Did early Christians keep the Fall holy days? When did many people change and observe Halloween, All Saint's Day, and Christmas instead? Why did this change occur?
This article will attempt to address those questions.
While everyone knows that Jesus kept the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:10), many do not realize that the New Testament shows that the first century Christians observed the Fall holy days, such as the Day of Atonement (called the Fast, Acts 27:9) and the Feast of Tabernacles (possibly the one the Apostle Paul called the Feast, Acts 18:21). And that the fulfillments of the Feast of Trumpets is also described in the New Testament (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18; Revelation 8-11).
Jesus Himself taught on the last of the Fall Holy Days:
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37-39).
Notice that even after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the importance that the Apostle Paul attached to keeping a Feast in Jerusalem:
I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing (Acts 18:21 NKJV unless otherwise noted).
The Apostle Paul kept the Fall Holy Days. Paul wrote that he needed to keep the feast (possibly meaning the Feast of Tabernacles; Protestant commentators tend to focus on the one of the Spring Holy Days as this feast).
He also apparently kept the Day of Atonement (known as the Fast):
9 Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them (Acts 27:9).
Hence, Paul kept (after his conversion to Christianity), what are now commonly called the Jewish Holy Days--and also sometimes did it outside of Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:8). Jesus, of course, also kept the Holy Days.
And notice that Paul also wrote:
Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Do you follow the practices of Jesus and Paul and keep them yourself?
However, while there are many clear references that the Spring Holy Days such as Passover and Pentecost were observed in the second century, I have not found any clear references to the Fall Holy Days in the second century writings I have reviewed (although Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians, Chapter II does discuss part of the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets). But does that mean that they were not observed?
There are at least five reasons that it can be concluded that the second century church kept them:
1. The original Apostles did (Acts 18:21;27:9)
2. They are mentioned in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments
3. Polycarp and Polycrates said they followed the practices of the Apostles in regards to holy days (see Passover)
4. There were early Christian meanings for them.
5. If they were not being kept, then certain leaders in the Roman Catholic Church would not have later felt the necessity to drive the observances out.
There is also an indication in an old, but probably corrupted in the 4th century, writing that Polycarp discussed the Fall Holy Days. Notice:
I will give the narration in order, thus coming down to the history of the blessed Polycarp...
So also he pursued the reading of the Scriptures from childhood to old age, himself reading in church; and he recommended it to others, saying that the reading of the law and the prophets was the forerunner of grace, preparing and making straight the ways of the Lord, that is the hearts, which are like tablets whereon certain harsh beliefs and conceptions that were written before perfect knowledge came, are through the inculcation of the Old Testament, and the correct interpretation following thereupon, first smoothed and levelled, that, when the Holy Spirit comes as a pen, the grace and joy of the voice of the Gospel and of the doctrine of the immortal and heavenly Christ may be inscribed on them. And he said that they could not otherwise receive the impression of the seal which is given by baptism and engrave and exhibit the form conveyed in it, unless the wax were first softened and filled the deep parts. So also he thought that the hearts of the hearers ought to be softened and yield to the impress of the Word. For he said that it unfolded and opened, like closed doors, the minds of recent comers; and accordingly the prophet was bidden by God, Cry out mightily and spare not, Raise thy voice as a trumpet. What must one say, when even He that was gentler than all men so appeals and cries out at the feast of Tabernacles? For it is written; And on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried saying, If any man thirsteth, let him come to Me and drink. (Pionius, Life of Polycarp (1889) from J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, pp.488-506.)
It appears that although there was a major split in the second and third centuries between the Roman Church and the true Church of God (which was then mainly based in Asia Minor), that some affiliated with the Roman Church still observed many of the same holy days as those in the Church of God did. And this is outside of Jerusalem.
This is further substantiated in a Jewish account (reported in the Talmud), as related by a Catholic scholar may also be helpful here. It is recorded that an early second century Christian named Jacob (100-120 AD) with a Jewish scholar discussed the Day of Atonement and the Christian Jacob explained how it helped show "Christ head of the angels" (Bagatti, Bellarmino. Translated by Eugene Hoade. The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970. Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, p.97).
