Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Why Not Keep Biblical Days?

From all different corners of the world, and from people of various flavors of Protestantism, some version of this question has been popping up more and more lately:
Why do we keep made up holidays when the Bible gave us days we can keep?

It's a valid question that deserves an answer.

This is something we have hit on over and over again here at As Bereans Did since around 2010. We don't mind repeating ourselves (at some point we are going to want to stop, though, because frankly we've gone over this). Usually, the target audience is Armstrongists. Today, I am going to talk past the usual audience to address a more general population.

So, what is our response? Why not keep biblical days? I will start by answering the question with a question.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN 'KEEP'?

So, you're going to "keep" a day that you see in the Bible. How do you plan to do that, exactly?

--HOW/WHERE

What do you plan to do to "keep" the biblical day? Are you going to keep this biblical day according to the biblical instructions for it? So, for example, let's imagine it's Passover. You're going to do what exactly? Eat a Seder? Do you know the Seder as it is kept today by the Jews is not what is instructed in the Bible? The Bible doesn't say to have four cups of wine and a hard boiled egg and vegetables in salt water and gefilte fish. If you are going to keep a biblical day - stressing the idea that you got it from the Bible rather than some made up holiday - don't you think you should keep it the way the Bible says to, rather than, you know, making up ways to keep it?

Don't worry. We have you covered. Here's what you do --

First, you travel to Jerusalem. You can opt to travel to Jerusalem if you're female, but if you're male you are required to. Because that's the only place you are allowed to keep it (DEU. 16: 5-7). You're going to have to do this a little early, because you need to select a lamb or a goat without blemish then keep it with you for four days (EXO. 12: 3-5). So, get there by the 10th of Nissan. Then, at the very start of the 14th of Nissan, you go ahead and remove all leaven from your household (EXO. 12: 15). That means no yeast or baking soda or rising agents of any kind. And no already leavened bread, which includes dough starters, cereals, cookies, crumbs, and etc. Jews will remove grains as well, to make sure they aren't contaminated with microbes that might cause them to rise when cooked. (It's a valid concern as that was how risen bread was made in the ancient times.) The Jews also include any alcoholic drink made form grains. Anything with leavening in it has to go (DEU. 16: 4). Hint: you might want to check inside your toaster and under the seats of your car, too. (I know that from experience.) For seven days, the only bread you may eat must be unleavened (EXO. 16: 3). It's not just that you must avoid leavened bread, you must actively eat unleavened bread (EXO. 12: 20). Matzo is an easy option. Make sure it's Matzo rated for Passover, because not all Matzo is. (I know that from experience, too.) Removing leavening from your home will be difficult while you're in Jerusalem, we know. Perhaps you might want to divide the responsibilities, because as someone is at home removing the leaven, someone else is going to have to go to the Temple and sacrifice that lamb, or goat if you're bougee (EXO. 12: 6). Then, once the animal is properly sacrificed by the Temple Priests, you can go back to wherever you are staying in town and roast that lamb on its bones with some bitter herbs (EXO. 12: 8). Don't get fancy and try cooking it any other way, as that is not permitted (EXO. 12: 9). Goat burger with feta, arugula, and a mint aioli is verboten. Leftovers are also not allowed. Anything you can't finish eating that night will have to be burned up (EXO. 12: 10). No gyro for you tomorrow.

And while you're doing all that, the Temple Priests will be doing the offerings in Numbers 28: 19-24.

And that is the minimum requirement for how you keep a Passover! You are now ready to keep your first Biblical day.

You may have noticed an issue regarding the Temple and the animal sacrifices. Yes, that has been a thorny problem lo these past 1,900 years. It does have the unfortunate effect of making it nigh impossible to keep a biblical Passover. And that is a main reason why the early church didn't even try. So, how are you going to "keep" this biblical day, exactly, when you literally cannot keep it as the Bible says to? Make something up? The Jews did! It was the only reasonable thing they could do. So, they made up new traditions. Oh, we are not criticizing the Jews at all. Not one bit. They did what they had to do to continue observing ordinances given to them. It was either that or stop altogether. Can you blame them? We don't. But, that takes us right back to the initial problem, doesn't it? You've made up a holiday.

Oh, you can add in things that were done during the Last Supper, like foot washing - which was also made up, as there is no law for foot washing - but it might be good to bear in mind that Jesus did not have the Last Supper apart from its Jewish context. It was a Jewish Passover performed by Jews living during the final hours of the Old Covenant period. Jesus was doing the things we've reviewed and adding new elements. Adding Last Supper elements to your biblical Passover doesn't do anything to remove your obligation to also do what is required for your biblical day to be Biblical. Forgoing Passover elements and only going for Last Supper elements definitely turns Passover into Easter. It's what the first century church did. They got rid of Passover elements, only kept the bread and wine, and went forward calling it Passover. That would be the opposite of what you're going for, though. You're going for keeping a biblical day, not Easter. But isn't the Last Supper biblical? And you can't do the things required for your biblical day. There is no Temple, nor Priesthood, nor animal sacrifices. So I guess that leaves everyone in a difficult spot. The exact same spot as the first century church.

--WHEN

Now, when will you be enjoying this Passover?

The Bible says to observe it on the 14th day of the month of Nissan (aka Abib) (EXO. 12: 6). But when is that, precisely? Will you follow the Jews? Don't you know the modern Jewish calendar is not the same calendar used at the Temple in Jerusalem? After the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, and after the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem due to the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132 AD, the calendar used at the Temple no longer worked. So, Rabi Hillel II revamped the calendar in 359 AD. The calendar the Jews use today is based on but not the same as the one used at the Temple. In fact it's better. But better is still different. You are going to want a biblical calendar to go with your biblical day. What calendar did they use at the Temple? We aren't entirely sure. They kept the formula somewhat of a secret. What we know for certain is it's not exactly the one used today. Since we are on the topic of calendars, didn't you know the Jews had at least three "Hebrew" calendars in the first century (Essene, Galilean, and Judean/Babylonian)? And none of those three are exactly what Moses used. So, you need to decide which calendar you are going to follow. Don't choose a made up one!

What's more, when will you be enjoying this Passover meal?

You should know there is currently a timing dispute among people who attempt to "keep" this biblical day. Not calendar timing. This is different. The dispute is over when on the 14th the Passover rituals, like the Seder & etc., should be performed. Should it be on the evening at the start of the 14th or the evening at the end of the 14th? Hebrew days went from sunset to sunset, so each day technically had two evenings. Several verses say Passover rituals should be "at twilight" or "evening" on the 14th (EXO. 12: 18; LEV. 23: 5; NUM. 9: 3-5, 28: 16; JOS. 5: 10). But what does "at twilight" or "evening" or "between the evenings" mean, exactly? The first or the second? A casual reading could get you equally to either evening. I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say it gets complicated. Jesus kept His final Passover on the first evening, while the Jews kept it on the second. (There is nothing to indicate Jesus always kept Passover this way. It is reasonable to conclude He did not.) Who shall you follow? The one keeping the biblical day, or the one keeping the biblical day? In the end, we have two camps of people "keeping" the same biblical day on two different evenings. Which will you choose? And what will you say to the other camp, or about the other camp, when they question your decision? What will you do if they accuse you of heresy? The majority of non-Jews who "keep" biblical days aren't doing it because they find it fulfilling, they are doing it because they feel commanded to. They call them God's holy days. Any departure from their doctrine will threaten them and win you a negative response. You are a heretic in defiance of God in their eyes. And they will be happy to share that fact with you. You might want to be fully educated on why you chose what you did. But not for their sake. They are right and you are wrong and that is that. No, for your own sake. I suggest starting with a good understanding of the two Great Covenants.

--WHO

I am going to assume you are a Gentile since I cannot imagine any Jew would ever ask a question like this in the first place. So, Gentile, how do you plan on "keeping" Passover as a Gentile? Don't you know that according to the law of Passover, Gentiles were forbidden from observing Passover (EXO. 12: 43-49)? That's the law! That law likely includes Firstfruits and the Days of Unleavened Bread, since they were often lumped together under the term Passover. You must become a Jew in order to observe these days. Men, schedule your circumcision. Ladies, marry an Israelite. People like to say, "God gave us days to keep." But, did He? Because He didn't give them to us Gentiles at all. He gave them to the Jews, and Jews only. This is another main reason why the early church didn't even try to "keep" biblical days.

Jews can be some of the most welcoming people. Once they get to know you, they will invite people to share in their observance of Passover. They do so without expecting anything, including conversion. Conversion is generally not what they want at all. They just want to share who they are. I respect that, deeply. I would go without hesitation. However, it isn't exactly what the Bible prescribes. For a Jew to share their Passover is one thing. It's their day. It was given to them. They can share it if they want to. It's another thing entirely for a Gentile to take the day upon themselves. It's not our day. It wasn't given to us. If you are taking up this day when the Bible clearly says not to, are you doing the right thing, biblically speaking? The point is to be biblical, right?

