Monday, March 25, 2013

Were Gentiles in Corinth Observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread?

I remember one of the last conversations that I had with a minister in the Armstrong Church of God I was attending, prior to my decision to leave.  We were discussing some of the doctrinal difficulties that we both struggled with.  At one point in the conversation he became frustrated with all the inconsistencies and just threw up his hands and said, “well, all I know is that I’m going to keep observing the Holy Days just like the church in the New Testament!”    So I asked him where in the New Testament the church was shown to be observing the Holy Days.  He replied, “well right there in I Corinthians chapter 5 where Paul instructed them to keep the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread!  Why would Paul even mention those days to a gentile church if they were not observing them?

My minister friend actually asked two questions:  

Did Paul instruct the Corinthian church to observe the holy days?

Why would Paul use Jewish Holy Days like the Passover and Feast of Unleavened bread to illustrate a point in his letter to the gentile Corinthian church unless the church knew about these days?  

Here in the passage that follows is the “proof” that the church in Corinth was keeping the Holy Days.

(1Co 5:7-8) 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. 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.

See, it is right there as clear as day, “Let us keep the feast”!   Paul is telling the church in Corinth to “keep the feast” found in the Law of Moses just like the Jews of his day did, right?    

But such an interpretation creates the kind of inconsistencies that gave my minister friend so much frustration.  If it were true that Paul were commanding that parts of the Law of Moses were required to be observed by gentiles, then that would seem to conflict with the decision made in the Acts 15 council and with so many of Paul’s other writings.    

So let’s take a closer look.

Paul first preached the gospel in Corinth during his second missionary journey (Acts 18), which we will get to in a moment.  Later, during Paul’s Ephesian ministry, he received reports from “some of Chloe’s household” (1:11) that there were factions in the Corinthian church who identified themselves with particular leaders.  You’re probably aware that first Corinthians is not really the first letter written to the Corinthian church by Paul.   There was an earlier letter, sometimes referred to as “the previous letter” that Paul had written to deal with issues of immorality, but much of that letter has been lost to time.  

It is not clear for sure if Paul in 1 Cor 5 was dealing with additional issues brought to him by Chloe’s household, or if he had been told of these issues by the three church delegates, Stephanas,  Fortunatus, and Achaicus (16:17).    Regardless, it is clear that in chapter 5 of 1 Corinthians Paul was further addressing the issue raised in the “previous letter”.   This is important because it makes clear the context of the chapter.  

A reference to this previous letter occurs immediately following the passages that we are looking at.

(1 Cor 5:9-11)  I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people.  Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

Paul was not addressing holy days

It is not very difficult to see that the context of this chapter concerns a problem with sexual immorality in the church.   A Corinthian member was carrying on an incestuous affair with his stepmother, a relationship prohibited in both the Old Testament (Lev 18:18, Deut 22:22) and in Roman law (Cicero Cluentes 6. 15 and Gaius Institutis 1. 63).   Apparently proud of this member’s social status, the church did not exclude him from their fellowship.   Paul’s message was that this man should be taken away from among the church.

(1 Cor 5:1-2) It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!  And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.

In the next few verses, 3 – 5, Paul passes the strongest judgment that he can on this man, calling on the church to gather in Jesus name to cast the man out from the church. 

Timing of the Epistle

Paul wrote this letter just weeks after the Jews had celebrated the Passover and Feast of Unleavened bread.   This feast is called a “pilgrim feast”, meaning that all the Jews and Hellenistic Jews would have recently returned from their travels to Jerusalem.  (Dt 16:16).   

The reason given by Paul for casting the man out from the church was based in part on this Old Testament Feast of Unleavened bread.   Just as the unleavened Passover bread could be corrupted by just a little yeast, just one sinful man could corrupt the entire church.   Here it is the permeating properties of yeast that underscore the symbolism.

(1 Cor 5:6-8) Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  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. 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.

Paul’s instruction reveals a deeper meaning to the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Paul’s instruction to “purge out the old leaven”, a Jewish proverb at the time, referred to removing the sinful incestuous man, not physical leaven.  And the place from which the “old leaven” is being purged from is not their houses, but rather it is purged from the church.    The church is “truly unleavened”, that is they are considered to be without sin.   How is the church considered “unleavened”?   The church is unleavened because indeed Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us, thereby cleansing our sins by his blood. 

Now we come to the passage in question.  

