The Feasts: to Keep or Not to Keep?

In this article we will examine some evidence to decide whether or not the feasts should be kept.

When Were They Commanded?

The following passage takes place directly after the giving of the Ten Commandments:

The people of Israel were overwhelmed with terror. The awful power of God’s utterances seemed more than their trembling hearts could bear. For as God’s great rule of right was presented before them, they realized as never before the offensive character of sin, and their own guilt in the sight of a holy God. They shrank away from the mountain in fear and awe. The multitude cried out to Moses, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” The leader answered, “Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.” The people, however, remained at a distance, gazing in terror upon the scene, while Moses “drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.”

The minds of the people, blinded and debased by slavery and heathenism, were not prepared to appreciate fully the far-reaching principles of God’s ten precepts. That the obligations of the Decalogue might be more fully understood and enforced, additional precepts were given, illustrating and applying the principles of the Ten Commandments. These laws were called judgments, both because they were framed in infinite wisdom and equity and because the magistrates were to give judgment according to them. Unlike the Ten Commandments, they were delivered privately to Moses, who was to communicate them to the people.

The first of these laws related to servants… Manstealing, deliberate murder, and rebellion against parental authority were to be punished with death. The holding of slaves not of Israelitish birth was permitted, but their life and person were strictly guarded. The murderer of a slave was to be punished; an injury inflicted upon one by his master, though no more than the loss of a tooth, entitled him to his freedom. …

The rights of widows and orphans were especially guarded, and a tender regard for their helpless condition was enjoined… Aliens who united themselves with Israel were to be protected from wrong or oppression…

The taking of usury from the poor was forbidden. A poor man’s raiment or blanket taken as a pledge, must be restored to him at nightfall. He who was guilty of theft was required to restore double. Respect for magistrates and rulers was enjoined, and judges were warned against perverting judgment, aiding a false cause, or receiving bribes. Calumny and slander were prohibited, and acts of kindness enjoined, even toward personal enemies.

Again the people were reminded of the sacred obligation of the Sabbath. Yearly feasts were appointed, at which all the men of the nation were to assemble before the Lord, bringing to Him their offerings of gratitude and the first fruits of His bounties. The object of all these regulations was stated: they proceeded from no exercise of mere arbitrary sovereignty; all were given for the good of Israel. The Lord said, “Ye shall be holy men unto Me”–worthy to be acknowledged by a holy God.

These laws were to be recorded by Moses, and carefully treasured as the foundation of the national law, and, with the ten precepts which they were given to illustrate, the condition of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. …

Upon descending from the mountain, “Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do.” This pledge, together with the words of the Lord which it bound them to obey, was written by Moses in a book.

Then followed the ratification of the covenant. An altar was built at the foot of the mountain, and beside it twelve pillars were set up, “according to the twelve tribes of Israel,” as a testimony to their acceptance of the covenant. Sacrifices were then presented by young men chosen for the service.

Having sprinkled the altar with the blood of the offerings, Moses “took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people.” Thus the conditions of the covenant were solemnly repeated, and all were at liberty to choose whether or not they would comply with them. They had at the first promised to obey the voice of God; but they had since heard His law proclaimed; and its principles had been particularized, that they might know how much this covenant involved. Again the people answered with one accord, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” “When Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood, . . . and sprinkled both the book and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.” Hebrews 9:19, 20. {PP 309-312}

So we see that the judgments were given to illustrate and apply the Ten Commandments. The feasts were included among the judgments, and the judgments were written in a book called the “book of the covenant.” They were part of the conditions of the covenant. (Exodus 21-24)

The covenant God made at Sinai is for the Israel of God for all time. Herein is revealed God’s purpose for us, if we will only cooperate with Him. The Lord Jesus today will gather His people as a hen gathers her chickens beneath her wings, if they will only come to Him. {1MR 108}

In consequence of continual transgression, the moral law was repeated in awful grandeur from Sinai. Christ gave to Moses religious precepts which were to govern the everyday life. These statutes were explicitly given to guard the ten commandments. They were not shadowy types to pass away with the death of Christ. They were to be binding upon man in every age as long as time should last. These commands were enforced by the power of the moral law, and they clearly and definitely explained that law. {RH, May 6, 1875}

The light given me is that we are to study more than we do the instruction given to Moses by God after He had proclaimed the law from Sinai. The ten commandments were spoken by God Himself, and were then written on tables of stone, to be preserved till the judgment should take place. After the giving of the law, God gave Moses specifications regarding the law. These specifications are plain and explicit. No one need make a mistake.

In the day of judgment we shall be asked whether we have lived in harmony with these specifications. It is because we do not carry out these specifications in all our dealings, in our institutions, our families, and in our individual lives, at all times, and in all places, that we do not make greater advancement. It is by the directions that God has given that we shall be judged at the last day.

Have we studied these specifications? I heard them one night some weeks ago. It seemed as if they were being given to Israel, and there was the same solemnity that there was when they were given. I thought, This is given to me that I may tell our people that we must study these specifications. When the directions that God has given are followed, our institutions will be pure and clean, free from all selfishness and covetousness. The tenderness of Christ will come in. His love will fill our hearts. A sense of God’s goodness will make us weep, and sing, and praise God. Then we shall be living channels of light, prepared to do His will. {AUCR, March 25, 1907}

Jesus kept the Feasts

John 2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.

John 4:45 Then when he was come into Galilee, the Galilaeans received him, having seen all the things that he did at Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went unto the feast.

John 7:10 But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.

