UCG and its Unleavened Bread Study Paper  

by COGwriter

                   In this paper I will have my comments in bold italics.  This paper includes my comments on the United Church of God, an International Association’s (UCG) study paper titled Eating Unleavened Bread, which was prepared by UCG’s Dr. Ralph Levy for UCG’s ministerial services in December 2003, and was released to the general public in early March 2004 (the entire paper, with cover letter, can be found on-line at http://www.ucg.org/papers/#ub).

            Prior to quoting that paper, here are some quotes from its cover letter and a later letter of clarification from UCG’s Director of Ministerial Services:

“With this letter is a short study paper on the subject of Unleavened Bread that was recently sent to the ministry. This paper was written by Dr. Ralph Levy based upon a request from Ministerial Services (Dr. Levy left UCG and went to a break-away group called COGWA). It has been reviewed by the regional pastors, the president of UCG, Ministerial Services and the Council of Elders. It represents the long-standing teaching of the Church of God on this question. This was confirmed by Herbert Armstrong in a statement published in the Pastor General’s Report and the Worldwide News in 1982...This should not change anything about our practice.  It is simply a restatement of the Church’s traditional teaching as it was confirmed by Mr. Armstrong in 1982” (Pinelli R. Cover letter for Eating Unleavened Bread Study Paper, Approved by Ministerial Services, December 2003; March 3, 2004).

“The statement and paper recently mailed to the ministry confirms the traditional teaching of the Church. It can be shown that this has been the teaching of the Church for well over 20 years. It did have the support of Mr. Herbert Armstrong and was published in both the Pastor General's Report (PGR) and the Worldwide News in 1982...Mr. Armstrong was asked to resolve this dilemma by providing one central explanation for the Church. This is documented through the PGR and the Worldwide News of that time” (Pinelli R.  Letter of Clarification, Circa, March 12, 2004).

It is my belief that perhaps Richard Pinelli knew that HWA did not write the statement in the PGR that is in UCG's official study paper and that is why he has worded things quite differently than Dr. Levy has in the paper below.  To me, my initial reaction from comparing the statements from Richard Pinelli and Dr. Levy suggested that this might be some type of ‘lukewarm’ cover-up.  Whether or not I am correct, UCG may wish to quote what it is relying on to clarify this matter. 

Note: The COGwriter site has nothing to sell and does not profit financially for making the contents of the Study paper or my comments freely available for public discourse.

            The following is the Study Paper, penned by UCG’s Dr. Ralph Levy (and approved by UCG), with some comments from me:


      Recently, questions have arisen in the Church concerning the command to eat unleavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Would it be sin not to eat unleavened bread? Must some unleavened bread be consumed every day? Is it sin not to consume unleavened bread every day?

            The issue my comments will focus on is not whether it is a sin to accidentally not eat unleavened bread (or to be unable to do so for some reason).  The issue is whether or not the Bible says that we are to eat unleavened  bread during that festival.

The question has been explained in different ways over the years, and there is an apparent lack of consistency in our preaching, with some suggesting we must eat some unleavened bread on each of the seven days, while others preach that the sin lies in eating leaven, not in failing to eat unleavened bread every day.

Like most doctrinal questions, this one is not new. It was addressed by the Church in the Pastor General’s Report in 1982, and at that time Herbert W. Armstrong wrote that the sin lies in eating leavened bread or other leavened products, not in failing to eat unleavened bread each and every day.

It would have been nice if Dr. Levy or Richard Pinelli would have quoted the Pastor General’s Report that UCG keeps referring too.  As far as I have been able to determine, Herbert W. Armstrong himself did not write anything in the PGR  that year that discussed this subject. 

There is however, a question and answer on this matter from ministerial services in 1982, which at that time was ran by Joseph Tkach (underlining was in original):

“QUESTION: Exodus 13:7 states that unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days.  Does this mean that we must eat unleavened seven days of each day of this Feast?

ANSWER:  It is not required to eat unleavened bread for seven days.  This instruction means that whenever bread is eaten during this Festival it is to be unleavened.  It does not mean unleavened bread must be eaten each day.” (From Ministerial Services.  Pastor General’s Report, Vol. 4, No. 14, 1982). 