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.

The words are right there in front of us.  Paul’s instruction is to keep the feast not with the old leaven, or with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth!   Paul has elevated the Feast of Unleavened Bread from a physical ritual of putting leaven out of a house to a moral imperative to put a sinful believer out of the church.   The church was to be sincere and truthful, not just appearing like followers of Christ, but demonstrating by their actions that they truly are following Christ.

The Passover sacrifice that had occurred year after year had been replaced by a once for all sacrifice, Jesus our Passover.   And the Feast of Unleavened bread has become a continued observance for the Christian believer, not to put old leaven out of our houses but to rejoice in the light of Christ’s sacrificial death as our Passover and therefore live with a repentant heart daily.

This sinful incestuous man did not have a repentant heart.  So what was Paul's concluding directive? 

(1 Cor 5:13) “Therefore, put away from yourself this evil person”

Does any of this sound like an instruction from the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church to observe the Feast of Unleavened bread the way the Jews did?  Was Paul focused on putting leaven out of houses? 

No, of course not.  That is not even the topic being discussed here. 

So then why would Paul refer to these holy days if the gentile church did not observe them?  How would they have known what the feast even meant?

The church had many Jewish members including the ruler of the synagogue

Now this starts to get easy.  Because the premise made that these are all gentiles in Corinth with no understanding of Jewish customs is simply a false premise. 

The account of Paul’s first visit to Corinth is found in Acts 18.  

(Acts 18:1-2) After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth.
And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.

Note this, around 49 A.D. emperor Claudius issued a decree that expelled all the Jews from Rome.   Suetonius, a biographer of Roman Emperors, in his work, Life of Claudius, indicated that this decree was issued as a result of constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus.   It is believed that the name Chrestus is a reference to Christ.    This banishment of Jews from Rome added to the Jewish population in Corinth including that of the church.

Corinth:  A large and populous mercantile city, and the center of commerce alike for East and West; having a considerable Jewish population, larger, probably, at this time than usual, owing to the banishment of the Jews from Rome by Claudius Caesar (Acts 18:2).  [Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ac 18:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.}

According to his custom, Paul began his evangelism in the synagogue preaching to Jews, Hellenistic Jews and gentile “God fearers”.   All people who would know the Old Testament scriptures and the holy day practices.

(Acts 18:4) And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.

Notice that Paul reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and Greeks.  Many of the gentile believers were “God fearing” gentiles.  That is, they believed in God and went to the synagogues but had not yet become Jews through circumcision.  Cornelius was such an uncircumcised “God fearer”, for example (Acts 10:1). 

Paul testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ but when they did not respond he decided to go to the gentiles and went to stay with Justus, a Greek whose house was right next door to the synagogue (verse 5-7).     Even the ruler of the Synagogue and his family became believers at the preaching of Paul.

(Acts 18:8)  Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.

So what we see here are facts that the Armstrongist churches have left out of their presentation of 1 Cor 5.    The church in Corinth was most certainly gentile, but had a large Jewish population even including the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth.  This in part was the result of a decree made by Claudius Caesar that expelled the Jews from Rome sending many Jewish believers to Corinth.

Would they have known about the Jewish holy days?  Of course, especially since the feast had occurred only weeks earlier. 

But what about the members of the church who were gentiles and had not previously had any exposure to the scriptures?  Would they have understood chapter 5 of Paul’s letter?

The apostles used the Old Testament scriptures to preach to gentiles that Jesus was the Christ

How do you suppose that the apostles persuaded gentiles to believe that Jesus is the Christ?

Well, when Philip encountered the Ethiopian Eunuch he taught him from the book of Isaiah.   And in Thessalonica Paul reasoned from the scriptures (Acts 17:1-4).   And what happened there?

(Acts 17:4)  And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

Gentiles came to be believers in Jesus Christ through Paul’s reasoning from the scriptures.   Do you think that Paul ever mentioned that Jesus fulfilled the meaning of the Passover lamb?   Seems very likely doesn’t it?

And in Ephesus Paul also reasoned from the scriptures (Acts 18:24). 

And in Berea, the namesake of this blog, the Bereans searched the scriptures daily to see if what was being preached were so (Acts 17:11).     Again, the result was that Greeks, gentiles, became believers.

(Acts 17:12)  Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.

