Feasts and Festivals are similar to what we call holidays. There are four categories of such holidays: Old Covenant Feasts and Festivals; New Covenant Feasts and Festivals; Jewish Holidays not specifically in the Bible such as Hanukkah, and Christian Holidays not specifically in the Bible. We limit our discussion to Christian Holidays although there are a number of American Holidays that are not intended to be Christian based. Note that the New Testament records some Old Covenant feasts and festivals that Jesus and the apostles participated in primarily before Jesus crucifixion.
Major Old Covenant feasts/festivals exists in the bible. These are:
- Passover (Leviticus 23:5; Matthew 26:2; 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16)
- Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-8; Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 2:41-42; Luke 22:1-13, 14-20; Acts 12:3; 20:6)
- Feast of First Fruits (Leviticus 23:9-14; 1 Cor 15:20)
- Feast of Weeks/Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15- 22; Acts 20:16; 1 Cor 16:8)
- Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:23-25; Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Rev 11:15)
- Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32)
- Feast of Tabernacles/Booths (Leviticus 23:33-43; John 7:2; perhaps Acts 18:20-21)
- Feast of Dedication/Maccabees or Hanukkah or Festival of Lights (John 10:22)
Deuteronomy 16 also records information on various feasts/festivals.
These Old Covenant feasts/festivals were prescribed under the Mosaic Law to be kept by the Israelites under the Old Covenant except for the Feast of Dedication. The Feast of Dedication began during the inter-testament period; that is, during the 400 years between the Old and New Testament periods. This feast celebrates the Maccabean revolt against oppressive invaders who had profaned the Jerusalem temple. The Maccabees were a group of Jews who overcame them and rededicated the temple back to God.
Christians are not required to keep any of the Old Covenant feasts and festivals in letter; the spirit of them may be kept by Christians.
Acts 20:16 indicates that Paul participated in the Feast of Pentecost even as after Jesus crucifixion and resurrection; however, he was a Jew and there is no indication he was required to do so as a Christian. This is similar to circumcision as some times he supported circumcision and sometimes he did not require it.
New Covenant feasts specifically demonstrated and sufficiently named in the New Testament include the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 5:7-8; 1 Cor 11:23-29) and Easter (Acts 12:1-4) . The word translated Easter is the same word translated Passover as in the Jewish Passover. It is translated Easter here to distinguish the Christ Passover per 1 Cor 5:7-8.
Christian holidays that are not specifically demonstrated and named in the New Testament include Christmas.
There is a common sense biblical principle that permits such holidays. This principle consists of the following elements:
- If the Lord specifically commands us to do something then we ought to do it.
- If the Lord specifically commands us not to do something then we ought not to do it.
- If the Lord does not command us to do or not to do something we may do it or not do it so long as there is no biblical principle that prohibits doing it. Examples are going to college to study biology or singing in a worship service a cappella vs. using a musical instrument.
It is the third case that is of interest as the first two are rather straightforward.
The Lord does not specifically command a person to go to college for a science degree nor does the Lord specifically command a person to not do so. Moreover, there is no biblical principle that prohibits studying science. So then that person may choose to do so or not to so. It is simply based on that person’s God-given preference.
Now let’s say in going to college to obtain a science degree, the person is asked to practice performing an abortion using a real human being whose physical life is not in imminent danger due to the pregnancy. This is a change to the curriculum as the student had no idea of this before entering the field of study.
Since, there is a biblical principle that prohibits abortion except in the very rare case where the mother’s physical life is in clear imminent danger, that person would be out of order to participate in such an event. But the problem is not in obtaining a science degree but in participating in one aspect of obtaining the degree.
So now the student must decide to disobey God and participate or refuse to participate in the activity. So what if the student can negotiate an alternative activity due to religious conscience? The study can then continue the field of study; otherwise the student will have to do find another field of study.
Let us consider the question of Christmas. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ held in America on December 25th of each year. No one knows when Christ was born so this date is symbolic. The word Christmas is not listed in the scriptures. However, Matthew 2:1-11 regarding the wise men and Luke 2:6-20 regarding the manger and the shepherds provide biblical foundations for celebrating Christ birth.
There is some controversy as to why it is held on December 25th. Some say it was done so in alignment with a pagan festival and therefor is a pagan holiday; again, this is controversial as it is not known to be true beyond a shadow of doubt.
Why it is held on December 25th is not important since no one knows the specific date of Christ birth. Even if it was held in alignment with a pagan festival to Christianize the festival, that also is not very important. The fact that non-Christians hold celebrations at the same time whether they call it Christmas or Yuletide or something else also is not very important. The fact that some people (Christian and non-Christian) engage in unholy activities such as getting drunk as a part of their holiday also is not very important.
What is important is that it is now intended by Christians to be a Christian holiday to celebrate by way of remembrance the birth of Christ. It is important that Christians not let what others do cause Christians to bow down to the point not recognizing Christ birth in a special way. Christians must not give Satan not power always being mindful that he will want more. Indeed, just because others celebrate Christmas in an unholy way does not mean I cannot celebrate it in a holy manner.
Just like the student I don’t have to participate in the unholy activities; but, I can still celebrate Christmas in my own way. Furthermore, just because some other folks have something else going on at the same time does not invalidate what I do.
Indeed, Christmas is similar to the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah in that neither is prescribed by Moses or Jesus. But Jesus may have participated in the feast (John 10:22). Both are prescribed by human religious authorities but neither violate any biblical principles. Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights as houses and synagogues are sometimes illuminated during its celebration. The use of Christmas Lights parallels this use of lights.
Finally I close with Colossians 2:16-17 which says:
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
Romans 14:1-23 also speak to judging anther concerning days, etc.