Many Bible scholars are perplexed why early New Testament Christians kept the annual holy days listed in the Old Testament. Scholars reason that it must have taken these “primitive” Christians many years to shed their Jewish cocoon and come to understand the “freedom” that awaited them in Christianity. Whatever the reason, one fact is undeniable: Christ, the apostles, and the New Testament church kept the holy days ordained by God in the Old Testament. These annual holy days were given to the Old Testament church-the nation of Israel. During His lifetime Christ kept the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, as well as the Feast of Tabernacles (Luke 2:41-42, John 7:8-10, 37). During the Last Supper Christ changed the symbols from the lamb to the bread and wine. While the types were changed, the day itself was not. Jesus Christ is our example (1 Pet. 2:21). There was not one thing He did that we should not do today.
The notion that Jesus’ life represented the “tail end” of Judaism and was not an example for us to follow rejects the clear Bible passages that state we should follow in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21, 1 John 2:6, 1 Cor. 11:1). Also, the argument that Christ was “under the law” (Gal. 4:4) and therefore obedient to the tenets of Judaism is erroneous because Christ did not offer a single sacrifice. Christ was “under the law” in the sense that He was subject to the law of death like any other human being. As God in the flesh, He paid the penalty for our sins and died in our stead.
One of the most misunderstood subjects in the Bible is how the truth of God should be administered under the New Covenant. During the Old Testament period the church was the physical nation of Israel. Law was enforced by a civil government. The people were required to obey the letter of the law. Under the terms of the New Covenant, obedience from the heart is required; there is no civil government extant to enforce the Law of God. Converted Christians willingly comply with every Word of God, as Jesus instructed (Matt. 4:4). Misunderstanding this principle, many today assume that since there is no longer an authoritarian approach to Bible obedience, there is no law. They assume the commandments of God, as well as the holy days, are “done away.” The only difference between the Old and New Covenants is the motivation behind obedience to God. Under the New Covenant the Law of God is no longer enforced by severe penalties. Obedience must now be from the heart, not from the fear of prosecution (Heb. 8:10).
Some argue that since there is no New Testament command to keep the holy days, they should not be kept. Such people need to realize that neither is there any New Testament command to keep the Sabbath. The Old and New Testaments are inseparably linked. The New Testament is a continuation of the Old. Christ and the apostles knew this. This is the reason they kept the Sabbath and the holy days, giving us the example to follow. It is a great fallacy to assume that because the New Testament omits many direct commands found in the Old Testament we need not obey the Laws of God. Jesus said we are to live by every Word of God (Matt. 4:4). Old Testament worship was intended to lead Israel to Christ, so the sacrificial system was acceptable until Christ died for the sins of the world. These sacrifices are what was done away, not the Law of God which included the Sabbath and holy days. Christ fulfilled the sacrificial law by His death. He was not the antitype of any holy day. He was typified by the Passover lamb, not the Passover day itself.
National Celebrations Only
Others argue that the holy days had their origin in the national celebrations of Israel and were not observed until Israel was being led out of Egypt. They insist these holy days were not a part of the covenant God made with Abraham and were written and ratified as part of the Old Covenant only. Furthermore, they say these holy days were merely “happenings and experiences” of physical Israel and were intended to last only until “the seed should come.”
Is this true?
A look at Exodus 12 reveals the holy days were instituted before the Old Covenant was ratified. The Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread were put into effect three months before Israel came to Mount Sinai. Compare Exodus 12:1-19 with Exodus 19:1. It is believed by many that the Old Covenant was ratified on the Day of Pentecost-the third annual holy day. If these holy days were placed into effect three months before Israel ratified the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai, should they be included in what was done away? And did God intend all seven of the annual holy days to be regarded as a single unit when He instituted the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread? And did the covenant God made with Abraham have any bearing on the holy days?
It is generally agreed by Bible students that what the Old Covenant did not establish could not be annulled when it was abolished. What is clear from the Old Testament record is that the holy days in part were in effect before the Old Covenant was ratified. Take a look at Exodus 12:14-19 and compare the statement made in Exodus 15:26. Here we read, “. . . If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Ex. 15:26). Were these holy days a part of God’s commandments? Of course! Some may wish to concur that this being the case, only the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread should be kept. But a look at Exodus 12:1 indicates the entire year was being considered. What this means is that when these two festivals were inaugurated, God was looking beyond the first few months. Therefore, God must have had all the feasts in mind when He instituted the first two. This is obvious from the New Testament. If God had the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread in mind only, why did Christ and the apostles, as well as the New Testament church, keep the other holy days? What should be plain is that the holy days must be regarded as an entire unit. To observe one or two of them would be meaningless. Paul’s observance of the holy days is a major stumbling block to those who would like to repudiate them altogether. If the holy days were done away in Christ, then not only the Apostle Paul, but the New Testament Christians were practicing gross error.
The covenant God made with Israel was not the Abrahamic covenant. That covenant was made many years earlier. It neither confirmed nor denied the holy days. The covenant God made with Israel many years later included many things that are not mentioned earlier in the Bible. Yet, God said regarding Abraham, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him” (Gen.18:19). Whatever was revealed to Abraham, his obedience was required. Whatever God revealed to Israel, obedience likewise was required. God expects obedience from His people at whatever time His revelation becomes known. Who are His people today? The Israel of God-spiritual Israel-the church. The notion that the holy days should not be observed today because they were not made known until shortly before the Old Covenant was ratified fails to take into consideration that this same reasoning applies to the weekly Sabbath. It also was not revealed to Israel until shortly before the Old Covenant was ratified. Yet, some of the most vociferous opponents of God’s annual holy days are Sabbath-keepers.
The Holy Days Were Ordained Forever
Opponents of God’s holy days tell us that while the Bible commands us to observe the feasts forever, it says the same thing about a number of ritualistic laws. All these ritualistic laws have served their purpose and are no longer in effect. The holy days should be placed in the same category. The statement that the holy days should be kept “forever in your generations,” came to an end with the sacrifice of Christ.
