“Dear Mr. Wilson:
I have read a number of your articles on the web and I am confused by some of your conclusions. In your article, What Changed at the Cross, you claim the laws of Moses were nailed to the cross, but you maintain there remains a difference between clean and unclean foods.
This seems contradictory. If the laws of Moses were abolished at the cross, then the difference between clean and unclean foods has to disappear. The apostle Paul agrees: “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4–5)
Second, in your article, What happened to the Lord’s Day?, you claim that Saturday, the seventh day of the week, is God’s holy day, but Paul says it doesn’t matter which day of the week we keep holy.
“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:5–6)
Please explain these conflicts. I want to know more of God’s truth and I am searching for answers.
Thank you for your e-mail and your questions. You are to be commended for your research and surprisingly, you have correctly stated my position on these matters. I will offer two short responses to your questions and then I will provide substantial responses for deeper study.
Clean and Unclean Animals
God made a sharp distinction between clean and unclean animals about one thousand years before Moses received the law. At the time of Noah’s flood, God sent into the ark seven pairs of each clean animal and only one pair of each unclean animal. (Genesis 7:2)
The greater question that needs to be addressed is: Why did God make some animals clean and others unclean? Unclean animals were created to be scavengers. They eat the refuse of Earth and God declared them unfit for human consumption.
When God delivered Israel out of Egypt, He wanted His people to be a healthy nation. So, God gave them dietary restrictions that were based on His design and creation, and forbade the eating of unclean animals. (Leviticus 11) Even though the laws of Moses were discontinued at the cross (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 7:12), unclean animals are still scavengers and remain unfit for human consumption.
The consumption of unclean food is not an unpardonable sin, but it is foolish to rebel against God’s wisdom. God wants His children to enjoy good health and long life.
Since diet affects our well being, God has generously revealed what is good to eat and what is not. Paul refers to the body as God’s temple, therefore, we should be thoughtful about our diet! (1 Corinthians 3:16–17) A longer response to this matter will be presented later, but for now, consider Paul’s words to the church at Corinth [insertions mine]:
” ‘Therefore [children of God] come out from them [the heathen] and be separate [from the pagans], says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’ Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1)
The Seventh Day Sabbath
You also asked if the observance of the seventh day Sabbath is necessary since the laws of Moses were nailed to the cross. I know that many people use Paul’s comments in Colossians 2:14–16, Ephesians 2:15 and Romans 14 to nullify the fourth commandment which commands us to keep the seventh day holy, but I think this is a distortion of Scripture.
There is nothing Jewish or Levitical about the seventh day Sabbath. God’s seventh day Sabbath predates Abraham (the first Jew) by 2,000 years! The seventh day was declared holy at Creation. “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:1–3)
The first full day of life for Adam and Eve was God’s seventh day Sabbath. You might be surprised to know that Adam and Eve understood the holiness of the seventh day and they faithfully observed it while they were in the Garden of Eden. We know this because the Bible describes the first sin of Adam and Eve.
This sin was not the desecration of the seventh day. (Genesis 3) We can also conclude that Adam and Eve passed this knowledge to their offspring. This is demonstrated by the fact that some 2,500 years after Creation, God tested the nation of Israel to see if they would keep His seventh day holy before He gave them the Ten Commandments. God would not test Israel’s willingness to observe His Sabbath if they did not know about it. (Exodus 16.)
A few weeks after the Exodus, God Himself descended from Heaven and personally spoke the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai. At that time, He declared the seventh day had been made holy during Creation week—as a memorial to His Creative works. (Exodus 20:8–11) The first word of the fourth commandment is “remember.” Since the seventh day is a memorial to God’s Creation week, why should this memorial be discontinued at the cross?
The Ten Commandments were widely known by the people who lived before the flood because God’s law was passed down from generation to generation by oral tradition.
Think about this: When God delivered the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai, murder did not suddenly become wrong, adultery did not suddenly become wrong, taking God’s name in vain did not suddenly become wrong, and the holiness of the seventh day did not suddenly begin!
How do we know this? In Noah’s day, prior to the flood, mankind lived in defiant rebellion of God’s commandments. Look at this text: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Genesis 6:5–6, emphasis mine)
The point is that the antediluvians were destroyed because of wickedness. The biblical definition of wickedness is defiant rebellion. Paul says, “And where there is no law, there is no transgression.” (Romans 4:15) God destroyed the antediluvians because they rejected His authority. As a God of love, He had no choice but to destroy the people who were destroying succeeding generations.
The Ten Commandments define sin. They are God’s declaration of right and wrong to man. Contrary to many claims, the Ten Commandments were not discontinued at the cross and the apostles never suggested this was the case. (Romans 3:31; 7:7; James 2:10–11)
Paul’s comments in Romans 14, about one man regarding a particular day as a holy day while another man regarding that same day as a common day, have nothing to do with God’s seventh day Sabbath. Romans 14 concerns the observance of six annual Jewish feast days which were also called Sabbaths even though they fell on various days of the week. (Leviticus 16:31)
Paul’s comments in Romans 14 were limited to a specific controversy. Jewish and Gentile converts in Rome were arguing over the consumption of clean meat that had been presented before idols. This act, Jewish believers argued, polluted clean meat—making it unclean.
Some of the Jewish believers wanted to observe Jewish feast days and Gentile believers argued this was not necessary since the laws of Moses had been discontinued. Paul’s position on both of these “disputable” matters is clear: If a Jewish convert wants to observe a feast day because he thinks it is a holy day, then give that believer the freedom to do so.
There is no harm done. Likewise, if a Gentile believer wants to eat clean meat that has been offered to an idol, then give him the freedom to do so. An idol is nothing, so no harm is done. But, Paul makes it clear that believers cannot use their freedom from the laws of Moses to offend the sensitivities of new converts who are weak and immature in the faith!
I know that my explanation of Romans 14 will not be acceptable to many people. So, let’s take Paul’s words in Romans 14:5–6 at face value by asking a question. “If the holiness of Saturday, the seventh day of the week, was terminated at the cross, where does God Himself say this is so?
Please bear with me for a moment regarding this question. This world was created by speech. The Creator spoke and it appeared. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. (Genesis 1:3) ‘For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.’ “ (Psalm 33:9)
How can mere mortals undo these commands? The Ten Commandments were so important to God that our Creator did not permit Moses to speak them to Israel. God Himself descended from Heaven to declare His Ten Commandments and there is no evidence in the Bible that He has declared them null and void.
If Romans 14 gives human beings the right to arbitrarily determine which day of the week is holy, this would make every day of the week holy. Some people would choose Sunday to be holy, some would choose Monday, some would choose Friday, etc. Was this world created in six days by men?