I would imagine being prohibited from keeping a day we aren't sure when to keep and which we cannot keep as prescribed even if we wanted to is really going to complicate this plan to "keep" a biblical day.

So far, we have only gone over Passover. I haven't gone into the other biblical days, such as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Rosh Hashanah, Atonement, or Tabernacles. Not to mention Purim, which is in the Bible, so it's biblical, but it's also "made up" by the Jews (EST. 9: 22-27). Or Hanukkah, which is mentioned in the Gospels (JON. 10: 22-23), so it's biblical, but is detailed only in the Apocrypha, because it's "made up" by the Jews, too. Biblical and made up? Yes. It's enough to make a person think "made up" holidays are entirely permitted by the Bible. Because they are. In other words, it's biblical to make up days to honor God. The Bible allows that. How does that affect your decision?

But believe me, the other days come with just as much if not more detail as Passover. Do you even own a shofar? You'll need one. Will you side with the Pharisees or the Sadducees on when to observe Firstfruits? It matters. Are you going to have a last great day to your Tabernacles or not? Remember when I said you have to travel to Jerusalem to keep the Passover? You actually have to do that three times a year. Yeah. Please take the time to understand what you're getting yourself into before you start down this road of "keeping" biblical days.

Maybe you thought this was going to be a simple thing. Perhaps you thought you would just take a made up day out and put a biblical day in, like changing socks. The reality is it's not so simple in practice as it is in theory. This section has been about the days as they actually are. Using Passover as an example, we have shown you the law. In other words, the days as they actually are, not as they are reinvented, or romanticized, to be. Do you love the days as they are, as they actually are, or have you built up an idea in your mind about the days that changes them into something else?

DAYS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

What days are given in the New Testament to remember events of the New Testament? Answer: none.

Passover does nothing to recall His resurrection - the greatest single event in the history of the physical universe. Keeping biblical days does not take you back to the early church, it takes you back to Sinai.

What days are directly commanded in the New Testament? Answer: none.

There is nothing new commanded to remember events of the New Testament. The Apostles commanded no mandatory days of observance at all. The early church observed the Last Supper, but with newly made symbols and meanings of our Lord not with old symbols and meanings of Old Covenant law, and by tradition not command.

Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of Me," but He didn't exactly specify when (LUK. 22: 19). It does not say, "Do Passover in remembrance of Me every year." It says bread and wine "in remembrance of Me" (I COR. 11: 24-25), and that isn't really Passover. Yes, the bread is a Passover element, but it is one element out of many and hardly enough to constitute all of Passover. The wine is not commanded as a Passover element anywhere, and Jesus doesn't say anything at all about the rest of those things we went over in the last section. So, when do we remember Him with bread and wine? It doesn't say. Doing something is clearly assumed, but what, and when?

For the most part, the early church decided weekly and annually. Is that "made up"? Yes and no. Which will you go with, the 'yes' or the 'no'? Or both? People talk about "made up" days like there was some cut and dry system which most of the early church decided to ignore. That's simply not the case.

Paul said, "Let us keep the feast," apparently in reference to Passover, but then he went right on to change the imagery, saying, "not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth," (I COR. 5: 8). Some people say this is a command to keep Old Covenant holy days, but we disagree since the context cannot support such a far-reaching conclusion as that. Paul is using imagery to make a point about morality vs immorality. Goes well with what he said in Romans 7: 6.

So, what does the New Testament say about days? It says a couple things.

First off, it says the Jewish converts were "zealous for the law" (ACT. 21: 20-21). What this means is, the Jewish converts were fully permitted to continue in their Old Covenant traditions in the New Covenant era. That includes days. Those things are their culture. Those things were given to them (ROM. 3: 1-2; 9: 4-5). It's theirs to keep (ROM. 11: 29). They can both accept Jesus as their Messiah and keep the Old Covenant traditions of their forefathers. Jews were not required to become Gentiles in order to be Christians.

Second, conversely, it says Gentiles were under no obligation to observe Old Covenant traditions (ACT. 20: 25). How could they be obligated if they are in fact forbidden? They cannot. Acts 15 is all about how that decision was made. It was God Himself who revealed the Gentiles were under no such obligations (ACT. 15: 28-29). So, the Gentiles were not to be circumcised nor keep the whole law (ACT. 15: 5). That includes days. Almost the entire book of Galatians is a record of Paul dealing with this issue. Yet, even as Paul zealously defended the Gentiles from legalism, he never abandoned his own Jewishness (ACT. 21: 24). Gentiles do not need to become Jews in order to be Christians.

Third, Paul made it abundantly clear that there are no obligatory days in the New Covenant (ROM. 14: 5-7). There is no command from the Apostles in the New Covenant to observe any day. We know days were observed. The Lord's Day was definitely observed. I am not saying days were not observed. I am only saying days were not commanded to be observed. Observe days, don't observe days, it's all the same. Either way, what you choose to do, do it to the Lord. Now, the Quartodeciman Controversy taught us a good lesson about how this freedom affects unity, so take that lesson with you.

Fourth, Paul specifically expresses concern about it.

(GAL. 4: 10-11) 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.

Paul is not talking about divination or paganism. If Galatians were doing those sorts of things, Paul would express more than just concern. Paul goes back to Genesis 1: 14 to get this phrase. The days and months and seasons and years he refers to are in reference Old Covenant law (EZE. 45: 17). You know, those biblical days you are thinking about keeping. If we follow the context of Galatians, we know Paul is specifically warning the Gentiles about taking up Old Covenant days. That is the overarching context of the book. It concerns him so much because if people start mixing law with grace, it can ruin their faith (GAL. 5: 1-4). That's why Paul says, "I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain." That's some very serious stuff. Why do we not "keep" Old Covenant biblical days? Because it's not as great an idea as it sounds.

This is where it gets important to know your motivation.

KNOW YOUR MOTIVATION

This comes from introspection. There are many questions to ask yourself. Primarily, why would you want to do this in the first place?

Be honest with yourself and peal away the rhetorical buzz phrases like "made up" and "biblical" that are only there to manipulate. What is your true motivation? Are you bored? Are you disappointed? Do you feel there is a more genuine experience to be had in those days? Are you looking for more spirituality? Do you think the Old Covenant Pesach will bring you closer to Jesus than the New Covenant Pascha? Are you tired of secular encroachment on Christian holidays? (I am!) Do you think the Old Covenant days are commanded for Christians? Do you prefer days that remember events from the Old Testament versus days that remember events from the New Testament? I bet it's not that last one. I hope it's not this next one! Do you feel you will become more pure or holier than others if you "keep" these biblical days while they keep their "made up" days?

So, we ask, what is your motivation? Do you really love these biblical days as they actually are, or do you love the idea of these days that you (or someone else) have made up?

We also ask, why stop there? Why stop at annual days? Why not go on to weekly Sabbaths? The biblical rest day. And why stop there? Why not also have tithes? The biblical way to pay. And why stop there? Why not have clean/unclean meats laws, too? The biblical way to eat. And why stop there? Why not also prohibit mixing of fabrics? The biblical way to dress. And why stop there? Why not do everything according to the Jewish calendar (or whatever calendar you chose earlier)? The biblical way to tell time. And why stop there? Why not add various other laws? The biblical way to be. Why stop there....

It's a slippery slope! Be cautious! A little law leads to a little more. After all, what is so biblical about these days besides the command? Both "biblical" and "made up" days have their roots in the Bible, in worshipping the God of the Bible for things God did in the Bible. So what is the difference? The command. The law. (Even though that same law tells you not to.) Thousands before you have been tripped up over this. Your motivation will either make or break you on this point. This is precisely what worried Paul!

Don't think that could ever happen to you? Look at the original question. It sets up two options: biblical vs made up. You could see that as a wrote matter of cold fact. Sure. Or, you could see that as a rhetorical dichotomy. Words meant to set one idea up and pull another idea down. One is biblical. Godly. Yay! The other is made up. Worldly. Boo! Hiss! Therein lies the rub. The toe is already dipped into the pool of us vs. them before you even make a choice. Who would want to choose made up days? :-( Only people who don't obey God, am I right? So, off people go by the score, to "keep" a godly and holy biblical day ...that they make up. Only a few steps down that road, and "made up" day becomes "pagan" and "sinful" day. Oh, beloved by God, be so very careful about your motivations! The road to self righteousness lies before you. Again, I come back to Paul's worry.

CONCLUSION

Why do we keep "made up" holidays when the Bible gave us days we can keep?