Is this true?
A number of Old Testament texts tell us the holy days were ordained “forever” (Ex. 12:14, 17, 24; 13:10, Lev. 16:29, 31; 23:21, 31, 41). Bible usage makes plain the meaning of “forever.” Both Exodus 21:6 and Deuteronomy 15:16-17 show that “forever” means as long as the factors involved continue to exist. Should the Hebrew servant choose to remain with his master, “forever” meant as long as both he and his master were alive. Should either one of them die, the factors would cease to exist. Therefore, “forever” meant as long as both parties continued to exist.
When forever is used regarding the duties of the Levites, the same principle applies. The factors involved are: (1) a sacrificial system exists which has God’s approval, and (2) there are men who have been authorized to carry out the duties of that system. The New Testament instructs us that the sacrificial system has been abolished (Heb. 9:10). Therefore, one of the factors involved has ceased to exist. Forever in this context meant the sacrificial system was to last only until the sacrifice of Christ.
The factors which continue to exist with respect to the holy days are: (1) days and nights follow a regular cyclical pattern so that the holy days can be accurately determined, and (2) human beings are present on the Earth to observe those days. Both of these factors exist, so forever with respect to the holy days continues to exist. The only thing that was done away with in respect to the holy days and the weekly Sabbath was the sacrificial requirement that had been placed on those days.
The command to keep the holy days “forever in your generations” still applies. There are Jews-the one tribe of Israel that is recognized today-keeping the holy days. That the holy days were not done away is proven by the fact that the apostles and the New Testament church observed them for many years after the death of Christ. If the phrase “forever in your generations,” as applied to the holy days, meant the holy days were terminated at the death of Christ, then neither the weekly Sabbath nor any of the laws of God should be observed today. The fact that the Sabbath, the holy days, and the Law of God were kept by the early New Testament church is ample proof these should be kept today. The early Christians knew they were not done away.
When Were Sacrifices Instituted?
The sacrifices were not a part of the original Law of Moses. Notice what Jeremiah wrote, “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you” (Jer. 7:22-23). How did Israel respond? “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward” (v. 24). Because of this stubborn attitude within the first year after departing from Egypt, God instituted the sacrificial system. This system was burdensome and constantly reminded them of sin (Acts 15:10, Heb. 10:3). A look at the book of Exodus 19 through 24 clearly demonstrates that sacrifices were not a part of the original covenant God made with Israel. Compare Exodus 19:1 with Exodus 40:1, 17. Here we see the tabernacle was not raised up until the second year. This is when the sacrificial system began. This was the added law because of transgressions (Gal. 3:19)-the sacrificial law that constantly reminded Israel of their failure to live up to the terms of the Old Covenant. It involved laborious sacrifices and various washings, rites, and ceremonies. As the Bible Dictionary, by William Smith, article “sacrifices” points out, the book of Leviticus explicitly sets forth sin offerings for the first time. This is why the book of Leviticus follows the book of Exodus.
During the Old Testament period obedience to God was limited to the “letter of the law.” But Israel could not even live up to these requirements (Deut. 5:29, Heb. 8:8). There were no spiritual promises assigned to the Old Covenant. The promise of salvation was not attached to the agreement. The promises for obedience were physical blessings and national security. The sacrificial system did not function as a method of expiating sin; it merely served as a reminder of sin (Heb 10:4). This added law, as noted earlier, is found in Galatians 3:19. While some say the book of Leviticus concerned itself with the Levites only, an examination of the book clearly shows there were many laws found in the book of Leviticus that applied to the people. In addition, the holy days commanded in Leviticus 23 are found in other passages in the Old Testament. So, the argument that holy day observance is predicated on Leviticus 23 is invalid. As far as the book of Leviticus is concerned, the New Testament clearly defines which laws are done away. For example, would we think that incest, homosexuality, bestiality, child sacrifice, idolatry, cheating, slandering and gossip, witchcraft, prostituting one’s daughter, and cursing one’s parents-all mentioned in the book of Leviticus- are permissible because the book of Leviticus is not valid for Christians today? Of course not! The only law in the book of Leviticus that is done away is the sacrificial law, along with its various rites, washings, and ceremonies.
The holy days did not originate with the book of Leviticus, nor with the Levites. The Levitical system did not begin to function until one year after Israel left Egypt. The holy days were instituted when Israel left Egypt. The abolition of the sacrificial system did not abolish the holy days. A sacrifice or ritual is not a day; it is an activity that is done on a day. Sacrifices were carried out on every day of the year. Should we now assume that because sacrifices are done away, so is every day of the year? The abolition of the sacrificial system has no bearing on the validity of the holy days-holy time set aside by God for the purpose of worship. Much in the book of Leviticus is applicable for Christians today.
It is obvious that many of the commands given to the Levites in the book of Leviticus are not required today-sacrifices, washings, rites, blowing the shofar at set times, etc. These were all a part of the sacrificial system. The idea that the Israelites did not observe the holy days until they entered the promised land is a supposition. In fact, they did try to obey God, but in their self-willed way (Amos 5:25-26). While it was God’s desire that His people obey Him, they were allowed to fulfill their own desires until God determined to destroy that first generation in the wilderness (Heb. 3:18-19).
The annual harvest seasons were incorporated into the holy days as a part of the physical types, but the observance of the holy days was not dependent upon the harvest of a crop. The holy days were given to Israel and observed long before crops were produced in the holy land. The idea that at a later time when the crops failed (because of the sins of the people), the holy days were no longer observed, is another assumption. The Jews know better and continue to keep the holy days to this day.