A few decades after Christmas was adopted by Rome, the Roman Catholic saint John Chrysostom preached the following in 387 A.D.:
The festivals of the pitiful and miserable Jews are soon to march upon us one after the other and in quick succession: the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts. There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now...If the Jewish ceremonies are venerable and great, ours are lies...Does God hate their festivals and do you share in them? He did not say this or that festival, but all of them together. (John Chrysostom. Homily I Against the Jews I:5;VI:5;VII:2. Preached at Antioch, Syria in the Fall of 387 AD. Medieval Sourcebook: Saint John Chrysostom (c.347-407) : Eight Homilies Against the Jews. Fordham University. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/chrysostom-jews6.html 12/10/05).
The wicked and unclean fast of the Jews is now at our doors. Thought it is a fast, do not wonder that I have called it unclean...But now that the devil summons your wives to the feast of the Trumpets and they turn a ready ear to this call, you do not restrain them. You let them entangle themselves in accusations of ungodliness, you let them be dragged off into licentious ways. (John Chrysostom. Homily II Against the Jews I:1; III:4. Preached at Antioch, Syria on Sunday, September 5, 387 A.D.).
So also the Law fixed the feast of Tabernacles (John Chrysostom. Homily IV Against the Jews IV:3. Catholic Christians of Antioch Turning to Sabbath and The New Moon Day and Other Holy Days. 387 A.D.).
John Chrysostom preached against the Fall holy days, because some who professed Christ were observing them.
Yet, John Chrysostom wrote in favor about another "festival of the Jews":
When, it says, the day of Pentecost was fully come: that is, when at the Pentecost, while about it, in short. For it was essential that the present events likewise should take place during the feast, that those who had witnessed the crucifixion of Christ, might also behold these...And, it says, there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men. The fact of their dwelling there was a sign of piety: that being of so many nations they should have left country, and home, and relations, and be abiding there...for it was Pentecost. (Chrysostom J. The homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople: on the Acts of the Apostles, Volume 1, Homily IV. John Henry Parker, 1851. Original from Harvard University. Digitized, Apr 12, 2008, pp. 53, 55, 56).
So, he admitted that after the resurrection, the faithful needed to be present at what was then considered to be a "Jewish feast." If God was opposed to all of them, why would the apostles have kept it? The obvious reason is that they were following Jesus' example and had no reason to believe that they were somehow done away. (For more on Pentecost and what John Chrysostom and others wrote about it, please see the article Pentecost: Is it more than Acts 2?)
It is interesting to note that John Chrysostom must also have realized that the second century church kept Passover the same time as the Jews did (this was even true in the early second century in Rome). And that the Catholic Church still kept Pentecost. Thus by preaching what he did against the holy days, John Chrysostom is preaching against his own church as the Roman and Orthodox Catholics claim to keep both Passover (though on a different date, and with a different name) and Pentecost--as both of those festivals would be part of "all of them together".
It should be noted that the basic reason that John Chrysostom preached against the holy days was due to antisemitism. In demonstrates this in his Homily Against the Jews (of which there are at least eight of) as he calls the Jews by a variety of names. Here are a few of his statements:
But do not be surprised that I called the Jews pitiable. They really are pitiable and miserable (I:II:1).
So the godlessness of the Jews and the pagans is on a par. But the Jews practice a deceit which is more dangerous (I:VI:4).
Do you see that demons dwell in their souls and that these demons are more dangerous than the ones of old? (I:VI:7).
Since it is against the Jews that I wish to draw up my battle line, let me extend my instruction further. Let me show that, by fasting now, the Jews dishonor the law and trample underfoot God's commands because they are always doing everything contrary to his decrees. When God wished them to fast, they got fat and flabby (VI:IV:2).
Indeed, the fasting of the Jews, which is more disgraceful than any drunkenness, is over and gone (VIII:I:5).
But the facts are that the Holy Days were kept by Jesus, the New Testament Church, and those faithful to their teachings. And the other fact is that no where in the Bible do we see hatred against the Jews. Jesus taught we were to love our neighbor (and most the of "neighbors" He was then talking to were Jewish).
Furthermore, the New Testament calls one of the so-called “Jewish” holy days “great”. Notice the following from both a Protestant and a Catholic translation:
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out (John 7:37, NKJV)
And in the last, the great day of the festivity JESUS stood, and cried (John 7:37, Rheims New Testament).
So who is right?
Those who follow Jesus' practices or those who condemn them?
Recall that John Chrysostum, in this case, somewhat correctly stated,
"If the Jewish ceremonies are venerable and great, ours are lies".
