Are Christians required by the Bible to observe new moons?
New moons are mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. New moons will be observed in the future (Isaiah 66:23). But does that mean that they must be observed by Christians today?
Smith's Bible Dictionary says, "The new moons are generally mentioned so as to show that they were regarded as a peculiar class of holy days as distinguished from the solemn feasts and the Sabbaths."
Are new moons commanded observances for Christians? Let's look at what the Bible says.
First, let's look at a major purpose of the moon. The Bible teaches, "He appointed the moon for seasons" (Psalm 104:19) and "Then God said, 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night: and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years'" (Genesis 1:14). The word translated as seasons in these two verses is mow'ed which means appointed time, solemn festival, or congregation meeting. Thus, it appears that the moon helps determine when the feasts of God are to be kept (see also Leviticus 23:4, where mow'ed is also translated as seasons).
A new moon is the beginning of a month in God's calendar. A new moon occurs when the first visible crescent can be seen. In the Bible, it was normally observed on a calculated date as opposed to the date it could be seen for a variety of reasons including weather (for more information on the calendar, please see the two articles by John Ogwyn in the Nov-Dec 2000 and Jan-Feb 2001 issues of the Living Church News).
New moons are often mentioned with the feast days and are associated with the blowing of trumpets and sacrifices (e.g. Numbers 10:10;28:11). However, they are not mentioned in Leviticus 23 which mentions all of God's feasts, "The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts" (vs. 2). The absence of them being specifically mentioned in Leviticus 23 indicates, to me at least, that there observance is not required now for God's people.
Just because the blowing of trumpets on a day is required, this does not necessarily make a day a holy day. Psalm 81:3-4 states, "Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob." Generally one new moon (the Feast of Trumpets) and two full moons (Passover/1st Day of Unleavened Bread and the 1st Day of the Feast of Tabernacles) are specifically mentioned as God's feasts (Leviticus 23:2,5,6,24,34); the other new moons and the other full moons are not.
Sabbaths truly are a sign between God and His people (Exodus 31:13; Ezekial 20:12). Yet, while new moons are mentioned in many places in the Old Testament with Sabbaths (including the Holy Days), they are never referred to as Sabbaths nor a sign between God and His people.
So what did the children of Israel do on them?
"At the beginning of your months you shall present a burnt offering to the LORD...at the beginning of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices" (Numbers 28:11;10:10).
The new moons seemed to primarily have been a time to present burnt offerings (see also I Chronicles 23:31;II Chronicles 2:4;8:12-13;31:3;Ezra 3:5;Nehemiah 10:33). Josephus confirmed this when he wrote,
"At the new moon they both perform the daily sacrifices, and slay two bulls, with seven lambs of the first year, and a kid of the goat's also, for the expiation of sins" (Antiquities III,X,1).
Some other verses (i.e. II Kings 4:23; Isaiah 1:13-14; Ezekial 46:1) also mention new moons with the Sabbath and/or feast days, but do not place specific commands for the people (though sometimes for the priests).
Although there is no command to cease from work on a new moon day, Amos 8:4-5 says,
"Hear this, you who swallow up the needy, and make the poor of the land fail, saying, 'When will the New Moon pass, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath that we may sell wheat?'"
Although this suggests that the selling may have been prohibited on new moons, there is no other scripture in the entire Bible that suggests this. It therefore may, however, be referring to the Feast of Trumpets, "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. You shall do no customary work on it" (Leviticus 23:24-25), as selling was prohibited then. Hosea 5:7-8 seems also to be possibly alluding to a fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets as opposed to the generic new moon when it states, "They have dealt treacherously with the Lord, for they have begotten pagan children. Now a New Moon shall devour them and their heritage. Blow the ram's horn in Gibeah, the trumpet in Ramah!"
Although the apocraphal book of Judith (chapter 8, verse 6) indicates that fasting occurred on new moons, there is also no scripture that states that one needs to fast on the new moon. The practice of fasting on certain days is the subject of Romans 14:5-6,
"One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks."
It is possible that Paul was referring to the practice of some to fast on new moons. However, the Bible make it clear that new moons were not commanded days for fasting, "And David said to Jonathan, 'Indeed tomorrow is the New Moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king to eat'...And when the New Moon had come, the king sat down to eat the feast" (I Samuel 20:24).
After the resurrection, people will worship God on the new moons (Isaiah 66:23, Ezekial 46:3), and they will present offerings (Ezekial 45:17;46:6). Is it wrong for Christians to worship God on the new moon? Of course not! Are Christians required to present burnt offerings? No. Why? "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins...He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:4,9,10). Today, Christians are to offer themselves as living, not burnt, sacrifices (Romans 12:1). As shown previously, most scriptures that have commands concerning the new moon mentions some type of burnt offering (including bulls, and according to Josephus a goat, probably for the ram mentioned in Numbers 28:11).
So what are we required to do on the new moons?
Although the New Testament enjoins the holy days (i.e. Acts 18:21; I Corinthians 5:8), there does not seem to be a currently applicable biblical requirement for Christian new moon observance. Interestingly Colossians 2:16-17, the only scripture in the New Testament that mentions new moons, states, "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ." The term translated as substance is soma which would better be translated as body (interestingly, that is how the NKJ translators translated soma in nearly every other verse in the New Testament); the preceding word 'is' is not in the original Greek. Thus the only scripture in the New Testament that mentions new moons says not to let any individual judge what is acceptable/required on the new moon, but only the body of Christ. In other words, irrespective of what some outside our fellowship may decide, the Church (as long as it does not contradict plain scriptures) has the authority to define what is acceptable on a variety of topics, including the new moon. This is also somewhat consistent with what Herman Hoeh wrote on the subject,
"Who decides the point on this round earth at which the new moon is to be observed? The surprising answer is, GOD DOES NOT ALLOW US TO DECIDE! He has NOT made it OUR RESPONSIBILITY to observe the new moon. God revealed His Sacred Calendar to the Jews. THEY determine where the new moon is to be calculated from" (How FAR Does CHURCH GOVERNMENT Extend into YOUR Life? Good News, Vol. X, Number 1,1961).
Historically (and currently) the Church of God has taught that new moons observations are not enjoined on Christians. For another historical example, Personal Correspondence Department L047, stated,
"Although there are scriptures which show that some in ancient times did assemble on the occasion of each new moon, the Bible does not command us to do the same today...Some form of ceremony took place on the day of the new moon to let the people know that a new month had begun. In this manner, the general populace was kept aware of God's calendar so they could prepare for any approaching seasons, festivals, annual Sabbaths, and the like. Today it is not necessary to mark the beginning of each new month with an assembly. Calendars are widely distributed and anyone can determine the beginning of a new month simply by looking on a calendar having that information." (Letter L047, Worldwide Church of God, 1988).
The Church of God has allowed that Christians may fast, pray extra, or engage in similar practices on the new moon or any other day they wish as long as they do not try to force others to follow (Romans 14:4-6). "Let each be fully convinced in his own mind" (Romans 4:5).
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B. Thiel, 2001/2007/2011