Paul tells us it was the sacrifices, various washings, and rites and ceremonies that were done away (Heb. 9:10). Detailed ceremonies were required on the holy days. Some, confused over the distinction between a ceremony and a holy day, imagine that when the rites were done away, so was the holy day. The offering of sacrifices, the blowing of the shofar, the heaving of the wave sheaf, the ceremonial washings, and the laying on of hands on the head of the Azazel goat are not holy days. They are various rites and ceremonies done on holy days. These are what Paul said was done away. Paul’s statement that Christians have been made dead to the law (Rom. 7:4) has led some to believe that we are dead to the Mosaic law. Therefore, there is no necessity to observe any of the Old Testament laws, including the Sabbath and the holy days. What Paul meant was that Christ’s death has made us free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:1-2). Because all mankind has sinned, the penalty of death hangs over the heads of all (Rom. 5:12). By the acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice, along with repentance and baptism, we are free from the penalty of the law-death.
Some would have us believe that the Old and New Covenants are separate from one another. The idea is that if Old Testament worship had been the true and proper way to worship, why should there have been a change? They believe the worship of the Jews was not the true way of worship. One who desired to keep the holy days would be required to roast lamb, eat bitter herbs, perform sacrifices, offer the wave sheaf, blow the trumpet, etc., all at Jerusalem. We are told it was the Law of Moses that incorporated the holy days and that Jesus did not practice them, let alone teach we should observe them.
Is this true?
For one thing, the Old Covenant did not encompass the fullness of the spiritual promises found in the New, and the establishment of the New Covenant was foretold in the promise of the Messiah (Gen. 3:15). Had the Old been sufficient, there would never have been a need for the New. Christ did not appear on the world scene until 1,500 years after the establishment of the Old Covenant. Those Jews who insisted on maintaining the Old Covenant failed to hear their own prophets who told them,
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer. 31:31-33).
The New Covenant is also an Israelitish covenant. It will be eventually confirmed with Israel and Judah. As of this day, the vast majority of Israelites have not yet entered into this covenant (Rom. 11:25). Those who have entered into the New Covenant relationship are the called and chosen Christians of today. They are the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). The New Covenant did not include the Gentiles until at least a decade after its establishment (Acts 11:18; 10:45). But Gentiles must become spiritual Israelites before they can enter into it (Rom. 2:28-29).
When the prophets foretold the New Covenant, they envisioned its expansion into the spiritual realm. Isaiah said, “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable” (Isa. 42:21). Both the terms and the promises of the New Covenant far exceed that of the Old. The terms, or requirements, of the New Covenant are found in the Sermon on the Mount. Under the New Covenant one is held accountable not only for the letter of the law but for the spiritual intent as well (Matt. 5:3-10). Israel of old could not even keep the letter of the law. The fault was not with the covenant or with God. The fault was with the people. The New Covenant was given to correct that fault. God now makes His Holy Spirit available so that those who enter into the New Covenant relationship are able to keep the spiritual intent of the law. Thus, the “Israel of God” can now keep the Law of God in the heart and mind. For a complete explanation, please read our article entitled, The Old and New Covenants-What Are They All About? The fact is: The New Covenant is the continuation and completion of the Old. The two are inextricably entwined.
What About a Transition Time?
Some say that a transition time was required between the completion of the Old Covenant and the establishment of the New, between the end of Judaism and the establishment of Christianity. During the time of Christ, the Jews were still obeying the “festival law,” so while Jesus attended the Feast of Tabernacles and did not find fault with the time element, He directed those who heard him into the true worship. This same principle was practiced by the Apostle Paul who attended “Jewish feasts” but directed the people away from Judaism. Furthermore we are told, that while the early church kept the feasts, this involved limited numbers of people only as there is no command from the beginning of the book of Acts to the end of the book of Revelation to observe these days.
If the above is true, chaos must have reigned in the church that Jesus built. In reality, the holy days were observed by Christians for a considerable period of time after the Resurrection. From the Jewish point of view, the Christians were regarded as a sect or synagogue (The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, by W. J. Conybeare, 346, 55). The facts point out that the synagogue cannot be separated from the innermost connection with the life of Christ and His ministry. The entire synagogue configuration was put into practice in the apostolic church-the outlines, details, and government (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by McClintock and Strong, s.v. “synagogue”). There was a strong connection between the synagogue and the early New Testament church. As a result of the Diaspora, synagogues had been established around the entire Mediterranean basin. Without this dispersion of the Jews, the rapid conversion of the Gentiles could not have taken place. The synagogue was the cradle of the church (Edersheim, 431), the pioneer institution of spiritual worship (The Story of Judaism, by Bernard J. Bamberger, 46). In the book of Acts, what do we find? In Paul’s journeys into the Gentile world, we find the Christians in all parts of the Mediterranean observing the holy days.
The New Testament Church and the Apostle Paul
Notice what Paul preached in the New Testament churches. “And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening” (Acts 28:23). When Paul preached about Christ, he did not leave out Old Testament law. Paul knew the foundation of the New Covenant rested on the Old.
What did Paul practice? He said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Did Christ keep the Passover? Of course! Did Christ keep the Feast of Tabernacles? Absolutely! See Luke 2:42-43, Matt. 26:18, John 7:10, 18). Did Paul keep the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles? Yes, indeed! See Acts 13:14, 42, 44; 18:21; 20:16, 1 Cor. 16:8). If Paul told the Christians to follow him as he followed Christ, he was instructing them to keep the holy days! Paul knew that under the terms of the New Covenant, he was to observe the same law that was found in the Old. Excluded, of course, was the entire sacrificial system. Paul also understood the spiritual expansion of the law, that Christians were to be obedient from the heart, not by legal legislation. Early New Testament Christians were completely unaware of later third and fourth century concepts that nullified large portions of the Scriptures by perverting grace into license to do evil.