If this is the article that UCG keeps referring too, then it should tell its membership that HWA did not write the article, nor did it mention the word sin. What HWA specifically understood about it is less clear--although the Bible should be the ultimate authority here.

This short paper will examine some of the implications of the commandment concerning the Days of Unleavened Bread, and propose that our current and official explanation—that the sin lies in consuming leavened products, not in failing to consume unleavened bread each day—is correct.

The commandment is recorded in several Old Testament passages, including Exodus 12:15, 13:7, Leviticus 23:6 and Deuteronomy 16:3. The command in each case is, “For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.” Unfortunately, the King James Version, the New King James Version and the New International Version use the word must in rendering Leviticus 23:6. For example, the NKJV translates it “seven days you must eat unleavened bread.”

This use of the word must is interpretive on the part of the KJV, NKJV and NIV translators, and does not reflect any difference in the wording of the Hebrew passages in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In each case the Hebrew reads “for seven days you [singular or plural] shall eat unleavened bread.” The verb is in the second person masculine plural in Exodus 12:15 and Leviticus 23:6, and in the second person masculine singular (with God addressing the people as if they are one group) in Deuteronomy 16:3. The verb tense is the same in each of the passages, that is, the imperfect tense, which reflects an imperative meaning.

The Hebrew word translated as ‘you shall eat’, ‘you must eat’, or something similar is the Hebrew word, ‘akal, which clearly means to eat the unleavened bread it is referring to.  Furthermore, that same word is used regarding the actual consumption of unleavened bread in Leviticus 6:16 (where God tells Aaron and his sons to eat it), Numbers 9:11 (where it says to eat unleavened bread as part of the Passover service), and II Kings 23:9 (where the priests ate unleavened bread with the brethren).

Are far as the use of the term ‘must’ being interpretative, whether one shall or must, the scripture seems clear that one should certainly try to eat some unleavened bread during these days.  Note that God’s word says in at least twelve places that His people are to eat unleavened bread during that Feast:

Ex 12:15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.

Ex 12:18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.

Ex 12:20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.' "

Ex 13:6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD.

Ex 13:7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days.

Ex 23:15 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib

Ex 34:18 "The Feast of Unleavened Bread you shall keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the appointed time of the month of Abib;

Lev 23:6  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.

Num 28:17 And on the fifteenth day of this month is the feast; unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days.

Deut 16:3 You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), that you may remember the day in which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.

Deut 16:8 Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a sacred assembly to the LORD your God.

Ezek 45:21 "In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall observe the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten.

The understanding of the passage lies not so much in the Hebrew words and grammar as in correct interpretation in the light of other passages.

The preceding statement is correct, but the ‘proof’ offered below by UCG fails to meet that.

"Leviticus 23:6 states, "seven days you must eat unleavened bread." Among other things, the unleavened bread symbolizes Jesus Christ. In John 6:33-35 we are instructed to feed on Christ, which we should do every day, including the seven days of Unleavened Bread, not just when we decide to eat the bread. Our focus should be on becoming more like Christ. Eating unleavened bread every day and focusing on the meaning of that unleavened bread is what is really important. Therefore, during the Days of Unleavened Bread all members of the Church are instructed by Scripture to eat at least one piece of unleavened bread per day. " (Bryce, Charles. The World Ahead (Weekly Update) 3/11/04).

Some are claiming that the law requires we eat some unleavened bread on each of the seven days. This interpretation is not correct. Note, in this regard, the Sabbath commandment as recorded in Exodus 20:9 and Deuteronomy 5:13, where we are told, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” The meaning of these passages is clearly that there is a span of six days set aside in the weekly cycle in which work may be done, and will normally be done. The implication is not that it is sin to take a day off work, or that it is sin to take a week or two of vacation, and not work. In Mark 6:31 Christ encourages His disciples to take some time to “rest” because they were so busy working that they hardly had time to eat. The synagogue ruler in Luke 13:14 declared, “There are six days on which men ought to work,” but neither he nor those who heard him were suggesting that it is sin not to work on any one such day. 

If we are to be consistent with our rendering of the Scriptures and we believe that the command for unleavened bread requires the eating of some unleavened bread each and every day, then we should interpret the Sabbath command in a similar fashion (one “must” work every day of the six in a weekly cycle). The fact is that biblical Hebrew is quite capable of indicating that a particular activity is to be undertaken every day or every morning or every evening. Had God wished to inspire it that way, He could have done so. It is quite telling that God did not inspire Moses to use the Hebrew expression that would have made clear the requirement for eating unleavened bread each and every one of the seven days.

