Updated: Jun 21
ARE CHRISTIANS STILL TO KEEP THE JEWISH HOLY DAYS?
The Jewish holy days involved sacrificing animals yet God never delighted in this. The sacrifices and the days were to keep in mind the evil results of sin and point forward to Christ who would take our sins upon Himself and die in our place. This study presents several lines of reasoning which show that Christ has abolished the Jewish holy days and that Christians ought not to observe them.
Feasts of the Jews
“...a feast of the Jews” John 5:1.
“...Passover, a feast of the Jews.” John 6:4.
“...the Jewsʼ feast of tabernacles.” John 7:2. The fact that the disciple John said these feasts were “OF THE JEWS,” show that the feasts were JEWISH and not Christian. In contrast the Bible never says that the 7th day Sabbath is “of the Jews” because it is for ALL MEN (Mark 2:27, 28). The phrase, “King of the Jews,” doesnʼt show Christ to be only a Jewish king because the phrase was given by a Roman ruler, not an inspired Christian disciple writing after Calvary.
What purpose did the Jewish holy days have?
The holy days were commemorative of events in Israelʼs past and, like the animal sacrifices and the entire earthly ministry, they were designed to point forward to Christʼs life, death, and ministry in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb 8:2-5). The ceremonial ordinances were written in a book by the hand of Moses and were distinct from the moral ten commandments which were written on stone by the finger of God. The moral law defines sin, the ceremonial law explained how Christ was to deal with sin.
Note: The moral law existed before sin. The ceremonial law was added after sin. “Ordinances” refer to the rites & ceremonies of the Jewish ceremonial law. See Heb 9:10 margin; Exo 12:14-17).
What happened to these ordinances and feast days of the Old Covenant?
When Christ, to which they had pointed died, the holy days, along with the entire Levitical ministry, was abolished: Ephesians 2:15 “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;” Christ abolished the Jewish ordinances, some which only a circumcised Jew could observe, and which had created a wall of partition (Eph 2:14) and an enmity between Jewish and Gentile believers. By His death in the middle of the 70th week (Daniel 9) Christ caused the “sacrifice and oblation TO CEASE.” (verse 27). Christ made an end of sins (Dan 9:24). The word translated “sins” (Heb. chattah) is frequently translated “sin offerings.” Christ ended the sacrificial system when He, the One to whom all the sin offerings pointed, died.
To confirm that Christ ended the sacrifices and offerings we read: “...in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation TO CEASE,...” Dan 9:27. Colossians 2:14-17 “BLOTTING OUT THE HANDWRITING OF ORDINANCES that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; [And] having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday [Gr. heorte, feast, festival], or of the new moon, or of the sabbath [days]: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [is] of Christ.” In view of the fact that these holy days, meat offerings, drink offerings, ceremonial sabbath days [See Lev 23, esp. v 37-38] were only “shadows” pointing to Christ, and as Christ has blotted out these ordinances, Christians are no longer to observe them. We are not to be concerned if others condemn us. Paul and the other apostles labored to show this, and resolutely withstood those Judaizing teachers who declared that Christians were to keep the ceremonial law. Though some continued to keep the Jewish holy days Christians should not.
Note: The sabbaths here mentioned were the temporary ceremonial sabbaths which were “besides” the eternal moral seventh day Sabbath (Lev 23:38).
Jesus foretold the abolition of the Jewish holy days
A woman said to Jesus, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in JERUSALEM is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall NEITHER in this mountain, nor yet AT JERUSALEM, worship the Father.” (John 4:20-21). According to the ceremonial law, Jewish males had to worship AT JERUSALEM on three of the Jewish feasts (Deut 16:16; 1Kings 14:21). Jesusʼ words, “neither... at Jerusalem” showed that the law of the Jewish feasts, which required male attendance at Jerusalem, was to be abolished. John 4:22-23 shows that this would occur in Christʼs time. Indeed the ceremonial law was blotted out when Christ died.
How did God show that the sacrifices and oblations were no longer of significance after Christʼs death?