Do men have the authority to convert one of God’s work days into a holy day? Isn’t man made of dust? How can he presume to redefine God’s memorial to the incredible and unparalleled event called the Creation of Earth? Many Christians fail to understand why God created the seventh day and this allows them to casually dismiss or diminish the importance of it.
When Jesus was on Earth, the Pharisees falsely accused Him of violating the Sabbath commandment. Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:15), so Jesus did not break the Sabbath. Instead, He broke the Pharisees’ rigid and distorted views.
Jesus responded to their accusation saying, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) The seventh day was established at Creation for our benefit because God wants human beings to rest from their work on the seventh day just as He rested from His work.
God has given mankind a day of rest so that we can thoughtfully consider the creative works of our Creator. If mankind did this, the truth and glory of God would fill the whole Earth today!
One last point. The Bible teaches the Ten Commandments are just as obligatory today as they were at Creation. (I will demonstrate this point in my longer response.) God winks at the ignorance of billions of people who currently do not understand their obligation to obey the fourth commandment. (Acts 17:30)
However, a time is coming when God will notify the whole world that everyone is required to worship Him on His seventh day Sabbath. During the Great Tribulation, God’s 144,000 servants will proclaim that everyone is commanded to worship the Creator on “His” holy day. (Revelation 14:6–7)
Of course, many people will rebel against God’s demands just like they did in Noah’s day and they will be very shocked when God confronts their rebellion. Revelation 11:19 points forward to a day near the end of the Great Tribulation when the Ten Commandments will be completely visible in the sky.
God will show the wicked the very law they rejected and the law by which they will be judged. For now, you have my short responses to your questions and I hope you will continue reading and investigating these interesting matters in greater detail.
Early Christian Conflicts
Many Christians unknowingly manipulate and distort the Scriptures, particularly the writings of Paul. Textual distortion occurs when a person lifts a text out of its context and applies it to an issue that has nothing to do with the original context or setting of that text.
When people offer Scriptural support for conclusions that stand in opposition to the body of Scripture, distortion occurs. The Bible is not internally conflicted. Textual distortion has been a problem ever since Moses wrote the book of Genesis. Jews and Christians alike have been guilty of distorting Scripture. The apostle Peter noticed how Paul’s writings were often distorted.
He wrote, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:15–16)
If Peter’s words were true during the first century A.D. when specific controversies in the early church were ongoing, how much easier is it to distort Paul’s writings today now that we are removed from both the setting and circumstances of Paul’s day by two thousand years?
Bible history indicates the Christian Church began within Judaism in A.D. 30. For many years, there was very little difference between Jews and early Christians. In fact, the Romans considered Christians to be a sect of Judaism – just as the Pharisees were a sect of Judaism.
The extraction of Christianity from Judaism was painful, slow, full of intense feelings, and grievous conflict. Jewish leaders hated the Christian movement because they saw Christianity undermining their religious control and considered it an apostate offshoot.
The Romans hated Christians because they thought they were Jews. To make matters worse, early Jewish converts found it difficult to worship with Gentile converts because of their disgusting ways, and Gentile converts had a difficult time being around Jewish believers because Jewish believers insisted on maintaining their Jewish traditions.
If it had not been for the powerful manifestations of the Holy Spirit and the dedication of the apostles, the early Christian church would have died in the graveyard of controversy by the end of the first century A.D.
Everyone reading the New Testament needs to understand that Jewish converts came into the early church with strong Jewish paradigms. They were ninety-five percent Jewish in their thinking and ninety-ninety percent Jewish in their behavior.
The same was true for Gentiles. The theological ramifications of the ministry and death of Jesus took several decades to understand. Old habits and cherished beliefs die hard and it took a few generations before Christians and Gentiles became a unique and cohesive body of believers.
To keep the Christian church from imploding after His ascension, Jesus gave the apostles many revelations which spurred them to develop Christianity. To make matters worse (or so it may have seemed at the time), Jesus appointed Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles.
The addition of Gentiles into the Jewish/Christian conflict that already existed added another level of confusion for early Jewish converts. All of these conflicts were timely and important because God wanted church leaders (which were former Jews) to carefully research and clarify Christian doctrine.
A survey of Paul’s fourteen books in the New Testament reveals an interesting fact. The first century Christian church faced many well-defined problems because any assembly of Jewish and Gentile converts always produced the same controversies.
These controversies included topics involving the law of Moses, the pollution of food which had been offered to idols, the drinking of animal blood, the subject of circumcision, fornication, the observance of feast days and other religious customs.
The Babylonian Captivity
First century Jewish converts came into the Christian church with a particular mindset that we must comprehend today if we are going to understand Paul’s writings. This mindset began forming after the Babylonian captivity ended (605–536 B.C.).
There were various sins which devout Jews avoided at all costs since they did not want to provoke the Lord’s anger again. One such sin was that of worshiping graven images and eating food that had been offered to idols. It is important to note that as a nation, Israel never returned to worshiping graven images after the Babylonian captivity.
After their captivity, devout Jews also did not want to neglect performing ceremonial rituals. The Jews became very intense about obeying the Ten Commandments, and also the laws of Moses, which included numerous rituals like circumcision, hand washing, the observance of feasts, etc.
The avoidance of sin (that is, perfect obedience) became particularly important to the Pharisees, who developed as a conservative sect within Judaism after captivity.
The Pharisees concluded that God had raised up King Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem and the temple because Israel failed to keep His commandments. (Jeremiah 25:7–12) Therefore, they believed that keeping God’s laws should receive the greatest attention.
Actually, Israel’s offense toward God prior to the Babylonian captivity and Israel’s offense toward God after the Babylonian captivity remained the same, although Israel’s behavior shifted 180 degrees, from that of lawlessness to legalism.
Israel’s offense toward God can be summarized in one sentence: Most of the Jews never experienced rebirth or experienced the inner transformation that God offers and requires.
Jesus said that the kingdom of God will only consist of people who have been born again, because attitude is everything to God. (John 3:3) I believe the first sermon of Jesus (Matthew 5–7) centered on attitude because the “be-attitudes” (as they are called) are more important to God than all religious doctrine.
It was Israel’s uncircumcised heart (carnal heart) that made God angry prior to the Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 1:11–13; Jeremiah 4:4) and it was their uncircumcised heart that caused them to reject Jesus as the Messiah after the captivity (Acts 7:51).
Religious ritual means nothing to God unless there is a genuine love for God and man in the heart, sorrow for sin and a willingness to humbly walk in His righteous ways.