The last two paragraphs are misleading and do not prove UCG’s point.  The last sentence is similar to the argument the Protestants make about the Sabbath (i.e. they argue that Hebrews 4:9 does not mean what it seems to and should have been written differently in the Greek if God intended for Christians to keep the Sabbath). 

The fact is that the other days of the week are not a Sabbath-rest before God as it took God to make a particular day holy (Genesis 2:1-3;Exodus 20:8-11).  Even if humans do not do their occupation-type work, they are still doing their work (even if it includes entertainment, see also Isaiah 58:13-14 ) unless they have devoted it to God (Romans 14:5-6)—but that still does not change the fact that God expects humans to get their work done on the six days.  God’s word does not allow for the ‘it was dedicated to God’ excuse (Mark 7:11; II Thes 3:10). 

Furthermore, though I am not a Hebrew scholar, it is my understanding that there is another potential problem in their defense concerning the word ‘must’ in Leviticus 23:6.  A portion of Leviticus 23:39 states “ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days” the phrase “ye shall keep” is apparently also in the Qal Imperfect tense.  If UCG’s conclusion for vs. 6 is applied to vs. 39, then UCG  would also need to argue that we do not need to be at the Feast of Tabernacles all seven days.

Note the following passages: Exodus 16:21 (“So they gathered it [the manna] every morning”), Exodus 30:7 (“Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning”), Leviticus 24:8 (“Every Sabbath he shall set it [the shewbread] in order before the Lord continually”), Numbers 28:10 (“this is the burnt offering of every Sabbath”) and 14 (“this is the burnt offering for each month”) and 2 Chronicles 13:11 (“And they burn to the Lord every morning and every evening burnt sacrifices and sweet incense”). In each of these passages, the Hebrew utilizes a linguistic device to denote the concept of “every”: it simply reduplicates the word for “morning,” “Sabbath” or “month.” Thus the example of Exodus 16:21 might be rendered, “So they gathered it [in] morning, [in] morning . . .”

Had it been God’s intention to instruct His people to eat some unleavened bread on every one of the seven days, without fail, He would no doubt have inspired Moses to use this same reduplication device to denote the concept of “every” day. He did not choose to do so; hence the evidence points to the interpretation of a seven-day period of time in which unleavened bread, as opposed to leavened bread, is to be eaten.

Here Dr. Levy is again arguing from something that is not said HIS way.  UCG should know that is not conclusive biblical scholarship.  Although Dr. Levy is correct that, theoretically, certain wording in the Bible would have made something clearer, overall the Bible was intentionally not written that way (Isaiah 28:10; Matthew 13:13). The fact that Dr. Levy previously agreed that the Bible said to eat unleavened bread for seven days (whether it was shall or must) somewhat contradicts his point. 

By a better and stronger argument (though also not intellectually conclusive), I could state that the fact the Bible writers were repeatedly inspired to call this “the Feast of Unleavened Bread” or “the Days of Unleavened Bread” (a total of around eighteen times, NKJV), instead of “the Feast of Avoiding Leaven”, suggests that we are to eat unleavened bread more than one time.

But is it sin if someone fails to eat unleavened bread for the seven days? The answer lies in the penalty established by the law. In Exodus 12:15, the penalty for eating leavening is spelled out: “For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.” Note that the penalty of “cutting off” or exclusion is invoked for the sin of eating leavened bread, not for the omission of eating unleavened bread. No doubt bread was a staple, and it was customary to eat bread every day, but the sin lay in eating leavened bread, not in failing to eat unleavened bread.

James 4:17 states, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  I am not arguing that forgetting to eat unleavened bread on one day is necessarily a sin.  But UCG appears to be missing part of the point about the Days of Unleavened Bread. And that is why it is good that  we should eat unleavened bread (which I will partially address later).