So we see that gentile believers would indeed be familiar with the scriptures and with various Jewish holy days.   There were Jews that lived among them and they were also taught from the scriptures in order to be persuaded to believe that Jesus is the Christ.


Let’s go back to our original questions and summarize what we have just examined.

Did Paul instruct the Corinthian church to observe the holy days?


Nowhere does Paul give instruction to keep the holy days according to the Old Covenant.  Instead he uses a practice known to the masses in order to show the Corinthian church how to deal with a sin issue.  And in so doing Paul reveals a deeper meaning to Feast of Unleavened bread.

Why would Paul use Jewish holy days like the Passover and Feast of Unleavened bread to illustrate a point in his letter to the Corinthian church unless the church knew about these days?  

The church did know about the holy days.  It is not true that the church in Corinth was wholly gentile, there was a large population of Jews in Corinth as we have pointed out.  And the gentile believers had significant instruction in the scriptures.

Paul used these days in his letter because many in the Corinthian church were Jews or God fearing gentiles and were very familiar with the practices accompanying the holy days.   In addition, the letter was written shortly after the Passover and Feast of Unleavened bread.  This was a pilgrim feast and the Jews would have recently returned from their travel to Jerusalem with the events fresh in their memories.

It was both timely and appropriate for Paul to use the meticulous removal of leaven from the homes of the Jews to demonstrate the meticulous way a sinful man should be removed from the church.

We do not have to throw our hands up in frustration because of contradictions between our doctrines and what the Bible clearly teaches.   The New Testament makes clear that the Law of Moses was not mandated upon gentiles.  They did not observe the Old Covenant holy days.  Rather the gentile believers marveled at the fulfillment of these days in the person of Jesus Christ.

Christians truly are unleavened!   

Let us therefore rejoice in the light of Christ’s sacrificial death as our Passover and live with a repentant heart daily.   

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


xHWA said...

I agree that the Gentiles knew about these things. I think they were incredibly well-versed in the Old Testament. If Justin Martyr is any example at all of a Gentile Christian, even though he wasn't Corinthian, he most definitely had a deep knowledge and understanding of the Old Testament including Sabbaths and holy days - and that even though he explained exactly why he didn't observe Sabbaths and holy days.

I think it is non sequitur to claim that they knew about it therefore they observed it. I don't think that observing necessarily follows knowledge.
For example, I know a fair deal about Hanukkah and Ramadan, but I don't observe either of them. Armstrongism teaches on New Moons somewhat and Jubilees more often, but observes neither. So the starting premise is non sequitur.

I agree with your point that a later teaching the holy days nullifies the decision of the Council in Acts 15. A decision we see in tact towards the end of Paul's ministry in Acts 21, by the way.
I was taught often that Acts 15 didn't mean what it says; that more instruction in the law would come later. Then I Corinthians was used as a proof text. Seems everyone agrees that Acts 15 must be made null and void for Armstrongism's teaching of law to move forward.

You made many good points. Your understanding has merit and deserves further consideration. Thanks!

Lurker said...

I have been doing a lot of reading and meditation on this topic over the past several weeks and can see that the link Armstrongism has made between the OT Days of Unleavened Bread and I Corinthians is weaker, at best, than I have been taught. The interpretation you describe here is much more consistent with the rest of his writings, as well as being and richer, spiritually.

I do struggle to understand Paul's admonition to "keep the feast," as you have explained it, though. As someone regularly fighting the Judaising elements in the early church, it seems like such an unfortunate choice of words, or rather concepts, since Paul obviously didn't write in English. It just seems like a gift to the very element he was fighting.

Just so I can make sure I understand what you are arguing in that specific verse, your interpretation is that Paul advises his brethren to "celebrate" a perpetual, unofficial, daily "feast" by expelling the sinner from their community as opposed to actually keeping the physical feast days AND expelling the sinner so they are being physically and spiritually consistent with the intent of the feast?

I guess that could make sense, if his writing came in the weeks following the festival. It just seems like a bad turn of phrase in this specific situation. I pray that God gives me more clarity in this matter. Thank you for your post.

Caleb said...

Perhaps it would be helpful to consider an additional point. Paul was not only telling them to expel the sinner from their community but also that a failure to do so would cause the increasing of sin in the church in the same way that leaven permeates the lump of dough (v6). Cleansed by Christ our passover, the church must remain like "a new lump".