John 12:20-22 And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: the same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.

Paul kept the Feasts

Act 20:6 And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.

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. {AA 390} (Paul was keeping the feast with his Christian converts)

Philippians 3:17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

Philippians 4:9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

1 Cor 5:7-8 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.

What feast is he saying we should keep? He speaks of purging out leaven which was done during the feast of unleavened bread (Exodus 12:15).

Act 18:21 But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.

After leaving Corinth, Paul’s next scene of labor was Ephesus. He was on his way to Jerusalem to attend an approaching festival, and his stay at Ephesus was necessarily brief. He reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue, and so favorable was the impression made upon them that they entreated him to continue his labors among them. His plan to visit Jerusalem prevented him from tarrying then, but he promised to return to them, “if God will.” Aquila and Priscilla had accompanied him to Ephesus, and he left them there to carry on the work that he had begun. {AA 269}

Act 20:16 For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.

1 Cor 16:8 But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.

Paul’s next scene of labor was at Ephesus. He was on his way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost; and his stay at Ephesus was necessarily short. He reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue, and produced such a favorable impression that he was entreated to tarry there, and to protract his labors among them. His plan to visit Jerusalem prevented him from doing so; but he promised to visit them on his return. He left Aquila and Priscilla to carry forward the good work which he had begun. {8Red 65}

The early Christians kept the Feasts

Read about the Easter Controversy in the SDA Commentary.

Below is a section from the 1888 Great Controversy appendix. Asia Minor was where Paul and the apostles preached; these were the eastern churches. The western churches were Rome, and all that area.

The bishops of Rome began, very early, to demand obedience from all the churches. Of this the dispute between the Eastern and the Western churches respecting Easter is a striking illustration. This dispute arose in the second century. Says Mosheim: “the Christians of this century celebrated anniversary festivals in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ…. The day which was observed as the anniversary of Christ’s death was called the Paschal day, or Passover.” Like the Jews, Christians celebrated “a sacred feast, at which they distributed a paschal lamb in memory of the holy supper.” The Christians of Asia Minor kept this feast on the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month, when the Jews celebrated their Passover, and when Christ is said to have eaten the paschal lamb with his disciples. Three days thereafter, a festival was observed in honor of the resurrection. The Western churches, on the other hand, celebrated the resurrection of Christ on the Sunday following the Jewish Passover, and observed the paschal feast on the night preceding Sunday, thus connecting the commemoration of Christ’s death with that of his resurrection.

“Toward the conclusion of this [the second] century, Victor, Bishop of Rome, endeavored to force the Asiatic Christians, by the pretended authority of his laws and decrees, to follow the rule which was observed by the Western churches in this point. Accordingly … He wrote an imperious letter to the Asiatic prelates, commanding them to imitate the example of the Western Christians with respect to the time of celebrating the festival of Easter. The Asiatics answered this lordly requisition … With great spirit and resolution, that they would by no means depart, in this manner, from the custom handed down to them by their ancestors. Upon this the thunder of excommunication began to roar. Victor, exasperated by this resolute answer of the Asiatic bishops, broke communion with them, pronounced them unworthy of the name of his brethren, and excluded them from all fellowship with the church of Rome.” [Mosheim, Eccl. Hist., cent. 2, part 2, chap. 4., para. 9, 11.] This, says Bower, was “the first essay of papal usurpation.”

For a time, however, Victor’s efforts availed little. No regard was paid to his letters, and the Asiatics continued to follow their ancient practice. But by enlisting the support of the imperial power, which the church for so many centuries controlled to serve her purposes, Rome finally conquered. The Council of Nice, “out of complaisance to Constantine the Great, ordered the solemnity of Easter to be kept everywhere on the same day, after the custom of Rome.” [Bower’s History of the Popes, Vol. 1, pp. 18, 19.] This decree, “backed by the authority of so great an emperor,” was decisive; “none but some scattered schismatics, now and then appearing, that durst oppose the resolution of that famous synod.” [Hevlyn, History of the Sabbath, part 2, chap. 2, secs. 4, 5.] GC88 685-686


The Catholic Church did away with the Feasts

Bishop T. Enright replied in a letter dated April 26, 1902:

“Your note was forwarded to me here where I reside at present. I have never seen Mr. Gamble, never read a line from any one of that name. The assertion that I have withdrawn the offer is utterly false. I still offer $1,000 to anyone who can prove from the Bible alone, that I am bound under pain of grievous sin to keep Sunday holy. We keep Sunday in obedience to the law of the Catholic Church. The church made this law after the Bible was written; hence the law is not in the Bible. The Catholic Church abolished not only the Sabbath, but all the other Jewish Festivals.”

The new law has it’s own spirit…and it’s own feasts which have taken the place of those appointed in the law of Moses. If we would know the days to be observed…we must go to the Catholic church, not to the Mosaic law.” The Catholic Catechism

Dan 7:25 And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.

God wants to renew His Covenant with us today

The Lord gave many other statutes or judgments, which were to be strictly obeyed. These are recorded in the twenty-first, twenty-second, and twenty-third chapters of Exodus. {2SAT 187}

It would be a scene well-pleasing to God and angels, would His professed followers in this generation unite, as did Israel of old [referring especially to the revival in the days of Nehemiah], in a solemn covenant to “observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes” (SW June 7, 1904) {3BC 1139}.

In the time of the end every divine institution is to be restored. The breach made in the law at the time the Sabbath was changed by man, is to be repaired…. {PK 678}

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