  • Because we can. There's nothing wrong with it. The book of Esther makes that clear enough.
  • Because there's a lot more to it than taking Easter out and putting Passover in. Or any other biblical day. There is a whole lot more to it.
  • Because unless you modify them, biblical days miss important parts of New Covenant events. Where is God's incarnation? Not in Trumpets. Where is Jesus' resurrection? Not in Passover.
  • Because Gentiles are forbidden by law from keeping those days. When contemplating what days "the Bible gives us", it is a good idea to remember to whom the Bible actually gave those days. Hint: it's not us, the Gentiles.
  • Because it's a matter of Covenants. They aren't the same! Know which one actually applies to you. Making the wrong choice will have far-reaching consequences.
  • Because there is no command to observe Old Covenant days in the New Covenant. No day is commanded in the New. People want commands. Having none in the New, they go to the Old. Which brings us right back to knowing which covenant applies to you.
  • Because it's not a safe option to mix law with grace. Be wary, lest you start seeing days as having some part to play in your salvation, as meriting you something, as obligatory, or as making you somehow better off than your fellow Christian. That's when Christ's righteousness in you by faith becomes self-righteousness by law, where "gift" becomes "merit", and you fall from grace.
  • Because we can no longer "keep" biblical days as the Bible demands they should be kept. And if you aren't keeping them as the Bible says to, are you really keeping them at all? Are they really biblical? Or are they ... made up days? And if it's made up, then what's the point?

Be cautious! Mind your motivations. Know your covenants.

Hopefully this article goes over the highlights of the issue and helps you to get a better idea of what this decision really entails. As I said, there is a lot more to it. An informed decision is a better decision. We have many articles in our Categories page to help you.

We pray you make the right choice for your walk with God. Whatever choice you make, make it in faith, make it to the Lord, and stay humble. We hope for you God's guidance, grace, and blessings.


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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

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Wednesday, April 3, 2024

What Use Is The Old Law?

Over the years, As Bereans Did has posted multiple articles regarding how the Ten Commandments were the base terms of the Old Covenant, how the Old Covenant was never binding on Gentiles in the first place, how the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant, how it is not true that the terms of the Old Covenant come forward into the New Covenant, how Gentiles do not need to become Jews to be Christians (and Jews do not need to become Gentiles to be Christians), how the law is not actually being kept by those who demand it must be kept, and how the new law (which is the oldest law) is love and faith. You can find our articles listed in the Categories page.

One thing we've not addressed well enough is what good and what use does the Old Covenant law hold for us today. There is a use for it. I have asked and have been asked, "Why would God write this law just to get rid of it?" Because it was designed for a purpose and that purpose is now fulfilled. I propose a different question, "Why would God write this law and leave record of it if there is no use for it at all?" Because there remains a use for it. The book of Romans tells us what that is.

I am going to bluntly state this right at the start: the use of the Old Covenant law is not in keeping it. But that is for another post, like the ones mentioned above.

I believe the Old Covenant law has two uses: 1) to show the wicked how they need a Savior, and 2) to help guide the righteous to a better understanding of God.

I invite you to come with me. Let's spend some time in Romans together.

KNOWLEDGE OF SIN

Paul spends two and a half chapters of his epistle to the Romans charging everyone with sin. All have sinned (ROM. 3: 23), both Jew and Gentile - those with the law and those without the law. (Notice Romans was written in 56-57 AD, and the Gentiles are still without the law.) He basically repeats this in I Corinthians 9: 20-21. Then he defends God that His judgment against us is righteous and just. The one thing we've earned from God is His wrath.

For all of those who say the definition of sin is "the transgression of the law", notice how Paul makes it abundantly clear that the law is not necessary for sin to be present.

(ROM. 2: 12a) For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law...

(ROM. 5: 13-14a) For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses...

The definition of sin cannot be transgressing the law if sin existed before the law. The law is not necessary for sin to exist.

Nor is the law necessary to do good.

(ROM. 2: 12) for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves

(ROM. 3: 21)  But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law

So, we do not need the law to sin nor to do good, nor can the law judge us because the Old Covenant is abrogated. The law can't help or judge. So, what good is the law?
Use it for what it can do!

(ROM. 3: 19-20) 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Not, "by the law is the existence of sin," or "by the law is the definition of sin," or even, "by the law is the overcoming of sin," but, "by the law is the knowledge of sin." In other words, the knowledge that sin is in us.

I will try to come up with an analogy to make it more understandable.
A young child keeps touching her mother's keepsakes. One day, she drops and breaks one. Fearing the rest will get broken, the mother makes a rule that if the child touches the keepsakes she will get a smack on the hand. The child touches the keepsakes anyway and gets the punishment promised.
Did the rule create the offense? No. She was doing the same undesirable act before the rule, only without understanding. Did the rule, which was good and meant for the child's good, change the child's heart? No. It may have changed this one particular behavior, but deep in that child's heart she still wants to get her little hands on anything and everything. The only thing that prevents her is she fears getting smacked on the hand. Chances are, now that they are forbidden, she wants those keepsakes even more than before. Maybe she will sneak a touch when mom isn't looking.

(ROM. 7: 7, 11-13) 7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” ... 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. 12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. 13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.

Indeed, "the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (ROM. 7: 12). It is useful in helping a lawless and sinful heart to realize - to have knowledge of - their sin. If they pay attention, they might even come to know that their need is exceedingly great. After all, what is the point of knowing about sin or the greatness of sin except to know of the need for a Savior and the greatness of that Savior. The law can be used to help a person who is trapped in sin to understand the reality of their situation.

(I TIM. 1: 8-11) 8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.

The law is not for the righteous - the one who has their Savior. I used to believe the righteous are the very ones the law was most for. It was the law that made us righteous, I thought. This says otherwise. The law is not for the righteous, but it is the unrighteous who can find some use in the law. But not to make them righteous! Only to make them consciously aware of their unrighteousness.

I want to point something out.
It is important to understand that we are not judging a person when we use the law to bring them to the knowledge of their own sin. Their conscience can judge them plenty on its own. We stand as witnesses for the defense, not the prosecution, and never as judges. God is judge. We are trying to HELP those who are trapped as slaves to unrighteousness, not condemn them. Too many Christians judge and condemn. We are not to condemn! We are all sinners in need of a Savior. We are not better, nor stronger, nor one bit less in need of a Savior. Spitting the law at our fellow sinner is not the proper use of the law. If we use the law as a hammer then we don't understand our own sin, and if we don't understand our own sin then we have no business addressing anyone else's sin in the first place. It's one thing to use the law as a mirror to hold up to a sinful heart so it can see itself and seek God, it's another thing to beat someone over the head with it. Too many Christians hold themselves up as the standard, abusing the law as a witness of their own righteousness, but that is not right! The law is holy and just and good, not us. The law doesn't make us anything but aware of our sin. Even Paul, who kept the law better than any of us could, still saw it all as worthless (PHP. 3: 8). And he said, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (ROM. 7: 24).
Beware when using the law!

Now, where were we? Oh yes. About that righteousness...

WHAT THE LAW CANNOT DO

Someone might ask me, "If the law shows us our sin, doesn't heeding its warning mean we keep the law? Doesn't Paul say, 'For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law' (ROM. 2: 25)?"

Are we keeping parts of the law? Yes. Does that do us any real good? Not really. You keep the Ten Commandments? That's fine. Now, only 603 more laws to go. Keeping 3% of the law isn't keeping the law. If you're not keeping all the law, you're not keeping the law at all. Paul did say it's profitable if you keep it, but half his point is no normal human has or can. Over and over, he mentions the Gentiles don't have the law and the Jews don't keep the law. It's even worse now that no one can keep the whole law as written. Our hearts are weak to sin. The law proves this. The law doesn't fix the heart, or super-power it so it is no longer weak to sin. It was weak to sin before the law, and it is weak to sin now. Attempting and failing to keep the law does nothing to change this.

Didn't I bluntly say, "the use of the Old Covenant law is not in keeping it"? Because showing us our sin is not the same as overcoming our sinful nature. The law can show us our hands are dirty, but it can't wash that dirt off. If it could do that, it would have done so in at least one case during the 1,400 years it existed before Jesus. It did not. The law can only punish us for getting our hands dirty. The only thing that can wash these hands clean is the blood of Jesus.

(ROM. 8: 3) For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh...

(I John 1: 7) But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Once your hands are clean, there is no further use for the law. "The law is not made for a righteous person."

(ROM. 6: 14) 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 

(GAL. 5: 18) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Didn't you read the opening paragraph in this article? I started there for a reason. Didn't you read our FAQ page? Didn't you read any of our articles on the New Covenant? Didn't your read the epistle to the Romans? Sin exists apart from the law. Sin takes advantage of the law to kill us. The law is indeed good, but our flesh is weak to sin. Because of our weakness, the law gives sin its teeth. Sin kills us by the law. The law says 'obey or else', but sin causes us not to obey, so then we get the 'or else'. Try to keep the law all we want to but it will not help because it cannot help, because it has no power or provision to help. Our power naturally comes from our (sinful) heart, which cannot keep the law. So, the law can only punish us for failing. To set out to keep the law is to set out to fail. Indeed, we've already failed, so it's already too late.
The solution? God does not want our flawed attempts at righteousness under the law. That's not righteousness, that's self-righteousness. No, He wants His perfect righteousness imputed to us by faith.

