Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Quartodecimans - Were They Law-Keepers?

In my last post, "A Primer to the Quartodeciman Controversy", we looked at the general timeline of events in the Quartodeciman Controversy at a macro level. I didn't address things in detail. As I said in that post, the topic is far larger than I ever imagined. Take that as a word of warning should you get the same ridiculous idea I had, to go looking into this topic. It is maddening.

Today, I want to look more closely at one point in particular - were the Quartodecimans really Old Covenant law-keepers?

In the Church of God movement founded by Herbert Armstrong (which I call Armstrongism) certain points of Old Covenant law are required - like the Sabbath, holy days, tithing, and clean/unclean meats. Armstrong knew the Quartodecimans were observing a day called Passover on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. Well, so did he. He concluded, if they were doing what he was doing then they must be doing it for the same reason: law-keeping. He adopted the Quartodecimans as theological ancestors, saying they were early members of "Christ’s true Christianity" that kept the Old Covenant laws.

While reading about Quartodecimanism, I noticed something odd. If you read the writings of a group who believes in law-keeping, you are going to read about Quartodeciman law-keeping. If you read the writings of a group who believes in Hebrew roots, you are going to read about Quartodeciman Hebrew roots. And so it goes. That doesn't sit well with me. How odd the Quartodecimans were so exactly like all of these dissimilar groups. Something about that sounds uncomfortably like spin. It seems the conclusion is based on certain assumptions.

And so we ask - is that really so? Were they law-keepers? Can history give us enough detail to verify this?


During my own time in Armstrongism, I was told the Quartodecimans were preserving a true observance of Old Covenant law. Meaning, in the way I, a Sabbatarian, would understand it, of course. We understood that to mean, take up Old Covenant law and follow the Hebrew calendar. They were just like us, we thought. "If you aren't a Quartodeciman, you should be," we are told by the Living Church of God.

Armstrongism starts from certain assumptions and works its way out from there. (We didn't see them as assumptions, we saw them as God's truth.) One assumption is that the Old Covenant Passover must be kept by Christians, and therefore it was being kept. Now we just needed to find out by whom. The Quartodecimans were the target. They were keeping Passover and doing it on the 14th. How can that be anything other than law-keeping?

"Among the Gentiles the churches in Asia remained the most faithful to the word of God. We pick up the story of the true Church in the lives of such men as Polycarp and - Polycrates. They were called 'Quartodecimani' because they kept the true Passover celebration instead of Easter."
-Herbert Armstrong, "True History of the True Church", 1959, p.15 

How are they a "true church", because they kept the Gospel, or because they had faith? No. Just Passover on the 14th. That's good enough.

Herbert Armstrong also claimed the Waldensians as doctrinal ancestors (as well as other groups like the Henricians, Paulicians, etc). He told a story of how the Waldensians were Old Covenant law-keepers. They were an era of God's true church. He didn't come up with this idea on his own. Armstrong plagiarized the idea from A. N. Duggar and C. O. Dodd of the Church of God (Seventh Day).

The Waldensians were Sabbatarian law-keepers, right? No.

It turns out the assumptions made about the Waldensians weren't even close to reality. You can find the truth about the Waldensians quite easily. Ask the Waldensians what their history was. They have the receipts. We have several articles of our own to demonstrate this. We recommend starting with "True History of the True Church??"

The Quartodecimans, on the other hand, are not so easily discerned. These things happened long ago. Most of the documents that could clear this up completely are lost. What we have remaining is a cloud of scholars and commentators with almost every opinion possible. We are going to have to work for this. Are we going to have better luck with than we did with the Waldensians?


There are some clear points of similarity between the Christian Pascha and the Jewish Pesach: the relative date, the name Passover, the reading of Exodus, a fast in advance, and the involvement of some kind of meal.
The Quartodecimans had all these. And more!