Notice Acts 18:21. The text reads, “But Paul bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus” (Acts 18:21). Some scholars say that Acts 18:21 is not found in the original. Yet, of the 4,500 extant manuscripts found today, 95 percent contain this verse. These manuscripts belong to the Byzantine family. Those that do not contain Acts 18:21 belong to the corrupt Alexandrian and Western families of manuscripts. These Alexandrian and Western recensions (revisions) originated from trash- can copies of early manuscripts which were defective. The Western recension is an abbreviated copy of the Byzantine family, and the Alexandrian recension is the result of an attempt to correct the Western recension. Both recensions are corrupt. Those who refuse to accept Acts 18:21 as a part of the inspired text must rely on the corrupt texts of the Western and Alexandrian recensions.
Others accept Acts 18:21 as inspired but insist it means that the only reason Paul was hurrying to keep this feast was because Acts 18:18 states he was under a vow and had to meet his obligation. There is much disagreement concerning the antecedent in Acts 18:18. Many believe the “he” refers to Aquilla, not Paul. The truth is that this text cannot be used to prove Paul kept the feast because he was under a vow. Not only are scholars in disagreement as to the antecedent, but there is no proof this verse applies in any way to God’s holy days.
Acts 20:6 is not a disputed text, but opponents of the holy days tell us that this text is no proof that the Days of Unleavened Bread were being observed. The fact is: Neither is it a proof they were not! Those who say this text merely demonstrates a time demarcation fail to take into consideration that Christians who observe the holy days today refer to the holy days as time markers in the same way. Why? Because they are important. They are important because they are observed year after year as they come around. Christians who keep the holy days do not refer to pagan holidays as time markers. Why? Because they have no interest in them. Should we assume the early New Testament Christians were any different?
What the book of Acts demonstrates is that the Gentiles in Asia Minor kept the holy days and continued doing so long after the first century. Texts which mention the holy days include Acts 2; 12:3; 18:21; 20:6, 16; 27:9, 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; 11:20-26; 16:8. Acts 21:24-26 is often cited as “proof” that Paul offered sacrifices while keeping some of the feasts. Since Paul had stated that the sacrificial system was done away, his offering of sacrifices has no bearing on Christian conduct. What is inferred by this is that neither do the holy days. Acts 21:24-26 does not say Paul offered sacrifices. Rather, it says Paul defrayed the expenses of four men who were under a vow. It was considered an act of piety to pay the expenses for one under a vow at the completion of the time period.
A look at the Greek text in Acts 18:21 tells us something that does not meet the eye. It tells us that Paul did not merely attend the feasts. Paul states: “I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem. . . .” “Keep” is from the Greek word poiesai which means “to keep, to celebrate” (Analytical Greek Lexicon, by Harper, 332). Paul’s intention in traveling to Jerusalem was to celebrate or observe the feast. We find a similar meaning in Acts 20:16. Here it states: “. . .he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.” “To be” is from the Greek word genesthai, from ginomai. Harper tells us on page 79 that “to be” when used in conjunction with the festivals means “to be kept, celebrated, solemnized as festivals.” So, Paul hasted to Jerusalem in order to celebrate or keep the feast of Pentecost. There would have been little meaning for Paul to hurry to Jerusalem in order to attend the festivals if he did not keep these holy days. If the holy days were done away as some insist, Paul certainly set the wrong example-an example that would have led the disciples into much confusion. Those who would have us believe that Paul did not keep the feasts have an enigma on their hands. Paul did not both keep and not keep them.
In 1 Corinthians 5:8 we have another text that has been wrongly interpreted by many. We are told this text should be taken as symbolic; it should not be regarded as literal. The reasoning is that since 1 Corinthians 11 lists the instructions for observing the Lord’s Supper, what is instructed in 1 Corinthians 5 could not apply to a literal feast since the epistle would have arrived in Corinth too late to allow time for feast preparation. Therefore, the text should be translated “let us be keeping festival” and could only have a symbolic meaning.
The expression “let us keep the feast” is in the first person plural subjunctive and should actually be translated “we should celebrate the feast.” See The Analytical Greek Lexicon, page 148, and the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament by Berry. The text in 1 Corinthians 5:8 is not talking about when the feast should be kept, but rather that it should be kept. Furthermore, it would be a near impossibility to prove when the epistle arrived in Corinth. It could have arrived in plenty of time to prepare for the feast. The text decidedly does not say not to keep the feast. Since leaven is a type of sin, as leaven is put out of our homes during the Days of Unleavened Bread, Christians are to put the leaven of sin out of their lives continually. The leaven of sin Paul mentions here is malice and wickedness. This is the spiritual application of this commanded holy day. This text in no way does away with God’s holy days!
Holy Days Kept in Jerusalem Only?
What about the argument that the holy days could be kept in Jerusalem only? That it would have been unthinkable to keep them elsewhere? That there is no historical evidence of such a practice? That the Gentiles were not permitted to participate in the Israelitish system, and that they were not permitted to enter the sanctuary?
Such questions demonstrate a lack of understanding regarding the history of the synagogue. McClintock and Strong tell us under the article “Synagogue” that synagogues originated as early as the time of king Hezekiah. While we find no biblical evidence that there were celebrations apart from the Temple, it is probable that there were celebrations apart from the Temple on the Sabbaths and new moons (1 Sam. 20:5, 18, 1 Kings. 4:22). During the Exile the synagogue replaced the Temple. A look at the book of Ezra presupposes the practice of solemn, regular meetings, and it was during this time that the establishment or the revival of the synagogue took place. After the Maccabaean revolt a broader and freer use of the synagogue took place wherever the Jews were located. Almost every village and town had one or more synagogues, which is clearly seen in the New Testament. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, article “Synagogue,” states that even after the return from the Exile, the synagogue remained as a counterpoise to the sacerdotalism of the Temple which was an absolute necessity for the Jews of the Dispersion. These local synagogues played the leading role for the Sabbath and feast days.