So which days should be observed? Which days are lies?
Perhaps it might be helpful to realize that Catholics do admit that early Christians did observe the Feast:
St. Jerome (PL 25, 1529 & 1536-7) speaking of how the Judaeo-Christians celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles…tells us that they gave the feast a millenarian significance (Bagatti, Bellarmino. Translated by Eugene Hoade. The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970. Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, p.202).
We in the genuine Church of God also keep the Feast of Tabernacles and believe that it foreshadows the coming millennium. Additionally, comments by Epiphanius near that time concerning the Nazarene Christians would also seem to support that those who kept the Fall Holy Days were located in several areas at that time (see Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes?).
During the Middle Ages the fall holidays were observed, though records are limited.
Notice the following report:
Under the name of Passagini, we have the clearest sort of statement that these people, about 1200, observed the whole Old Testament law, including the Sabbath and FESTIVALS! People called Cathars at Cologne, Germany, kept a fall festival, called "Malilosa", even before Waldo began to preach. Compare this unexplained name with Hebrew "melilah" (a harvested ear of grain -- Strong's Exhaustive Concordance) and the Biblical title "Feast of Ingathering" (Ex. 23:16). How much more we might have known about these Middle Ages' Feasts of Tabernacles had not the Inquisitors so zealously burned the records! The three-part division of tithes paid the Waldensian Church is significant. Even in the 1500's the same division continued. "The money given us by the people is carried to the aforesaid general council, and is delivered in the presence of all, and there it is received by the most ancients (the elders), and part thereof is given to those that are wayfaring men, according to their necessities, and part unto the poor" (George Morel, Waldensian elder, quoted by Lennard, "History of the Waldenses"). 1. Compare this practice with Num. 18:21 and Deut. 14:22-25, 28-29. Isn't it exactly what the Bible commands?... Most authors have ASSUMED the "wayfaring men" were the traveling "barbel." But THEIR expenses would have been paid from the money given the elders, at EVERY time of year, for the direct conduct of the Work -- "first" tithe and offerings. Notice that in Numbers 18:21. What Morel then mentions is a "second" tithe, for those traveling to and from the festivals -- wayfaring men; and following it, the "third" to the poor. See the explanation in Deut. 14. Feast goers who had more "second tithe" than they needed shared their excess with those who had need, even as they do today! (LESSON 51 (1968) AMBASSADOR COLLEGE BIBLE CORRESPONDENCE COURSE "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place ..." Rev. 12:6).
Furthermore, Sabbath-keepers in Transylvania in the 1500s and probably later kept the Fall Holy Days such as the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Trumpets (called Day of Remembrance below):
The Sabbatarians viewed themselves as converted Gentiles..They held to the biblical holidays...The Day of Atonement was a day of fasting, although they emphasized that pentinence is more easily acheived by a peaceful and quiet meditation on the law and one's life than by fasting. The Day of Remembrance (New Year, which they celebrated in the Fall of the year) was the day on which they thanked God especially for the creation of the universe. There is no mention of circumcision, so it is unlikely that they practiced circumcision (Liechty D. Sabbatarianism in the Sixteenth Century. Andrews University Press, Berrien Springs (MI), 1993, pp. 61-62).
And the Fall Holidays are still observed into the 21sth century by many Sabbath-keeping Church of God groups.
A holiday that many celebrate in the Fall is All Saint's Day, a day to honor the dead--and John Chrysostom mentioned that one in a positive way (see Is Halloween a Holy Time for Christians?). As well as Halloween, the evening before it. However, unlike the biblical holy days, none of these are endorsed by the Bible.
A Roman Catholic writer noted the following (bolding mine):
It should be noted that Halloween is a Catholic holiday. Pope Gregory IV in 835 made it the universal practice in the Roman Catholic Church to celebrate All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1. All Souls' Day follows the next day as the commemoration of all of the faithful who have departed.
“All Hallows’ Even” as the evening before All Hallows’ Day — All Saints’ Day – eventually became shortened to Halloween. Hallow, as in “hallowed be thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer, is an older form of the word “holy.”
It was the Protestant Reformation that rejected the universal practice of devotion to the dead (Martin Luther dropped any references to praying for the dead from his Bible). This Catholic holiday was attacked, much like the church as a whole, for being pagan and evil. Hence I wouldn’t be surprised if this cloud of suspicion hovering over Halloween originated from the spirit of anti-Catholicism.
