SPECIAL BIBLE STUDY
God's Holy Days in the New Testament
do you mean, "New Testament Holy Days"? Weren't the "Holy Days" Old
Testament, Jewish observances, done away with at the cross? Here
is a comprehensive look at the practices of Christ, the apostles and
the early Church. I well remember the first time I heard Herbert W. Armstrong speak.
was August, 1951. My wife and I were attending our first services of
the Church of God in a small house used for local church services in
In his sermon, Mr. Armstrong referred a number of
times to various feast days such as the Passover, the Days of
Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement and the Feast of
Except for one of these, the names
all sounded strange to me. I had read the Bible ever
since I started reading, and yet these terms were "Greek" to me.
had heard about Pentecost and knew it was important. However, I did not
know whether Pentecost was a day or an event. 1 didn't know if it
happened only once or many times.
In my thinking, not only were
these names strange sounding, but they belonged to ancient history. I
believed that these days were unchristian. I had been taught that they
were "nailed to the cross" and that we would be under a curse — under a
"yoke of bondage" — if we observed them. They were Jewish feasts and
not for Christians.
Since that day I have learned a lot from the Bible — things I did not dream it contained.
finding out that Mr. Armstrong and the Church of God observed these
"Old Testament" days, I began looking them up in my own Bible. What a
surprise, especially in the New Testament I thought I knew so well!
my research I also found that most Jews don't keep these feasts, and
that those who do don't keep them in the same manner, and in some cases
not even on the same day, that the New Testament Church of God did.
I began my research, I found that I could not find the word Christmas
in the Bible, either in Old or New Testament. Neither could I find New
Year's (Jan. 1), Valentine's Day, May Day, Halloween or April Fool's
I did find Easter (Acts 12:4 in the King James Version),
but in the other versions it was called Passover instead. In checking
further I learned that the King James translators in 1611 used the
wrong word entirely, as the Greek manuscripts from which they
translated read Pascha, which, literally translated, is Passover.
these holidays were not mentioned, what days were? I found that the New
Testament, in many places, mentioned the days to which Mr. Armstrong
had referred in his sermon.
I want now to take you through the
same scriptures that I "discovered" in my study more than 30 years ago.
You, too, will probably be as surprised as I was with at least some, if
not all, of these texts and what they say.
What feasts did Christ observe?
is logical to begin at the beginning, so I first carefully checked to
see what days Christ observed. There was no record that He ever
observed any of the well-known holidays I just mentioned.
did He observe, then? I found that when Jesus was 12 years old His
parents took Him to Jerusalem to observe the Passover: "Now his parents
went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he
was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the
feast" (Luke 2:41-42).
Notice here that His parents traveled to
this Feast annually; therefore, Jesus had been to this Feast several
times before. He continued this practice with His parents as He was
subject to His parents (verse 51).
And not only did they stay
for the Passover day alone, but "fulfilled the days" (verse 43) — the
seven Days of Unleavened Bread associated with the Passover (see
Why did His parents do this? Because they
were devout Jews who "performed all things according to the law of the
Lord [God's law]" (Luke 2:39). Most Jews of that time were really not
devout in their religious worship, but the parents God the Father
chose to rear His own Son were.
About 18 years later, when Jesus
was about 30 years old, we find that He was still continuing His
parents' practice as prescribed in the law of the Lord.
John 2:13: "And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to
Jerusalem." Some people wonder why this is called the "Jews' passover"
when it is one of the feasts of God (Lev. 23:2).
reasons exist: 1) Only Jews observed these days (gentiles did not), and
2) the Jews had made some changes regarding Feast observance since it
was given to Israel in the time of Moses.
Here we see that
Christ, now in His adult life and during His 31/2-year ministry, was
going to Jerusalem to observe the Feast. In addition to the Passover
day, He also continued on during the "feast day" (Feast of Unleavened
Bread, verse 23).
Some people from Galilee who also traveled to
Jerusalem for this Feast received Jesus after He
returned home (John 4:45). They had seen what He did at the Feast,
which probably includes all the events from chapter 2:13 to 3:21.
5:1 mentions another Feast. It probably was one of the fall festivals,
and Jesus again went up to Jerusalem. Based on the record of
John, it would seem apparent this was not the spring or Passover
Feast. Events in the next chapter, which occurred later, mention that
the Passover was near (John 6:4).