God tore the curtain in the sanctuary when Christ died. (Matt 27:50-51; Luke 23:45). The Levitical system was then made redundant.
In Heb 9:8-10 Paul speaks of the various sacrifices, offerings & ordinances in the PAST TENSE which stood until the time of reformation
“The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle WAS yet standing: Which [WAS] a figure FOR THE TIME THEN PRESENT, in which WERE offered both gifts and sacrifices, that COULD NOT make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; [Which STOOD] only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed [on them] UNTIL the time of reformation.” Note that Paul speaks of the Jewish meat offerings & drink offerings, washings and ordinances as HISTORY and PAST, NOT PRESENT. (a) The time THEN present, (past tense) but NOT NOW present. (b) That WERE OFFERED, (past tense).
(c) Which COULD not, (past tense). (d) Which STOOD, (past tense), but are no longer standing. (e) UNTIL the time of reformation came and they are now no longer standing.
Colossians 2:20 “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances...” Those who believe that Christ fulfilled the ordinances ought not to keep them. Why continue to observe the type when the antitype has come? If one is not killing Passover lambs etc. one is not keeping the law as Moses gave it. One either does it as Moses gave it or one is not doing it at all. Doing it would be pointless anyway. On what basis can anyone keep the Jewish feasts while ignoring the rest of the Jewish ceremonial law?
Is the observance of the Jewish holy days commendable or worrying?
In Galatians 4:9-11 Paul spoke to those who would continue to observe these shadows saying, “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I AM AFRAID OF [or FOR] YOU, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.”
Abolition of the Mosaic system by Christ was foretold
Ps 40:6-8 “Sacrifice and offering thou DIDST NOT DESIRE; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book [it is] written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law [is] within my heart.” Paul explains this in Hebrews: “For 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...Above 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; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. HE TAKETH AWAY THE FIRST, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ ONCE [FOR ALL]. Heb 10:1-10.
Notice that the YEAR BY YEAR offerings (e.g. The ANNUAL Passover etc.) have been TAKEN AWAY by the ONCE for all offering of Christ.
Can Christians keep the annual Passover as a memorial and claim that on that day they ʻsacrificeʼ Christ as their Passover sacrifice?
The Passover required that A SHEEP be sacrificed ON THE DAY. As Christ died ONCE for all (Heb 10:10) He cannot be any repeated ANNUAL sacrifice for those who continue to keep the annual Passover.
The Holy Spirit confirms that the Jewish holy days are ended
Certain Jewish converts taught “That it was needful to circumcise them [Gentile converts], and to command [them] to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5, 24). As a result the Apostolic Council sat and concluded that the Gentile converts did NOT need to be circumcised or keep the law of Moses which Peter described as an unbearable “yoke.” (See Acts 15, esp. verses 10, 28). Take note that this was the decision of the Holy Spirit and the Apostles (Acts 15:28). But the council spoke only of Gentiles, what about Jews? Eventually it was recognized that if the Gentiles could be saved without observing the Jewish feasts, contained in the law of Moses, then so too could Jewish Christians. As one had to be literally circumcised in order to observe the literal Passover (Exo 12:48), and as Christians donʼt have to be literally circumcised, it is clear that they donʼt have to keep the literal Passover, otherwise they would have to be literally circumcised. Type met antitype in the death of Christ and to continue with the types is a denial of Christ.
The following comments summarize the Biblical evidence presented:
“After the crucifixion, it was a denial of Christ for the Jews to continue to offer the burnt offerings and sacrifices which were typical of His death. It was saying to the world that they looked for a Redeemer to come, and had no faith in Him who had given His life for the sins of the world. Hence the ceremonial law ceased to be of force at the death of Christ.” E.G. White, Signs of the Times, 29 July 1886.
“Christ was standing at the point of transition between two economies and their two great festivals. . . . As He ate the Passover with His disciples, He instituted IN ITS PLACE the service that was to be the memorial of His great sacrifice. The national festival of the Jews was to PASS AWAY forever. The service which Christ established was to be observed by His followers in all lands and through all ages.” E.G. White, The Desire of Ages, 652.
