Overview of The Feasts
I - Introduction: Blessings or Curses?
As you requested, I’m going to give you a brief overview of the feasts. Although I’ve divided the letter into several parts, such as Introduction, OT, NT, and so on, don’t worry - none of the divisions are very long. Hopefully I will present the matter as quickly and as clearly as I can; from Scripture (with a brief mention of Spirit-of-Prophecy writings), and certainly history, so that you can see where we are coming from on this with a minimum of having to hold too much information in your memory all at once. I also provide a point-by-point summary at the end to help with your review of the major concepts.
You indicated that you can see Biblically just about all the teachings of the CSDA Church, but you are having difficulty with this particular matter. That’s okay actually, as feasts are kept because they are a benefit to us, and not really as a result of specific commandment. If someone’s going to lose their job, for example, we wouldn’t advise them to jeopardize their employment – although we’d hope they would ask for their times off to coincide, if that were at all possible. Of course, some would say (rightly) that the Sabbath is also kept as a response to salvation and not solely because it’s a commandment – so we’re not going to say that feasts aren’t important. One who is living in Christ would naturally want to do as Christ did, and would certainly wish to benefit from the things the Father gave us for our own good. That’s really the bottom line: Are the feasts blessings to us, or curses?
If they are blessings, they should be kept by those who wish to be ready for Heaven without seeing death. If they are curses, they are to be avoided at all costs. Lots of people take the stand that “there’s no harm in them, but God doesn’t necessarily want us to note His appointed times.” Frankly, that’s an excuse to not keep them. No one who actually believes they are good for us (and therefore keeps them) has ever said any such thing in my hearing. Unconverted people don’t do God’s will because it’s inconvenient for them, and that’s the truth of it; but it shouldn’t come as any real surprise that feast keeping, like any other aspect of true vs. false religion, doesn’t allow for a middle ground. They’re either good for us, and we should make an effort to “by all means keep this feast” (Acts 18:21), or they’re not and we’re teaching something different than the Apostles taught. Based on that one Scripture alone, in Acts 18, it should begin to be clear already what the case is.
Even many Conference Adventists, such as Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, have begun to see the Bible’s teaching in both Testaments about the validity of the feasts, and I’ve not attempted to summarize his work, or anyone else’s in this letter. What I present is what the Bible says, and what history backs up fully, so I will try as much as possible to allow the Inspired Record to speak for Itself. If you need to read this letter more than once, please do so… repetition is one of the best ways to make something stick, and as relatively short as this is, I provide a lot of information packed tightly together:
II – Old Testament: Foundations of Faith
First I’d like to deal with the idea that feasts are only a part of the ceremonial system. The word which came to mean “feast” in Hebrew, and the times themselves, were noted long before the directions were explicitly written down by Moses. In Genesis, of Day 4, it is written: “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the Heaven, to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of Heaven to give light unto all the earth:’ and it was so.” (Genesis 1:14,15)
The word there for “seasons” is the Hebrew “mo’edim.” It is the same word used for “appointed times,” and “feasts.” Although it is certainly not a wrong translation to use mo’edim to mean seasons, that cannot be all it means. Mo’ed is translated as “feast” 23 times and “season” only 13. It is usually used (150 times) for “congregation,” a gathering of people AT a set time, which is exactly what the feasts are for. For a contextual example, the first mention of the common English concept of seasons is after Noah’s flood. “While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22) Day and night, of course, were around before the flood (Gen 1:5) – however these other additions due to climate/environmental changes were not known in the formerly pristine ecology of the earth. (Gen 1:31)
Simply put, Yahweh had appointed times for those who lived on earth even before the Mosaic covenant. Like the Sabbath, but distinct from it (since “days” are mentioned apart from the mo’edim) these were specific times that the sun, moon and stars were given for the purpose of indicating. The very reason we were given the moon and the starry constellations (Job 38:31) was to tell us when these special occasions would come to pass. Did Adam, Abraham, Noah and the others keep the feasts the same way Moses instructed the Israelites to so do? Most likely not, since they rarely, if ever, harvested or sowed, or anything of that nature. On the other hand, Yahweh used these already-existing times, which were significant from the day the sun was created, to mark such important occasions as the departure from Egypt, (Exodus 12) the ingathering of life-giving crops, (Leviticus 23) the death of His only-begotten Son, (John 13:1) and perhaps the giving of the Decalogue at Sinai (Exodus 20).
