. It also makes me think of how Pilate had "King of the Jews" nailed to his cross. His crime was that he was their king. Which of course is no crime and so it is actually the crime of his people. In other words he was crucified as an innocent man.

Also that rendering of "substance of Christ," I had never heard that, but it makes perfect sense. I had always taken the passage from a different perspective, which I think you share, but perhaps I could offer another perspective.

Amo 3:6 Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?
7 Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.

If this be so then everything God did in the apostolic scriptures was foretold. And clearly throughout we see "thus it was fulfilled" or "as it was written." So then I find that if it was true that the feasts or any part of the torah was meant to pass then somewhere in the tanach it would have to be written. Yet if you search it end to end you will find the exact opposite. "The law will be magnified" not "the law will be thrown out."

The surpassing of the Levitical in favor of the Melchisedecian for example is foretold.

Therefore, when we approach the apostolic scriptures we do not have to say "how can we see the Torah in this?" as if we had to affirm that the torah was still in effect. Instead we should be approaching it as every believer in that era would have "how does this fit within all that was given before?" I don't have to find if the Sabbath is still in effect, I need to find if God has ever rescinded...which he hasn't as you seem to note.

So when I approached Colossians and the issue of being judged, I approached it from that angle and came to a similar conclusion. When he's saying let no man judge you "in" he's saying don't let them judge you in that or how you keep it.

I would disagree on one point, where you say there are "different" laws. I think I know what you mean in that there are commands, judgements, statues...and there is this modern idea of a ceremonial law. But if you understand the word Torah is not law as we think of it, rather it is teaching, then there is one teaching because there is one teacher. I'm not trying to split hairs.

As you know the passing of the one priesthood to another was in keeping with God's word through the prophets. However, notice how it happened.

Heb 7:11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.

The rising of this priesthood required a change in the law. I would point out that this is the only explicit mention of a change in the law. But notice he does not say an "undoing of the ceremonial law" but a changing of the law.

Interestingly, why would you change something if it was done away with? The idea of changing is you are continuing something that has been modified. In fact the word change here means a transfer or transposition, or a translation. Enoch for example was 'translated.' Was Enoch rewritten? In a sense yes, but he remained Enoch. The torah is also translated, but it remains the torah.

Then from a logical stand point, what is the ceremonial law? We would like to say it's ceremony. If this is true, then what is communion but a ceremony? Not even a forshadowing, it is a remembering. What of baptism or immersion, which actually was common before Yeshua, is that not a ceremony? See we forget that we are flesh and bone, made to be flesh and bone. How can we who are firstly physical (Gen 2:7) and also spiritual expect to learn or know our God in a purely spiritual way? Yeshua said after his immersion by John the baptist that it had to be done to fulfill all righteousness, why? The answer would have had to been that his heart or spirit alone could not fulfill all righteousness without this ACT.

The ceremonial can't be said to be done away with, only what requires the levitical priests can be said to be done away with or transferred over. And as we said this was foretold, another reference comes to mind why this specifically had to take place. Hebrews says that the sacrifices were rememberance of sin and could not take them away, but the new part of the covenant says that God will remember our sins no more. Thusly, sacrifice had to be done away with. What would be the point? For us to remember what was put away?

Also regarding the ceremonial. I think it's interesting in the same Corinthians, a couple chapters after you were speaking about Passover. Paul speaks about communion, why does he do it then? Well if you go back, you realize that communion was part of Passover. And it was during the Seder that Yeshua said "as often as ye DO THIS..." Communion may be permissible elsewhere in the year, but it it is commanded in the context of Passover...therefore Passover must be kept.

Again, good stuff!

author@ptgbook.org said...

Thank you, Jack, for your comments. You make some good points, and I will study what you have written carefully as I do my continued Bible study on these topics.

Thank you Jesse for pointing out that there are not "different" laws, because it is all part of a whole from one Teacher. You are correct in understanding me though. I meant there are commandments, judgments, statutes, etc.

I also like your point that there is no need for a change in a law if the law is being done away.

Matt said...

Hi. You left a comment on my blog concerning the Sabbath and the Resurrection not being on the first day of the week. I have already written about this topic and have a detailed set of explanations of this issue (one of which you probably never heard of) in this this article . In the article I so mention that the Bible does say that Jesus was really resurrected on the first day of the week with discussion about the 3 days and 3 nights controversy. Briefly, the Bible does not say what day Jesus was crucified. So it is that day that needs to moved (maybe!), not the Resurrection day. I curious to know, however, how this works out as far as what day of the week the special Sabbath fell on the year of the crucifixion. This would help me decide which theory is right.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Hi Matt, and thank your for the link to your post.

You mentioned that the Bible says that Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week. Can you confirm this with a scripture?

If Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week, it could not have been the afternoon of the first day because He was already resurrected before the disciples came to the tomb in the morning. If this were the case, He would have been resurrected at a different time of the day than He was buried. That would rule out Him being in the grave for exactly 3 days and 3 nights as Jonah was in the fish for 3 days and 3 nights, that is, 72 hours.

Matt said...

Read Luke 24:1,13,20-21,46.

This proves:

The women visited the tomb on the first day of the week. (:1)

Jesus talked with the two on the road to Emmaus on the same day. (:13)

That day was the third day "since these things were done" which included that the chief priests had him crucified. (:20-21)

Finally it says Jesus was resurrected on the third day. (:46)

author@ptgbook.org said...

Hi Matt, and thank you for these scriptures.

I will dig into this further. I am doing a Bible study on the epistles of Paul and in my studies I am going to read through the gospel accounts, and I will research the issue of when Jesus was resurrected in more depth and detail. I will check into the scriptures you have given me.

My initial reaction is that Christ had to be resurrected around the time of sunset that marked the end of the seventh day and the beginning of the first, what we would call sunset Saturday evening. If it was one minute before sunset, it would be the seventh day, and if it was one minute after sunset it would be the first day of the week as the Bible counts days. Jesus said that he would be in the grave three days and three nights, 72 hours, and He was buried around the time of sunset. In any case, it would not be Sunday morning. And it would not affect the conclusion that the seventh day is God's Sabbath, not Sunday, and the New Testament Church did not change the Sabbath to Sunday, because that conclusion rests on more than which day Christ rose.

Nevertheless, I want to be accurate about exactly when Christ was resurrected, so I will dig into the scriptures you have given me with an open mind.