Quite some time later
(possibly two or three years), Jesus again prepared to go up to the
Feast. This time there were threats against His life so He stayed in
Galilee as long as possible. This Feast was the great Feast of
Tabernacles: "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would
not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jews'
feast of tabernacles was at hand" (John 7:1-2).
there were threats of violence against His life, Jesus still went to
the Feast. He taught in the Temple during the Feast (verse 14) and at
the end of the Feast, the last or eighth day (verse 37).
Feast He explained the spiritual significance and meaning of these
days, and in particular the Last Great Day (verses 37-38).
as the time of His crucifixion drew near, He again prepared to go to
Jerusalem. Many of the people speculated as to whether He would come
(John 11:55-56), as they apparently knew of the threats against Him.
knew in detail what would happen to Him this time at Jerusalem, and
plainly told His disciples on the way (Matt. 20:17-19). Knowing all
this, He still went to observe the commanded Passover!
Christ's last Passover
the gospels record this last Passover in great detail, and it would be
unnecessary and repetitious to quote all four accounts. But we should
see certain points regarding this climax to Christ's ministry and to
His physical life.
In John 12 we find that Jesus came to Bethany
six days before the Passover. Since Lazarus had been brought back to
life (verse 1), the chief priests wanted to kill Lazarus too (verses
10-11). If they could kill Lazarus, they could discredit Jesus Christ
and His "miracles" in order that the people would no longer
Luke tells us how much Jesus wanted to observe
this final Passover with His disciples: "And he said unto them, With
desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer"
The gospels and even some of Paul's writings, as we
will see later, give the events of that evening in great detail. For
our study, the important point to note is that He still observed this
day according to the "law of the Lord." It is interesting to note that
He also observed it 24 hours before the Jews did.
daylight part of that day He was crucified and died for our sins. Now
notice: Everything that was "nailed to the cross" was nailed right then
and there. Whatever the cross ended, was ended.
Holy Days "nailed to the cross"?
now? Were the laws changed or done away with, as so many believe? Were
people "saved" before this time by obedience to the law and now,
because of what was nailed to the cross, would people be saved by
disobeying that same law? We will see.
So far we have seen that
Jesus kept the Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, the
Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day. Even though the Feast of
Pentecost, Trumpets and Atonement are not mentioned by name, it is
obvious that He observed them, too. They were all included in the seven
annual Holy Days.
Here are three reasons why Jesus observed all seven annual Holy Days:
1) Devout Jews who worshiped the Creator God did, and He was a devout Jew. He
was the YHWH, or God of Israel (I Cor. 10:4), made flesh. He was the
Word who was God, who became flesh (John 1:1-4, 14). He was only doing
what He Himself told Israel to do centuries earlier.
The law commanded that the Holy Days be observed. Sin is the
transgression of the law (I John 3:4), and Christ did not sin (I Pet.
3) He was the One who gave the Holy Days to Israel (Lev. 23).
What now? Was there to be a change? Were Christ's followers to have a new religion and observe different days than He did?
pick up this fascinating story in Matthew 28. After Christ's
crucifixion and burial He was resurrected exactly three days and three
nights later, as He said He would be.
the next 40 days He was seen by the disciples under varying
circumstances. At the end of that time He gave His final instructions
to the disciples at the Mount of Olives and then ascended to heaven in
Here are those instructions: "And Jesus came and spake
unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of
the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]: Teaching
them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I
am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen" (verses 18-20).
19 is well-known and frequently quoted, but I would like to emphasize
verse 20. He said that they should teach "all nations" (Jews and
gentiles alike) to observe the things He had commanded them.
is no direct command by Jesus in the New Testament to observe these
days; however, He did command them personally to all Israel. And, by
example, which He had now set, it should have been clear. But there is
even more, as we will see shortly.
Notice again that word
observe. Some people think that all we have to do is have "love" (as
they interpret the word love). When we really understand what love is,
as the Bible explains it, that may well be so. But that kind of love
includes obedience to God's commandments (I John 5:3, 2:3-6).
should be apparent that the word observe in this context means a lot
more than just having "love in your heart"! How do you observe love?
Observe certainly includes what Christ observed. The Greek word from
which this is translated literally means "to watch" or "to keep." It is
translated 57 times as "keep" (including John 9:16). Certainly observe
includes observing the days He observed.
Let's go one step
further. I John 2:6 says we should walk as He walked. Or, in modern
English, this means to live like He lived as far as religious matters
are concerned. Peter tells us the same thing in different words:
even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us,
leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (I Pet.