We’ve seen that the appointed times themselves existed before Moses’ instructions in the written Law, but what about the prophets? We are instructed to go to both the “Law and the testimony” (Isaiah 8:20) in order to establish a teaching. We know from the Law (Moses) that the feasts are given to mankind. If we could show from prophecies that our Father intended His people in the New Covenant ALSO to keep these times, it would establish the matter completely.
Since it’s true, it should come as no surprise that several clear prophecies do exist.
David, “in the Spirit” as the apostles put it (Mat 22:43), wrote of Christ’s ministry on the earth. He said of Him, “Also I will make Him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for Him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with Him. His seed also will I make to endure forever, and His Throne as the days of Heaven. If His children forsake my Law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.” (Psa 89:27-32)
Even the Davidians missed the boat on this one, since they claim to represent the various corrective “rods” found in Scripture. But they don’t keep feasts, which are classified as “statutes” (Leviticus 23:14, 21, 31, 41) … so they’re not THIS rod. This Scripture refers to not only commandments, but also statutes and judgments being kept by Christ’s “seed.” This is a clear reference to the Messiah’s spiritual children, New Testament Christians, and states in clear terms that they are expected to keep these things.
Whatever Christ fulfilled (circumcision, death as the Passover Lamb, the national symbols of earthly Israel) are not applicable, but they are still valid. By that I mean, the principles continue to point to truths that are fulfilled in a Christian walk, but as I will show in the New Testament section, the type has not yet met the antitype for the Feast of Unleavened Bread or the Feast of Tabernacles, to give two examples. In other words, until they do (which will be at the end of the world) the physical and spiritual “keeping” of the appointed times remains for human beings.
That’s not the only OT prophecy that deals with the last days under the New Covenant: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.” (Zech 14:16, 17)
I believe that Adventists have tried to apply this Scripture conditionally and spiritually, in order to show that the feast need not be literally kept. However, it is obvious just from the verses themselves that a spiritual meaning is not the only one, since a peaceful gathering of like-minded believers would not be described as a coming up “from year to year.” These are specific, repeated events being foreseen by Zechariah, and shows that those who would receive the rain (i.e., the latter rain) will take advantage of the opportunity to literally gather on an annual (not just weekly) basis.
Although there’s a bit more I could say, most of the really strong evidence I am leaving for my examination on the New Testament, where the apostles are specifically described as keeping feasts, and for the historical records we have. These show not only that Christians kept the feasts long after the crucifixion, but also give the reasons why they changed and took on the pagan sun-worshipping festivals instead. There is one OT Scripture, however, that really hits this subject hard.
It’s a pair of verses that Adventists use to support their valid claim that the Sabbath is applicable for New Testament times. What Conference Adventists often do, however, is to modify the verse so that it leaves out a feast while mentioning only the Sabbath! This isn’t exactly “dishonest” of them, since they genuinely don’t see the application, but the time for winking at such ignorance is passed, so close to the end, “but now [Yah] commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30)
The verses are: “‘For as the new Heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me,’ saith Yahweh, ‘so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me,’ saith Yahweh.” (Isaiah 66:22,23)
I want you to consider this part very carefully. Isaiah 66:22, 23 is the MOST used Adventist scripture from the Old Testament showing that even in the recreated universe Sabbaths are still kept. They admit, repeatedly, that it is the literal, weekly Sabbath. They contend correctly that this means clearly and without the shadow of a doubt that the 7th day is an eternal institution, and constitutes the anticipated behavior of those who follow Christ.
What about the New Moon?
