Should Christians Observe Israelite Festivals?
An excerpt from the booklet
Israelite Festivals and The Christian Church by Angel Rodriguez, director of the Biblical Research Institute based at the General Conference.
hould Christians observe the Israelite festivals? This has been a much debated question among Christians but the present prevailing opinion is that they had only a typological significance that was fulfilled in Christ and his work of mediation and judgment. Among Adventist there are some who have concluded that it is necessary to observe the feasts and they have been promoting this practice among church members. In addressing this question, it is necessary to examine the biblical passages in which the subject of the Israelite feasts is discussed in order to determine their nature and purpose. Several Adventist scholars have looked into this subject and the common conclusion they have reached, with the exception of Samuele Bacchiocchi, is that the Bible does not expect Christians to observe the Jewish festivals.
The New Testament makes clear that the sanctuary services of the Old Testament came to an end through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and through His high priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. The law regulating the Israelite system of worship was “a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves” (Heb 10:1), and found its fulfillment in Christ.13 Concerning the feast of Passover Ellen G. White says, “On the fourteenth day of the month, at even, the Passover was celebrated, its solemn, impressive ceremonies commemorating the deliverance from bondage in Egypt, and pointing forward to the sacrifice that should deliver from the bondage of sin.
When the Saviour yielded up His life on Calvary, the significance of the Passover ceased, and the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper was instituted as a memorial of the same event of which the Passover had been a type.”14 When the type met the antitype the type came to an end. In another place she wrote, “Christ was standing at the point of transition between two economies and their two great festivals. He, the spotless Lamb of God, was about to present Himself as a sin offering, that He would thus bring to an end the system of types and ceremonies that for four thousand years had pointed to His death.
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.”15 She could have hardly have been clearer on the typological function of Passover and the other types and ceremonies.
We do no longer abide by the cultic Levitical regulations. We have a new high priest who does not belong to the order of Aaron and “when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law” (Heb 7:12). The law mentioned here should not be limited to the one regulating priestly linage; it is rather the law that could not bring perfection (7:19), the law regulating the sanctuary services.
It could probably be argued that during the apostolic period some Christians may have observed the festivals but there is no biblical evidence to support the conclusion that this was a Christian requirement for membership in the church. There are several passages in the NT that give the impression that Paul celebrated some feasts but that is not clearly stated in those passages (Acts 20:6, 15; 1 Cor 16:8).16 We should also keep in mind that Paul on one occasion went to the temple in Jerusalem and offered sacrifices (Acts 21:17-26) and even allowed Timothy to be circumcised (Acts 16:1). Yet he was fully aware of the fact that such practices were not required from Christian believers.17
14 White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 539.
15 Idem, Desire of Ages, p. 652.
16 However, E. G. White comments on Acts, “At Philippi Paul tarried to keep the Passover. Only Luke remained with him, the other members of the company passing on to Troas to await him there. The Philippians were the most loving and truehearted of the apostle’s converts, and during the eight days of the feast he enjoyed peaceful and happy communion with them” (Acts of the Apostles, pp. 390, 391).
Several comments are in order. (1) It is interesting to observe that Paul’s companions did not stay with him but continued in their mourning. This could suggest that they did not keep the feast. (2) E. G. White does not say that the Philippians kept the feast with Paul but that they enjoyed those days of communion with him. (3) It is important to observe that the text does not provide any information concerning how Paul kept the feast outside Jerusalem. We know little concerning the celebration of the main Jewish festival by the Jews during the dispersion. (4) The fact that neither Paul nor any of the apostles regulated the Christian observance of those feasts indicates that they were not a Christian requirement. Otherwise instruction should have been given. Since the Bible is silent concerning that issue, any attempt to regulate its observance for modern Christians would be a human imposition without any biblical support.
It could be useful to say a word concerning Acts 18:21. The King James Version reads, “I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem.” More recent translations omit that sentence. The reason is that “textual evidence favors the omission” of those words (Francis D. Nichols, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1956), p. 367.
17 Some have found in the following statement from E. G. White support for the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles today: “Well would it be for the people of God at the present time to have a Feast of Tabernacles--a joyous commemoration of the blessings of God to them. As the children of Israel celebrated the deliverance that God had wrought for their fathers, and His miraculous preservation of them during their journeyings from Egypt, so should we gratefully call to mind the various ways He has devised for bringing us out from the world, and from the darkness of error, into the precious light of His grace and truth” (Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 540, 541). But she is not promoting the celebration of the OT festival. She is simply suggesting, giving advice, recommending that we have a Feast of Tabernacle in the sense of coming together to commemorate the many blessings that we have received from the Lord. This will be like a testimony service where church members are given time to thank God publicly for His goodness toward them. To conclude from what she says there that we should observe the Feast of Tabernacles is to misinterpret her. The Feast of Tabernacles was a harvest festival but in the Christian church the true harvest is the harvest of souls that will take place at the moment of the Second Coming. Then, as pointed out already, the Feast will be celebrated before the throne of God (Rev 7). The celebration will take place after and not before the harvest.
We have kept the actual footnote indications as presented in the original document--Editors