Edersheim points out that Philo, Agrippa, and Josephus refer to the synagogue as a regular institution. Edersheim also points out that this is clearly seen in the book of Acts. Gentiles attended these synagogues wherever they were located around the world. Gentile converts joined in Sabbath observance, weekly fasts, the Day of Atonement, laws relating to food, and even made pilgrimages to Jerusalem. It was in these synagogues on the Sabbath and feast days that the same Scriptures were read around the world. Jerusalem was regarded as the place where men could truly worship God. But few of the Jews in the Dispersion could afford the journey, and those who did so found it to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. The Jews of the Dispersion sent annual contributions to the Temple. But, even in Palestine synagogues were scattered around the nation, and after the destruction of the Temple it would not be wrong to conclude their numbers greatly increased (Edersheim, 19, 76-77, 432).
It is true Gentiles were prohibited from some aspects of Temple worship, but they were free to offer burnt sacrifices. Many Gentiles gladly frequented the synagogues and kept some of the Jewish laws and customs. Those who fully embraced the law were called “proselytes of the covenant” and were considered “perfect Israelites” in every respect. Other Gentiles were known as “proselytes of the gate” as they professed faith in Israel’s God and bound themselves to seven precepts only (ISBE, sv. “Proselyte”).
The wide dispersion of the Jews rendered obsolete the law which required all the males to attend the feast at Jerusalem. Most of the Jews of the Dispersion (Diaspora) never attended at all. Those who remained at home kept the spirit of the feast in the synagogues by means of the festivals. It was a fact that long before the destruction of the Temple, the synagogue had become the real seat of worship, both abroad and in Palestine itself. Those who were unable to attend the feasts at the Temple assembled at the synagogues in the local areas. Even after the Temple was destroyed there was no real crisis in worship. The synagogue had become, both in thought and in feeling, the place of worship. Those aspects of Temple worship that could be separated from temple service, such as blowing the shofar, the use of branches of palms at the Feast of Tabernacles, along with various adaptations, were transferred to the synagogue. In the character of the services held in the synagogue, there was no fundamental change (Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, by George Foot Moore, Vol. 2, 11-14).
The argument that the feasts could be observed at Jerusalem only is clearly disproved by the historical record. Israel existed as a nation for almost 500 years before the feasts were observed at Jerusalem. Prior to that time, the sanctuary had been located at Shiloh, Mizpah, Bethel, and Gilgal. When the Temple was built, Jerusalem became the permanent site of central worship. There is no longer a Temple at Jerusalem, so are we to assume this is the place we must meet to observe the feasts of God?
One fact is certain: Paul kept the holy days (Acts 18:21; 20:16), but did he keep them at Jerusalem only? We have already seen Paul said to follow him as he followed Christ. Christ kept the holy days. Paul wrote the Philippians, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Ph’p. 4:9). Should we assume Paul both did and did not keep the holy days? Paul was away from Jerusalem for years at a time. If Paul kept them at Jerusalem only, he was derelict in his obligation to attend Jerusalem on a regular basis. He certainly set a bad example. If on the other hand, the holy days should not be kept, Paul set an equally bad example by going to Jerusalem “to keep this feast.” What we see from the book of Acts is that Paul kept the holy days. Therefore, he must have kept them at locations other than Jerusalem (Acts 20:6; 27:9). Furthermore, the historical record shows the Gentile churches in Asia Minor kept the holy days after, the first century. They did not go up to Jerusalem to keep the feasts.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this place, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father” (John 4:21). Jesus knew the Father was about to remove His name from Jerusalem. Jerusalem was to cease being the place where God’s people would come to worship Him. Jerusalem today is likened to Sodom and Egypt (Rev. 11:8).
Sabbath and Holy Days-Stand or Fall Together?
Is there any validity to the argument that the holy days were done away but not the Sabbath because the Sabbath is the center of the Ten Commandments? Or that Jesus obeyed the Ten Commandments but not the Law of Moses? Or that the apostles taught the Ten Commandments but rejected ceremonial law? Or that the Sabbath was given from the beginning, but the feasts originated from the Law of Moses? All these arguments are directed against the observance of the holy days.
To answer the above arguments briefly, a look at the book of Exodus demonstrates that the holy days were given to Israel prior to the command to keep the Sabbath. Compare Exodus 12 with Exodus 16. Also, the command to keep the holy days precedes the command to keep the Ten Commandments. Compare Exodus 12 with Exodus 20. Obviously there is a reason for this-one reason was to emphasize that the holy days are just as important as the Sabbath. While the Sabbath was given at Creation, Israel had long lost the significance of it and had to have it reemphasized in Exodus 16. Yet, as noted above, the holy days were mentioned even earlier. Jesus kept the holy days, so He did not regard them as a “done away” part of the Law of Moses. The apostles did not reject the holy days. They kept them also. What the apostles did recognize was that with the death of Christ, the sacrificial system was no longer necessary. It was the added law that had served its purpose (Gal 3:19). Those who repudiate the holy days because sacrifices were done on them must, of necessity, repudiate the weekly Sabbath, as sacrifices were done on it as well. Those who say it is the weekly Sabbath that is the sign given to identify God’s people must, of necessity, include the holy days, for they too were given as a sign ( Ex. 13:9).
Those who argue that it is not necessary to keep the holy days because there is no New Testament command to do so should realize there is no New Testament command to keep the weekly Sabbath either. The New Testament proves that the apostolic church kept both the Sabbath and the holy days. It is inconsistent to maintain Sabbath observance while at the same time rejecting the holy days. The weekly Sabbath and the holy days stand or fall together.
Jesus said we are to live by every Word of God (Matt. 4:4). The Old Testament is the Word of God. Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:4). His instruction commands us to observe both the weekly Sabbath and the holy days.