(ROM. 10: 1-3) Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel [the people who have the law] is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness [through law-keeping], have not submitted to the righteousness of God [imputed by faith].

(PHP. 3: 9) ...and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith...

None of the things in the following list comes from the law:
  Justification (GAL. 2: 16; ROM. 3: 20)
  Righteousness (GAL. 2: 21; ROM. 3: 21; PHP. 3: 9)
  The Spirit (GAL. 3: 2)
  Perfection (GAL. 3: 3; HEB. 7: 19)
  Miracles (GAL. 3: 5)
  Inheritance (GAL. 3: 18)
  Life (GAL. 3: 21)
  Grace (GAL. 5: 4)
  Faith (GAL. 3: 12)
Since this is the case, what could we possibly hope to get from the law? Use the law for what it can do. Don't jump right back into trying to use the law for what it cannot do.

I am not going to go on about this point in this article. We have plenty of other articles that go on about it. This article is about what the law can do, not what it cannot do.

KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

There is a second thing the law is good for, and that is getting a better understanding of God.

I like to think of the Old Testament as a conversation I got to overhear. Was I an active participant? No. Was anything said to me? No. Was it about me? No. I am a stranger to the conversation, all I did was overhear it. Beware whenever someone says, "Listen to what God says to us." Nothing in the Old Covenant law was said to us. But that doesn't mean it has no value, because it was said for us.

(ROM. 15: 4) For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.

In this, the Old Testament, with its heroes and covenants and its laws, is just like the creation. It is there to tell us something, to reveal to us something.

(ROM. 1: 20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse

Paul tells us of these two witnesses - the natural and the revealed. We can find the attributes of God in both, if we are willing to look. There are so many examples of this, I cannot do this topic justice, so I won't even try. I will summarize a few points instead.

In reading through early Christian history, I have been privileged to read over and over again how they used the law to come to a better understanding of Jesus, of the nature of God, of fine details and of broad strokes. You will never fully understand Jesus the Messiah and His ministry and accomplishments without reviewing the law. Even though the earliest Christians did not feel obliged to keep the law (they knew it didn't apply to them and couldn't be kept anyhow - even by the Jews), they still read and learned from it.

The ceremonial law was used to teach Israel about the holiness of God. Reading about it can teach the same to us. So many points in the ceremonial law - from the way Israelites were not allowed to participate if they were ceremonial impure, to the way the High Priest could have no great deformity, right down to the priestly garb how it was vibrantly multicolored most of the time but stripped of all pretense and pure white on the Day of Atonement - taught people about the holiness of God. He is a God of wholeness and perfection. Set apart. Holy, holy, holy. The majority of those rituals and sacrifices had very little to do with morals but were about preserving sacred space. Even the poorly named "sin offering" wasn't about sin, it was about ritual purification to make you fit to enter holy space. That's why even pots could be contaminated, and certain ones were broken while others were scrubbed clean. Can pots sin? No. Those rituals and sacrifices could never remove sin (HEB. 10: 4). They were about holiness, not righteousness. You could technically be morally impure yet be ritually pure. The space which God occupied, the Holy of Holies, was entirely set apart and needed to be perfect and whole. The closer you got to it, the more perfect and clean and whole you needed to be. Why? So we could be perfect and clean and whole? No. So all could learn that God is perfect and clean and whole. We can still learn from the ceremonial law!

The holy days might not teach us about some "7,000-year plan of God" as Herbert Armstrong frequently said, but it does teach us about the attributes of the plan of God to bring about a Messiah to be a propitiation for sin and bring about Atonement. One need not keep the holy days to learn from them!

The Ten Commandments, being the core of the Old Covenant, might not be binding any longer in the letter, since that Covenant is abrogated, but much can still be gained from them. For example, the Sabbath day teaches us that God cares for us, bodily, not just spiritually. And not just humans, but animals and even the land as well. The commandments regarding murder and theft and honoring both your father and your mother teach us that God cares about society and family, and so should we. And who cannot learn from the Shema? "Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" (DEU. 6: 4). What a statement! The law, written and engraved on stones, may no longer be our source of righteousness, but the lessons they teach are still quite valid.

For another example, look at the way the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament. If I had to choose one New Testament book that pulls form the Old Testament the most, I would suppose it is the book of Revelation. Most people only see scary images and opportunities to unlock future mysteries if they only try hard enough, but they miss how the book is practically a duplication of old themes which are meant for everyone in their own time, fifteen hundred years ago and right now, to learn from and apply in our lives. The entire book of Revelation is far less about some future events and more about how you approach life right now. We've had the book for nearly 2,000 years. Everyone who has read it has waited for the fulfillment but had to apply its lessons to their lives in their time. What does it say to us?"

(REV 1: 3) Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. [Even today! Every day!]

Paul says the law even witnesses to something greater than itself.

(ROM. 3: 21-22) 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.

That is in the law! The second good use of the law is to point us at God's righteousness. Our unrighteousness but His righteousness. That is a proper use of the law.

I have always been impressed by Martha's ability to make points about what I'm trying to describe here. If you want more, I recommend you read everything she's written. She does a much better job than I.

CONCLUSION

This post is about what the Old Covenant law can do. The old law is good, if we use it lawfully. I hope I have demonstrated the Old Covenant law has two uses: 1) to show the wicked how they need a Savior, and 2) to help guide the righteous to a better understanding of God. It cannot fix our hearts. It cannot clean our hands. It cannot bring us closer to God.

Once a sinner is aware of their sin and aware of their need for a Savior, introduce them to their Savior. That is the ultimate goal of the law - to point mankind to their Savior. 

(ROM. 10: 4) For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Christ is the goal of and the termination of the law. It pointed to Him. Like a pedagogue, it watched over Israel while they waited for Him (GAL. 3: 23-25). He fulfilled it - all of it - and then He replaced it. He, working in us through faith, sends the Holy Spirit to us to do what the law could never hope to do. He can fix our hearts. He can clean our hands. He can bring us closer to God. The Holy Spirit, from the Father through the Son, is our teacher and guide. God in us, and us in Him. And it all starts with seeing our own need.

Right now would be a great time for you to read Galatians 3 again. (I'll wait while you do.)
....
There. Do you see how it all snaps together now? Funny what a little perspective can do.

I don't know how many opportunities you are going to have to use the law to help a person see their need for their Savior, but if you do get that chance, hopefully you do it knowing the proper limits of the law. And do so in love.

God bless you, dear reader, deeply loved by God. I pray for you to know the law better, know yourself better, and know Him better, and to have a closer walk with Him though faith.



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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 yourselfit is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )

Acts 17:11

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Friday, March 29, 2024

Resurrection Sundae

In episode #9781 of “Things I Never Saw Myself Doing Growing Up In The Churches of God,” last weekend I had the opportunity to help serve a group of teenagers “Palm Sundaes” to mark the beginning of what some traditional churches call Holy Week. While most of the teens accepted the waffle bowls we offered, a few brave - or crazy - souls ate the ice cream directly from the palms of their hands.

Was it silly? Definitely.

Was it memorable? Absolutely.

And more importantly, it gave us an opportunity to share a poignant story from the life of our Savior with the teens - one that I’m pretty sure I never heard during my teen years. As a teen in the COGs, I never developed the deep fear and loathing toward Easter that I did for Christmas. It’s probably because it was the same season I tried desperately to clean every last cookie crumb out of my sock drawer, despite the fact that I wasn’t allowed to eat in my room.

At Christmas, there were no other distractions, so I was free to spend all my time feeling morally superior to those placing donations for needy children under the horrific tree. During the spring, however, I was vaguely aware that Easter was happening, but was mostly focused on making it through the Days of Unleavened Bread without screwing up.

When xHWA asked me to start contributing again, from a perspective of someone who has left and moved on, I knew that I would definitely write about Easter. My first Easter, I cried like a baby. It’s honestly probably my favorite mainstream Christian holiday. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have as much baggage to work through as I did with Christmas. Or maybe it’s because it’s a celebration that’s just bursting with hope. 

I’ve had a lot to say about why I think the Days of Unleavened Bread, as celebrated by the COGs, are so toxic. We focus for weeks on cleaning every speck of leaven, representing sin, out of our lives, even though we know that yeast spores live in the very air we breathe. We gather for a solemn ceremony commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Then the next night we gather for a lavish meal, even though the One sent to save us is, chronologically speaking, still in the tomb. We never actually talk about Him rising, because that would be too Protestant, although we make vague allusions to the wave sheaf offering. Then we wrap it all up with a final holy day - during which we usually discuss our dietary slip-ups more than we do our Savior.