While in Babylon, the Lord spoke to Ezekiel many times about Israel’s hard heart. On one occasion, “The Lord said to me: ‘Son of man, will you judge [arrest these two prostitutes] Oholah [who represents Samaria, the capital city for the ten tribes in the north] and Oholibah [who represents Jerusalem, the capital city for the two tribes in the south]? Then confront them with their detestable practices, for they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them. They have also done this to me: At that same time they defiled my sanctuary and desecrated my Sabbaths. On the very day they sacrificed their children to their idols, they entered my sanctuary and desecrated it. That is what they did in my house.’ “ (Ezekiel 23:36–39, insertions mine)
“Say to the rebellious house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Enough of your detestable practices, O house of Israel! In addition to all your other detestable practices, you brought foreigners uncircumcised in heart and flesh into my sanctuary, desecrating my temple while you offered me food, fat and blood, and you broke my covenant.
” ‘Instead of carrying out your duty in regard to my holy things, you put others in charge of my sanctuary.’ This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “No foreigner uncircumcised in heart and flesh is to enter my sanctuary, not even the foreigners who live among the Israelites. The Levites who went far from me when Israel went astray and who wandered from me after their idols must bear the consequences of their sin.’ “ (Ezekiel 44:6–10)
Food Offered to Idols
Many Christians do not understand how ancient Israel (or any nation) could even think of worshiping graven images or offering food to idols, not to mention offering children as human sacrifices. If we had lived in those days; however, there would be no mystery to this behavior.
In ancient times, the nations of the world believed that good fortune and misfortune were not random events, but divine acts (Acts of God). For example, when a nation won a war, that was not coincidence; it was an act of God.
Sennacherib became king of Assyria about 705 B.C and soon began to consolidate his power and expand his kingdom. He prepared to attack Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah and sent a military commander down to Israel “inviting” them to become subjects of Sennacherib or perish.
Study this taunt spoken to Israel by Sennacherib’s commander: “[The commander said to Israel’s elders:] Do not let [King] Hezekiah mislead you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of [Sennacherib] the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim?
“Have [these gods of the Samaritans] they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? [Since the god of the Assyrians is greater than your God] How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (Isaiah 36:18–20, insertions mine)
Now, look at this text: “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.
And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.” (2 Kings 18:5-7, emphasis mine) On the surface, this text could be interpreted to mean that God blessed King Hezekiah with victory over Sennacherib because Hezekiah obeyed the laws of Moses! What do you think?
Did God bless King Hezekiah with victory over Sennacherib because he obeyed the laws of Moses or did God bless Hezekiah because he loved the Lord with all his heart, mind and soul, and obedience was the result? Bible history reveals a simple, but profound truth: God loves everyone who sincerely loves Him and man’s love for God is shown by submission to His commands.
People who sincerely love God are humble people. They are not self-righteous. They love their neighbors, they confess their sins and make restitution when needed, and they are concerned about the welfare of the poor.
God is not fooled by religious people who like to show off, nor is He impressed with rituals or flattering lip service. God sees within our hearts and He understands our motives and our carnal nature. Religious externals do not necessarily mean anything to God. (Isaiah 1:13–17)
There was a great deal of ignorance about God in Bible times. Even in the 21st century, this has not changed much. In Bible days, polytheism (worship of many gods) was widespread. People believed in hundreds of gods and each nation worshiped several.
If a person was blessed with a good harvest, he might think he had been blessed by a rain god or a harvest god (for example, Baal). If a person was blessed with prolific herds or a large number of children, he might think he was blessed by one of the goddesses of fertility: Ashtoreth, Artimes, or Venus. Of course, these “gods” were nothing, but how do you displace powerful religious concepts that coincidence and superstition produce?
The last thing any person wants is misfortune. So, to avoid misfortune, the ancients appeased their gods through sacrificial offerings (a distorted form of tithing). The ancients offered food because food was as precious as gold. There were no supermarkets, truck farms, tractors, refrigerators or freezers.
There was very little minted money. Food was often the currency of that day. Do you remember that Esau sold his birthright for a single meal? (Hebrews 12:16) Do you remember that Solomon used food to pay Hiram, king of Tyre, for materials to build the temple in Jerusalem? (1 Kings 5:11)
Food (usually, the meat from choice animals) was set before an idol for the purpose of keeping that particular god happy (in times of good fortune) or for the purpose of appeasing that god in times of misfortune. Either way, the priests of that particular god received the food and they ate it. Naturally, the priests did everything possible to keep the choice cuts coming.
If people were threatened by a disastrous event, they might resort to desperate means to avoid destruction. Situations like a terrible plague which could kill many animals or people, a small tribal nation facing destruction from a huge multi-nation army, or a severe famine could cause desperate people to even sacrifice their children as food offerings to the idols.
They hoped to appease their god’s wrath through the most expensive gifts they could provide. On March 20, 2006, Reuters News Service published an article by Tim Gaynor titled “Mayan Underworld Proves Researchers’ Dream.” This article summarizes research that is currently underway in Mexico on a large number of sinkholes.
Keep in mind as you read this excerpt that the author is writing about an ancient civilization in Mexico that is far removed from the customs and cultures of the Middle East. “The ancient Maya once believed that Mexico’s jungle sinkholes containing crystalline waters were the gateway to the underworld and the lair of a surly rain god who had to be appeased with human sacrifices. . . .
The region’s 7,000 to 8,000 cenotes were formed when caves collapsed in on themselves. The resulting sinkholes became a vital water source and a focus for Mayan sacrifices to honor Chac, the volatile, crocodile-like rain deity.” Isn’t it interesting to discover that civilizations the world over adopted the idea that human sacrifices were necessary to appease the wrath of God?
I believe this phenomenon exists because the devil distorted the promise of God. Instead of God generously providing His Son to atone for our sins, parents had to offer up their own children to atone for their sins. How horrible!
Now that we have reviewed a little background on the importance of food and the worship of idols, let us return to the mind-set of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity.
Devout Jews avoided the worship of graven images at all costs. They were anxious to avoid sinning or offending God. They also believed that when clean meat was offered to idols, the meat became unclean or polluted. (Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 8:7)
When we understand something of the mind-set of Jewish and Gentile converts, we better understand why food offered to idols was a recurring point of controversy in the early church. The apostle Paul spent considerable effort trying to get Gentile converts in Rome and Asia Minor to terminate their past beliefs.
He wanted them to give up their superstitions about their former gods and to put their faith in Jesus. On the other hand, Jewish converts who insisted on maintaining their traditions found it difficult, if not impossible, to associate with disgusting Gentiles who drank animal blood and ate food offered to idols. Gentiles often drank animal blood thinking it would give them the strength of that animal.
These background matters are important if you want to understand Paul’s writings. In his writings, Paul typically focused on three problems that afflicted the early church:
- The foolishness of trying to earn salvation through obedience
- The primacy of being born again and the role of faith and love
- Disputable conflicts between Jewish believers and Gentile converts
If you understand how eating food offered to idols, circumcision, observance of rituals and Levitical feasts were frequent points of contention within the early church, then the writings of Paul on these matters will make a lot of sense just as they read. Otherwise, they will become very confusing.