In various GC-SDA publications that verse is edited to read, “And it shall come to pass that… from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.” Even when this is not done, the phrase “one Sabbath to another” is placed in bold, or is the only section of the verse discussed. They do this in order to avoid the obvious question:
“If this passage means Sabbaths are still to be kept, why does it also mention New Moons? New Moons are feasts. Why, on the basis of this very powerful verse, don’t Adventists keep feasts?”
That is the question, and this is the answer: True Adventists DO keep feasts. Conference-affiliated Adventists will go to explanations they claim are found in the New Testament to try and show why New Moons are out, but Sabbaths are in (although they are mentioned together in the future-tense in Isaiah). But in order to leave no room for doubt, the next section will follow them right through the New Covenant to see if what they are saying is right.
Before I do that, there’s one more thing to mention: Although Mrs. White never actively promoted feast keeping in her public ministry (it wasn’t time for them to be restored yet), she wrote inspired words about their importance for those in the last days:
“To these holy convocations the children of Israel came, bringing to the house of God their tithes, their sin offerings, and their offerings of gratitude. […] Thus they were to be preserved from the corrupting power of worldliness and idolatry. Faith and love and gratitude were to be kept alive in their hearts, and through their association together in this sacred service they were to be bound closer to God and to one another.
“In the days of Christ these feasts were attended by vast multitudes of people from all lands; and had they been kept as God intended, in the spirit of true worship, the light of truth might through them have been given to all the nations of the world.
“If the children of Israel needed the benefit of these holy convocations in their time, how much more do we need them in these last days of peril and conflict! And if the people of the world then needed the light which God had committed to His church, how much more do they need it now!” [Testimonies for the Church Volume Six, page 39, paragraphs 3, 4; page 40, paragraph 2]
Notice the time element she introduces: “these last days.” Mrs. White was unlike any of the Biblical prophets, in that she was trying to restore teachings that were not only lost, but also corrupted. The reformation was, and is, progressive, and all the light is never given at once. This is the reason she spoke of “camp meetings” even while referring clearly and in detail to the specific feasts ordained by the Almighty. Although it was not made apparent until “these last days of peril and conflict” the camp meetings and the appointed times are to be one and the same. The Apostles kept them, as we will shortly see, and so do their spiritual descendants as the “repairer[s] of the breach” (Isa 58:12) continue their work.
A second passage from Mrs. White:
“The directions that Moses gave concerning the Passover feast are full of significance, and have an application to parents and children in this age of the world.” [Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 21, 1895, paragraph 1]
Although Mrs. White states that the ordinance associated with the Passover ceremony (killing a lamb) was fulfilled in Christ [Patriarchs and Prophets, page 539, paragraph 3], the feast which followed it, and is not the same thing as the Passover itself although they were both called “the Passover” for convenience’s sake, is still an applicable institution. Mrs. White herself makes a distinction between the Passover with its “solemn, impressive ceremonies” and the “seven day’s feast of unleavened bread” which followed it. [ibid. paragraphs 3 and 4] She is very clear that it is the ceremony itself that ceased to have value, since Christ’s blood is the last sacrifice of that nature, but of the feast she says no such thing.
In neither of these cases have I used Mrs. White’s statements to replace Scriptural proof by any means, for that has never been my practice, and neither of these quotations constitute a proper “proof.” However, for Adventists at least, they should leave absolutely no excuse for not realizing what the Bible has been saying all along. I will back this up even further in the History section.
III – New Testament: What Was Nailed to The Cross?
As this is only an overview, I will try to make this section as short, if not shorter than, the last one. I have already laid the foundation for feast keeping in the Christian era by looking at both the principles and prophecies of the Old Testament; and having done that, I’ll give only a few “new” items of evidence from the New. Most of my effort here will be in giving a brief rebuttal to the commonly-used verses against the appointed times, and showing from one or two places that the Apostles DID keep them. On the basis of this alone, it should be obvious that Christians (even Gentiles) kept feasts, unless the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3) in the first century was somehow in error.
To begin with, we know that the Messiah was a feast keeper. Passages such as John 7:2-10 and Matthew 26:17 show this very clearly. The only question is whether or not He did this because He was “under the law” (Gal 4:4) or because He was setting an example for all men, such as when He was baptized. (1 John 2:6) This is not a difficult issue to deal with, since Paul, who was not “made under the law” as Christ was, also kept them.