Furthermore, it is not proper biblical scholarship to make the lack of penalty argument.  For example, while the Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for killing (Exodus 21:14) and adultery (Leviticus 20:10) and has no penalties listed for violating them mentally, Jesus made it clear that violating these commandments in the heart was also sin (Matthew 5:22;27-28).  Also, the although the Old Testament prohibits the eating of certain meats (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14) and provides for no penalty for doing so, hungry Peter still refused to eat any such animal (Acts 10:9-14).  Thus Dr. Levy’s argument appears to ignore a concept clearly documented in scripture.

We conclude that we are commanded to avoid leavened bread (and, by extension, all leavened products) during the seven Days of Unleavened Bread. It is not required that we eat some unleavened bread each and every day of the seven, but to abstain from all bread for seven days would weaken the lessons of the Days of Unleavened Bread.  The Church is not advocating that we avoid all bread since there is deep significance and meaning in eating the unleavened bread.

       I Corinthians 5:8 states, “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”. 

Note then, that if we look to the Bible,  that there are two parts of this feast for Christians: avoiding leaven symbols while partaking of unleavened bread symbols.

And while no one is being told “not to eat” unleavened bread, we must be careful in making judgments because someone doesn’t eat some unleavened bread each and every day. In most cases this is simply not an issue and is really a personal matter. Most members eat unleavened bread each and every day as their normal routine. No one is suggesting that any of this should change. The command is that we not eat any leavening during the seven days. The consuming of unleavened bread takes place during the same seven days and the Church is not advocating that there be any change in this practice. There is significant symbolism attached to the eating of unleavened bread.

Again, it would have been nice for UCG to actually quote what HWA actually wrote.  It should be noted that the term ‘commanded’ is associated in the Bible with eating unleavened bread for seven days (Exodus 23:15;34:18), but neither ‘commanded’ nor ‘command’ is used in the verses that say to avoid leaven.  Thus, the UCG paper’s use of the term ‘command’ here is not biblically sanctioned.

Dr. Levy neglected to state that the word translated as ‘eats’ in the verses that say do not eat leaven (Exodus 12:15,19), is the same Hebrew word which is used in the at least ten verses to eat unleavened bread for seven days (Exodus 12:15,18;13:6,7;23:15;34:18; Leviticus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:3,8; Ezekiel 45:21). 

As far as I can tell, HWA never wrote anything on this point other than statements such as,  “This feast day begins after Passover has ended. Now with these facts well in mind, let us turn back to Exodus 12. Notice beginning verse 14. "And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever. Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread . . . and in the first day there shall be an holy convocation . . ." (verses 14-16)… Why did God ordain these feast days? What was His great purpose? Turn now to Exodus 13, verse 3: "And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt. . . ." This was the 15th of Abib. Verses 6, 8-10: "Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and the seventh day shall be a feast unto the Lord . . . This is done because of that which the Eternal did" (a MEMORIAL) "and it shall be for a sign" that is, having also a future meaning "unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes" having to do with both works and will why? "that the Lord's law may be in thy mouth. . . . Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance. . . ."… And, as leaven is also a type of sin (I Corinthians 5:8) leaven puffs up, and so does sin and, as seven is God's number symbolizing completeness, we are to follow the Passover with seven days of unleavened bread!  The picture the meaning the symbolism, is not complete with Passover alone. Passover pictures the acceptance of Christ's blood for the remission of past sins. It pictures the crucified the dead Christ.  Shall we leave Christ symbolically hanging on the cross? The seven days of unleavened bread following Passover picture to us the complete putting away of sin, the keeping of the Commandments after past sins are forgiven.  They picture the life and work of the risen Christ who ascended to the throne of God where He is now actively at work in our behalf as our High Priest, cleansing us of sin delivering us completely from its power!  To observe the Passover alone, and then fail to observe the seven days of unleavened bread, means, in the symbolism, to accept Christ's blood, and then to continue in sin to erroneously say the Law is done away, that we are under grace alone, meaning license, to continue in sin!  The seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread picture the keeping of the Commandments, which is another way of saying the putting away of sin…We cannot keep the Commandments in our own power and strength. But Christ IN US can keep them! We must rely on Him in faith…Observe again Numbers 28:16-17: "IN the fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of the Lord. And in the fifteenth day of this month is the feast: seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten."… Notice also Acts 12:3-4: "Then were the days of unleavened bread." Why this, if those days had, in God's sight, ceased to exist? Notice, it is not anyone ignorant of what was abolished making this statement. It is Almighty God saying it through inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This was years after the crucifixion. The days of unleavened bread still existed, or the Holy Spirit could not have inspired "then were the days unleavened bread." ” (Armstrong, H.W.  Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days?  WCG Booklet. 1976).