Think about this: Gentile converts came into the Christian church with superstitious beliefs and religious baggage. Jewish converts came into the Christian church with superstitions and a thousand traditions. Furthermore, each group had a long history of dislike for the other.
Is it any surprise that within twenty years of Christ’s ascension, conflicts within the Christian movement became so tense that the apostle James called for a meeting of the apostles and elders? James knew that if the Christian church did not deal with these controversies, it would fall apart.
The First Church Council
The thorny question which forced the elders and apostles to meet in A.D. 49 was, “What should we do with Gentile converts.” Should Gentile males undergo circumcision and should the laws of Moses be obeyed? This conflict was pressed hard by many well-educated Pharisees who had converted to Christianity!
“Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.’ The apostles and elders met to consider this question.” (Acts 15:5–6, emphasis mine)
It is interesting to note that it took approximately twenty years after Jesus ascended before the church answered these questions. Do not forget, the apostles and elders were Jewish converts themselves and now Paul’s success among the Gentiles forced them into deciding, once for all, whether male Gentiles would have to be circumcised and if the laws of Moses should be obeyed.
The apostles and elders thoughtfully and prayerfully agreed that circumcision was not necessary, not on the basis of a majority vote, but rather on the basis of God’s actions. In other words, the apostles and elders did not construct a new church doctrine by their own authority.
Rather, they listened to the revelations given to Peter (Acts 10) and Paul (Galatians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 12), and after considering the details and miracles that confirmed these revelations (Acts 14:3), the council concluded that the everlasting covenant of circumcision given to Abraham (Genesis 17) had been terminated.
They reached this conclusion on the grounds that (a) the biological offspring of Abraham had clearly rejected Messiah (John 1:11; Acts 3), and (b) they had broken the covenant which God had made with them. (Exodus 19:5–6; Leviticus 26; Matthew 23:37–38)
Therefore, since circumcision was a sign of the old covenant, circumcision could not be required under the new covenant! (Luke 22:20; Hosea 8:1; Hebrews 8:8; 1 Corinthians 11:25) When you consider the Jewish origin of the elders and apostles, this was a huge decision.
Christianity was based on a new covenant (Hebrews 9:15), and because God had declared that Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ are heirs together in the promises He gave to Abraham (Ephesians 2:11–20; Galatians 3:28–29), the elders concluded that as far as God was concerned, circumcision of the heart was all that mattered. (Romans 2:28–29)
They concluded that God redefined Israel when He established the new covenant and James acknowledged this transition at the beginning of his epistle.
He addressed Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ calling them “the twelve tribes.” (James 1:1; 2:1) For these and other reasons, the elders and apostles concluded that God no longer required circumcision of the flesh.
The council also discussed certain life-style issues as they pertained to exalting the name of Jesus. They decided that certain behaviors were important for Christian conduct and important for Christian living.
Therefore, in an effort to keep peace between Jewish and Gentile converts, the council agreed that incoming Gentiles must adhere to four rules if they wanted to become members of the church. These four rules are recorded in Acts 15:19 and they are:
- Abstain from food polluted by idols
- Abstain from sexual immorality
- Abstain from the meat of strangled animals
- Abstain from drinking animal blood
When you review this list, consider the nature and seriousness of these four rules. They reflect four serious problems which faced the early church. Other than sexual immorality, Christians today are not widely troubled with the other three problems mentioned in this list.
Why is this an important point? Many Christians read the New Testament without any knowledge of these problems that have just been considered, so when they read Romans 14, it becomes easy to lift Paul’s words out of the specific controversies occurring within the early church and place them within current issues today!
The result is that the intent of Paul’s words is grossly distorted. Paul ends up saying things that he never intended to say!
Two more points need to be highlighted before we continue. First, these four rules did not represent the totality of Christian doctrine nor did the elders attempt at this council to define the totality of Christian beliefs.
Revelations were still coming from Jesus (for example, the book of Revelation and the gospel of John had not been written yet), so this short list was a beginning place for order within the church.
The apostles and elders said nothing in Acts 15 about obvious issues such as believing in Jesus, using God’s name in vain, loving their neighbors, murder, dishonoring parents, clean and unclean food, stealing or lying! This short list of four rules simply represented a threshold on disputable matters.
New believers were required to meet these obligations to become a part of the church. The bottom line was blunt and simple: Christians could not live like pagans or barbarians and remain members of the church. (See 1 Corinthians 5; Revelation 2:12–16.)
There was no room in the church for superstition, defiling conduct or sexual immorality. Second, it is important to understand that the elders did not impose these four rules on the Gentiles for the purpose of granting salvation to the Gentiles.
Rather, these four rules were stated for the purpose of fostering spiritual and physical health, peace and social harmony within a growing, but diverse church. The apostles and elders understood that no one but God has the authority to set the terms and conditions for salvation. They also knew that no one but Jesus can save a sinner.
The Church at Corinth
The council meeting in A.D. 49 was pivotal. For the first time, Christians had taken a corporate position that circumcision was unnecessary. This was truly a landmark decision when you consider the biological heritage of the leaders of the church.
Second, the council ruled that the laws of Moses were no longer obligatory. This was another landmark decision. However, at the grass roots level, these decisions did not go over very well in various churches (Ephesus, Galatia, Colossae, Corinth, Rome, etc.). Controversy sprang up because many Jewish converts were not so sure the elders and apostles had made good decisions.
After the council, Paul traveled throughout Asia Minor defending the decisions of the council and this conflict made him a target for hostility.
Paul found himself constantly dealing with Pharisees in every church. Many devout Pharisees had joined the Christian church because there was advancing truth and there were miracles. The miracles were compelling evidence that “the way of Christ” was the work of God.
However, the Pharisees brought into the church a host of theological problems which Paul was constantly opposing. Paul had established a church at Corinth and two books of the New Testament are directed to this church because of certain controversies that simmered between Jews (the Pharisees) and Gentiles in Corinth. Here are two passages that need our attention [insertions mine]:
“[As believers in Christ] Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom [from the law of Moses] does not become a stumbling block to the weak [new converts to Christ].
“For if anyone with a weak conscience [for example, a recent convert who formerly worshiped idols] sees you [doing the very things that he once did] who have this knowledge [of freedom in Christ that] eating in an idol’s temple [is nothing], won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols [all over again]? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, [will possibly return to his old superstitions and pagan ways because he will lose his faith in Christ. See how he] is destroyed by your [freedom and] knowledge.
“When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
“Therefore, if what I eat causes my [weaker] brother to fall into [the] sin [of worshiping idols], I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall. Am I not free [from slavery and don’t I have the rights and privileges of a Roman Citizen]?
