Should We Keep the Feast Days?

A discussion on arguments for and against keeping the feast days of the old testament.

Introduction

Photocredit: FreeImages.com/Chris Ayers
Most Christians do not keep the feast days—in fact, if you'd asked me about feast days when I was in high school and attending church regularly, I probably would not have known what the feast days were. I can't speak for all churches, but between the church I attended growing up and the church I attended in college, we never talked about the feast days, only snippets about the Passover. Even for those who do discuss these holy days (also referred to as sabbaths), most assume they are not valid anymore since they are part of the Old Testament. Yet, there are Christians that insist the feast days are to be kept. Christian denominations such as Assemblies of Yahweh, Messianic Jews, the World Mission Society Church of God, and Hebrew Roots maintain that the feast days are to be observed. In addition to these specific denominations, there are individuals in other denominations who believe the feast days should be kept. This post examines the arguments for and against Christians keeping the feast days.
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Argument For

First, if you have no idea what feasts I'm referring to, please see my post Leviticus 23: Feasts, which details the feast and their prophetic connection to Jesus. Once you're familiar with the feasts, we can ask why the people who teach that we should observe the feast days, think we should be keeping these feasts. An obvious reason is that the feasts were mandated by God, and are the only holidays God instructs His people to celebrate. As symbols of Jesus' first and second coming they also have a strong significance to our faith that mandates remembrance and discussion worthy of annual occurrence. In addition, those who are for keeping the feasts often cite the apostles celebrating the feasts.[1][12]
18And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow. 19And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. 20When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; 21But 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 18:18-21 KJV

Since we are to imitate Jesus and follow the examples of the apostles, their observance of the feast days serves as proof to those in favor of celebrating these days. Plus, God tells the Israelites to keep the feasts "for ever" as a sign.
And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you:Leviticus 16:29 KJV

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Argument Against

There are many verses in the New Testament that suggest we are no longer required to keep the feasts. Paul refers to them as the "shadow of good things to come." As discussed in the post Leviticus 23: Feasts, this is in reference to the fact that these feasts predicted Christ's coming. We can look at this allusion in 2 different ways. First, a shadow is only an image of a person; it lacks shape, substance, and life. Similarly, the sacrifice of animals at each feast was devoid of life and unable to fully pay for our sins—they were insufficient. Jesus, on the other hand, is the body and able to fully satisfy the payment God required. Another way to view this is visually. A shadow precedes the person. The Israelites followed the shadow (feasts) to Jesus. Now that Jesus has come, we no longer need the shadow to see Him.[5][6][9][10]
16Let 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: 17Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.Colossians 2:16-17 KJV
1For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 2For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. 3But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 4For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. 5Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: 6In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. 7Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. 8Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; 9Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.Hebrews 10:1-10 KJV
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Discussion

With the destruction of the Temple in 70ad, it is impossible to keep the feast days as God demanded. We know that Jesus' death on the cross paid the price of blood, which is a good thing since there is no longer an altar to sacrifice upon. The only parts of the holy days we could possibly celebrate are refraining from work on the established sabbath days of each feast or observing dietary restrictions of the feast such as fasting or prohibition of leaven. Paul telling us we aren't to be judged on these things implies it is no longer necessary to keep these feasts, because he's suggesting the body of Christ is not to hold anyone accountable for the feast days. Notice that 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 1 Timothy 5:20, Luke 17:3, and many more New Testament passages suggest that we are to disassociate with sin, so when Paul says that we can't be judged by man about the feast days, it suggests that whether we keep or do not keep them, it isn't a sin. Further, in the Old Testament, we see that those who didn't keep the feasts were to be cut off from the people (see Exodus 12). Again, Paul says man can't judge us about the feasts which means we can't be "cut off" from the body of Christ if we don't keep them.

But, what about forever and the apostles celebrating Pentecost?

Apostles Keeping the Feasts?

The apostles definitely gathered together for Pentecost, though we don't read about them gathering for the next feasts. Some claim Acts 27:9 shows Paul keeping the fast of the Day of Atonement,[2] however the verse only says the fast had passed not that Paul actually kept the fast; similarly, I might say the day after Christmas or the day after Halloween even though I don't celebrate either. It is a habit of defining the time based on the culture I was raised in. Paul was born and raised Jewish so he would reference times and seasons based upon Jewish tradition. The same can be said of Pentecost; the Bible clearly informs us that they were together on Pentecost (being raised in the tradition they would still be acutely aware of what day it was and refer to it as such), however it doesn't actually say they were "celebrating" Pentecost. The same source suggests "the feast" mentioned in Act 18 is the Feast of Tabernacles.[2]

In terms of timeline, Paul's letters, in which he tells us we don't have to keep the feasts, occur after Pentecost.[3] Why am I bringing timeline into the discussion? The apostles receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (roughly 49 days after Jesus is crucified), which is when/how God writes His law in their hearts. The possibility that they had a divine revelation at this time is quite high. It is a few years later that Paul is convinced of Christ's divinity (Acts 9), but He too would have received the Holy Spirit when he agreed to follow Jesus. Although feasts are mentioned later in Acts, we don't really see a great emphasis on them until Paul's statement that we cannot be judged for them. Note that Paul's teaching implies we are free to celebrate or not celebrate; if we were required to either to keep the feasts or abstain from the feasts, it seems Paul would be clarifying that point instead of stating not to let people judge us.

