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Holy Days as Part of the New Covenant: By the Pen of a Gentile

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Holy Days as Part of the New Covenant

By the Pen of a Gentile

MP3 Audio (28.77 MB)


Holy Days as Part of the New Covenant: By the Pen of a Gentile

MP3 Audio (28.77 MB)

This message gives several Biblical proofs that observance of the annual Holy Days is binding on New Testament Christians, not only Israelite Christians but also Gentile Christians. It is noteworthy that God used Luke (probably the only New Testament writer who was a Gentile) to record most of the many examples of Holy Day observance in the early New Testament Church.

Sermon Notes




Holy Days as Part of the New Covenant: By the Pen of a Gentile

Steve Corley

Given in Houston South April 1, 2006 as split sermon

Expanded to full sermon and given in Kingsport and Roanoke March 13, 2021 (Spring Holy Days version)

Revised for Fall Holy Days and given in London, KY and Knoxville September 2, 2023

I would like to talk first to you children out in the congregation. Maybe your classmates think it strange that you take off to go to church for over a week when almost everyone else is in school. Why are you doing such a thing? Why are your parents taking off work on days the world ignores, which are ordinary workdays to almost everyone else? Have you ever wished in the back of your mind that they didn’t have such an “odd” religion? For that matter, why are you going to be in church on the upcoming Fall Holy Days? Why are we all going to certain specified places? What does this mean for us? I plan to come back to this topic – and to our children – at the end.

Nowadays very few who claim the title of “Christian” observe God’s Holy Days as outlined in the Bible. It seems that the “Christianity” of the world has almost totally forgotten these days – and that has been the case since the first few centuries after its establishment. Why do we need to be different? Why do we need to observe them when it would be much easier to do as the world does, as our classmates and coworkers do? Does the Bible really command Christians to observe these days now? I will not go through Lev. 23 and Deut. 16 where the Holy Days were given to Moses by the One who became Christ. We can read those chapters on our own. They tell us what the Holy Days are and are not really an item of controversy. They are not of particular concern here because the question is whether the Holy Days are applicable to us under the New Covenant – whether they are supposed to be observed in the New Testament Church. My purpose here is to show that the Holy Days are indeed part of the New Covenant, that they were observed in the Church when the New Testament was being written, and that Holy Day observance is binding on Christians today. We might title this sermon “Holy Days as Part of the New Covenant” – with a subtitle which I will mention later.

One of the notorious study papers written by evil men and published in 1995 by the former fellowship of most of us tried to dismiss this question out of hand by claiming that Old Testament prophecy could not be used to establish rules for the Church in this age. But that sweeping claim does not address the real question. Let us assume that the Holy Days and Feast of Tabernacles are indeed not part of the New Covenant. Then the only way we can explain the clear statement we read in Zech. 14:16-19 is to assume that God will somehow make a third covenant with mankind in the future, which will incorporate observance of these days (which the current New Covenant, by these people’s reasoning, does not). But the Bible gives no indication that a third covenant will ever be made – only rather an extension of the New Covenant to all mankind who choose to be a part of it. Hence we must conclude that (1) the Feast of Tabernacles – and by implication the other Holy Days – are indeed part of the New Covenant, and (2) they apply to Gentiles under the New Covenant. Note specifically in Zech. 14:19 the example that Egypt – certainly a Gentile nation – will be penalized if it does not observe the Feast. (By the way – note also the hidden meaning in this prophecy. What would happen nowadays to Egypt if there were no rain there? Nothing. Egypt today gets virtually no rain anyway. It is totally dependent on the Nile River which gets its water from rain falling much farther upstream. But the prophecy indicates that in the Millennium there will indeed be rain-fed agriculture in Egypt – there will be enough rain in what is now the Egyptian Sahara for crops to be grown there. This agriculture will be severely impacted if the rain is then cut off.)

And we certainly see the mention of Holy Day observance in the Church in the New Testament. We learn of the founding of the Church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1). Remember that Acts was written by Luke. Luke was apparently a Gentile because he was identified separately from those “of the circumcision” in Col. 4:7-11 and 14. Luke was probably the only Gentile writer of the New Testament – and we can subtitle this sermon “By the Pen of a Gentile.” Most commentators agree that Luke was writing to a predominantly Gentile audience. Both of the books which Luke wrote are addressed to a “Theophilus”—a Greek name generally believed to have belonged to a Gentile. Remember that Gentile Christians had never been under the Old Covenant. If the day of Pentecost were not familiar to – and observed by – Gentile Christians, if it were something foreign to them, why would Luke have used it as a point of reference? Luke also stated “we sailed from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread” (Acts 20:6). The implication was that they had spent the Days of Unleavened Bread at Philippi. What is the special significance of Philippi here in comparison with other cities?