The apostle to the Gentiles kept the Feast of Unleavened bread WITH Gentiles in Philippi. (Acts 20:6) According to the Cambridge Study edition of the NASB Bible and Concise Bible Dictionary, (page 95) Philippi was a Roman colony, contained Roman/Gentile citizens, and had no Jewish synagogue. And that’s just for starters.
The Gentile physician Luke quotes him as saying to the Ephesians, “I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will.” (Acts 18:21) His traveling companions such as Timothy (Acts 16:1-3), Titus (Galatians 2:1) and likely Luke himself (Acts 16:11), who were not “under the law” in any sense – Titus wasn’t even circumcised according to the Mosaic institution (Gal 2:3) – went right on up to Jerusalem with him. Were they “specifically” commanded to keep the feasts? Why then did they go with Paul? A simple explanation: They loved him, and wanted to fellowship with him and the other apostles unto whom the Gospel was delivered. I submit to you that this reason has remained unchanged by the followers of the apostles’ teachings for 2000 years.
On a little side-note, Paul is quoted as saying only twice that he wished to do something “by all means:” save souls (1Cor 9:22) and keep the feast mentioned in the verse above. Did Paul consider feast keeping important then, in stark contrast with the lukewarm reception it gets even by those who can’t find anything Scripturally wrong with it? “By all means.”
The major objection to feast keeping taken from the New Testament is found in two parallel statements in Paul’s letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians. The fact that it was Paul who wrote this supposed evidence against their validity is very significant, as I’ll point out below. But first, the verses themselves:
“For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace.” (Ephesians 2:14, 15)
The other is like it, and includes the controversial phrase “nailed to the cross.” Paul writes that included in the work of Redemption was Christ’s act of “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and [He] took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross.” (Colossians 2:14)
Regarding the first passage, we need only ask what the “enmity” that existed between Jews and Gentiles was. Paul himself tells us in that very book. In Ephesians 2 Paul writes that Gentiles did not have a “covenant” with God, being “far off.” (Eph 2: 11, 12) But the thing that eradicates this problem is the fact that “through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” (Eph 2:18) While the physical distinctions that set the Sons of Abraham apart as different (such as circumcision and tassels on clothing) were signs “in the flesh” (Gen 17:13) and done away with by the tearing of the “flesh” of Christ, (Heb 10:20) the practices themselves were not a part of this physical distinction.
The Cross opened up a “new and living way” (same verse) that did not require the ordinances of animal sacrifice. Because only Israelite priests offered sacrifices for Jewish people, only they had the ordinances of atonement; but as Daniel writes, the sacrifice of Messiah brings in the kingdom of “everlasting dominion” which He receives from the Father at His return to Heaven. (Dan 7:13, 14)
Ephesians points out that in Christ both Jew and Gentile are now the same, both having the right to the name “Israel,” and the atonement that was once for the Jewish nation alone. The earthly ordinances being done away, now the inheritance belongs to all who are faithful, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of Yahweh shall be saved.” (Rom 10:13) This is taken from Paul’s discourse to the Romans on exactly the same subject (Rom 10:1-21), and perhaps even more significantly, Paul would not contradict his earlier statement to these same Ephesians, whose company he sacrificed (for a time) for the sake of a feast.
If we aren’t sure of what Paul means in a difficultly-worded passage, the best advice I can give you is this: Ask Paul. See what else he says in other places about the same subject matter.
The second passage, from Colossians, is even more easily understood in light of the chapter from which it is taken.
What was nailed to the cross? (Col 2:14) Paul tells us in very specific language: the “handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us.” Not only were they “against us,” but they were “contrary to us.” The author is emphasizing that it is something directly opposed to our well-being that was taken out of the way for us.