Interestingly, in Acts 18 Paul does say he must keep a feast:
21 But 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 KJV

One source suggests this feast is the Feast of Tabernacles, but in both Acts 20:16 and 1 Corinthians 16:8 Paul says he would stay in Ephesus until Pentecost; Does Acts 20 take place later in the year or is it referring to the same time as Acts 18? One source says that Acts 20 occurs a few years later, which leaves tons of room for interpretation as to which feast it is that Paul is referring to.[7] Regardless of which feast, why did Paul feel he needed to keep the feast "by all means?" That sounds fairly urgent and important...

A better question is why didn't Paul tell those around him to keep the feast? He was at the church in Ephesus, one of the 7 churches often mentioned in scripture. They were believers like you and I. They would have been Gentiles brought into the faith and may or may not have been familiar with the Jewish feasts. If Paul thought the feasts were important for believers to keep, this would have been the moment he went into detail about the feasts or stayed to show them how to celebrate the feast. Obviously, he didn't think it was important for those to whom he was ministering to keep the feast because he mentions it very abruptly, then leaves.

Forever?

God definitely tells the Israelites all of statutes are forever. Of course, in 1 Kings 9:3, He also says that His name is written on the temple forever.
1And it came to pass, when Solomon had finished the building of the house of the Lord, and the king's house, and all Solomon's desire which he was pleased to do, 2That the Lord appeared to Solomon the second time, as he had appeared unto him at Gibeon. 3And the Lord said unto him, I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou hast made before me: I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.1 Kings 9:1-3 KJV

Yet, we don't sacrifice animals anymore and the temple is no longer standing... Some sources simply state the God doesn't actually mean forever.[5] I think the issue is in how we define forever (I hope that's what these sources are getting at, otherwise they have a lot more to cover). For instance, when people promise to love each other forever, or take care of each other forever, what they really mean is until one of them dies. Similarly, when God said He would write His name upon the temple forever, He meant that as long as the temple existed His name would be there. Notice He said His name would be there forever but He never said the temple would be there forever.

How does that translate to the statues and feast days? The statutes, such as offerings and punishment for sin did not simply vanish from existence; Jesus fulfilled them. God still requires a blood payment for the sins we commit, however, we have Jesus' blood as the payment and no longer need the sacrificial rituals described in the Old Testament to pay our debt. With the feasts, Jesus has fulfilled these sacrifices as well. The question of the feasts is whether they reached their end (like the Temple) or whether they have simply shifted in observance (like the law).

Many argue that since we are not Jewish, we aren't required to keep the feasts, but God tells the Israelites to have only one set of rules for both the Israelite and the stranger. So strangers living amongst the Israelites would have participated in the feasts as well. Of course, as stated above, Paul never tells the Gentiles to join him for the feast...

Sources site Zechariah 14 as proof that we will keep the feasts in the end.[1] Yet, there are questions to be asked of that as well.
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, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. Zechariah 14:16 KJV

The people celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles here are those who rose up against Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the holy city; in Revelation 16, God gathers believers there together.[4] Satan attacks Jerusalem because this is where God's people are. It is the nations who were not present in God's city that are keeping the feast... Those inside the city accepted Jesus as their Savior, but those outside have not. This still doesn't confirm that believers are keeping the feasts.
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Conclusion

It's not hard to see why people are confused about whether they should keep the feast days or not. Reconciling the fact that the apostles must have kept at least the first Pentecost after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection with the fact that Paul tells us not to let men judge us concerning the feasts is not an easy task. As it stands, I would interpret the verses to mean it is your choice and neither is right or wrong. This is one of those issues I will continue to pray on and I know that as I continue to read, God will reveal His exact meaning. Looks like this one is to be continued...
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References

  1. "Does God want us to keep the Feast days?". Bible Law 101; visited March 2016
  2. Theil, Bob, Ph.D. "Did Early Christians Observe the Fall Holy Days?". COGwriter. 2016
  3. "Bible Timeline". Bible Hub. 2016
  4. "Armageddon. Discover The Book of Revelation. 2016
  5. Patula, Nicholas. "Feasts of Yahweh?. Remnant of God. 2016
  6. "Should Christians Observe Israelite Festivals. Bible Info. 2012
  7. "Acts: Bible Timeline. Bible Hub. 2016
  8. Sproul, R.C., Jr. "Should We Christians Celebrate Jewish Feasts. Ligonier. January 2014
  9. Vander Lugt, Dan. ". Questions.org. 2016
  10. Spirit & Truth Fellowship International. ". Truth or Tradition. 2014
  11. Brown, Michael, Ph.D. "Should Christians observe the Biblical, Jewish Holidays?". Ask Dr. Brown. January 2013
  12. Ammundsen, Ron. "When Did the Disciples of Jesus Stop Observing the Old Testament Laws?. Fog Whistle. April 2003
  13. Various Authors. "Christian observances of Jewish holidays. Wikipedia. 2016
  14. Walker, Larry. "Why Would the Apostle to the Gentiles Keep the "Jewish" Holy Days?. Beyond Today. April 2006
  15. Hoeck, Kenneth M. and Hoeck, Brian C. "Should I Be Observing the Biblical Holydays?. Truth on the Web. 2002

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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