Remember that Philippi was a Roman colony, a town in Greece which was populated largely by settlers from Rome (Acts 16:12). In most cities to which Paul traveled for the first time, he would go to the local synagogue to preach the Gospel first to the Jews. Examples include Salamis in Cyprus (Acts 13:5), Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-41), Iconium (Acts 14:1), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-4), Berea (Acts 17:10), Athens (Acts 17:17), Corinth (Acts 18:4) and Ephesus (Acts 19:8). In Philippi, however, Paul went instead first to a place by the riverside where people, apparently Jews, would gather to pray (Acts 16:13). The implication here was that there apparently were not even enough Jews in Philippi to form a synagogue. Hence one can draw the conclusion that probably very few Jews lived in Philippi. One may also note that in most of the cities on Paul’s journeys, the persecution against him was spearheaded by Jews who opposed the preaching of the Gospel. Examples were at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 14:45), Iconium (Acts 14:2), Lystra (Acts 14:19), Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-9), Berea (Acts 17:13), and Corinth (Acts 18:12-17). In Philippi, however, the persecution of Paul was started by Gentiles who complained that Paul was a troublemaker and a Jew (Acts 16:20). Since there were very few Jews within the pool of potential converts in Philippi, the Church congregation at Philippi was almost certainly overwhelmingly Gentile. Given these points, why would Paul and his party have chosen Philippi as a place to spend the Days of Unleavened Bread if the Holy Days were not for Gentile Christians to observe?

Also note that Luke said “we” – including Luke himself, a Gentile – “sailed from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread.” Luke had stayed at Philippi with Paul and had obviously observed the festival with the brethren there. Luke also tells us that Paul was “hurrying to be at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16). He also mentions that the ship bearing Paul as a prisoner was sailing “after the fast” (Acts 27.9). Commentators generally agree that Luke almost certainly was referring to the Day of Atonement. Similarly here, if Gentile Christians were not familiar with the Day of Atonement as a result of having observed it, why would Luke use it as a point of reference? To do so would be as absurd as for an American writing for a European audience to use as a point of reference Thanksgiving Day (unknown in Europe) or Labor Day (May 1 to most Europeans).

In 1 Cor. 5:7-8 Paul commanded the Church at Corinth – which almost certainly was predominantly Gentile – to observe the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. The Passover is mentioned by name (verse 7) and the use of unleavened bread (literally and figuratively) is commanded in verse 8. Note also the analogy that the people were “puffed up” (verse 2). What would have been the significance of these points had the people not been observing the Days of Unleavened Bread? They were unleavened physically (verse 7) but not yet spiritually.

However, if the Church was indeed observing the Holy Days and its members – Jew and Gentile – were completely familiar with them, then how about John’s references to two of the Holy Day seasons as “feasts of the Jews” (John 2:13, 6:4, 7:2)? There are a number of possible answers here. First, remember that John was written considerably after the other Gospel accounts, at a time when new converts were overwhelmingly Gentile. If indeed the book was addressed primarily to new Christians or those just coming into contact with Christianity, those of Gentile background would have had no prior familiarity with the Holy Days except perhaps a knowledge that Jews observed them. Second, recall that John repeatedly uses the term “the Jews” not to refer to the Jewish people as a whole but to their top religious leaders at that time (e.g. John 7:1, 11). The religious leaders carried out important jobs during the Holy Days, particularly those of the priests in connection with the sacrificial system. Note that another feast which the Jewish people observed, but which did not contain a Holy Day, was not called “a feast of the Jews” (John 10:22). In any case, nowhere does John say that Holy Day observance is not required for Christians or that the Church did not observe the days. Remember they were still “feasts of the Lord” (Lev. 23) – and John records that Jesus observed them.

Also, how about when Paul criticizes the Galatians for observing “days, months, seasons, and years” (Gal. 4:10)? Does this mean, as so many believe, that he was criticizing them for observing the Sabbath and the Holy Days? Verses 8 and 9 show that they were turning back to “those which by nature are not gods” – the “weak and beggarly elements.” This could not have been referring to the “feasts of the Lord” as we read in Lev. 23:1. Remember also that there are no entire “months” or “seasons” set apart by God in Lev. 23 or Deut. 16.

How about Colossians 2:16-17? Does this mean, as so much of the world thinks, that Gentile Christians were not keeping the Holy Days (or the Sabbath) and were being judged by so-called “Judaizers” who wanted them to do so? Let us read it closely. The word translated “substance” in verse 17 is actually “body” (σῶμα, Strong’s #4983) and the “is” is not in the original Greek. Hence the passage should read “Let no one judge you…..but the body of Christ” (the Church). They were not to fear being judged by those in the outside world. (A modern analogy -- recall what we were talking about at the beginning of the sermon -- the child whose classmates say “What are you doing?” when he tells them that he will be gone during the Feast of Tabernacles.) The real problem that the Colossians were having is shown in verses 20-22. They were, “as though living in the world,” subjecting themselves to rules “according to the commandments and doctrines of men.” The “basic principles of the world” (verse 20) are quite likely the same as the “weak and beggarly elements” which we just covered in Gal. 4:9. The unnecessary rules the Colossians were observing were of human origin. They had nothing to do with whether one should keep the Holy Days as commanded by God.

I told you at the beginning that I would get back to the children. Children, when we take off from school to observe God’s festivals, when we leave home for eight days a few weeks from now, we are obeying the commandment of God in keeping the “feasts of the Lord” (Lev. 23:1). You and your parents are pioneers, doing something that will someday be required of all mankind. We are pioneers not because of our own goodness, but because God chose us and in His grace showed us the truth. As pioneers, we are sometimes persecuted and judged by the outside world because it does not yet understand. But someday it will, and so will all mankind – when all people of nations will keep the Feast of Tabernacles as we are told in Zechariah 14.