Inspired commentary tells us that it was the Ceremonial Law that was nailed to the Cross. That gives us some insight into what happened there, and also reveals exactly why this was. The Ceremonies of the priestly system consisted of 1) The upkeep of the earthly temple and 2) the system of atonement for sin by the blood sacrifices of animals. The Feast times were separate from the sacrifices that often accompanied (but did not define) their associated rituals, and it continues to be a mystery to me how anyone who has actually read the descriptions of these appointed times can say that they were summarily fulfilled by the death of the Messiah.
Obviously, the Passover ceremony was fulfilled when He died. We are explicitly told, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” (1Cor 5:7) However, the same writer tells us just one verse below that: “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1Cor 5:8) Here a clear distinction is made in the New Covenant between the death of the Paschal Lamb (which was Christ) and the feast that began the day after. Because of the death of Christ, we are able to properly keep what that feast represented, and continues to represent: a life free from insincerity, deception, and all sin.
The death of Christ makes it possible for us to have atonement with the Father. This is lived out, if one believes in the Gospel taught by CSDA Church and once taught by Adventist pioneers and Christ’s earlier disciples, by a life lived in Victory over sin. In other words, though the Passover ceremony is fulfilled by the Savior’s death, the Feast that follows is currently in the process of being fulfilled by believers. Type has not met antitype for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Similarly, the assertion that the Feast of Tabernacles is fulfilled by the death of Christ is even less valid. The Feast of Tabernacles represents the harvest of the earth. (Rev 14:15) We are still here. Type has not met antitype for the Feast of Tabernacles. I hope you can see what I am getting at. It is true that when the physical reality represented by a Feast comes to pass and its earthly fulfillment is completed, the Feast itself passes into disuse so that only the spiritual element remains. That has clearly NOT happened in the case of either Unleavened Bread or Tabernacles. As Paul rightly said, they presently “are shadows of things to come.” (Col 2:17)
Time and again I have seen people quote that passage to read that the feasts “were shadows of things to come,” changing the tense from present to past. This is the same thing they do with Paul’s statement that “all have sinned” in Romans. They read it as “for all sin and come short of the glory of God,” changing it from past perfect (a completed action) to present, continuous actions, and thus wrongly argue that no one can be free of sin, despite the promises of Christ Himself.
Neither is this a side issue. The tendency of worldly Christians to change the tenses of certain passages of Scripture to suit their traditions is not a light charge, and I do not make it lightly. But rather than going into that now I’ll go back to what I was talking about before, for the sake of brevity:
Paul stresses that the thing that was “nailed to the cross” was both against us, and contrary to us. It was something that was not good for our spiritual lives. Has anything God given us ever been bad for us? Were the feasts ever against us, or were the instructions of the Father for our good? Yahweh remarks to Moses, “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deu 5:29) I think this verse should answer that question eloquently enough.
The feasts were never “against us,” or “contrary to us.” They were given to us so that we may rejoice in our Father and Saviour, (Lev 23:40) and only a sin-sick mind would take the very things given to us for joyful blessings, and claim that they are curses which were mercifully blotted out at the Cross. “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in Heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” (Mat 7:9-11)
So what WAS nailed to the Cross? The word used for “handwriting” of ordinances (cheirographon) is in no place translated as “law” or “commandments” or “ceremonies.” It is a term that means a receipt. Something we owe. Paul in another place writes, “The wages of sin is death,” and again that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23; 3:23) This record of our sins (manifest in our breaking of commandments and ordinances) has remained on the books of Heaven, (Rev 20:12) and has been “against us” from the time it was written until it is “blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come” by the Blood that was shed for us at the Cross. (Acts 3:19) We owe death, due to our past sins; but the sacrifice of the Savior blots out the record pointing to such “wages” as we have earned.
No longer will animal sacrifices point to this finished work. No longer will the earthly Israelite nation be the sole recipients of this great salvation. The Blood of the Lamb is made available to ALL, Jew and Gentile, and this is the promise contained in those wonderful Scriptures. The passages in Ephesians and Colossians have nothing, nothing at all, to do with the blessings that the Father has invited us to share with Him during the days of His choosing.