“Christ ate the Passover supper with His disciples just before His crucifixion, and the same night, instituted the ordinance of the Lordʼs supper, to be observed in commemoration of His death. Up to this time the Passover had been observed to commemorate the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. But IN ITS PLACE He now left an ordinance to commemorate the events of His crucifixion.” E.G. White, Signs of the Times, 25 March, 1880.
“When the Saviour yielded up His life on Calvary, the significance of the Passover CEASED, and the ordinance of the Lordʼs Supper was instituted as a memorial of the same event of which the Passover had been A TYPE.” E.G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 539.
“In this ordinance [The Lordʼs Supper], Christ discharged His disciples from the cares and burdens of the ancient Jewish obligations in rites and ceremonies. These no longer possessed any virtue; for type was meeting antitype in Himself, the authority and foundation of all Jewish ordinances that pointed to Him as the great and only efficacious offering for the sins of the world... It was Christʼs desire to leave to His disciples an ordinance that would do for them the very thing they needed-- that would serve to disentangle them from the rites and ceremonies which they had hitherto engaged in as essential, and which the reception of the gospel made no longer of any force. To continue these rites would be an insult to Jehovah.” E.G. White, 5 Bible Commnetary, p1139-1140.
Church History and Jewish holy days
Truth is determined by the Bible alone. Though some sects may have observed the Passover others did not. The post-apostolic church debated whether Christians needed to observe the Passover. The evidence presented here shows that the non-observance of the Jewish feasts by Christians through the centuries was the correct conclusion.
What relevance do the Jewish feasts have for the Christian?
Though they have been abolished we can learn much about Christ and His work from the Jewish feasts. While being commemorative the Jewish holy days also pointed forward to Christ: 1. Passover - Christʼs death for us. 2. Unleavened bread - Holy life. 3. Firstfruits - Presenting Himself before the Father following His resurrection. 4. Pentecost - Outpouring of Godʼs Spirit.
5. Trumpets - End-time warning message.
6. Atonement - Christʼs cleansing ministry in Heavenʼs Most Holy Place.
7. Tabernacles - The saintsʼ time in heaven.
1Cor 5:7 “...Christ our PASSOVER is sacrificed for us:” 1Cor 15:20 “But now is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the FIRSTFRUITS of them that slept.” Acts 2:1, 4 “And when the day of PENTECOST was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place...they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” The feasts were to be fulfilled on the very day. So Christ died as our Passover on the very day of the Passover(14th Nisan) Rested in the Tomb (15th Nisan) Arose as the Firstfruits and presented Himself in Heaven (16th Nisan). He also fulfilled the details. e.g. None of His bones were broken just as with the Passover lamb. (Exo 12:46; John 19:36). There is much more to study.
(a) The ceremonial holy days were “Jewish” and not Christian (John 5:1; 6:4; 7:2). Christians are not subject to Jewish holy days. (b) Christians would not honour Christ by observing the Jewish holy days today, as the feasts were to point forward to Christ, not back, and “ceased,” were “abolished,” and “blotted out” when Christ died (Col 2:14-17; Eph 2:15). (c) The New Testament speaks of the holy days as having a purpose in the past which was to last until Christ came. (Heb 9:8-10).
(d) The apostle Paul asks why Christians would subject themselves to the Jewish ordinances. (Col 2:20). (e) The apostle Paul feared that he had laboured in vain for those who continued to observe the holy days (Gal 4:9-11). (f) Jews who keep the holy days look for a Messiah to come. Christians should not appear to be doing the same. (g) One either observes the Passover etc. as God gave it (including animal sacrifice) or one is not observing it at all. The Passover required that a sheep be sacrificed on the day. As Christ died ONCE for all (Heb 10:10) He cannot be any part of an annual Passover. (h) The Holy Spirit agreed that the Gentile converts were not to keep the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law which Peter called an unbearable yoke. (See Acts 15, esp. v 5, 10, 28). (i) The Lord gave the new ordinance of the Lordʼs supper to replace the old ordinance of the Passover. Unlike the Passover, the Lordʼs supper is not an annual event but an occasional memorial of Christiansʼ continuous feast on the Word and Christ. It may be held as often as we choose. (1Cor 11:25-26). In Rom 15:4 we see that some found giving up the literal feast days hard. We can only pray that they see their fulfillment in Christ and find freedom. Praise God that we no longer need to kill innocent animals or go on weary annual pilgrimages as some of the Jewish holy days required. Christ has brought in a better ministry with better ordinances - the very ministry the ceremonial system and holy days foreshadowed.