In other words, we ought to live the way Christ lived. He
set us the perfect example. From these two scriptures, it ought to be
plain that since He observed the Holy Days, the New Testament Church
ought to also.
Paul also made a similar statement: "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (I Cor. 11:1).
Paul did not follow Christ, we should not follow him. If the New
Testament Church did not follow Christ, we should not follow it. If the
gentile Christians did not follow Christ, we should not follow them.
This should be plain from these scriptures.
We now need to see
whether the Church really did follow Christ in observing these days.
The facts are comforting and consistent for those who really want to
learn God's ways and observe them.
Did the Church follow Christ?
The opening statements in Acts make it clear. The Church did follow Christ's example.
chapter 2, verse 1, we find the Church observing a Holy Day —
Pentecost! It was still a Holy Day. If such days had been nailed to the
cross, it would not have been Pentecost any longer, but
just another weekday of work.
the Church of God had not been together on this high Holy Day, they
would not have received the gift of God's Holy Spirit. They would not
have been together and of one accord.
About 13 or 14 years
later, during the Days of Unleavened Bread, Herod the king killed the
apostle James (Acts 12:1-2). Notice: The Days of Unleavened Bread still
existed. The reason they are mentioned here is so that the reader
will know the time of year this murder of one of God's apostles
The author of this book was Luke, who is commonly
and probably correctly believed to have been a gentile. He wrote
specifically for his "patron," Theophilus (Acts 1:1), and by extension
to all Christians. Theophilus is also considered to have been Greek.
The book was for Jew and Greek Christians alike.
If the gentile
Christians did not know about the Holy Days it would have been useless
for Luke to even mention that this event occurred during this Feast.
The truth, as we shall see more clearly as more scriptures are
reviewed, is that gentiles and Jews alike were keeping these days.
this passage in Acts 12, not only are the Days of Unleavened Bread
mentioned, but also the Passover. It is mentioned in verse 4, except
that the King James Version incorrectly translates the word Pascha as
"Easter" at this point. The New Testament Christians were familiar with
Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, said, "I must
by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem" (Acts 18:21). It
would appear that this Feast was probably the Feast of Tabernacles. The
people he was addressing in this text were probably mostly gentile
Christians (verse 6).
Here is the first of several examples in which we find this apostle keeping the feasts of God.
same apostle and his associates sailed away from Philippi, in Greece,
right after the Days of Unleavened Bread (Acts 20:6). Obviously they
had observed the days before their departure. The Days of Unleavened
Bread still existed, now about a quarter century after everything was
nailed to the cross.
Later in this same chapter we learn that
Paul hurried so that he might be able to be in Jerusalem a few weeks
later for Pentecost (verse 16).
The next place where we
read of a Holy Day is in 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 fast day is understood by nearly all
biblical scholars to be the Day of Atonement — you can check this point
in almost any Bible commentary. The Day of Atonement occurs in the fall
of the year, at which time sailing was hazardous in the Mediterranean
Again, imagine, if you can, a gentile, writing to another
gentile, 30 years after the cross and using a "Jewish" Holy Day to
describe the time of year! It wasn't strange to Theophilus, but it
would be strange to many people today who think they follow Christ, but
who do not follow Him and His example concerning God's Holy Days.
have seen seven different references to the Holy Days in the book of
Acts alone. Of course, there are other references to the weekly
Sabbath, which they also observed, and which is also a day
holy to God (Lev. 23:2-3). But there are even more references in Acts.
Two more Holy Days in Acts
Acts 13:14: "But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in
Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day,
and sat down." The words "sabbath day" in this passage are
different from many other places in the Greek text. A literal
translation in English would be "day of sabbaths." The word for Sabbath
is plural, not singular. This term is used only three times in the
Bible — here, Luke 4:16 and Acts 16:13.
This day could possibly
be a double high-day Sabbath, when a weekly and annual Sabbath occur
together. More likely the phrase refers to Pentecost, since Pentecost
comes at the end of seven Sabbaths.
At any rate, Paul and his friends observed the day, as they did some time later (Acts 16:13).
these texts in Acts should make it clear that the early Christians, Jew
and gentile alike, knew about and kept God's Holy Days.
Did Paul instruct gentiles about God's feasts?
raised up the church at Corinth, as we read in Acts 18. Some years
later, possibly about A.D. 55, he sent the letter commonly known as I
Corinthians. This church was composed of both gentile and Jewish
Christians — probably mostly gentile. The church had serious problems,
which Paul addressed in this letter.