To close this section off, I’d like to briefly revisit that passage which calls the annual feasts, along with Sabbaths and New Moons, “shadows of things TO come.” I would like to clear up a Conference-Adventist misuse of this Scripture beyond any reasonable argument. Here is the entire thing, as printed in KJV Bible, and as translated fairly accurately from the Greek of the manuscripts:
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the New Moon, or of the Sabbath [days]; Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [is] of Christ.” (Col 2:16,17)
I left the words [days] and [is] in brackets on purpose. They are not in the original Greek, although there are words for both days (hemerais) and is (esti) in that language. In fact, in that chapter of Colossians Paul uses the term esti (is) several times, making its absence even more conspicuous in that key passage. That verse actually reads: “Let no man therefore judge you in [all these things], which are a shadow of things to come, but the Body of Christ.” This makes a tremendous difference! Rather than saying that the “substance is fulfilled in Christ” as some modern translations (and lay translators with something to defend) assert, Paul is actually declaring that these institutions are valid, and to be judged BY the Church, the only organization equipped to so do. Let no man judge your feast keeping, Sabbath keeping and so on except for the Body of Christ.
I have seen people like J. argue that the word “Sabbath” there does not mean the weekly Sabbath, but this argument (although a Conference standard) is nonsensical and I have told them so both in private and in public. Lee, in his responses to me, has never been able to defend his assertion, nor have any of the others, and for one simple reason; it’s wrong – and there’s no evidence to even hint at its validity. They usually go quiet when faced with the evidence of Scripture.
Twisting this passage around is the best technique the Conference has been able to find in defense of its position against the plain reading of the Colossians passage, while maintaining the weekly Sabbath. In so doing, they use the same arguments Sunday keepers draw from that verse, only they cleverly exonerate the weekly Sabbath first by simply closing their eyes to the fact that it IS in fact mentioned right there along with the other appointed times. Even some Conference adherents like Dr. Bacchiocchi have begun to see that this particular emperor has no clothes.
Nowhere in the New Testament is the word “Sabbath” used to mean anything except the weekly one, and the fact that holy days are mentioned in addition to Sabbaths is conclusive evidence that the term “Sabbaths” there does not mean the annual ones. If anyone uses this passage to throw out the feasts, the weekly Sabbath goes with it – no question about that – and we know from other Scriptures and from the history of the Christian church that this is a false contention.
The best and most obvious reading of Colossians 2, leaving out all the translators’ additions, is a clear statement that is consistent with not only other writings by Paul, but also his recorded practice. No one can judge the proper keeping of God’s festivals but God Himself, through the representatives established by the Spirit in His own Church. Colossians 2, rather than giving evidence against feast keeping, is proof positive that it was an issue that was strongly defended by the apostle who wrote that letter.
Although a lot more could be said about the matter of feasts in the New Testament, including John’s reference to New Moons being kept in Paradise (agreeing with Isaiah’s vision) by the term he uses in Revelation 22 for the words “every month” in verse 2, I’ll leave it at this for now.
IV – History: Proof Positive
This will be the shortest section of the letter, but perhaps the most important. Of the several ways to interpret the Bible, we know that there are many false roads, and one true. We know that people with a prior belief system will read things into the holy passages, and evangelists need to accept that as fact and work with people instead of against them. We need to therefore be willing to ask not only, “How do I read this verse,” but also, “How did the early Christians, who were the intended target OF those verses, read and understand them?”
By examining what the people who read the Gospels, Paul’s letters, the Apostles’ writings and John’s vision did in response to those words, we can see without controversy what the authors meant. To get right to the point: Did early Christians, reading the New Testament, conclude that feasts were not to be kept, or were they in fact encouraged to continue walking in these instructions set forth by the Almighty in the earlier Books of the Bible?
In his book “Ecclesiastical History,” a bishop named Eusebius recorded the proceedings of the Nicean Council. This meeting was presided over by the infamous Constantine, who we already know was responsible for officially giving sanction to a Sunday Sabbath, forever scarring the Christian world. This is not all he is responsible for.