But Nov. 1st was the day of the Celtic Summer’s End feast of Samhain, the day when the dead returned to the earth. We have retained some of these pagan elements to Halloween, as is true of Christmas and Easter.
Why would a pope put the Catholic celebration of the dead on top of the pagans’ celebrations of the dead? Because the Catholic feasts are in continuity and fulfill the meaning of the pagan ones. This is why C.S. Lewis said that Christianity was the fulfillment of paganism.
So we don’t reject the use of trees at Christmas time because they were pagan, we continue to use them, because as symbols of life they now point to Christ...
So what about the indulgence in the spooky and scary? Skeletons are spooky, but they are also very Catholic. In fact, one couldn’t find a better haunted house for a Halloween pilgrimage than the various “chapel of bones” that can be found across Europe.
(Killian Brian. Halloween, as autumn celebration, reminder God’s name is hallowed. Catholic Online International News. 10/31/06. http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=21818).
Notice that the writer above admits that Halloween did not become a universal Catholic holiday until 835, that he admits that it and Christmas contain pagan elements, and that the Catholic feasts are in continuity and fulfill the meaning of the pagan ones.
The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches that:
Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church...
Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday; Arnobius (VII, 32 in P.L., V, 1264) can still ridicule the "birthdays" of the gods.
(Martindale C. Transcribed by Susanti A. Suastika. Christmas. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
The Church in Rome did endorse Christmas, however, by the latter half of the fourth century. The World Book Encyclopedia notes,
In 354 A.D., Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered the people to celebrate on December 25. He probably chose this date because the people of Rome already observed it as the Feast of Saturn, celebrating the birthday of the sun (Sechrist E.H. Christmas. World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 3. Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, Chicago, 1966, pp. 408-417).
It should be noted that some scholarly sources believe that the celebration in Rome of Christmas may have began 2-4 decades earlier, but none I am aware of suggest it was prior Constantine in the fourth century.
And it did not become part of the observations in Constantinople until the famous hater of Jews, John Chrysostum, introduced it there:
We may take it as certain that the feast of Christ's Nativity was kept in Rome on 25 December...It was introduced by St. John Chrysostom into Constantinople and definitively adopted in 395 (Thurston. H. Transcribed by Rick McCarty. Christian Calendar. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York ).
What does God teach about using pagan worship practices like trees and other heathen practices. Notice :
Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not (Jeremiah 10:2-4, KJV).
When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods..." (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).
Should Christians worship God in ways the heathen do? Should they celebrate with ways God hates?
Should Christians keep the holy days that are listed in the Bible or the holidays that humans added much later than the Bible?
Notice the teachings of God:
These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread... Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath...In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation...Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement...The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the LORD...On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:4-6,16,24,27,34,36).
The holidays of the seven month (Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles, Last Eighth Day) are the Fall holy days, as the seven month of the Hebrew calendar occurs in what is now called September and October. (To learn the actual dates check out the link to the Holy Day Calendar. This is a listing of the biblical holy days through 2017, with their Roman calendar dates.)
Did the apostles teach that God's ways or man's ways should be obeyed? Notice the account they gave to the religious leaders of their day:
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
It is in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, that we learn which days God wanted celebrated. Jesus kept the Fall Holy Days. Paul and the other early Christians kept the Fall Holy Days. Gentile Christians observed them from the earliest times.
No one professing Christ kept Halloween, All Saint's Day, or even Christmas until hundreds of years after Christ died. The biblical holy days were rejected by people who had anti-semitic feelings and who wanted to endorse pagan practices.
Should you obey the teachings of God as revealed in the Bible and as practiced by the early Christian church or later pagan-based holidays of men?
Articles of related interest may include:
The Book of Life and the Feast of Trumpets? Are they related? Is so how? If not, where not?
The Day of Atonement--Its Christian Significance The Jews call it Yom Kippur, Christians "The Day of Atonement". Does it have any relevance for Christians today?
The Feast of Tabernacles: A Time for Christians? Is this pilgrimage holy day still valid? Does it teach anything relevant for today's Christians?
Holy Day Calendar This is a listing of the biblical holy days through 2017, with their Roman calendar dates. They are really hard to observe if you do not know when they occur :)
Thiel B. Did Early Christians Observe the Fall Holy Days? www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/2007/2008/2010/2011/2012 0917, All rights reserved
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