The Days of Unleavened Bread, as the COGs celebrate them, can’t help but land us in the ditches of self-righteousness or despair. Since we don’t fully comprehend what Jesus did for us, we can end up feeling pretty good about ourselves, because we haven’t murdered, stolen, or eaten shrimp. On the flip side, since we feel like our salvation depends on our track record, others may feel defeated, worried that we will are doomed since we never be able to get it all right in this lifetime.

The true gospel lifts us out of either ditch. It teaches that all humans are fallen creatures that have sinned, but that God loved us enough to make a way of rescue. That Jesus took on our sins as a substitute, in our place. And that by repenting and placing our faith in God’s promise to rescue us, we can be freed from the eternal wages of our sin through imputed righteousness.

This message short-circuits both of those toxic impulses toward self-righteousness and self-loathing, giving us both the freedom to admit we’re not perfect and the freedom to forgive ourselves when we fall short. Teaching about experience in the life of our Lord and Savior underscores both messages. Brushing past these scriptures on the way to the things that “really” matter, like His comments on jots and titles and the Sabbath diminish what He did and shows what we believe, deep down, plays a more urgent role in our salvation. 

Since I’ve already mentioned the topic, let’s consider Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem - the Palm Sunday passage I mentioned earlier.

A week before His crucifixion, Jesus enters Jerusalem shortly after resurrecting Lazarus and performing other healings. It’s one of the few stories that appears in all four of the gospels. The crowds hailed Him as a King, laying down their coats and palm branches and hailed him as the King coming in the name of the Lord, fulfilling the prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9. However, an earthly King would have entered on the most imposing warhorse, but Jesus rode into town on a beast of burden, a donkey. This humble act, also predicted by Zechariah, helped to reveal His true nature and mission, and the posture His followers must follow and adopt as well.

In the COGs, the story stops there. Possibly before the part about humility, if the story ever got started at all. But let’s keep reading, from Luke’s account, in chapter 19, starting in verse 41. Jesus literally weeps over the city. Over the structures that will be destroyed, years down the road. Over the people in the city, who will suffer. The children who will die. 

He is pitying the people. Not shaming, not blaming, not shaking His head. He is pitying the people He fed, the people who saw Him heal. He pities the people who celebrated His entry into the city. The people who hailed Him as King. The people He knows will call for his crucifixion just days later. The people who have His blood on their hands, as we all do. That’s the message those teens needed

And then He went ahead and did it all anyway. Because of His love for humanity, His love for us. He made a way. He promised abundant life for those who believe. Who place their full faith in Him. And His resurrection proved all His claims were true - that He was the Son of God, that His promises of forgiveness and eternal life because of our faith were true.

Yes, the resurrection really IS something to celebrate. That’s the message those teens needed to hear. And it’s the message you need to hear, too. The resurrection is more than just the pathway to salvation, more than the sprinkles on top. It's THE thing.

The lines on how the COGs present salvation have gotten muddier over the years. Some groups still present a hardline view that individuals must meet certain works-based requirements in order to enter God’s Kingdom. Others blur the lines to the point where dissecting their teachings sound like I’m nitpicking, which is one of the reasons I stepped away from writing in the first place. 

In my decade attending mainstream churches, it would be easy to get disillusioned by some of the behavior I’ve seen. That much of HWA’s teaching was true. After all, that’s how the devil deceived Eve in the garden - mixing an element of truth with a lie. I’ve seen many people praise the name of Jesus yet fail to follow His example. How the COGs and evangelical Christianity define that failure is very different, but at any rate, the lack of fruit on the part of some is frustrating. But that doesn’t mean we change the gospel message. Rather, it means that WE need to do our best to faithfully live it out. And to try our hardest to show grace, because we know there are days where we fail to follow Him faithfully, too.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to this: Does anything in addition to Jesus’ sacrifice get you into the Kingdom?

If so, then you believe in salvation by works. Which explains why Easter, Pascha, Resurrection Sunday, or anything else you want to call it doesn’t give you hope. And why you don’t pause to celebrate or even discuss it even on another day with less baggage. Because it really didn’t accomplish much for you. Because deep down, on some level, you’re still relying on yourself to enter God’s Kingdom. That’s not a slam or a criticism. It's simply a statement of fact.

You can’t have your full faith in two places, or it isn’t 100 percent. You can’t sit in two chairs at once. And you can’t believe in Jesus’ sacrifice as the gate for your salvation and your obedience as the key any more than you can serve both God and mammon.



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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

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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

My Solution to Last Supper Timing in Synoptics vs John

I've been reading my eyes out for the past several weeks about Quartodecimans and Passover. One thing I keep running into is that scholars get themselves wrapped in knots over a difference in the Synoptic Gospels vs John's Gospel over the timing of the Last Supper.
I recall touching on this in the past, but I don't recall ever going over my solution.

I am not a trained biblical scholar in this area, so take my opinions for what they are - a layman's best guess.

What am I talking about, you ask? Please allow me to elucidate. Here are some verses to help remind you of the issue:

Synoptics

(MAT. 26: 17) Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”

(MAR. 14: 12) Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?”

(LUK. 22: 7-8) Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. 8 And He sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.”

John

(JOH. 13: 1) Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father

(JON. 19: 14) Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”

Do you see how the Synoptics all say "Unleavened bread", but John says "Passover"? It makes the timing look like the Synoptics are talking about a different day than John. Scholars get tied up about that. "There is an inherent contradiction in the timing of the Passion Passover in the Synoptics and in John," they say. I do not.

Here are a couple things you need to know:

  • The Feast of Unleavened Bread was a seven-day festival, with a holy day at the start and a holy day at the end. The starting holy day is usually called "the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread". (Now, read MAT. 26: 17 again.)
  • The day before the first day of Unleavened Bread is the Passover. The day of Passover is the preparation day. The day of Passover doesn't have its own preparation day. This is the day the leaven was put away, the lambs were killed, and everyone got ready for the holy day. (Now, read JON. 19: 14 again.)

Those facts emphasize the difference I am on about today. If you just focus on those facts, you should see the conflict between John and the Synoptics. John puts us one day earlier.

But here's something else you need to know:
The Jews called the whole thing Passover. They also called the whole thing Matzot (Unleavened Bread). They do not always make a linguistic distinction between the day of Passover and the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. Those differences are simply understood.

So, given this, it is accurate to say, Passover is the preparation day for Passover.

I think the solution is simple: the Gospel writers are being sloppy with the terms. Maybe "sloppy" is harsh. They are being colloquial or maybe familiar with the terms. They are all saying the same things, but in two different ways.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are calling everything Unleavened Bread, even the day of Passover. John does the opposite and calls everything Passover. This usage by the Gospel writers shows a deep familiarity with the terms.

They are not making a distinction in terms between the day of Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They are lumping everything together in a way only people extremely familiar with terms could. It's the same familiarity the Jews employ today. If you look at it in this way, with non-specific terms, everything makes sense.

Do I have any evidence for my theory? I think I do.
Matthew throws us a bone with a key bit that Mark and Luke omit. Matthew says this about the timing of the setting of the guard at Jesus' tomb:

(MAT. 27: 62) On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation...

Did you catch that? Earlier he said, "on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread," but now he says, "On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation."

The day of Passover (14th of Nissan) is the day of preparation before the annual Sabbath at the start of the Feast. Therefore, the day after the Preparation Day is the holy day, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (15th of Nissan). Matthew 27: 62 must be taken into account when interpreting Matthew 26: 17. Surely, 27: 62 clarifies 26: 17. Matthew cannot be saying it was the first day of Unleavened Bread, and the next day was the first day of Unleavened Bread. You know that isn't right. So, we can reasonably conclude that even though Matthew said they prepared the Last Supper, "on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread," he didn't mean they prepared the Last Supper on the holy day at the start of the Feast. That's apart from how it would be illegal to prepare the Passover on an annual sabbath.
In 26:17, he meant it was the day of Passover (14th of Nissan). In 27:62, he meant it was the holy day (15th of Nissan). And, therefore, so do the other Synoptics. Which is the same as John.

When you put this all together into a timeline, like what we saw in my article "Firstfruits and the Beauty of God's Timing", it all flows and makes sense.

And this is the same opinion Anatolius of Alexandria conveyed in the 260s AD:

"...the Word of the Gospel which says: 'Moreover, on the first day of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus.' [Matthew 26: 17] And there is no doubt as to its being the fourteenth..."
-Anatolius of Alexandria, "Paschal Canon", Section VIII

The ancients got it. Why can't moderns?