“Am I not an apostle [appointed by the Lord Himself]? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord [in person]? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? . . . Though I am [truly blessed and fully] free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible [to Christ]. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.
“To those under the law [of Moses] I became like one under the law [of Moses] (though I myself am not under the law [of Moses]), so as to win those [who unfortunately continue to live] under the law. To those not having the law [of Moses] I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s [Ten Commandments, His moral] law but am under Christ’s law [that we love one another as He loved us]), so as to win those not having [any knowledge of] the law [of Moses].” (1 Corinthians 8:9–9:1; 19–21)
After making it clear to the church in Corinth that no one should use their freedom from the law of Moses in an offensive way (that is, Jews who knew that idols were nothing, should not torment new Gentile converts who were turning away from past superstitions and idol worship; and conversely, Gentiles should not torment Jewish converts who were concerned about eating something unclean), Paul went to the core of the food problem:
“You cannot [come to church and] drink the [communion] cup of the Lord and [then go to various temples and drink] the [communion] cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table [in church] and [also drink from] the table of demons [at their temples]. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy [by serving other gods]?
“Are we stronger than he? [Because we are now free from the obligations stated in the law of Moses] ‘Everything [that God has declared moral] is permissible’– but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything [that God has declared to be moral] is permissible’– but not everything is constructive [to the mission and goals of the church].
“Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. [When you get together for lunch] Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience [that is, don’t ask if the meat was offered to idols], for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. [We know that an idol is nothing and an idol owns nothing. We have this superior knowledge through Christ our Lord, but new believers do not understand these things.]’
“If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice [to the gods],’ then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake – the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours.
“[Consider this conflict from a practical point of view] For why should my freedom be judged [be condemned] by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal [without asking where the meat came from, but I receive it] with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for [since I know that an idol is nothing. Why should I be concerned about eating food that is permissible unless it causes my weaker brother to stumble]?
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or [within] the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:21–32)
Sixty-five years after Jesus returned to Heaven, the church was still struggling with the problem of food offered to idols. Today, this ancient controversy is not significant in the United States because the controversy does not exist.
However, it was a significant problem in the early church and you have to understand the seriousness of this problem to properly understand the writings of Paul. If Paul’s words are lifted out their context, Paul’s counsel becomes distorted.
To some extent, Paul’s efforts to correct the ways of the early church went unheeded. The issue of food offered to idols was not completely terminated until Jesus spoke to the seven churches of Asia Minor through the apostle John in A.D. 95. Jesus told the church at Pergamum: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.” (Revelation 2:14)
When the message to Pergamum was published among the churches, the controversy finally died. Jesus Himself had spoken. I hope you understand by now that this topic created a lot of friction in the early church. The antagonism between Gentiles and Jews made the early churches contentious.
Paul appealed to both sides that they love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul knew that if the members of the church would just be patient with each other, the church would eventually overcome these conflicts because they were disputable matters that the Holy Spirit would resolve.
When in Jerusalem, Do as the Jews Do
Paul’s efforts to steer the Christian movement away from Jewish traditions eventually created a backlash among the brothers in Jerusalem. From Paul’s point of view, it began to look as though a Christian version of Judaism was developing, and of course, Paul, a former Pharisee himself, was strongly opposed to that. (Galatians 2)
Eventually, Paul returned to Jerusalem. He wanted to meet with the elders, encourage them with his reports on church growth and explain some of the controversies in which he was embroiled. Paul realized the church at Jerusalem was not moving forward with Christian doctrine as it should because there were too many Jewish paradigms controlling the headquarters of Christianity.
So, he went to Jerusalem to “help the brethren” align their gospel with revelations that had been given to him, and during this visit, the four rules imposed on the Gentiles in A.D. 49 were reviewed. (Acts 21.)
Because Paul was a controversial figure at the headquarters church (Jerusalem), the elders encouraged Paul to show some Jewish solidarity. They wanted Paul to participate with some Jewish believers in an old fashioned Jewish cleansing ritual which required going into the temple of the Jews.
The elders thought this act would assure the church leaders in Jerusalem that Paul had not abandoned Jewish customs altogether. Although Paul knew this ritual could not purify the soul or the flesh, he had no problem going through the ritual to demonstrate one of his most controversial doctrines: “As far as possible, in matters of conscience toward God, when in Rome, do as the Romans, and when in Jerusalem, do as the Jews.”
One day, while Paul was in the temple participating in the ritual with Jewish believers, he was recognized by some Jews who were also worshiping there. They shouted, “Men of Israel, help us [catch this man]! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought [uncircumcised] Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” (Acts 21:28, insertions mine)
Paul was immediately arrested by temple guards and later, handed over to secular authorities because he was a Roman citizen. Eventually, he ended up in Rome because he had the right, as a Roman citizen, to have Caesar review the details of his arrest.
Paul’s appeal to Caesar was his best hope for freedom. He had been arrested on religious charges trumped up by religious zealots, but he had done nothing against the laws of Rome. Instead of being set free, Paul was beheaded. Legend says that he was beheaded by Nero, an avowed enemy of Christians and Jews alike, because in order to appeal to Caesar, one had to first confess that Caesar was God.
The apostle Paul left behind an incredible legacy for Christians. He wrote fourteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament. He did not teach that “unclean” meat (as defined in Leviticus 11) became “clean” meat after the cross. Paul does say that idols are nothing, and clean meat offered to idols is not contaminated. (1 Corinthians 8:4–8)
However, if immature believers in the local church are offended by those who eat clean meat offered to idols, then stop eating the meat for their sake! If Paul, “a Pharisee of the Pharisees,” had known that foods such as pork and shrimp became permissible after the death of Jesus, he would have plainly said so – just as he clearly said that circumcision became unnecessary after the cross. (Galatians 5:2–6)
Paul never condoned lawless behavior, but his writings are often used to defend lawlessness. Many Christians think that the Ten Commandments and the laws of Moses were nailed to the cross because Paul says so. This is not true. Some Christians distort Paul’s writings with purpose.
They want to eliminate the “Jewish Sabbath” and the only way to do this is through the elimination of the other nine! Often, when Christians say the Ten Commandments were nailed to the cross, they turn around and assert that nine of the commandments should be obeyed.
Paul knew the laws of Moses had been nailed to the cross and he plainly said so in Colossians 2:14 and Ephesians 2:15. Paul also knew the Ten Commandments had not been nailed to the cross and he said so. “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments [which God Himself spoke], ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8–10, insertion mine)
Paul had been a devout legalist. As such, he earnestly sought salvation through perfect obedience. After he became a Christian, Paul did not abandon the necessity of obeying the Ten Commandments. Rather, Paul put obeying God’s commandments into proper perspective.
Paul found that salvation comes through faith in Christ and love for God and man. Faith and love do not eliminate God’s law. No, the law remains and love fulfills the intent of the law.