Paul's words "therefore let us celebrate the feast" are only a poor choice of words in the context of our past teaching by the COGs regarding this festival. To the people of Corinth this was a perfect choice of wording because they knew exactly what this feast was all about and the great joy of the celebration in Jerusalem. They knew what it meant to "Celebrate the feast".

The Christian life is to be a continual celebration of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ by remembrance, gratitude, and a transformed life. "Malice and wickedness are put out", and "sincerity and truth are put in".

Every day we should remember what the Lord Jesus has done for us and every day, therefore, we should turn from sin with the joy and thankfulness of a festival celebration!

Thank you, your comments have caused me to think even more deeply about this "celebration".


Tom said...

Hmm a very interesting post that does make sense especially as you have framed Paul's letter in context with what we learn about those churches he set up during his missionary journeys as Luke writes about it in Acts.

Personally I still observe the holy days, but am questioning the necessity of such especially since I feel that Christ celebrated the holy days within the ethnocentric culture of the Jews of his day. Yet, He never corrected them for celebrating them on the wrong day or for using the wrong calendar or how strict or liberal they were in observing the holy days. Yet, HWA was very strict and formal about such to the point that he devised the structure of services, what attire was deemed appropriate, even who was allowed entrance into his churches. And you can see all of such were due to his Methodist upbringing. It makes me wonder, therefore, if the Jews had been so strict and cultish as Armstrong was with regard to such then Paul probably wouldn't have even been able to gain entry into their synagogues to preach the good news to them on the Sabbaths! And so perhaps the way NT Christians are to observe the holy days (if they have to at all!) is less rigorous than the Jews had been commanded in OT times e.g. no pilgrimage necessary to Jerusalem or any other city, no animal sacrifices, etc. since the One whom they all point to had come i.e. Christ, so no one was to judge his brethren concerning how they were kept or not (Col 2:16).

Also, what I find interesting and which adds weight somewhat to your interpretation is that in 1 Cor 5:8 doesn't mention "bread" at all! It actually states: "Therefore let us keep the feast...with the unleaveness of sincerity and truth"! Thus the requirement to eat unleavened bread as it was in the OT seems to be diminished for a greater, more spiritual goal i.e. to be spiritually deleavened! Come to think of it, this might even have parallels with Hebrews 4:9 and the "sabbatismos" that NT Christians are to keep like the "feast" especially if Paul did write both letters. Thus, whereas HWA focused on the ritualistic aspects of these days and seasons Paul was perhaps trying to get the early Church to focus on the spiritual meaning and intention behind them.

xHWA said...

Excellent comment Tom. Thanks!

Caleb said...

Tom, thanks for your comment, well said. As I recall all those holy days that I kept and all the "strictness" with which I observed them, I find it much more challenging now to be "unleavened" every day. Hmm...Hebrews 4, I will give that some thought.

Tom said...

I thought to share another observation I've been mulling over for a while as it bears some connection to the whole question over whether NT gentile Christians are meant to observe the "Jewish" holy days. My question focuses on Acts 18:21. Why doesn't Paul tell the others that they should be observing the feast in Jerusalem too and so should join him (if as Armstrongists teach both Jewish and gentile Christians should be keeping these holy days)? And note that Paul goes to Jerusalem, but the Ephesian Jews (and/or gentiles?) aren't compelled to (even though all the 3 feasts were pilgrim feasts to be observed in Jerusalem right?).

OrthodoxApologia92 said...

It is forbidden to stay in a hotel or any kind of building except a sukkah, during the Feast of Tabernacles. It mattered not if one be Gentile or Jewish. To observe Jewish festivals, one must surely be circumcised else he be prohibited from eatinge the Passover. To say that anyone can eate the Passover is to violate what God hath said in Exodus about strangers eatinge the Passover. Now some people may say,"Well in Exodus, God also mentions Gentiles eating the Passover and keeping the Sabbath."

Exodus 12:43 through 48:
43 And the Lorde sayde vnto Moses ad Aaron, this is the maner of Passeover: there shall no straunger eate there of,
44 but all the seruauntes that are bought for money shall ye circumcise, and then let them eat there of.
45 A strauger and a hyerd seruaunte shall not eate thereof.
46 In one housse shall it be eate. Ye shall carie none of the flesh out at the doores: moreouer, se that ye breke not a bone there of.
47 All the multitude of the childern of Israel shall obserue it
48 Yf a straunger dwell amonge you ad wyll holde Passeover vnto the Lorde, let him circucise all that be males, ad the let him come and obserue it ad be take as one that is borne i the lode. No vncircucised persone shall eate there of.