The idea that only the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread should be observed, as they are the only ones commanded before the Sabbath and Ten Commandments were given, falls flat in the face of the New Testament evidence. If this is true, why did Christ and the apostles keep the Feast of Tabernacles? Why did the Apostle Paul keep Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day? Christ and the apostles understood that all the holy days are to be kept, not just the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread!
After the First Century
Christ, the apostles, and the Apostle Paul kept the holy days because they recognized they are an essential part of the New Covenant. What really presents the major obstacle to those who wish to repudiate the holy days is the fact that the book of Acts shows the Apostle Paul keeping them twenty years after the death of Christ. Church history makes it clear that the early church did not regard the holy days as done away. Philip Schaff in History of the Apostolic Church, page 546, demonstrates the confusion of so many church historians in being unable to separate the spiritual law from the ceremonial law. He says that it is with tolerable certainty that the Jewish Christians observed the ceremonial law with its weekly and yearly festivals. Later, on the same page, he is at quite a loss to explain why the Apostle Paul criticized the Galatians for observing Jewish festivals (Schaff’s interpretation of Galatians 4:10), while at the same time observing them himself. Schaff admits the Apostle James kept the holy days because of the respect granted to him by the Jewish community. But, as far as Paul is concerned, Schaff could not understand why Paul allowed the Romans to observe the holy days (Schaff’s interpretation of Romans 14:5-6) while forbidding the Galatians to do so. Schaff then goes on to say that Paul kept the feasts and did so as a Christian!
William Cave, in his work, Primitive Christianity: or the Religion of the Ancient Christians in the First Ages of the Gospel, tells us on page 192 that the primitive Christians placed great importance upon the day of Pentecost. They gathered on that day (Acts 2) and Paul hastened to be in Jerusalem on Pentecost, which as Cave notes was due to Paul’s desire to keep it there as a Christian feast. Cave could only conclude that the reason must have been to see the brethren and to preach the gospel.
The Apostle John is regarded as being instrumental in the establishment of holy day observance in Asia Minor, as it was from these very churches that the controversy arose regarding the correct date for the Passover. Dr. Augustus Neander, in his treatise, History of the Christian Religion and Church, translated by James Torrey, Volume I, page 297, states that the Gentile churches probably did not keep the festivals, as inferred from Paul’s writings (Neander, like most church historians, misinterpreted Paul’s writings). The only explanation he could give for holy day observance by the churches in Asia Minor (which were Gentile) was that the Apostle John must have introduced them there. The fact is: The Apostle John took charge over the churches of Asia Minor after the death of the Apostle Paul. He did not introduce Jewish customs which the Christians there were not already accustomed to.
Philip Schaff, wrote in History of the Christian Church, page 373, that it was in the second century AD that a violent argument broke out over the proper day to observe the Passover, which he calls Easter. This argument was due to the differences of belief between the Asians (those residing in Asia Minor) and the Latins (those residing in Italy). The Asians held to the teaching of the Apostle John and had an objective historical precedent for what they did. The Latins, on the other hand, held to the principle of freedom and discretionary change. The argument was precipitated in AD 60 by the discussion between Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna and disciple of John) and Anicetus, bishop of Rome. In AD 70 the controversy was reignited when some Asiatics insisted on eating lamb at the Passover. In AD 196 Victor (bishop of Rome) branded as heretics Polycarp and all Asians who refused to change the Passover date and accept the authority of Rome. What is evident is that the Jewish Christians kept the holy days as appointed by God through Moses, and they kept them in a Christian context. What is remarkable, Schaff points out, is that in the gospels the Apostle John made the Jewish festivals, especially the Passover, so prominent in the public life and ministry of Christ. Evidently John regarded them as significant types of the leading facts of gospel history. Furthermore, Schaff tells us that the Passover controversy in the second century proves the early church kept the Jewish festivals and that they derived their authority from Christ (History of the Apostolic Church, 558-559).
Most church historians see a struggle taking place between those who followed the apostles at Palestine and those who held to the Apostle Paul. For example, the book of Galatians is viewed as a conflict between those who clung to the bondage of Jewish law and those who exalted in their Christian freedom and higher knowledge. Neander is a case in point. See Volume 1, page 340. His view is that the Judaizing Christians followed Christ, who had faithfully observed the Law of Moses. But the Apostle Paul introduced a Christian church among the Gentiles that was totally independent from Judaism. The churches in Palestine leaned toward the Old Testament, as is seen in the controversy in Acts 15. While the problem was solved at the time, it appeared again in the second century. Justin Martyr described two types of Christians: 1)Those who united the faith of Christ with the Mosaic Law, but did not force its requirements upon Gentiles, and 2) those who adhered to the Mosaic Law and forced it upon Christians. Justin Martyr regarded this second group as radicals (Neander, I, 343).
Regarding the weekly Sabbath, Paul Cotten says there is no doubt the early Christians did not regard the Sabbath as abolished, and this influence of conservative Christianity was noticed for several centuries on the Eastern and Asian churches. Even as late as AD 425, Christians in Constantinople and several other cities assembled on the Sabbath (the seventh day of the week). The church was by no means united with regard to Sunday worship and did not make any radical departure from Sabbath observance. The change took place over a long period of time and the repudiation of the seventh day Sabbath represented the abolition of Jewish law (From Sabbath to Sunday, by Paul Cotten, 63-68). What took place regarding the Sabbath also applied to the holy days.
The fact is: After the second Jewish war and the deterioration of Jewish influence, pagan concepts were attached to Christian beliefs and the acceleration of the decline of Jewish Christianity began to take place (A History of the Church to A.D. 461, by B.J. Kidd, 88-91). This is readily seen in the writings of the “church fathers” such as Jerome and Chrysostom (Neander, II, 332). Gradually, the observance of Good Friday and Easter were accepted in place of the Passover. Pentecost was first observed by Jewish precedent, but as early as the second century it was viewed as the commemoration of the appearance and heavenly exaltation of the risen Lord (History of the Christian Church, 376).