Look at the Quartodeciman issue. Both the Quartocdecimans and the Traditionalists agreed this all happened on the 14th of Nissan - the day of Passover. They agreed on that. I am not aware of anyone at that time claiming the Apostles originally observed on the 15th of Nissan. If there really was a conflict between John and the Synoptics, don't you think it would show up in these earliest years, rather than when textual critics arrive 2,000 years later?

This still hasn't touched on the apparently obvious point that Jesus ate at a different time than the Pharisees. I simply accept that He did, and out of necessity. It was still within the allowable timeframe of the law. I will leave this little pomegranate for another day.

CONCLUSION

My solution is just a very familiar, colloquial, non-specific usage of terms. That non-specific use of terms is par for the course in the New Testament. Have you read our article "Three Days and Three Nights" or "Does John 11 Define A Biblical Day"? Sometimes, the Gospel writers can be very specific, like when Mark uses the word "prosabbaton" (Mark 15: 42). That means Friday. Every time. And sometimes, the Gospel writers can be very non-specific, like we see here.

I think this speaks to their view of the day of Passover. They did not see it as a standalone day, separate from the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

There is no need to dredge up calendars, or go on about Sadducees. It's quite simple. The terminology all gets lumped together. To quote Darth Vader (as one should always do whenever possible), "There is no conflict."


Maybe you'll disagree with me. Maybe you'll have more to add. Comments are open.



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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

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Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Were Quartodecimans and Traditionalists Enemies?

This is going to be my final post in my series on Quartodecimanism. There is so much more to say, but that is exactly the problem. And, chances are you're getting tired of it too.

I started looking into the Quartodecimans due to an article I wrote back in January 2024, called "Refusing To Understand". Realizing this might aid my "Easter FAQ" article, I decided to keep digging for more information. It was not a simple thing. How could I possibly put all of this into a Blogspot post? Can't. So, I chose to concentrate on a few points that had the most relevance to me, considering my background in Armstrongism. (If you don't know what Armstrongism is, just glance at the "Welcome to ABD" blurb or read the "About ABD" page.) All said, I could easily have two more posts just out of the material I cut from the three posts I published. And that's why this has to be the last in this series. I just wanted a little look into Quartodecimans, not a PhD specialization.

In the first post in this series, "Primer to the Quartodeciman Controversy", I reviewed the basics like timelines and locations. We found Lent is a real thing, the Council of Nicaea wasn't the shock to the system and tool of unfair oppression it is made out to be, and that the Controversy's origins were a strange combination of Apostolic tradition and personal freedom exaggerated by calculation and calendar differences.
In the second post, "Quartodecimans - Were They Law-Keepers?", I reviewed the claim that the Quartodecimans were theological ancestors of Old Covenant legalists like Armstrongism. Turns out they were not. They used law words, but understood them in a very non-law way.

I will finish this series today by reviewing an unexpected oddity I found while reading through Quartodeciman writings. You've heard how the two sides were different. I was told the two sides were virtually incompatible. One was God's true Christianity and the other were pagan agents of Satan himself. But is that really so? Read on and find out.

I honestly do not think you stand a chance of truly understanding the Quartodecimans without this.

UNCOMMON COMMONALITY

One problem with doing studies like this is the baggage you bring with you. The wilder your background, the more baggage you bring. I only had what I was given by my Armstrongist upbringing. So, I went in with those old biases and pre-existing ideas affecting me without being aware of it. That very baggage can keep you blind to certain truths. But if you try to stay neutral and let the data take you where it will, strange new things can open up to you. Oh, you'll still misstep, but on the whole you're better off.

As I read about Quartodecimanism, an idea began tickling the back of my mind. I began to suspect something wasn't right, but I couldn't quite tell what. Finally, it occurred to me: I had been making assumptions. There are at least two assumptions going on here:

1) Traditional Christians oppose the 14th of Nissan.
2) Quartodecimans oppose Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Your initial reaction might be to say, yes, of course they did those things. But don't decide yet. We all know they refused to honor Pascha in the same way. That goes without saying. I'm not talking about that. I am questioning if that refusal means more. It is one thing to decline to do something, it is another thing entirely to actively oppose it. Was there no common ground at all? Did they see themselves as theological enemies?

Judging from how Victor reacted to Polycrates, you might think there was no common ground. The battle lines were drawn and shots were fired, right? Actually, no. That was a one-off. Practically everyone else in nearly every other instance urged unity.

If something was truly seen as heterodox, for example Gnosticism, there was no push for unity. There was quite a bit of condemnation. When Origen wanted to counter Celsus, he wrote eight books, each with more than sixty chapters - one has 99 chapters!
Irenaeus did not fly in to save Blastus when he caused a schism in Rome and afterward sought to introduce Pascha on the 14th of Nissan (Tertullian, "Against All Heresies" chapter VIII). Irenaeus opposed him as much as Victor did.
No one complained when Victor excommunicated  Eleutherus, who, like Blastus, was causing schisms in Rome and issuing challenges against Victor over Pascha (Charles L. Souvay, "The Paschal Controversy under Pope Victor I", The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 15, No. 1, Apr., 1929, pp. 52-53, on JSTOR.org).
Many scholars think the reason why Victor reacted to Polycrates by excommunicating Quartodecimans was directly because of Blastus and Eleutherus.

Unity was not afforded to everyone. I think that fact only serves to highlight the overall push for unity.

How can there be such call for unity if Quartodecimans and Traditionalists reject and oppose each other? In Armstrongism, where I came from, the Quartodecimans are called "true Christianity" and the Traditionalists "paganism". There is an ocean of difference there. Armstrongists wouldn't side with Victor; they would side with Blastus and Eleutherus. If that were true, how could there have been such unity? Why unity rather than libraries written about their errors? How can Polycarp go to Rome and share the Eucharist with Anicetus? That would be like Herbert Armstrong flying to Rome in his Gulfstream G-III to attend Sunday Mass with the Pope himself. How can Polycrates call a synod upon the request of Victor if Victor was the pinnacle of evil? Speaking of synods, how can there be synods held to decide? A local synod wouldn't be held to decide whether or not to adopt a heresy. After Nicaea, Arianism was clearly treated as a heresy and condemned, but Quartodecimanism was just decided against. Do you see the difference? How can both ideas coexist, mostly peacefully, in several regions throughout the Empire? They had their differences, sure enough, but overall they did not condemn each other. We were told by Herbert Armstrong, and the claims are repeated to this day, that the Traditionalists were killing the Quartodecimans by the thousands. I see no killings at all. Not even close. There are no records of Quartodecimans condemning Easter Sunday, and only one record of one Traditionalist (Victor) condemning Pascha on the 14th - which was met with calls for unity. As I said in my last post, Polycarp, Aphraphat and Melito - Quartodecimans all - are Catholic Saints. And Ephram the Syrian is a Doctor of the Catholic Church!

Hopefully you see what I mean now. It is one thing to decline to do something, it is another thing entirely to actively oppose it.

In Armstrongism (and similar groups), that opposition is central. There needs to be a world of difference in the past because there is a world of difference in the present. That opposition affirms the movement. It practically requires it. It is energized by words like "Controversy". It must paint one side to be "true Christianity" and the other "Babylon the Great" or there is no point in existing. No product differentiation means no good reason people should keep paying for the product. But, what if there was no true opposition?

I needed answers.

TRADITIONALIST VIEW ON 14 NISSAN

I wanted to know what traditional Christians thought about the 14th. 

After Nicaea, definitely there would be opposition. But prior? It didn't take long before it became fairly obvious that both sides believed Jesus suffered on the 14th. Just because traditional Christians did not have an observance on the 14th does not mean they opposed the 14th (prior to Nicaea).

I will give Clement of Alexandria, a traditional Christian who died around 215 AD, as an example. He wrote his work "On the Passover" because he was so inspired by Melito's "On the Passover". A Traditionalist so inspired by a Quartodeciman that he needed to imitate it? The sincerest form of flattery. Where is the conflict there? Estimates on the dating range from 182-202 AD. Sadly, Clement's work is lost. But we do have some fragments, and here's one:

"Suitably, therefore, to the fourteenth day [of Nissan], on which He also suffered, in the morning, the chief priests and the scribes, who brought Him to Pilate, did not enter the Praetorium, that they might not be defiled, but might freely eat the Passover in the evening."
-Clement of Alexandria, "On the Passover" [bold mine]

You can see here, Clement believed our Lord suffered on the 14th. That's the Quartodeciman view, from a Traditionalist. Both sides agreed on this. Oh, you'll find an outlier here or there who believed He died on the 15th, I believe Socrates of Constantinople wrote about this, and clearly they are wrong, but in general everyone agreed on the 14th.