One problem concerned immorality on the part of one man. The rest of the church knew about and condoned the man's sin.
5 addresses the problem. The man was "disfellow-shipped" and the church
strongly admonished because of their wrong attitude. Three verses
specifically tell them what they should do about this spiritual
"leaven": "Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven
leaveneth the whole lump? 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" (I Cor. 5:6-8).
is a type of sin. If put into a lump of dough, leaven will, in time,
permeate the whole lump. Sin, if left alone, would, in like manner,
permeate the whole Church.
The seven Days of Unleavened Bread
are a time when all leavened products are to be removed. This physical
removal reminds one of the spiritual implications and workings of sin.
only does leaven permeate the whole lump, but it puffs up the dough so
that the bread will be larger and lighter in texture. This compares to
sin puffing up the individual or the affected group of people.
this last quoted passage, note that the Church is told to purge out
this leaven (sin) "as ye are unleavened" (verse 7). He was not saying
they were unleavened spiritually, as the whole passage indicates the
exact opposite. How, then, were they "unleavened"? They were unleavened
physically. These were the Days of Unleavened Bread. They (Jew and
gentile Christians) had put leaven out of their homes and had eaten no
leaven. Therefore, they were unleavened physically and now needed to
also be unleavened spiritually.
Paul next relates that Christ is
our Passover. He was the "lamb" that was slain: His death is
commemorated each year by the Passover observance.
Not only had
these Corinthians unleavened physically during this Feast of Unleavened
Bread, but Paul next commands, "Therefore let us keep the feast" (verse
This is a command to the Church, Jew and gentile alike, to
keep the Feast. If it had been nailed to the cross 34 years earlier, or
if they would have been under a curse to keep it, Paul would not have
penned these words.
A few chapters later, Paul again returns to
the subject of the festivals of God. In chapter 11, verses 17-34, he
explains in detail the history, purpose and manner of the New Testament
No longer is the Passover a roast lamb meal (verse 34).
Instead it is an evening occasion of great symbolic meaning and
purpose. It reminds us of our accepting Jesus Christ as our personal
Passover lamb, our Savior and the One who has made it possible, through
His shed blood, for us, to have our sins forgiven and to be healed of
our physical ailments. These 18 verses are devoted entirely to details
of this Feast of God.
In I Corinthians 16:8, Paul again refers
to the Feast of Pentecost. On this occasion he intended to remain in
Ephesus, keep the Feast there instead of at Jerusalem and after that to
continue his evangelistic journeys. Pentecost still came every year. It
still existed, now about 24 years after Christ's crucifixion.
surprising, but one of the main "proofs" used by some to "knock in the
head" the Sabbath and Holy Days is Colossians 2:16. This "proof text,"
when viewed in context, instead of proving that they were "done away"
proves that a gentile church (at Colosse) actually kept the Holy Days!
the key verses: "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"
Paul does not here say, "Do not keep Holy Days or Sabbaths," though that is what many people read into the text.
start with, he warns them not to let a man judge them concerning the
matters he then mentions. If they were not to let any man judge them in
these matters, who was supposed to judge?
The answer is somewhat
obscured by an added word in verse 17. This word, in the King James
Version, is indicated by the italic type, meaning that there is no
equivalent word in the Greek, but that the word was added by the
translators in the hope that the passage would be more clear in
English. In this case, though, it obscures the point.
Here is the specific phrase: "But the body is of Christ." This should read "But the body of Christ."
simply, is what Paul is saying in these two verses: "Don't let any man
judge you . . . but let the Body of Christ judge you."
Outsiders were judging the Church
Colossians 1:18 we learn that Christ is the Head of that Body, which is
the Church. Christ, as Head of the Church and through His Church, will
judge these matters. No one else should, especially someone not even in
The matters not to be judged by outsiders concern
meat and drink and their relationship to 1) a Holy Day, 2) the new
moon, 3) the Sabbath. In other words, what people eat and drink on
these days and what is done on these days are not to be judged by
outsiders, but by the Church and its Head, Jesus Christ.
days are a shadow (picture in advance) of certain aspects of God's plan
of salvation. Each year as God's people observe these days, they
understand more clearly His plan and how it is being carried out.
anciently commanded the Sabbath and Holy Days, though He nowhere
commanded observing the new moons. The new moons have been observed by
some people at various times and in various ways, but nowhere in the
Scriptures were they made days of rest.