OrthodoxApolgia92 said...

In these verses, God giveth instructions concerning the Passover to Moses and Aaron. In verse 43, God tells them, "there shall no stranger eat thereof." Yet, in verses 48 and 49, God talks about strangers keeping the Passover. When we see what doth appear to be a contradiction, we must obseve carefully what the Lord saith.
First, we find that "stranger" in verse 43 and "stranger" in verses 48 and 49 are from different Hebrew words. "Stranger" in verse 43 means "son of a foreigner," which is merely a way of indicating a foreigner. We'll look at verses 48 and 49 when we come to them.
Verse 44 says that servants who are circumcised shall eat the Passover. This obviously means servants who are not native Israelites but who become as Israelites by becoming circumcised. But verse 45 says, "A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof." The word "foreigner" in this verse is from still another Hebrew word. It means "resident alien." It refers to someone of another nation living in Israel who is not circumcised as an Israelite. "Hired servant" is from a Hebrew word that means "hireling." It refers to someone—in this case, obviously a non-Israelite—who does not become part of a household but merely works certain hours for wages. The point is again that those who are not circumcised may not eat the Passover.It is only after this explanation that God says, "One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you" (verse 49). "Homeborn" is the same word as "born" in verse 48. "Stranger that sojourneth" are the same noun and verb as "stranger shall sojourn" in verse 48. Thus, Exodus 12:49 refers ONLY to strangers WHO ARE CIRCUMCISED and thus become "as one that is born in the land" (verse 48). When a stranger was circumcised, he became an observant Jew. He was not like other foreigners. There was one law for native born Israelites and for circumcised proselytes. But the law for Israelites and proselytes was not the law for uncircumcised foreigners, as is proved by the fact—as we just read—that uncircumcised foreigners were NOT ALLOWED to eat the Passover. A person cannot observe the Law in whatever manner he feels is right. The feasts needs be observed in the place where the Lord hath put His name. Hath the Lord put His name in Ephesus? Or in Rome? No, right? Therefore why sayest thou that the Law can be observed in any place that one doth choose? If one must keep the Law then one also needs be circumcised before he ate condemnation unto himself. One needs to to go to Jerusalem to keep the Feasts, because if one does not go to Jerusalem then he will not receive rain. Going to Jerusalem is very necessary if one claimeth to observe the Law, else thou keepest not the Law.

Jerry G said...

Concerning 1 Cor 5:8

I found Feast ref 1 Cor 5:8 in strong's is G1858 found only once in NT

while Strong's # G1859 for feast is found all the other times.

What's the difference? G1858 I found knowing a little greek

is a verb instead of a noun.

A verb denotes action rather than a thing.

Jerry G

Unknown said...

What about Joshua 5:10? "And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho."

Unknown said...

One question. Does God make exceptions to observing outside of Jerusalem at all? Joshua 5:10 shows where they kept Passover in Gilgal. Moses had already instructed them to keep it in Jerusalem. What gives?

xHWA said...

It would seem that God makes many exceptions to things. Passover was allowed to be a month later, in case of problems. You can see that in Numbers 9.

But in this case, we're talking Joshua 5. At that point there was no Israelite Jerusalem. Notice that Jerusalem is first mentioned by that name in Joshua 10, and it was not Israelite. It would appear that the three annual pilgrimages never were about Jerusalem specifically, rather they were about the Temple. Israel had encamped in Gilgal and that means the Ark was there and the Tent of Meeting. This means that as best as they could manage at the time the "Temple" was in Gilgal. God didn't make an exception for this, it just was the reality of that time.

And even that isn't really correct. The temple was only important in that it is where the tabernacle was. The tabernacle, the place of the presence of God, is what was truly important. That's kind of an academic difference because the Tabernacle was in the Temple, or in this case the Tent of Meeting. At any rate, the "temple" and the tabernacle were in Gilgal at that time. Once Solomon built the actual first temple then the tabernacle was in the Temple in Jerusalem. So, you can say that "go to Jerusalem" was really just slang for "go to the Temple [that was in Jerusalem]."

And that is where it stayed until Jesus' death. Since that time the Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit and the Tabernacle. It's in each of us who belong to Jesus.