Anatolius of Alexandria (also called Anatolius of Laodicea) adds this about the Traditionalists:

"And the other party, passing the day of the Lord's Passion as one replete with sadness and grief, hold that it should not be lawful to celebrate the Lord's mystery of the Passover at any other time but on the Lord's day"
-Anatolius of Alexandria, "Paschal Canon", chapter X [bold mine]

What this quote is saying is, they observed that day with "sadness and grief". The traditional Christians did not reject the Passion on the 14th. They did accept that our Lord ate the Last Supper, was betrayed, tried, crucified, and was buried on the 14th. They just didn't observe it as their focal Paschal day.

I need to be more specific. They disregarded the Jewish calendar. They did not observe the 14th day of Nissan with sadness and grief. The day Jesus was crucified, the 14th, was a Friday (As Bereans Did has several articles about this, perhaps try "Two Sabbaths of Matthew 28"). What they observed with sadness and grief was a fixed Friday, Good Friday. Even though they ignored the Jewish calendar, they accepted the original Good Friday was the 14th.

Some chose to follow after Nissan 14, whenever it happened, and some chose to follow after Friday, ignoring the Hebrew calendar - which was increasingly wrong anyway. Both saw themselves as observing one and the same thing. For the most part, neither denied the other. Sure, you could find a Blastus or an Eleutherus on either side, but why judge the whole by such errant examples?

So, you see, even though the Traditionalists were not observing the Passion on the 14th, they were also not condemning the importance of the 14th. It is one thing to not observe the Pascha on Nissan 14, it is another thing to oppose it.

QUARTODECIMAN VIEW ON EASTER

This made me want to know about the opposite side of this coin. If the the traditionalists accepted the 14th of Nissan as the date of the Passion, then did the Quartodecimans accept the 14th was on a Friday? In other words, did the Quartodecimans accept a Good Friday to Easter Sunday timeline of the entombment and resurrection?

Again, I want to hearken back to my post "Refusing To Understand". The United Church of God read a document called the Didiscalia Apostolorum, which is at its core a Quartodeciman document originally written in Syria in the 200's AD. This is a central document for any study into Quartodecimanism. The Didiscalia has a very unique timeline. It puts the Last Supper on a Tuesday. The United Church of God, copying Herbert Armstrong, saw the Last Supper on Tuesday and stopped there. To them, a Tuesday Last Supper equals a Wednesday crucifixion scenario. Their conclusion was that since the Didiscalia mentions a Tuesday Last Supper, that meant someone out there had a Wednesday crucifixion (a Wednesday crucifixion is the official Armstrongist position). I showed how that conclusion was premature. Truth is, the Didiscalia is the only Quartodeciman document with a Tuesday Last Supper, and it blatantly supports a Friday-Sunday crucifixion scenario:

"But when it drew on (towards day) on the Friday, they accused him much before Pilate; and they could show nothing that was true, but gave false witness against Him. And they asked Him of Pilate to be put to death; and they crucified Him on the same Friday.

... And again (there was) the day of the Sabbath; and then three hours of the night after the Sabbath, wherein our Lord slept."
-Didiscalia Apostolorum, chapter XXI [bold mine]

He was crucified on a Friday and resurrected three hours after midnight on Sunday morning.

Regardless of placing the Last Supper on Tuesday, the Didiscalia still honored the Good Friday to Easter Sunday timeline. The UCG even acknowledged this! ...Then continued to say it indirectly supported a Wednesday crucifixion anyway. *sigh*

But, more importantly, the answer to my question is yes. Quartodeciman team did accept the Good Friday to Easter Sunday timeline.

Isn't that odd? I bet you never read that on a Living Church of God website, "Accept Good Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection, like the Quartodecimans."

But I can show you something even greater than this.

Aphraphat the Persian was a Syriac Christian and a later Quartodeciman who lived from about 270-345 AD. In the source I pulled, the translating author wrote this way in summary of Aphraphat:

"Therefore the true Passover is celebrated in the Church, that is the sacrifice of Christ (sections  5-6). Jesus is numbered with the dead, from the time of the last supper on Thursday. From the night of the fourteenth of Nisan until when he arose on the dawn of the sixteenth, he has completed three nights in Sheol (section  7). Our Lord gave the true baptism on the night of the Passover, when he washed the feet of his disciples (section  10). Jews celebrate the Passover on the fourteenth, but for the Christians the greater day is Friday, the fifteenth (sections  8 and  12). Our festival of unleavened bread is the festival of our Saviour. If the Passover of the passion of our Saviour 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 (section  12).
-Kuriakose Valavanolickal, "Aphraphat Demonstrations II", p. 18, Baker  Hill, Kottayam, Kerala,  India, March  2005 (summary of the Demonstration on Passover, XII) [bold mine]

You get three heavy-hitting statements in here.
1) As a Quartodeciman, he honored 14th of Nissan as the Passion of our Lord. That date could fall on any day of the week. Regardless, he honored Easter Sunday so much that if the 14th of Nissan were to be on a Sunday, he would have the Pascha delayed to Monday in honor of the resurrection.
2) He regards Good Friday as a greater day than the Jewish Passover.
3) There is a difference between the Old Covenant Passover of the Jews and the "Passover of the passion of our Savior". This wasn't about law-keeping.

Here is what Aphraphat says, in his own words:

"For if the day of the Passover of the passion of our Savior happens to us on the first day of the week, according to the law it is right to celebrate it on the second day...  If the passion (of Christ) happens on another day of the week, we have no dispute about these things..."
-Aphrahat, "Demonstrations" XII The Demonstration on Passover

That quote puts Sunday in such regard, due to the resurrection, that the Quartodecimans would not fast on Sunday.

The Didiscalia agrees with Aphraphat on that first point:

"For it is not lawful to you to fast on the first of the week, because it is My resurrection; wherefore the first of the week is not counted in the number of the days of the Fast of the Passion..."
-Didiscalia Apostolorum, chapter XXI

Do you get the significance of this? They honored Easter Sunday so much, they would alter their Pascha traditions to avoid fasting on Sunday.

It is one thing to not observe the Pascha on Sunday, it is another thing entirely to oppose Easter Sunday.

QUARTODECIMAN VIEW ON GOOD FRIDAY

You will often read that Quartodecimans observed the Pascha regardless of what day it was. I will offer this example from a much later writer named John of Damascus (676-749 AD):

"The Quartodecimans celebrate Easter on a fixed day of the year. On that day which coincides with the fourteenth of the moon, whether it be a Saturday or Sunday, they fast and celebrate the vigil and the feast simultaneously."
-John of Damascus, "The Fount of Knowledge II: On Heresies" 

From what we have seen, this claim is not entirely accurate. At least not for later Quartodecimans. Clearly, at least for later Quartodecimans, they did not fast on Sunday. Clearly, many had high regard for Sunday.

And not just Sunday, but Friday, too. Remember back when I said Clement of Alexandria was inspired to write "On The Passover" by Melito of Sardis? Both were lost for centuries. In 1936, a writing was discovered that many believed to be most of Melito's "On The Passover". In 1960, a second copy was found that guaranteed this was the missing work. It turns out the work was a sermon. A sermon some say was given ... on Good Friday.
If that is true, it speaks volumes.

It wasn't as if the Quartodecimans observed the 14th only. They had an entire week of fasting with special observances on the Friday and the Saturday.

"But on the Friday and on the Sabbath fast wholly, and taste nothing. You shall come together [Saturday night] and watch and keep vigil all the night with prayers and intercessions, and with reading of the Prophets, and with the Gospel and with Psalms, with fear and trembling and with earnest supplication, until the third hour in the night after the Sabbath; and then break your fasts. For thus did we also fast, when our Lord suffered, for a testimony of the three days; and we were keeping vigil and praying and interceding for the destruction of the People, because that they erred and confessed not our Savior."
-Didiscalia Apostolorum, chapter XXI

What this means is, the Quartodecimans did not only observe the 14th whenever it may be. They also observed a Friday and a Sunday. At least from the 200s onward, Quartodecimans did all three!

The Traditionalists did not do all three. They did not have an observance on the 14th of Nissan. But the Quartodecimans did have a Friday and Sunday observance, like the Traditionalists.

Any number of sources will tell you this observance of Friday, with its fasting and mourning, and Saturday, with its fasting and vigil, and Sunday, with its joyfulness, was the same for Quartodeciman and Traditionalist alike. Catholic and Orthodox churches still have these elements.

Once again, these rituals may not have been the same in form, and they may not have been at the same time, but at their core and in their spirit they were exactly the same.

It is one thing to not observe the Good Friday, it is another thing entirely to reject it.

HISTORICAL REENACTMENT

These quotes bring up something interesting. It seems to me that what everyone on both sides were doing every year is reenacting the original crucifixion week. Due to the calendar issues, it might not have been the same Friday or the same Sunday. To be fair, even Traditionalist churches celebrated Easter Sunday at different times. But to all, that Friday was the Friday on which Jesus was crucified - Good Friday - and that Sunday was the Sunday on which Jesus was resurrected - Easter Sunday.