Extracting Christianity from Judaism was a complicated process, but God raised up a brilliant man to explain the process. For this reason, surface readers of the Bible find Paul to be confusing and conflicted.
However, in his defense, you would have had to live at that time to appreciate the obstacles he faced. I will close this segment with Paul’s counsel to the Romans (which is consistent with everything he said to the troubled believers in Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus and Colossae):
“Accept him [new converts] whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters [such as food offered to idols or the observance of feast days]. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything [that is clean], but another man, whose faith is weak, [avoids meat that may have been offered to idol and] eats only vegetables.
The man who [knows that idols are nothing and] eats everything [that God allows] must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything [that God allows] must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge [condemn] someone else’s servant?
To his own master he [the servant] stands [justified by his actions] or falls [condemned by his actions]. And he [the sincere servant] will stand [justified], for the Lord is able to make him stand [justified]. One man [for example, a Jewish believer] considers one day [like Nisan 15, the date for Passover] more sacred than another [day]; another man [for example, a Gentile has no regard for Passover. He] considers every day alike.
Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats [clean] meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains [from clean meat because it may have been polluted by idols], does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:1–6)
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God [the establishment of the church] for the sake of food. All food [which God allows] is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat [any] meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” (Romans 14:19–21)
“For everything God created [to be eaten] is good, and nothing is to be rejected [even if offered to idols] if it is received with thanksgiving because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4–5)
Feast Days and Sabbath Days
The Jews observed the seventh day Sabbath and they also observed six annual feasts, also called Sabbaths, which could fall on any day of the week.
It was mentioned in my short response that the seventh day Sabbath was made holy at Creation (Genesis 2:1–3) and the remembrance of the Sabbath was commanded in the Ten Commandments. On the other hand, six Sabbath-feasts were created for Israel’s benefit shortly after the Exodus and the specifications for each feast were defined in the laws of Moses. (Exodus 12:14–17; 34:23; Leviticus 16:29–31; 23:16, 24, 34 )
The Jews regarded the convergence of a Sabbath-feast and a seventh-day Sabbath as a “high Sabbath” or a “special Sabbath.” (John 19:31)
The laws of Moses were not an extension of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are a timeless and unilateral covenant between God and man (Deuteronomy 5:3–22; 4:13), whereas the laws of Moses were written by man and were based upon a mutual agreement or bilateral covenant between Israel and God. (Exodus 19:5–6)
From their inception, the laws of Moses were temporary laws—they were designed to end when Messiah died. To emphasize the difference between the laws of Moses and the Ten Commandments, the laws of Moses were written on parchment.
The decalogue (Ten Commandments written on stone) rested inside the Ark of the Covenant, but the laws of Moses were kept “in a pocket” outside the Ark. (Deuteronomy 31:24–26)
The use of the word “law” can be confusing in the New Testament. Sometimes, the word referred to the Ten Commandments. (Romans 3:31; 7:7) On other occasions, the word referred to the laws of Moses. (Acts 21:20; 23:3) And sometimes, the word “law” referred to the first five books of the Bible. (John 12:34; Luke 24:44)
The Jews often debated the differences between the Ten Commandments and the laws of Moses. Some Jews thought that all of God’s laws were equal in nature. Other Jews disagreed. One day, Jesus was asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” and Jesus answered saying,
” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37–40)
People in the United States should find it fairly easy to understand certain differences between laws. For example, the Constitution is the highest and most important law in the U.S. However, the Constitution permits the fifty states to make laws as needed as long as they are in harmony with the U.S. Constitution.
State laws vary from state to state. For example, the speed limit in one state may differ from that of another state. Ohio has a state income tax, but Texas does not. State laws are not an extension of the U.S. Constitution. State laws cannot trample on the rights which are protected by the Constitution, but state laws are just as obligatory as constitutional laws.
The Royal Law (that is, the King’s law which is the highest law) is fulfilled through love. (James 2:8; Romans 13:10) Paul wrote, “The entire law [that is, the entire second tablet of the Ten Commandments] is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “ (Galatians 5:14, insertion mine)
Of course, Paul is not saying that we should love our neighbor more than we love God. He would never say that. Paul spoke as he did because loving God above everything else was not part of that discussion. (Matthew 22:37–40)
Love for God and love for our neighbor is defined by the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments define how love is to be expressed to God and the last six commandments define how love is to be expressed to our neighbor. You might ask, “How is love defined in the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not steal?’”
The answer is simple: When we come to a place where we love our neighbor more than anything he possesses, the intent of “thou shalt not steal” is fulfilled. When we refuse to take something that belongs to another person because of love, God is pleased (and so is our neighbor).
The Ten Commandments represent God’s will for all mankind at all times. The King’s law reaches beyond the highest human thought. (Isaiah 55:9)
The Ten Commandments are stated in the negative because we live in a carnal world. The carnal nature is diametrically opposed to the spiritual nature. (Romans 8) In other words, God wrote the Ten Commandments in such a way that even carnal minded people can benefit from them.
For example, if a carnal person refrains from stealing because God said it is wrong to steal, then it is good for everyone. Society requires law and order. However, if a spiritual person’s motive not to steal is because he loves his neighbor as himself, then this is much better because the glory of the law is fulfilled.
When the Ten Commandments are written in the heart, they reflect the behavior of a born-again person. In other words, when a spiritual person loves God and his neighbor as himself, the Ten Commandments “in action” become how love is expressed.
Most Christians are caught in a difficult situation with respect to the Ten Commandments. They widely accept nine of the commandments as the will of God; however, the fourth commandment is a totally different story. Thousands of books have been written on this topic and the defense always builds its case on textual distortion.
This is so foolish. What is wrong with the fourth commandment? Why is it so undesirable? Why do people hate the idea of giving God the respect He is due on the day that He has made holy?
Let me be clear: Compliance with the Ten Commandments does not bring a human being into favor with God. The Pharisees were careful to obey the Ten Commandments, but that did not draw them close to God! Obeying the seventh commandment will not merit salvation and neither will observing the seventh day.
Obedience merely brings the person into favor with the law. If the law is good and beneficial, the obedient person becomes the beneficiary of that law. If everyone obeyed the letter of the law as written in the Ten Commandments, planet Earth would be a much improved place to live!
There would be no killing, stealing, adultery, or cursing, and furthermore, there would be a wonderful day of rest each week! God gave the Ten Commandments to humanity for the benefit and welfare of the nations.
Paul experienced the difference between living under the law as a means to achieving salvation versus living under the law to discover the enabling power of God’s grace.
As a Pharisee, Paul had been rigorous in his obedience to the Ten Commandments and the laws of Moses because he believed that salvation was achieved through perfect obedience. After he was converted, he discovered a profound truth. His efforts were in vain.