Another issue which came up in this council was dubbed the “Quartodeciman controversy,” and it involved this subject: Not all of the Christians were content to accept the pagan Ishtar (Easter) celebration in lieu of the Passover/Unleavened Bread ceremony they had been keeping up until that time.
Eusebius, it should be noted, was in favor of the changes Constantine was making to the Christian traditions, and so he would have no reason to fabricate this evidence, which clearly shows that in fact changes WERE being made to the pure doctrine given by the Apostles a couple hundred years earlier. Here is Eusebius’ record of the testimony of a bishop named Polycrates, a scrupulous follower of the Gospel as he learned It through the Apostles, specifically John the Beloved, who wrote the last book of the Bible, and outlived all the others:
“We for our part keep the day scrupulously, without addition or subtraction. For in Asia great luminaries sleep who shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s advent, when He is coming with glory from heaven and shall search out all His saints such as Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis with two of his daughters, who remained unmarried to the end of their days, while his other daughter lived in the Holy Spirit and rests in Ephesus. Again there is John, who leant back upon the Lord’s breast, and who became a sacrificing priest wearing the mitre, a martyr, and a teacher; he too sleeps in Ephesus. Then in Smyrna there is Polycarp, bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, the bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who also sleeps in Smyrna. Need I mention Sagaris, bishop and martyr, who sleeps in Laodicea, or blessed Papirius, or Melito the eunuch, who lived entirely in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis waiting for the visitation from heaven when he shall rise from the dead?
“All of these kept the fourteenth day of the month as the beginning of the Paschal festival, in accordance with the Gospel, not deviating in the least but following in the rule of faith. Last of all I too, Polycrates, the least of you all, act according to the tradition of my family, some members of which I have actually followed; for seven of them were bishops and I am the eighth, and my family have always kept the day when the people put away the leaven. So I, my friends, after spending sixty-five years in the Lord’s service and conversing with Christians from all parts of the world, and going carefully through all Holy Scripture, am not scared of threats. Better people than I have said: ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” [Polycrates as quoted by Eusebius in The History of The Church, p. 231]
The question of how the controversy even arose is an interesting one, and a lot of it had to do with the anti-Jewish sentiments espoused by the Roman government that was occupying Palestine in those days. This attitude later filtered into the pro-Rome Christian churches of the first two centuries, and finally Constantine’s official changes in favor of the same state government that had crucified the Lord of Life.
That the theology of some early Church Fathers was influenced by the anti-Semitic Romanist concepts is dramatically set forth in the writings of Justin Martyr. During a debate with a Jewish theologian named Trypho, this famous early “Christian” (if such a word can be used) stated: “For we [Christians] too would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the Sabbaths, and in short all the feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined you – namely, on account of your transgressions and the hardness of your hearts.” [Dialogue, between Justin Martyr and Trypho, Chapter XVIII]
Of course, Justin further misunderstands the nature of circumcision as a specific flesh-based sign of Yah’s favor. He erroneously believes it was given to Jews to separate them from other people because of their wickedness “that you alone may suffer that which you now justly suffer; and that your land may be desolate, and your cities burned with fire; and that strangers may eat your fruit in your presence.” [ibid., Chapter XVI] He ignores the fact that unlike feasts, circumcision is specifically described as being “nothing” now, (1Cor 7:19) but the motive described by his writings are clear enough and applicable to this subject matter.
I will therefore conclude this section merely by pointing what is obvious from Justin’s statement. Not because of anything Christ did, or the Apostles did, or the Spirit revealed to the Churches, was the shift away from the Sabbath AND the Feast days initiated. It was done based upon the firm belief of some bigoted, misled men that some of the things our loving Father gave His children were curses and the result of disobedience. From my introduction until now, I have held before you (and earnestly contend) that this is not, and has never been, true.
V – Summary and Conclusion
In summary, I will only repeat main points from the previous sections, so that you can end your reading with the major ideas firm in your mind:
I – Introduction:
1) Although the feast days of the Bible are not held by us to be a matter of commandment to the degree which “thou shalt not kill” is, we find them to be a decided blessing, and believe that the Christ-like heart of a convert will take these blessed opportunities to gather with other believers.