            I would add that one should notice that they probably would be called the days of no leaven instead of the days of unleavened bread if people were not eating unleavened bread.

I should add that it is my understanding that someone may have once informally asked HWA about this matter in regards to someone fasting or someone being in a culture without access to bread.  But this is quite different than stating that HWA wrote that it was not a sin to not eat unleavened bread as I have nowhere found anything HWA himself wrote that said that (or anything similar).  HWA also used to teach that you get air out of a glass by putting in water.  Interestingly, water is another symbol of the Holy Spirit.  One way we keep leaven out is by putting in unleavened bread.  HWA also taught, “don’t believe me, believe what you see in your own Bible”.  My Bible says I should eat unleavened bread for seven days and I have not seen any actual HWA writings that contradict this.

In ancient Israel the penalty for eating leavening was to be cut off from the congregation. This was a very serious matter with God and should be taken seriously by Church members today.

As mentioned earlier, I Corinthians 5:8 says to avoid leaven symbols, while partaking of unleavened bread symbols. Furthermore, in verse 7, Paul writing to Christians states “you truly are unleavened”.

Although the Church of God has often focused on the meaning of leaven, perhaps the end of this analysis would be a good time to mention a couple of the meanings of being unleavened or eating unleavened bread.

During the Passover service with His Disciples, the Bible states “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body" ” (Matthew 26:26).  This bread must have been unleavened as that is what was required for Passover (Numbers 9:10-11). 

Prior to this Jesus had also said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?"  Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.  This is the bread which came down from heaven--not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." ” (John 6:51-59).

Hence partaking of unleavened bread during Passover is symbolic of Christ living in us.

But what about afterwards?  Such as the remainder of our life after conversion?

Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” ((John 14:26-27). 

Jesus also said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.  He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.  All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-15).

Notice that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of Truth” and Paul tells Christians to “keep the feast…with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (I Corinthians 5:8).  Could it be that when Christians partake of unleavened bread after Passover and during the days of unleavened bread, that this act is symbolic of partaking of the Holy Spirit and having Christ live in us? 

In Herbert W. Armstrong’s writings, as quoted above, he mentions that Christians, once forgiven still need to have Christ living in us to keep the commandments (see also Galatians 2:20).  For the commandments to show love towards God and our neighbor, we need to do more than just not sin (symbolically, just avoiding leaven), but do good (recall that Jesus said “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath”, Matthew 12:12).  By partaking of unleavened bread each day during the Days of Unleavened Bread, it shows that we need Christ to dwell in us.  We are to be unleavened, eating unleavened bread reminds us of that* .

Although I understand that this was intended by UCG to be a short paper, I believe that UCG did not do a proper job in justifying its position.  I did not find it to be intellectually honest.  I am dismayed that UCG has repeatedly stated/implied that HWA wrote something that he did not write--though what he truly understood is less clear. It is always possible that UCG is referring to something else, and if UCG was I will be happy to retract my statements along that line. Either way, in the interest of proper scholarship, I feel that UCG should have actually quoted whatever statements they said that HWA wrote.

But that is not the issue.  For me and my household, we intend to eat unleavened bread all seven days this year, as we have in previous Feasts of Unleavened Bread—because that is what the Bible  teaches. Even if HWA may have indirectly approved some statement that he did not write is NOT the issue.

I do believe that Christians should try to eat unleavened bread each of the seven days when possible--I believe that is what the BIBLE teaches.  I believe that avoiding sin/leaven is important, but I also believe that taking unleavened bread and reminding us we are to have Christ, through the Holy Spirit,  livening in us is important too.

* (As a footnote, I will acknowledge that unbaptized children can and should eat unleavened bread, but will also note that if they have converted parents, they are themselves holy (I Corinthians 7:14).  The Greek word translated as holy, hagios, is the same word translated as Holy in regards to the Holy Spirit.)

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Thiel B., Ph.D. UCG and its Unleavened Bread Study Paper.  www.cogwriter.com 2004/2006/2008/2009/2012 0915