There was once a Persian named Aphraphat. He was a fourth century Syriac Christian and a Quartodeciman. Several of his works were discovered in the 20th century. Just read what Apraphat has to say:

If the Passover of the passion of our Savior happens to us on Sunday, it is right to celebrate it on the Monday, so that the whole week with his passion and with his unleavened bread is observed."
-Aphrahat, Demonstration XII "On the Passover" XII [bold mine]

Unleavened bread? Yes. Seven days! And not just that. Here is an example from Aphraphat's demonstration on the Sabbath:

"But let us observe the Sabbath of God, in a manner which pleases His will. Let us enter into the Sabbath of rest in which the heaven and the earth take Sabbath rest, all creatures will dwell in peace and take rest."
-Aphraphat, Demonstration XIII "On the Sabbath" section 13 [bold mine]

Looks like they were Sabbatarians keeping the law. Game over. Thank you for reading my blog. Go send away for some Armstrongist literature. God be with you 'til we meet again.

Before you go, there's one tiny detail you are going to want to know -
None of what I just quoted means the Quartodecimans were Sabbatarians keeping the Old Covenant law. It only looks that way on the surface.

To understand why not, let's start by looking at the law.


(Matthew 5: 18) For assuredly, I say to you, til heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

In Armstrongism, we called it "God's law" to really tug on the heart strings. The law never changes, we said. We kept the whole law!
How about the national laws for Israel, like sanctuary cities? No. Of course not those.
The sacrifices and ritual laws? Well, no. Not those laws. Those were done away.
The law of tithing as written? No. Not those either. We tithed of money only, which the law doesn't command, used a 10% system rather than the one-in-ten system of the Bible, and tithes required of Levites (the Ministry) was not paid by them but by the members.
The law of clean/unclean as written? Actually, no. We ate off plates and containers and stoves contaminated with unclean meats all the time.
The laws of Sabbath and holy days as written? (Be honest!) No. We caused others to work for us on Sabbath, we didn't pilgrimage three times a year, did not blow trumpets at the Feast of Trumpets, and did not build booths on the Feast of Booths.
But God said to observe Passover on the 14th of Nissan, and that's what we did. Not like the "rebellious Jews" who ate on the 15th.

The law! The law! ...Just not THAT law.

Did you know Gentiles were forbidden by law from participating in the Passover (EXO. 12: 43-49)? The Gentile converts to Christianity would have to be circumcised, join the nation of Israel, and become Jews in order to keep the Passover according to the law. What's more, the law forbids practicing Passover outside of Jerusalem. The Passover was a pilgrimage festival (EXO. 23: 15) - along with Pentecost and Tabernacles - and could only be observed in the area of Jerusalem (DEU. 16: 5-7). That's the law!

I asked a friend of mine about that, once. Why didn't we travel three times in the year? The answer was, we used to but it cost too much. So, "Herbert Armstrong changed the law out of necessity."
So much for 'not one jot or one tittle'.

The traditional Christians and Quartodecimans were both well aware of these laws about Passover. You can read about it yourself.
On the traditional side, none other than Athanasius (famous for his role in the Council of Nicaea) mentions these things in his "Festal Letters".
On the Quartodeciman side, Aphraphat mentions it several times in his "Demonstration on the Passover" section 2, and Ephram the Syrian mentions it in his "Hymn 21".

How could anyone keep law under those conditions? They could not. If you don't keep all the law, then you're not keeping the law at all (JAS. 2: 10). That was the entire point of those ancient writers. Not even the Jews could keep the law anymore. How could they? They could not. But if even the Jews could not, then how could the Gentiles?

Since that is the case, it is fair to ask, if they weren't keeping the law then why did they mention the law? And why insist on the 14th?


I just got done telling you how the Quartodecimans knew the law couldn't be kept. Yet, it looks like they kept it anyway. How? If you really want to know how the Quartodecimans can use words like Sabbath and Passover and unleavened bread, yet not keep the law, then you have to read all of their writings. Not just enough of their writings to see the word "Sabbath" and that's where you stop.

Sometimes, it can be a simple misunderstanding.

In my post "Refusing To Understand" I reviewed an article from the United Church of God that was claiming the weekly Sabbath was being kept in Asia Minor (Quartodeciman home turf). They quoted from a Quartodeciman named Socrates of Constantinople, who lived just after Aphraphat and Ephram. They saw the word Sabbath, then they stopped. But on further inspection, it turns out "Sabbath" in this context cannot mean Saturday.