Does the following say we should observe the Feast of Tabernacles?
“Well would it be for us to have a feast of tabernacles, a joyous commemoration of the blessings of God to us as a people.” E.G. White, Patriarchs & Prophets, p540. Note: “A” feast, not “THE” feast. The context shows that the feast spoken of here was to commemorate the experience of OUR CHURCH just as the feast of tabernacles had commemorated the experiences of Israel.
The Jewish holy days are sometimes used in the New Testament to give the timing of events. Paul attended some of the Jewish holy days where he no doubt showed those attending that the feasts pointed to Christ. No New Testament reference to the Jewish holy days shows that the apostolic church observed them. This is consistent with all the passages showing that Christ has abolished and blotted out the ceremonial ordinances. A passage sometimes placed in contradiction to the New Testamentʼs declarations that the Feasts have been abolished is found in Exodus 12:
“...ye shall keep it [PASSOVER] a feast by an ordinance FOR EVER...And ye shall observe [the feast of] UNLEAVENED BREAD...by an ordinance FOR EVER.” Exo 12:14, 17.
The word translated “forever,” (Heb. olam) is used elsewhere in the Bible. The Bibleʼs use of this word shows that in Scripture it does not always mean without end. 1. Jonah was in the whale “for ever,” (Jonah 2:6) i.e. 3 days. 2. The servant served his master “for ever,” (Exo 21:6) i.e. as long as both parties lived.
3. Gahazi contracted leprosy “for ever,” (2Kings 5:27) i.e. as long as he lived.
4. David was to be Israelʼs king “for ever” (1Chron 28:4). i.e. as long as he lived.
5. Aaron and his sons served forever (1Chron 23:13), i.e. as long as they lived. As applied to God “for ever” means as long as God shall live - i.e. eternally. We see that for ever (Heb. Olam) means as long as the nature of the subject allows. The Passover was to last till Christ. Lambs will not be sacrificed and eaten throughout all eternity! Neither will Christ be repeatedly crucified every year for “Christ died once for all.” (Heb 9:28; 10:10).
Acts 2:1 “And when the day of PENTECOST was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”
This does not state that the church is to continue observing Pentecost. The mention of Pentecost is to give the timing of the events. Pentecost, of all the feast days, attracted more pilgrims from distant lands. The dangers of travel by sea and land in early spring (Acts 27:9) resulted in fewer pilgrims from foreign lands attending either the feast of Passover or Tabernacles. The large numbers of foreign pilgrims attending Pentecost made it the perfect time to share the message of Christ with representatives of many nations. Thus on the very day of Pentecost God gave His church the gift of tongues in order to reach those assembled at Jerusalem from many lands.
Acts 12:3-4 “And because he [Herod] saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of UNLEAVENED BREAD.) And when he had apprehended him, he put [him] in prison, and delivered [him] to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter [Gr. pascha, PASSOVER] to bring him forth to the people.” This does not state that the church was observing the day, it merely gives us the timing of the events. The phrase “Then were the days of unleavened bread,” are in parenthesis and give no indication that Peter or any other Christians were observing the day.