I am not claiming they used the names Easter and Good Friday (no one did at that time), nor that they honored them in the same way as Traditionalists do now, I am just saying the Quartodecimans held those Fridays and Sundays that fell during their Paschal Week in respect for the events that happened on them originally. The Traditionalists do this same thing. Every year, they follow along with Holy Week. Palm Sunday, Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday with stations of the cross and vigil, Holy (Black) Saturday with fasting, and Easter. Re-enacted annually as if it were the original.

When you think about it, this agrees with the traditional Christian position in a second way.
Every Sunday was a mini-Easter. The reason why Sunday had value in Christianity was because that was the day Jesus was found resurrected. That's why they call it "the Lord's Day". For some historical support on this, read the Didache chapters 9, 10, and 14. (There are several more sources for this, but that's for another article. I might recommend our article "Constantine vs The Sabbath" for more on this Sunday topic.) Sunday was almost universally accepted, even among Jewish Christians who still observed a Sabbath. Despite what you may have been told, observing Sabbath did not mean refusing to also observe the Lord's Day. People did both! Quartodeciman and Traditionalist alike were reenacting the original crucifixion week every Sunday, but especially that one Sunday every year. Some people speculate this fact is at the heart of why the Gentile converts observed Pascha on Sunday in the first place. Easter Sunday was just a large annual version of every Sunday.

THE SAME COIN

The Traditionalists did not reject the 14th of Nissan, and the Quartodecimans did not reject Good Friday / Easter Sunday.

I am guessing if you didn't like what I said about Unleavened Bread and Sabbath in my last post, you really did not like what you just read in this post. If one wishes to claim some ancestry from the Quartodecimans, it follows that one also adopts Good Friday crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection as we saw in this post, reject a legalist view of Sabbath and holy days as we saw in the last post, and observe Lent as we saw in the first post. Still want to be a Quartodeciman?

If you listen to the Church of God ministry, they would tell a tale of two very different groups arguing over some serious, incompatible points of doctrinal disagreement - far deeper than just the 14th/Sunday issue. Sadly, from what I've seen, this is not unique to Armstrongists. And the more they insist on saying "Yeshua" or "Yehoshua" rather than "Jesus", the worse it gets. I have found I cannot trust any legalist group who writes about the Quartodecimans. They all seem to do the same things, which is sad. They all seem to adopt the Quartodecimans, then transform them into versions of themselves.

That's what Herbert Armstrong did - transformed them into himself. Armstrong's personal version of the Quartodecimans is the unrealized baggage I came into this study with. It took a lot of reading to understand how wrong I was about their nature. I had been conditioned to believe the Quartodecimans were something very, very different from what they really were. This was not some group of legalist anti-Romans (for the most part). Quite the contrary. They could not have co-existed so closely with the rest of the church in every area, with unity being stressed so much, while being as different from the rest of the church as Armstrongism is to Catholicism. Those kinds and magnitudes of differences could not exist in unity. They would not have been tolerated together anywhere. I had to adjust my understanding, and once that happened I could see how the similarities greatly outweighed the differences.

If I had to summarize the difference, I would say it boils down to the exact same thing that keeps the Orthodox and the Catholics separate: insisting on tradition.

The Quartodeciman group started by doing exactly as the Apostle John did when John did it. It wasn't about law-keeping nor by compulsion. They knew the law couldn't be kept. And it wasn't as if they didn't understand how anyone could have Pascha on a Sunday - they had the Eucharist every Sunday just as much as most everyone else did. It was just their Pacsha tradition, and that was that. Jesus did it on that date, so why change it?
The Traditionalists group did exactly as the Apostles permitted them to do. They didn't keep the law, either. And they didn't care to rely on the broken Hebrew calendar. It was just their Pacsha tradition, and that was that. Sunday already pictured the Passion and the resurrection, so why change it?

So, when the two would debate which practice should win out, all either side could do is appeal to tradition. "We were taught by John." "We were taught by Paul." I do not criticize either side for this. After all, what is "orthodoxy" if not traditions handed down? One is going to guard one's traditions. Such is life. Naturally, the only solution we have is to get together into synods and ecumenical councils and hash it out before taking a vote. I feel Nicaea truly was the right way to handle it.

And that's the odd thing about this Quartodeciman Controversy, the two groups really were not very different at all. No wonder they were able to share the Eucharist together. No wonder why Victor excommunicating Polycrates seemed like such an overreaction. It all makes the centuries-long dispute seem so ... pointless. But to them, it wasn't pointless.

CONCLUSION

In my first post in this series, I said this:

"Both sides agreed our Lord ate the Last Supper and was betrayed on the night at the start of 14th of Nissan according to the Hebrew calendar used at the Temple in Jerusalem. Both sides agreed our Lord was crucified on a Friday and they also agreed He was resurrected on Sunday, the third day after being crucified. There are plenty of Quartodeciman documents that make this plain. These details of timing were never in dispute on either side of the issue. The Quartodecimans were not advocating a Wednesday to Saturday crucifixion scenario. (But that is for another article.)"

This was that other article.

These, dear reader, are the beliefs of the Quartodecimans whom Herbert Armstrong called disciples of Christ's true Christianity. The Church of God splinter groups continue to this very moment to say the same. Do they understand the Quartodecimans beyond the shallow, surface knowledge of the Controversy? I don't think so, or they wouldn't say such things.

The more I study about this topic, the less and less I agree with claims about how different these two groups were. In fact I practically don't agree with it at all any longer. From what I have seen, these two groups were 99% compatible. This was not at all a case of "true Christianity" versus "Babylon the Great". They were not enemies. They were not even "frenemies". It seems a lot less like two groups, two dates, one and the same event, and a lot more like one group, two dates, one and the same event.

I don't want to come across as saying the difference was no difference at all. It was a difference. But it was not nearly what I had been conditioned to accept up until now.

Even if you disagree with what you've read in my series, please at least grant me this much: I am stating my case with sources cited. Please grant me a pardon if I distrust the Armstrongist narrative at this point. Along with all of the other things that As Bereans Did has presented over the years, we have beyond any shadow of a doubt proven that the claims Armstrongism makes must be fact-checked before they are accepted.



List of some sources used in this series:
I have taken the time to find and provide links to make your life simpler and to show how the most important parts of this are available for free online.
I do not recommend doing your own study into the maddening world of the history of Quartodecimanism. But, then again, maybe you should.

Aphraphat, "Demonstrations", XII The Demonstration on Passover, and XIII on Sabbath, on Archive
https://archive.org/details/aphrahatdemonstr0024aphr/page/18/mode/2up

Anatolius of Alexandria/Laodicea, "Paschal Canon", on Bible Hub
https://biblehub.com/library/anatolius/the_paschal_canon_of_anatolius_of_alexandria/index.html

Athanasius, "Letters", on New Advent
https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2806.htm

Claudius Appolinarus, on Early Christian Writings
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apollinaris.html

Clement of Alexandria, "On the Passover", on Early Christian Writings
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/clement-fragments.html

Didache, on Early Christian Writings
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html

Didascalia Apostolorum, on Early Christian Writings
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didascalia.html

Ephram the Syrian, "Hymn 19" on Unleavened Bread, on Colby
https://web.colby.edu/re181/files/2018/07/Ephrem-19th-Hymn-on-Unleavened-Bread.pdf

Epistula Apostolorum, on Early Christian Writings
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apostolorum.html

John Chrisostom, "Adversus Judaeos", on Catholic Library
https://catholiclibrary.org/library/view?docId=Fathers-EN/Chrysostom.AdversusJudaeos.en.html

John of Damascus, "The Fount of Knowledge II: On Heresies", on Catholic Library
https://catholiclibrary.org/library/view?docId=Synchronized-EN/Damascus.FountKnowledge2.en.html

Hippolytus of Rome, "Against the Jews", on Early Christian Writings
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/hippolytus-dogmatical.html

Melito of Sardis, "On Faith", on Early Christian Writings (look for fragment IV)
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/melito.html

Melito of Sardis,  "On Passover", on St. Anianus Coptic
http://sachurch.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/On-Pascha-Melito-of-Sardis.pdf

Philip Schaff, "History of the Christian Church", volume II, on Christian Ethereal Library
https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc2/hcc2

Socrates Scholasticus, "Church History", Book I, on New Advent
https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/26011.htm

Sozomen, "Ecclesiastical History", on Bible Hub
https://biblehub.com/library/sozomen/the_ecclesiastical_history_of_sozomenus/index.html

Tertullian, "Against All Heresies", on New Advent
https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0319.htm



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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

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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?

BE A QUARTODECIMAN?

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?

QUARTODECIMAN PURITANISM

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.



BUT!
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.

HORSESHOES AND HAND GRENADES

(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?

LOST IN TRANSLATION

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:

"...it 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"

CONCLUSION

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.




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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

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