On down through history, groups have appeared the scene who recognized the need to observe God’s Holy Days. During the 12th and 13th centuries a sect known as the Passagii were the most concrete example of Judaic-Christianity to come on the scene. They believed the Mosaic Law should be observed and held to the literal view of the Old Testament. They kept the holy days and the dietary laws, but not the sacrificial system. They accepted the New Testament and made it their aim to harmonize the old and new dispensations. They kept the Sabbath along with other Sabbatarian groups in Hungary and in other lands. They were also located in southern France (Jewish Influence on Christian Reform Movements, by Louis Israel Newman, 255-284).
History records little about the true followers of Jesus. The true church-the church Jesus built-was not the visible church of this world. As early as the latter half of the second century, antagonism against Jewish Christianity manifested itself until nominal Christianity rejected the “Jewish” teachings of Christ and accepted the pagan-Christian view of freedom and self-expression. But the church that Jesus built still practices the same doctrine recorded in the Gospels and in the book of Acts. The notion that the Apostle Paul freed Christians from the Jewish cocoon is pure nonsense. As we have seen, the Apostle Paul kept the Sabbath and the holy days!
What We See During the Millennium
If the holy days are done away, why does the Bible tell us they will be kept during the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ? See for example Zechariah 14:16-19 and Ezekiel 45:21, 25. But some will say that while this is true, sacrifices will also be offered during the Millennium. So, should we make sacrifices today? The answer to this question is found in Ezekiel 44. The Levites at this time will be forced to bear their iniquity in departing from God by idol worship. They will be forced to perform the menial tasks allotted for the newly built Temple of God. The Bible does not state how long this sacrificial system will prevail. Some commentators believe it will be for a limited time only, until the Jewish nation comes to understand the significance of the sacrifice of Christ-a thing they have failed to comprehend for nearly 2000 years. We have already seen that a sacrifice is not a day; it is an activity that is done on a day. This is proven by the fact that the holy days were kept by New Testament Christians long after Christ was crucified and everything was supposedly “nailed to the cross.”
Sacrifices during the Millennium are for a specific purpose-to teach the Levites of their failure to perform what God had commanded. The sacrifices were not a part of the original covenant God made with Israel. They were intended as a temporary reminder of sin. The implication is that they will be used temporarily during the Millennium for the same purpose.
Holy Days and the Plan of Salvation
God is a God of purpose. Whatever He does is for a reason. Why, for example, are the holy days given in the order they are? To limit the meaning of the holy days to national events that occurred in the early Old Testament period misses the mark entirely. Even the Jews recognized the spiritual significance of some of the holy days. They saw the significance of Satan in relationship to the Day of Atonement and the connection between the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.
There is much more than this behind the holy days. The holy days detail the plan of salvation, and without this knowledge man cannot understand the purpose that is being worked out here below. The holy days are listed in their entirety in Leviticus 23, though this is not the only place they are found in the Old Testament. Notice the order. On the Hebrew calendar: (1) the Passover takes place on the 14th day of the first month. (2) The Days of Unleavened Bread begin on the 15th day of the first month and continue through the 21st day. (3) The Feast of Firstfruits (Pentecost) occurs after a 50-day count beginning on the Sunday following the weekly Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread. (4) The Feast of Trumpets falls on the first day of the seventh month. (5) The Day of Atonement takes place on the tenth day of the seventh month. (6) The Feast of Tabernacles occurs from the 15th through the 21st day of the seventh month. (7) The Last Great Day falls on the 22nd day of the seventh month. Why this arrangement? What is the significance?
Take a look at the Passover. The central theme of the Passover was the sacrifice of the lamb (Ex. 12:3-4). Taken on the tenth day of the first month and held until the beginning of the 14th day, the lamb was then slain. The Israelites were required to remain in their homes following the Passover meal (Ex. 12:22) while the death angel passed over the land. They were required to strike the lintel and the two side posts with hyssop dipped in the blood of the lamb as a token upon the houses. Their homes would then be “passed over.” The New Testament antitype is clear. Jesus Christ was the Passover lamb (John 1:29). Those who accept the shed blood of Jesus Christ in payment for their sins are also “passed over” and made free from the penalty of sin. The Apostle Paul wrote, “. . . For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). He knew the Passover depicted the very first requirement for salvation-the acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Passover lamb who took away the sins of the world.
Repenting of sin and accepting Jesus Christ as personal Savior is the first step only. To accept Christ as personal Savior and then to continue doing the things that required His sacrifice in the first place would be utterly without purpose. This is why the Days of Unleavened Bread occur right after the Passover. Leaven is a type of sin (1 Cor. 5:6, Matt. 16:6, 12). During the Days of Unleavened Bread-a period of seven days-the Israelites were required to refrain from eating leaven. It was to be put out of their homes during this time. What is the antitype here? The antitype is that sin must be put out of the life of each individual if he desires eternal life. As leaven-the type-was put out of the homes of the Israelites, so must the Christian put out the leaven of sin in his or her own life. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Sin is the transgression of the law-the violation of the Ten Commandments (1 John 3:4). Thus, the central theme during the Days of Unleavened Bread is putting sin out of our lives. Since this feast immediately follows the Passover, the connection is clear.
With respect to salvation, repenting of sin and accepting Jesus Christ requires something more. No matter how good the intentions, man does not have the capability not to sin-to live a righteous life-without help from God. This is where Pentecost comes in. It is the third annual holy day. On this day the Holy Spirit was given to the New Testament believers (Acts 2:4). This was when the harvest of the firstfruits began, the time when God started the first of His spiritual harvests. Associated with the spring season, the harvest of the firstfruits is merely the beginning of these harvests. Man must receive the help of God’s Spirit in order to overcome the evil pulls and lusts of human nature (Rom. 8:1, 9-11, 14). With the receipt of God’s Spirit man becomes a begotten son of God (Rom. 8:29), and in this period of time is a part of the harvest of the firstfruits.