In Asia Minor most people kept the fourteenth day of the moon, disregarding the sabbath: ... While therefore some in Asia Minor observed the day above-mentioned, others in the East kept that feast on the sabbath indeed, but differed as regards the month.
-Socrates of Constantinople (Scholasticus), "Ecclesiastical History" chapter XXII

There were more than two ways to observe Pascha. Yet, no one on any side observed the Lord's Supper on Saturday. Well, not unless it happened to be the 14th of Nissan. No one on any side regularly observed the Lord's Supper on Saturday. Can you see that 'Sabbath' here cannot refer to Saturday? Socrates uses the phrase "sabbath of the Passover" earlier. Sabbath can mean annual holy day.

It is possible to say Sabbath but not mean Saturday. Haven't you read articles that ask, "Is Sunday the Sabbath?" If someone thought it necessary to write an article addressing how people call Sunday the Sabbath (which it is not), then that means we cannot just assume Sabbath always means Saturday.

But sometimes it's not a simple misunderstanding. Context is key!

That quote from Aphraphat earlier, the one about "let us observe the Sabbath", came from his demonstration written against the Jewish keeping of the Sabbath. That makes it a polemic against how the Armstrongists understand Sabbath. Context is key! The entirety of his demonstration shows there is no salvation value at all to a Sabbath rest, nor does it convey any righteousness, nor any justification, nor any purity, nor profit for sinners. If it could do any of those things, then it would have been given to the patriarchs, but it was not. The physical Sabbath was given for a physical rest only, to the Jews and their animals.

Immediately prior to that quote, he says this:

"He [God] took and threw them [the Jews] out of His land, and scattered them among all the peoples because they did not observe the rest of God, but observed Sabbath according to the flesh. But let us observe the Sabbath of God in a manner which pleases His will..."
-Aphraphat, Demonstration XIII "On the Sabbath" section 13 [bold mine]

So, the Sabbath was good for physical rest only, and the Jews were doing that, and it had no other value, but something about it displeased God. It seems those two words 'of God' makes a world of difference. We need to figure out what a 'Sabbath of God' is.

From other areas in his demonstrations, we can reasonably conclude Aphraphat sees the destruction of the Temple and the Bar Kokhba rebellion as the point the Jews were expelled. It was in the Christian era. The Christian era changed things. God was displeased because they kept the Sabbath physically, as the Armstrongists understand it, but not according to the true Sabbath rest. The true rest had come, but they rejected it for the physical rest.

(MAT. 11: 28) Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

To a Syriac Christian, everything in the Old Testament pointed to Christ. Everything that came before Him was a type or a symbol or a mystery that, when properly understood, points to Jesus - Passover, bread, and Sabbath included. They read the Torah every Passover, but they didn't see it for Israel being freed from Egypt. They saw Jesus in every word. They read about Moses and saw Jesus. They read about lambs and saw Jesus. They read about unleavened bread and saw Jesus. They read about Sabbath and saw Jesus.

"I do that, too," an Armstrongist might say. Perhaps. But not like they did.
Let's see an example from the Quartodeciman author Ephram the Syrian:

1. The lamb of Truth arose and broke his body for the innocent ones who ate the lamb of Passover.
2. The paschal lamb he slaughtered and ate, and he broke his body. He caused the shadow to pass over and he provided the Truth.
3. He had eaten the unleavened bread. Within the unleavened bread his body became for us the unleavened bread of Truth.
4. The symbol that ran from the days of Moses until there, was ended there.

-Ephram the Syrian, Hymn 19 on unleavened bread [bold mine]

Unleavened bread ended there. The unleavened bread they wanted was Jesus. Can it get more plain? I think maybe it could. 