Salvation comes as a gift from God, granted to everyone who is willing to trust and obey God. Does faith eliminate God’s law? Yes and No. Yes, faith eliminates the law as the way to salvation. No, faith does not eliminate our obligation to obey the law. Paul wrote, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:31)
After Paul came to know Jesus and the plan of salvation, he began to understand the higher purpose of the Ten Commandments. He saw everything in a totally different light. In fact, he saw that instead of being the perfect Pharisee he thought he was, he was actually a corrupt human being! Notice his words [insertions mine]:
“For when we were controlled by the sinful [carnal] nature, [we were not aware of] the sinful passions [that controlled us until they were] aroused by [a true knowledge of] the law [of God. Then we discovered that evil passions] were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death [even though we thought we were pleasing God].[I was persecuting Christians thinking I was doing God a service. I was totally ignorant, blinded by my religion, but I didn’t know it then.] But now, [after hearing the gracious offer of God, I reject my former ways] by dying to what once bound us [the foolishness of rigorous obedience that merits salvation], we have been released from the [sinless perfection demanded by the] law so that we serve [God and man] in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of [trying to work our way to Heaven by obeying] the written code.
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin [a transgression against mankind]? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law.
For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law [the tenth commandment] had not said, “Do not covet.” [After I began to understand my evil passions with respect to the spiritual goal of the law, I saw my weakness within.] But [my attraction and propensity for] sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the [knowledge of the tenth] commandment, produced in me [a conflict. I discovered] every kind of covetous desire [within me, whereas, I had thought I was in perfect compliance with the law].
For apart from law, sin is [non-existent] dead. [In other words, where there is no law, there is no sin!] Once I was alive [my self-righteousness was very pleased, but I was] apart from [truly understanding the spiritual nature of God’s] law; but when [my heart was changed and a spiritual understanding of] the [tenth] commandment came, [my self-righteous nature was offended because the power of] sin sprang to life and I [willingly] died [to my self righteousness].
I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life [in the Spirit] actually brought death [to self-righteousness].
For sin [within me], seizing the opportunity afforded by the [tenth] commandment, deceived me [I thought I was a good person before God since I had not violated the law], and through [a correct understanding of] the commandment [the Spirit] put me [and all of my self righteousness] to death.
So then, [I now see that] the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death [the end of me] to me? By no means!
But in order that sin might be recognized as sin [within my carnal heart], it [the law] produced death in me [by killing my self-righteousness] through what was good, so that through [a spiritual understanding of] the [tenth] commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” (Romans 7:5–13)
Paul wrote this passage after he had been a Christian for about 30 years. His words reveal two profound points. First, Paul chose the tenth commandment to make his point because he discovered that he had a serious weakness for coveting.
As a young man, Paul coveted the praise and adulation of the Pharisees. Once he understood the spiritual value of the law, the tenth commandment proved that he was a common sinner. Second, Paul insists that apart from law, there is no sin!
Again, it seems so silly for Christians to nail the Ten Commandments to the cross and then revive nine of them for the purpose of having some definition for sin.
John wrote, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4) James adds, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10) Again, I have to ask, “What is wrong with the fourth commandment?”
There is a big difference between observing a weekly seventh day Sabbath and an annual feast day Sabbath. The fourth commandment forbids work on the seventh day.
From a carnal point of view, that is the sum and substance of the fourth commandment. Feast day laws were entirely different. They required many specific activities internal to the observance of the feast.
For example, the law of Moses stated that Passover observance required selecting, slaying and roasting a lamb at a certain time on certain days. (See Exodus 12 and Numbers 28:16–25.) The Day of Atonement required sacrificing a young bull, one ram and seven male lambs that were one year old. (Numbers 29:8)
The Feast of Tabernacles required a very intricate series of burnt offerings for eight days. (Numbers 29:12–40) The Feast of Pentecost also required a specific series of burnt offerings. (Numbers 28:26–31)
Now that we know what the Mosaic law required with respect to the feasts, I have to ask: “Where in the Bible does it say that you can observe a feast day without meeting the requirements of that feast day?”
When Israel was in Babylonian captivity, feast days were not celebrated because the exiles could not carry out the specific requirements of the feast days. (See Hosea 2:8–11.) Some people argue at great length that the commands establishing the observance of the feast days are separate and distinct from the commands requiring certain activities on those days.
This is nonsense. Such a division is fabricated and a distortion of Scripture. God never separated the observance of a feast day from the activities required of a feast.
The annual feasts cannot be observed without obeying all that the law demands. Remember, James said if we break the law on one point, we break the whole thing. This is true for the Ten Commandments and it was true for the laws of Moses.
The Feasts Were Temporary
Unlike the seventh day of the week, which is a memorial to Creation, each feast day was an object lesson that pointed forward to the ministry of Messiah and His execution of the plan of salvation. For example, the first Passover was an object lesson about judgment day.
Moses told the people to kill a lamb and put the blood on the doorposts of their house. If a “believer” obeyed, the death angel “passed over” that household. If a person did not believe Moses and did not do what was required, the death angel killed the first born.
The object lesson to which this event pointed is huge and wonderful to understand. A day is coming when God will “pass over” the household of each heart and if the blood of the Lamb of God is on the doorpost, he or she will escape the penalty of sin, which is death by execution.
With the passage of time, the apostles clearly understood how the feasts were shadows of things to come. When they began to understand the object lessons to which the feasts pointed, they refused to impose the observance of the feasts upon new converts.
The shadows in the laws of Moses disappeared in the wonderful light of truth. After his conversion, Paul did not observe the feast days. For example, all Jews were required to go up to Jerusalem to attend three feasts per year. (Exodus 23:17) Paul ignored going to the feasts for at least three years! (See Acts 18:11; 19:10.)
When he was with those who observed the feasts, he participated – not because they were obligatory, but out of deference to his brothers who felt compelled to continue with “tradition.” Paul’s respect for those who were weaker in the faith is clearly seen in Romans 14:1–5.
(It was considered highly offensive for a Jewish Christian to antagonize his Jewish brothers. For this reason, Paul was accommodating in practice, but not in principle. See Galatians 2:11–13.)
Paul specifically addressed a controversy over the observance of Passover in Corinth. The Pharisees were doing their best to get the Gentiles to observe Passover. Paul wrote, “Get rid of the old yeast* [that is, your sinful past] that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are [justified through the sacrifice of Jesus, our Passover Lamb]. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.[The laws demanding the slaughter of the Passover lamb and the observance of the feast died with Him.] Therefore let us keep the Festival [in our behavior toward each other], not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness [for one another], but with [better] bread without [the] yeast [of this world], the bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:7–8)
Prior to observing Passover, the Jews were commanded to remove all yeast from their houses. The first day of Passover was the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread which lasted for seven days.