What is not generally realized is that God is not trying to save the world at this present time. If God were trying to save the world, He is presently losing the battle. Even in this twentieth century millions of people have not heard the name of Jesus Christ. Satan is the present god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). When God sets His hand to save this world, it will be saved. There is no contest between God and Satan. Satan is permitted to do what God allows. The time period in which we live-this present dispensation-is the time of the harvest of the firstfruits when only a few by comparison have been called of God and given the truth. They are the ones who have received the Holy Spirit. If they overcome, they will be resurrected when Christ returns. When God gets ready to save the world, it will be done dramatically. The great period of salvation for this world will not take place until after Christ returns.
And this is exactly what the next holy day-the Feast of Trumpets-depicts. This world will continue in sin and evil until Christ returns as the conquering King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He will set up a world-ruling government that will take control of this Earth for 1000 years-the Millennium. The Feast of Trumpets depicts this awesome return of Christ, as described in Revelation 19:11-16. Christ will return at the last trump (Rev. 11:15, 1 Thess. 4:16). At this time the saints who have died will be resurrected to sit on thrones and rule with Christ for the thousand years (1 Cor. 15:51-53, Rev. 20:4). The Feast of Trumpets depicts the return of Christ, the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ is depicted by the Feast of Tabernacles, which will be discussed shortly.
Immediately after the Feast of Trumpets comes the Day of Atonement. The ceremonial events that took place on the Day of Atonement give us the answer to what this day represents in the plan of salvation. The present, invisible ruler of this world-Satan-must be removed before righteousness and salvation can come to the Earth. Leviticus 16 describes the ceremonial events on this day. Central to this ritual was the laying on of hands upon the head of the Azazel goat-the scapegoat-and the sins of the people of Israel being confessed over him. This goat was then removed to the wilderness. The goat represents Satan who is responsible for much of the evil and sin in this world. He will be removed from his present office and will be put in a place of restraint. He will not be allowed to be active during the Millennium. As long as he is around there can be no removal of sin, but God will remove him so that he can no longer be an influence in the lives of men.
The Feast of Tabernacles is a type of the Millennium. The Feast of Tabernacles is held in the fall of the year when the great annual fall harvest in the land of Palestine took place. It was regarded as a most important time of the year. Spiritually, it depicts the time when God will set His hand to save the world. The Feast of Tabernacles follows the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement because what they depict must take place before the Millennium can began. Christ must first return and Satan must be removed. Then during the 1000-year period, the Earth will be as full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:9, Micah 4:1-4). The saints who are resurrected at the return of Christ will reign with Him during this period of righteousness and peace.
But, even today, as well as in the past, millions have never heard of Jesus Christ. They have never had an opportunity for salvation. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Will God give them an opportunity?
Most assuredly! Following the Feast of Tabernacles is one more holy day. This day is called “the last great day” (Lev. 23:36, John 7:37). It represents a time period following the Millennium when all who died in the past without saving knowledge will be resurrected and given their first opportunity for salvation. The Bible indicates this time period will be 100 years in length (Isa. 65:20). This resurrection and time period will make salvation available for all human beings who have lived and died without ever having a knowledge of the truth. Today is not the only day of salvation. It is a day of salvation, but it is not the only one. Today is the day of salvation for the firstfruits. Throughout the Millennium the day of salvation will be for all those who are alive during that time period. Then, the time period of the last great day will provide salvation for those previously excluded. What a marvelous plan God is working out. He is completely fair. All will have an opportunity for salvation in their given time periods.
Why are the holy days so important? Because they depict in detail the plan of salvation. Without the knowledge and understanding of these days one cannot comprehend why God allows all the evil, suffering, and death in this present world. Man is here to learn that he cannot find the things of lasting value without obedience to the Law of God. Man is here now to learn that indelible lesson. As each one is called of God during one of these three time periods, as depicted by the holy days, he will have the opportunity to accept Christ and qualify for the Kingdom of God.
Those who ridicule the plan of salvation, as depicted by the annual holy days, need to demonstrate from the Bible that Jesus Christ does not represent the Passover lamb, that leaven is not a type of sin, that the Holy Spirit was not given on the day of Pentecost, that there was no spring harvest, that Christ will not return at the last trump, that the saints will not be resurrected at Christ’s return, that the Azazel goat does not represent Satan, that Satan will not be bound prior to the establishment of the Millennium, and that there is no resurrection following the Millennium. Where is the Bible evidence that the holy days do not depict the plan of salvation, and that they are nationalistic in nature only?
The idea that the holy days are foreshadows of Christ is a false notion. Paul says they are shadows of things to come. The antecedents to Paul’s statement in Colossians 2:17 are holy days, new moons, and Sabbaths. If the holy days had been fulfilled in Christ, they could not be shadows of things to come. They would have been fulfilled when Christ was crucified thirty years before Paul made his statement in the book of Colossians. The holy days are foreshadows of the plan of salvation and have tremendous meaning in the purpose God is working out. If the holy days were fulfilled in Christ, why did the New Testament church continue to observe them many years after His death?
While the holy days were given during the period of the Old Covenant, their real significance comes to light in the New Covenant. The New Covenant began with the birth and crucifixion of Christ. The spiritual meaning of the holy days is understood by the sacrifice of Christ and our need to accept that sacrifice. It is seen in the need to repent, to put sin out of our lives, to receive the power of the Holy Spirit in order to overcome. It is seen in the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the establishment of the Kingdom of God and our entering in with eternal life. The purpose of the holy days is to make us aware of what God is doing on this Earth, here and now, and in the future. They far transcend a nationalistic meaning. They give us the assurance and hope that God is a God of love and mercy and that He has the best interests of mankind-His creation-in His heart and mind.