2) If feasts are the blessings the Scripture makes them out to be, they should be coveted by those who are preparing for Heaven. If they are curses, they need to be condemned firmly by Christians. There is no middle ground allowed here, and anyone teaching something different from the Apostles is declared to be condemned. (Gal 1:8)
3) More than one well known Adventist scholar is beginning to see, or has already seen, the plain teachings of the Bible in support of a Christian continuation of keeping the appointed times. While this specific fact is not proof on its own, it is a strong argument in favour of a re-evaluation of the subject by those who claim the name “Adventist.”
II – Old Testament:
1) The concept of feasts and appointed times, like the concept of clean and unclean animals (Gen 7:2) and the Sabbath (Gen 2:3), far pre-dated the giving of the Ceremonial Law. As such they were never, and are not, subject to being blotted out merely because the ordinances connected to blood sacrifice and the temple rituals were fulfilled at the Cross.
2) The prophecies of David, Zechariah, Isaiah and several others point to feast keeping in the New Covenant established by Christ. In fact, the major Old Testament Scripture used by SDAs to validate the eternal nature of the Sabbath points just as clearly to the eternal nature of the New Moons, one of the appointed times.
3) For Adventists who accept Ellen White’s commentary on the Old Testament as inspired, her statements regarding both the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Tabernacles should point clearly toward the continued validity of annual feasts. This is hardly the strongest evidence, particularly for non SDAs, but it is consistent with the Bible’s own statements, and therefore perfectly valid as supporting information.
III – New Testament:
1) Christ kept the Appointed times, just as He kept the Sabbath. If one wishes to argue that He did so merely because He made Himself subject to the Law, we need only read the testimony of Luke that not only Paul (a Hebrew) but also Gentile converts to Christianity such as Timothy and the Philippian congregation used the feast days as times of fellowship and rejoicing long after the Savior gave Himself up for our sins.
2) The passages in Ephesians and Colossians have been incorrectly used to support the belief that the feast days were blotted out. Not only would Paul’s words contradict his actions if that were the case, but proper examination of those Scriptures reveals that the things which were against us – the record of our sins in Heaven, the fleshly barriers between Jews and Gentiles, the need for animal blood to effect an atonement on human beings’ behalf – these and these only were made obsolete by the Cross of the Messiah.
3) Rightly read, leaving out the “helpful” English additions made by translators, the passage of Colossians 2:16, 17 is a strong statement in which weekly Sabbaths, New Moons and holy days are listed as separate institutions that are all valid and to be handled solely and specifically by the Church. The fact that the 7th day Sabbath is included among these as one of the shadows of things to come (present ceremonies pointing to future events) should be a strong condemnation of any mishandling of this passage.
IV – History:
1) This brief section gives a powerful set of statements by an early Christian bishop that he and those with him, including such Biblical figures as John and Philip, kept the feast days after Christ’s death. This record, from a source that is at least objective, is the closest thing to absolute historical proof that any doctrine can hope to obtain.
2) A brief explanation of one of the reasons for the split between Christianity and its “Jewish” practices is mentioned, with support from the writings of the well-known Justin Martyr.
To conclude, I think I ran a little longer than I had anticipated, but I really stripped out as much as I could without giving the matter an unfair treatment. I didn’t cite every verse used to oppose feasts, and I certainly didn’t cover all the areas in favor of it. Based on the principles that I have established here, however, seeing their presence in the passages of both the Old and New Testaments should be easy.
As with every study I do, I open myself up completely to comments, questions or requests to further examine Scriptures related to the matter. None of the verses of the Bible were written in a vacuum, and each passage connects to every other. Looking at Scripture as a whole when trying to come to a conclusion about any topic is always the best way to go about things, and in this case the passages I provide point to what was uncovered regarding this subject.
I hope it’s been a great blessing to you, and I look forward to your feedback. I know that several times you have indicated your interest in attending a feast with us, and I hope this study encourages you to make that appearance a regular one.