The object lesson for the Feast of Unleavened Bread is beautiful: If you want the death angel to pass over your house, purify your heart by removing anything sinful! “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (1 Corinthians 7:1))
Some people distort 1 Corinthians 5:7,8 to make Paul appear as though he is endorsing the observance of Passover. This is not true, for if he had, Paul would have insisted on obeying the law and going to Jerusalem as God required. (Exodus 23:17; Deuteronomy 12:13–14)
Perhaps the best evidence of Paul’s attitude about observing the annual feast days is found in Galatians. Paul sternly rebuked the church at Galatia for backsliding into Jewish customs. He wrote, “How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles [listed in the laws of Moses]? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” (Galatians 4:9–11)
On another occasion, Paul addressed the church at Colossae. Church members were upset because Pharisee believers insisted on the necessity of circumcision and observing the laws of Moses.
Paul told the church that the laws of Moses commanded Israel to observe certain feasts, but these were shadows of Jesus and His ministry. “[There is no further need for the circumcision of the flesh because] In him [Jesus] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried [into his death] with him in baptism and raised [out of the water] with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
When you were dead in your sins [to spiritual things] and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ [God circumcised your hearts]. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code [of Moses], with its [many] regulations, that was against us [contrary to our carnal hearts] and that stood opposed to us [condemned us]; he took it away, nailing it to the cross [with Jesus].
And having disarmed the powers [authority of the Jews] and [Roman] authorities, he made a public spectacle of them [showing their weakness], triumphing over them by [using] the [despised and degenerate] cross.
Therefore [since Jesus has come from the tomb and you have come to life with Him] do not let anyone [among the Pharisees] judge you [condemn you] by what you eat or drink [we know idols are nothing], or [condemn you] with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration [Numbers 10:10] or a Sabbath [feast] day.[All of] These are a shadow of the things that were to come; [now that He has come] the reality, however, is found in [ministry of] Christ.” (Colossians 2:11–17)
At Calvary, the shadows to which the laws of Moses pointed disappeared. The practices of an entire religion became obsolete on a single day—although it took many years to figure this out.
Now that Jesus has ascended, says Paul, the laws of Moses are impossible to observe. (Hebrews 7:12) The Mosaic system was only a shadow of things to come. The sacrifices of sheep and goats never atoned for sin—they too, were object lessons. (Hebrews 10:4)
Paul came to understand that obedience was not a prerequisite for salvation. Obeying God’s Ten Commandments will not produce salvation, but faith in God for salvation does not eliminate the demands of the Ten Commandments.
God gave the laws of Moses to Israel as a vehicle to teach how the plan of salvation would be implemented. (Galatians 3–4) God personally spoke the Ten Commandments to Israel to declare His sovereign will for all mankind.
After Jesus died on Calvary, the “schoolmaster” (the laws of Moses, Galatians 3:24–25, KJV) was no longer needed because human beings, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, have enough information to figure out the dimensions of the plan of salvation.
Works and Salvation
Many people have a hard time sorting out the relationship between faith, works and salvation. The road to Heaven is lined with two ditches. On the right-hand side of the road is the ditch of fanaticism and self-righteousness. Some people, like Paul, are born in this ditch and they may never climb out.
Some may jump out of this ditch only to land on the other side of the road in the ditch of affluence, indifference and neglect. These ditches exist because it is far easier to be casually religious or a religious zealot than to practice the principles of faith and love. The devil is pleased to have us in either ditch.
I once asked a young man, very zealous about the law, if he sinned anymore. He said “Oh, no.” I asked again, “Do you knowingly commit sin?” Again, he said “Oh, no.”
Then, I said, “Your righteousness is man made because the moral law of God reaches beyond your ability to recognize sin. Once you have learned what is wrong, then you must learn what is right!” In other words, sin is more than commission, it is also omission. “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17)
For this reason, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) John wrote, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. . . . If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 1:10; 4:20)
God’s requirements for the human race are surprisingly light. His yoke is easy. (Matthew 11:30) You may ask, if this is the case, then why did Israel constantly fail? The problem is love. The carnal heart loves itself more than it loves God and others. Unless we are born again, the kind of love that God wants is missing.
The gift of salvation is free, but obeying God costs everything. (Matthew 7:21) The rich young ruler could not follow Jesus because he could not let go of his money. (Matthew 19:16–22) He loved wealth more than God! He was in the ditch on the left side of the road.
The problem with ancient Israel remains the problem with Christians today. We do not love God enough to live by faith. We either want to make up our own rules for salvation or we want to “improve” on God’s requirements by adding 2,000 more. God says that ten rules are enough for born again people.
Are the Ten Commandments binding? Yes. Will obedience save me? No. Will my faith in Jesus save me if I following His calling? Yes.
The Great Tribulation
Previously, I wrote that a time is coming when God will notify the whole world that He requires us to worship Him on His seventh day Sabbath. This may sound farfetched at the moment, but the book of Revelation predicts that God is about to send a series of fourteen destructive judgments upon the Earth (seven trumpets and seven bowls). The first four judgments will kill 25% of the world’s population. (Revelation 6:7–8)
At that time, a politically and religiously diverse world will awaken to the reality that God is angry and, corporately speaking, the world will conclude that God’s wrath must be appeased or everyone will quickly perish.
To appease God, the nations of the world will, among other things, enact a series of laws that will require everyone to worship God. (I have discussed these matters at length in my book, Warning! Revelation is about to be fulfilled.) A great controversy regarding worship will materialize during the Great Tribulation. (Revelation 13)
During the Great Tribulation, God’s servants, the 144,000, will call mankind to worship the Creator as He commands. (Exodus 20:8–11; Revelation 14:6–7)
A conflict arises because God demands that we rest on His holy day, Saturday, the seventh day. This will be in direct opposition to the “worship laws” which the religions of the world are supporting. Through this controversy, the enduring nature of the Ten Commandments—particularly the fourth commandment—will surface. Everyone on planet Earth will be talking about this matter.
Of course, many people will defiantly rebel against God’s commandments, just like they did in Noah’s day. Revelation 11:19 points forward to a day near the end of the Great Tribulation when God will literally present the Ten Commandments to a rebellious world.
The whole world will see the tablets of stone written by the finger of God. The wicked will see the very law they refused to obey. What greater evidence can there be than to literally see the law that so many people refused to acknowledge?
I hope you will prayerfully consider these matters. I also hope you will examine two articles on the web which I have written on the Sabbath. They are titled, What happened to the Lord’s Day? and From Sabbath to Sunday. (These articles are also found in my book, Jesus: The Alpha and The Omega.)
Let me conclude this study with a summary text that everyone should respect: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)
I hope this has been helpful!