The fact that Paul had
to write to gentile Christians on this matter makes it clear that some
people were judging what the people in Colosse were eating and
drinking, or what they were doing, as a part of their observance of
These people had not observed God's Holy Days before
becoming Christians. They observed the pagan days previously. After
starting to observe these Holy Days, false religious teachers began to
condemn them about how they kept them and what they did on those days.
Paul and the other true ministers, following Christ's example, showed
them by personal example and by the scriptures how and when they should
observe the Holy Days and Sabbath.
"Ye observe days, and months"
Another "proof text" supposedly condemning Holy Days is Galatians 4:10: "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years."
get our bearings and use some simple logic. First, who were the
Galatians? Gentile or Jew? Clearly they were gentile, as Galatians
2:7-8, 3:26 and 4:8 show.
According to chapter 4, verse 9, they
had turned back to these "days, and months, and times, and years." What
days, months, times and years had these gentiles observed before coming
into the glorious truth of God? Answer: the days that the pagan
Just as in Colosse, these gentile Christians
learned for the first time about the Holy Days of God through the
apostles and the true Church. After embracing these days, which were
ordained of God, they had turned back to their old religious days,
months, times and years.
God nowhere commanded as holy any
months, times or years. He only made holy certain days — the weekly
Sabbath and seven annual Holy Days. God, in fact, condemned the
observance of times (Deut. 18:10).
This passage has nothing
whatsoever to do with Holy Days, but it is mentioned here lest someone
think an important "contrary text" was omitted.
It may surprise
you that the New Testament has so much to say about God's Holy Days.
Yet these texts have been there all the time, and we have not covered
them all even yet. The next to the last book of the Bible also has
something to say about Holy Days.
What are love feasts?
are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding
themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about
of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead,
plucked up by the roots" (Jude 12).
What are these "feasts of charity"? Most modern translations call them, more accurately, "love feasts."
Clarke, in his six-volume commentary, states that they "were in use in
the primitive church till the middle of the fourth century, when by the
Council of Laodicea they were prohibited to be held in the churches."
commentators and dictionaries connect the love feasts with the
Passover, the "Lord's Supper," the Eucharist or the term breaking of
bread. Most of these comments come from practices extant in the second
to fourth centuries, and do not relate to practices at the time of
Jude's writing late in the first century.
When you take the
Bible account and compare it with these comments from a later date, it
becomes evident that the "faith which was once delivered" (Jude 3) had
been watered down.
God is love (I John 4:8). The Holy Days are
the "feasts of the Lord" (Lev. 23:2, 4). By extension we can say, then,
that the Holy Days are love feasts. They are the only feasts God ever
gave. They are an expression of love — God's love — since He gave them
to Israel and to His Church. They are a blessing and delight for God's
The New Testament Church kept all these love feasts. In
time, some religious but ungodly men (Jude 4) crept into the Church.
They later "went out" (I John 2:19) and apparently took some of the
beliefs with them, which in time became perverted.
feasts" that they observed are all that the commentators have found to
explain Jude 12. In due time even these perverted "love feasts" were
dropped. Probably even these feasts were too "Jewish" for the liking of
a church later identified in Revelation 17.
At the time of Jude,
the ungodly men who had crept in unawares were spots or blemishes in
the celebration, by the Church, of God's festivals. This same problem
is also mentioned in II Peter 2:13, showing again that God's people in
His Church were still keeping these feasts.
Do you keep these days?
have now seen references to the observance of, or instructions about,
God's Holy Days or feasts in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and
John. Also in Acts, I Corinthians, Colossians, II Peter and Jude.
Galatians is not included since it mentioned pagan holidays only. Nine
New Testament books show clearly what days God's New Testament Church
They did not keep Christmas, Easter, May Day or April
Fool's Day. Only the pagans observed such days, known then by different
names. In later years the names of these pagan holidays were changed so
that they appeared Christian. They were and are anything but truly
God, who later became Christ, commanded the Holy Days
originally. Jesus Christ set the example by keeping these same days.
The apostles followed that example and taught others, Jew and gentile,
to do the same.
In Zechariah 14:19 we find a prophecy that even
the gentiles during the Millennium will either keep the Feast or be
punished by God.
The feasts were commanded forever (Lev. 23:41 and elsewhere).
The remaining question is this: Do you, too, keep these New Testament Holy Days?
By Leroy Neff The GOOD NEWS September 1982