Melito of Sardis, contemporary of Polycrates and mentioned in Polycrates' letter to Victor of Rome, says this:

"35) Nothing, beloved, is spoken or made without an analogy and a sketch; for everything which is made and spoken has its analogy, what is spoken an analogy, what is made a prototype, so that whatever is made may be perceived through the prototype and whatever is spoken clarified by the illustration. 
37) When the thing comes about of which the sketch was a type, that which was to be, of which the type bore the likeness, then the type is destroyed, it has become useless, it yields up the image to what is truly real. What was once valuable becomes worthless, when what is of true value appears.
41) So the type was valuable in advance of the reality, and the illustration was wonderful before its elucidation. So the people 
were valuable before the church arose, and the law was wonderful before the illumination of the Gospel.
42) But when the church arose and the Gospel came to be, the type, depleted, gave up meaning to the truth: and the law, fulfilled, gave up meaning to the Gospel.
43) In the same way that the type is depleted, conceding the image to what is intrinsically real, and the analogy is brought to completion through the elucidation of interpretation, so the law is fulfilled by the elucidation of the Gospel, and the people is depleted by the arising of the church, and the model is dissolved by the appearance of the Lord. And today those things of value are worthless, since the things of true worth have been revealed.
-Melito of Sardis, "On Passover" [bold mine]

Now that is plain!
And it's just like Colossians.

(COL. 2: 16-17) 16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

Armstrongism is aware of this verse, and a shadow and a fulfillment. We read this verse all the time. Only, we read it to support law-keeping. The shadow (law) was even more important than before. That is clearly not how the Quartodecimans saw things. As you can see from Ephram and from Melito, the law was completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ then discarded. The Torah did not point them to law, nor to some "fulfilled" and harder law-keeping, but only to Christ! They didn't see the law as God's tool for our righteousness or necessary for His plan. The law had done it's job, it guided Israel until the Messiah could come, and was now fulfilled, depleted, worthless.

But maybe not completely worthless. The law still holds many lessons for us, even if it doesn't apply directly to us. You might even find it unusual to learn that Anatolius of Alexandria in his "Paschal Canon" used the law in Exodus to better determine when to observe Easter. The law helped bring the timing of Easter in Rome and Alexandria together in unity. All while not feeling bound to the law.

When an Armstrongist sees "unleavened bread" or "Passover" or "Sabbath" written by a Quartodeciman, they naturally draw from their own worldview and think, "I know those words. Those speak of the law."
But that is not what the Quartodeciman mind thought. The law is not why they insisted on keeping Passover on the 14th. The 14th had value only in Christ, not Moses. They did not follow the Hebrew calendar as sacred. They only needed that one day, and only because it was the day Jesus was betrayed. It had nothing to do with law-keeping.

(Matthew 5: 18) For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

He fulfilled it all. All of it. Then, the Old Covenant being satisfied, was replaced. Those words now have very different meanings.

(HEB. 8: 13) In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Now, Christ is the Sabbath. Christ is the Passover. Christ is the unleavened bread.

Hippolytus was a Bishop of Portus near Rome. This is the same Hippolytus that I wrote about in my article "The Plain Truth About December 25". A fragment remains in which he quotes some unnamed person who is likely a Quartodeciman. Here are the words of the alleged Quartodeciman: 

"Christ kept the supper, then, on that day, and then suffered; whence it is needful that I, too, should keep it in the same manner as the Lord did. But he has fallen into error by not perceiving that at the time when Christ suffered He did not eat the Passover of the law. For He was the Passover that had been of old proclaimed, and that was fulfilled on that determinate day."
-Hippolytus, "On the Passover"

Regardless of whether you believe Jesus ate the Passover according to the law or not, it was not because of the law that the Quartodecimans kept the 14th, but because of Christ. That is not some kind of back door into the law. The law doesn't only say to eat at a certain time. It says other things, too. Those things weren't being done, which is why I included the last section "horseshoes and hand grenades" first.

And so it is when Aphraphat says "his unleavened bread" it doesn't mean physically unleavened bread, it means participating in Jesus. And when he says "Sabbath of God" it doesn't mean Saturday, it refers to a new life in Jesus. This is exactly what Paul was trying to say.

(I COR. 5: 7-8) "7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 8 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."

In the Church of God splinters, this verse is read annually, used as a proof-text in support of law-keeping. "It says 'let us keep the feast'," we would point out. But no, law-keeping is not what any of these people had in mind. Jesus Christ was in mind.

