In Christian circles, there seems to be an increased awareness of the Jewish roots of Christianity. This is often demonstrated by many Christians incorporating Jewish religious practices into their worship and lifestyles. However, at the same time, many Christians are advocating the adoption of many of these practices as requirements in their lives and the lives of others. This leads many people to wonder, should Christians observe Jewish holidays and practices? God’s Word provides the answer.
What are the Jewish holidays?
There are several Jewish holidays. There are regular holidays that primarily celebrate specific historic events like Purim and Chanukkah. There are also seven holidays (sometimes called feasts) that were given in the law by God to be observed as part of the Old Testament commandments. However, these laws not only have historical significance, but they also have spiritual or prophetic meaning. If you look at a broader overview of these holidays, you will find that each has a connection with God’s plan for humanity through Christ. These seven holidays are as follows:
Passover (Ex 1-15; Lev 23:4-5)
The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 12:14-17; Lev 23:6-8)
The Feast of Firstfruits (Ex 14:21-31; Lev 23:9-14)
The Feast of Weeks [Pentecost] (Lev 23:15-22)
The Feast of Trumpets (Lev 23:23-25)
The Day of Atonement (Lev 23:26-32)
The Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:33-44)
Were there special instruction in how these holidays should be observed?
Each holiday or feast has specific commandments related to how and when they must be observed spelled out in the Law. There are over 700 commandments given in the Old Testament law. Therefore, like any other commandments, observing these holidays required numerous works. These works involved things such as sacrifices, abstaining from certain foods, specific prayers, and even building and living in temporary shelters.
Since Biblical times and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., many of these holidays have been altered in how they are observed by many Jews today based on the opinions of notable Jewish scholars and Rabbis. In some cases, the changes have been small, while in others, the changes are quite significant. However, those still following the Law have striven to remain as true to the original practice as they can. Likewise, the common practices often vary based on the type of Judaism one practices. Three common movements in Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed Judaism. Likewise, there are other divisions in Judaism that have different cultures and traditions based on where their ancestors settled. However, in all cases, like Christianity, these so-called denominations were man made.
Should Christians observe Jewish holidays?
Many Christians think that certain requirements of the law still apply to Christians today. However, adopting this attitude reflects a misunderstanding of our salvation through Christ. The Bible teaches us that Christ fulfilled the law with His death on the cross thereby delivering us from the requirements of the law. Because of what He did on the cross, we no longer are obligated to keep the Old Testament Law, including the feasts because they were a shadow of things to come that have been fulfilled in Christ (Colossians 2:8-23). Because of this truth, the Apostle Paul, under the direction of the Holy Spirit asks this important question in Colossians 2:20-22 as follows:
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
Notice the context of this question, “If ye be dead with Christ…” This means if you are saved, why are you subject to the ordinances of the law, including the man made ones, which are to perish?
This wrong thinking about keeping the law today is practically demonstrated in Hebrews 6:4-6, which tells us that it is impossible for believers who are saved to be renewed unto repentance because they “Crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Simply stated, believers were committing sins. However, instead of repenting and confessing their sins to God to be forgiven and cleansed by Him of all unrighteousness, they went back to the Temple to offer a sacrifice for their sins.
This act of offering a sacrifice for their sins after Christ delivered them from the law made it impossible for them to be forgiven or renewed because they sought atonement for their sin through the law and not through Christ! The fact that they did this was in of itself another sin, because Christ was the final offering for sin under a New Testament (Hebrews 9:11-10:18). This New Testament sacrifice did away with the Old Testament law (2 Corinthians 3). Therefore, performing a sacrifice after Christ died and delivered them from the law was tantamount to rejecting what He did and putting Him to open shame again by symbolically crucifying Him through the very law that pointed to Him and what He would do.
This leaves us with the question of whether Christians should observe Jewish holidays. Theologically speaking, the answer is no. Through Christ, there is no longer Jew and Gentile, but instead we are one in Him as the church (1 Corinthians 10:31-33; Ephesians 2:14-22). However, participating in certain practices that were observed during these holidays can be an enjoyable time of fellowship that gives us a deeper appreciation of what Christ did for us. Examples of some fellowship activities we can do are things like participating in a Passover Seder, eliminating leavened foods during the Feast of Unleavened bread, or even building and camping out overnight in a booth or tent in your back yard during the Feast of Tabernacles. No matter what we do, we should always keep in mind that our activities should be a memorial of what Christ did for us, not a requirement for the merit of God’s grace.
There are several Jewish holidays. There are regular holidays that primarily celebrate specific historic events like Purim and Chanukkah and there are holidays or feasts that were given in the law by God to be observed. The latter that were given in the law were part of the Old Testament commandments of God. Since Christ fulfilled the law by His death on the cross, keeping the Old Testament law, including these required feasts as a theologically required act should not be done. However, participating in some of the practices of these holidays in fellowship with others can give as fuller and richer appreciation for what Christ did for us.
Related reading: Jewish Holidays
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version