Acts 18:21 “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.” (a) This verse (Acts 18:21) mentions a feast that occurred “IN JERUSALEM.” There were three feasts which required ALL Jewish men to go to Jerusalem, the place God chose (Deut 16:16; 1Kings 14:21). The fact that Paul LEFT THE BRETHREN to go to Jerusalem shows that the Christian brethren were NOT observing the feast. (b) We know that the brethren would not be going to Jerusalem because Paul would have to “return” in order to meet them later. Paulʼs return is described in Acts 19:1. (c) As the Christian brethren were NOT KEEPING THIS JEWISH FEAST we may ask why did Paul say “I must keep it?” There is actually a question over whether Paul said this at all. Some manuscripts omit the phrase, “I must by all means keep this feast that cometh at Jerusalem. For example the R.S.V. translation reads, “But on taking leave of them he said, ʻI will return to you if God wills,ʼ and he set sail for Ephesus.” Acts 18:21. Several translations omit the phrase, “I must keep this feast,” such as the N.I.V.; R.S.V.; Amplified. (d) One thing certain is that PAUL DID NOT SAY that “WE must keep it.” This is powerful. Were Christians expected to keep it surely Paul would have said, “WE.” He did not, because we are not. (e) Even if the disputed phrase is accepted it still fails to teach that Christians observed the Jewish feasts as has been shown. One of the meanings of the word translated “keep” (Gr. poieo) is “to make a thing out of something.” Paul, as an evangelist, was saying to the brethren who were NOT attending the feast, “I [Paul] must by all means (make something out of) this feast that cometh in Jerusalem.” Paul, as his manner was, desired to make an evangelistic opportunity of it.
Acts 20:6 “And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of UNLEAVENED BREAD, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.” This does not state that the church was observing the day. The reason they stayed until the festival was over is not stated but it was about this time in the Spring that shipping resumed in the Mediterranean. No doubt they explained to those observing the feasts that the feast pointed to Christ. None of this proves it to be a Christian festival.
Acts 20:16 “For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of PENTECOST.” This does not state that Paul or the church was observing the day, only that Paul wanted to be there on that day. Just why Paul wished, if possible, to be in Jerusalem is not stated. No doubt Paul would have used the feast as a wonderful evangelistic opportunity revealing that the feasts pointed to Christ. Paul determined to be there but there is no suggestion that the other Christian brethren hasted to be there in order to observe the feast.
Acts 24:14 “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the LAW and in the prophets:” Paul BELIEVED all the Old Testament, as do we, but this does not show that Paul was observing the ceremonial holy days when He said this. The ceremonial law demanded circumcision yet Paul taught that literal circumcision was nothing (1Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6).
Acts 27:9 “Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the FAST was now already past, Paul admonished [them],”
This does not state that the church was observing the day. The mention of the feast is to give the timing of the events here recorded. The fast is evidently the Day of Atonement in late October when approaching winter weather made sailing dangerous in that part of the world. All males had to appear IN JERUSALEM for the feast of Tabernacles (Deut 16:16; 1Kings 14:21) which occurred 5 days after the Day of Atonement (Lev 23:27-34). The fact that Paul was at this time was sailing around the Mediterranean indicates that he was not an observer of the feast of Tabernacles.
1Cor 5:8 “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our PASSOVER is sacrificed for us: 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.”
This does not state that the church was observing the literal events on the literal day. On the contrary it shows that Christ was the One to Whom all the Passover lambs had pointed. Christians keep the feast in its antitypical form, not on an annual day but continually. Not with literal unleavened bread but with lives unleavened with sin. Not with an annual sacrifice but with the once for all sacrifice of Christ. Not applying blood over literal doors yearly but applying Christʼs blood to our hearts continually. Trusting that in the closing scenes of earth the angel of death will pass over us. “Let us keep,” or rather “Let us continue keeping,” our lives always free of the leaven of wickedness and malice. Paul in Rom 15:5 showed that observing the literal feast days was no longer necessary.
Luke 22:15-16 “And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Does this show that the Passover will not be fulfilled until the kingdom is set up at the Second Coming? This Passover was the last Passover and the first Lordʼs Supper. It is the Lordʼs supper that Christ said He will eat with His disciples at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb when the Salvation will be fulfilled completely. Christ will not be serving dead lambs in heaven! What those who wish to keep the Jewish ordinances and feasts need to ask themselves is whether they want to be Christians or Jews.
"When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." John 19:30
Grace and Peace be with you.