They couldn't keep the law as written. If you cannot keep it as written then you cannot keep it period. They didn't see themselves as obligated to try. It wasn't that they abandoned the law, per se, but that in Christ the law was fulfilled. If you have Christ, and they did, then you have faith and love, and if you have faith and love then you have fulfilled the whole law (ROM. 13: 10; I JON. 3: 23). A righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees is in you (MAT. 5: 20). So, in this way they were able to talk about points of the law but not keep to the letter of the law, because these words and the fulfillment meant something quite different to them.

If you want to know a little more about what Quartodeciman belief really was, apart from Passover, read "Early Syriac Theology" by Seely Joseph Beggiani. You aren't going to find very much in common with Herbert Armstrong. Remember how the Waldensians are still here and can refute claims about their law-keeping? Same is true about the Syrian Church. Go ask them what their history is. They have the receipts. Aphraphat, Melito, Socrates, and Ephram were Syriac Christian. Polycarp, Aphraphat and Melito are venerated as Saints. And Ephram the Syrian is a Doctor of the Catholic Church! Didn't you know that?

Still think you should be a Quartodeciman?

I am sure the protest will be, "The pagans had already infiltrated and perverted the truth by the time of Melito and Ephram and Aphraphat etc."
But that's not what Herbert Armstrong said. He called Polycrates "another disciple of Christ’s true Christianity" ("Mystery of the Ages", p.53). Go to "Life, Hope, and Truth" ministries, a media outlet for the Church of God, A Worldwide Association, and see how they call these men true followers of God.
Polycrates outlived Saint Melito. Mystery of the Ages is the grandest book Herbert Armstrong ever wrote. It was called 'another book of the Bible'. If Polycrates was a "disciple of Christ's true Christianity", and Polycrates agreed for the most part with all of these people I've quoted here, then they are also disciples of "Christ's true Christianity". What does that say? It can't be "Christ's true" and pagan, both. So, which is it?

If you choose pagan, then the words of any Quartodeciman author no longer hold any benefit. Stop reading them. All that talk about why we should all be Quartodeciman just went right out the window. But if you don't choose Christ's true, then welcome to mainstream Christianity, my friend. You can cancel that subscription to Armstrongist literature now.

And what shall we say about the blessed Polycarp, disciple of John, who lived well before the other examples I've given so far. He says:

" is by grace you are saved, not of works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ."
-Polycarp, "Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians"


At the start of this post, I asked, "were the Quartodecimans really Old Covenant law-keepers?" Confidently, we can answer no.

Were there some we could describe as Judaizes? I'm sure. Socrates of Constantinople records some instances of this sort (e.g., Sabbatius in "Church History", book V, chapter XXI). It was a problem enough in Galatians 2 for Paul to mention both Peter and Barnabas struggled with it. But for the most part that does not describe the Quartodecimans.

Some see Pascha on the 14th and think, the law! But that is not the case here. They read words like Passover, unleavened bread, and Sabbath and think, our ancestors! But that is not the case here. How can the Living Church of God say, "be Quartodeciman," when they don't have the slightest idea what that means? They cannot. As it turns out "be Quartodeciman" actually means "be our version of Quartodeciman". But their version is a fake.

Just like the Waldensians, the Quartodecimans are not at all Armstrongist theological ancestors. It's all a fraud. Again and again and again, a pattern of dishonest documentation. Do you see the emptiness of these fabrications now that you know the Quartodecimans never kept the law to begin with?

We absolutely must read more than just a quote here and a paragraph there to understand any topic. If we are going to read, we must understand what we read in the context the Quartodecimans intended. Or what's the point? Are we reading at all? In order to get that context, we need to read as many of their works we can. We see the people who create content for the Church of God splinter groups do not understand them. They clearly didn't read to understand. They have no interest in context. They read many things, but only to find what they think will support predetermined conclusions. Is that reading at all? If what they find doesn't match what they hoped for, we either never hear about it at all or they make something up whole cloth to explain it away. Wouldn't it be better just to tell the truth? Oh, but they've already said too much to go back now.

In my next post, I will further explore the similarities between Quartodecimans and Traditionalists. You think their views on the law are unexpected? I think you might be quite surprised indeed to peek behind this curtain.


It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )

Acts 17:11


1 comment:

jim said...

Great article. I'll respond further later.