This is a continuation of the Biblical Feast Day series that started here.
So far in this series, we have seen that God repeatedly called the feast days His days and gave them to all of His people (not just to the tribe of Judah, aka the Jews). We saw that New Testament believers (both Jew and non-Jew) kept the feast days long after the Savior died and was resurrected. And then we saw scriptures that talk about future feast day observance (like when the Savior returns).
If the Biblical feast days were for all believers in the past and will be for all believers in the future, why don’t believers keep the days now? When exactly did observance of the feast days stop?
Since we can find no evidence for the end of Biblical feast days in the Bible itself, we must look to the pages of history to answer this question. We’ll take a chronological approach.
As a disclaimer before we jump in, I am not a history buff. I have a growing interest in it, but am by no means an expert. What follows are my discoveries as I sought to answer this question about when the feast days ended.
The information I am presenting here is surely not exhaustive, as is evidenced by the fact that I pretty much skipped the second and third centuries. My lack of detail in those centuries was not due to lack of relevant activity, but because my waning interest in wading through the history intersected with my self-imposed deadline on getting this post done.
Still, the information I was able to gather seems to paint a clear picture of how the church got separated from the feast days.
If you are anything like me and have a hard time with dates and details, you can skip right to the recap. 🙂
49 AD – Emperor Claudius, according to Roman historian Suetonius, expelled the Jews from Rome since they “rioted constantly at the instigation of Chrestus.” (Suetonius, Claudius 25, 4) Scholars think “Christus” was probably an erroneous transcription of “Christ.” This expulsion of the Jews was the same event that forced Messianic Jews, Aquila and his wife Priscilla, to leave Rome (Acts 18:2). We can see that at this time, there was no differentiation between Messianic Jews (eventually known as Christians) and Jews. Both groups worshiped together and were mostly indistinguishable.
62 AD (or possibly 69 AD, my studies weren’t conclusive) – Church leader James (brother of the Savior) died. He had been influential in holding together the Messianic Jews, incoming former Gentiles, and non-Messianic Jews. (See his role in the Jerusalem Council as an example.)
66 AD – The first major Jewish-Roman war occurred. Jews attempted to regain national independence from the Roman government, but by 70 AD their revolt had been squashed and their temple was destroyed. The Roman government, which up until this point, had shown respect for the Jews, now began to violently react against them. The loss of the temple combined with the death of James, caused greater division between the Messianic and non-Messianic church.
69-79 AD – Under Vespasian, both the Sanhedrin and the office of the High Priest were abolished and worship at the temple site was forbidden. He also introduced the fiscus judaicus,a fiscal tax imposed on Jews and even those “who without publicly acknowledging that faith yet lived as Jews.” (Suetonius, Domitiuanus 12, LCL, p. 365)
Contempt for Jewish practices, including the Sabbath and feast days, became pervasive throughout Rome, as is evidenced in the literary works of the day:
- Quintilian alluded to Moses as the founder “of the Jewish superstition” (Quintillian, Institutio oratoria 3, 7, 21)
- Plutarch labeled the Jews as a superstitious nation and singled out their Sabbath-keeping (which he regarded as a time for drunkenness) as one of their many barbarian customs (Plutarch, De superstitione 3)
- Tacitus said of the Jews, “All their customs are perverse and disgusting” (Tacitus, Historiae 55)
Second and Third Centuries
The Roman persecution of the Jews and all who lived as Jews was a major factor in the distinction Christians began making between their practices and Jewish practices over these two centuries.
321 AD – Constantine, a new Christian “convert” looking to unify his kingdom, which consisted of a large segment of pagans whose disdain for Jews had only deepened over the centuries, legally changed Sabbath to Sunday, saying, “Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd.” (Life of Constantine, book 3, chapter 18)
325 AD – Passover was officially changed to Easter. “At the Council of Nicaea, exhibiting unwarranted hatred of the Jews, as Emperor of Rome, Constantine established his infamous ‘Easter Edict,’ cursing and cutting off all Believers who would dare follow any traditions of the hated ‘Jews.’ (Hargis, David. THE CONSTANTINE CONSPIRACY White Stone, Virginia: House of David Herald, 1994.)
At the start of the first century, believers in the Messiah worshiped right alongside Jews who didn’t believe that the Messiah had come. The Biblical evidence we see of Messianic Jews and former Gentiles keeping the Sabbath and feast days alongside their non-Messianic brothers is backed up by historical evidence. When Jews were forced out of Rome in 49 AD because some of them rioted against Christ, all of them left. The Messianic Jews (who were not likely engaged in the riots) were included in the expulsion.
When non-Messianic Jews continued to rise up, the Roman government began cracking down severely on all Jews both militarily and fiscally. Hostile attitudes towards the Jews became pervasive, as evidenced in many literary works of the day. These factors, combined with the loss of the temple and the loss of James, a church leader who helped keep the two segments of the church together, caused the two Jewish groups to segregate. The Messianic/Christian segment began looking for ways to differentiate themselves from their persecuted Jewish brothers.
Distinctions in their practices continued to be made over the course of the second and third centuries. In the fourth century these distinctions were finalized when Constantine legally changed the days of worship.
The church has never been the same since.
The feast days only ended because traditions of men nullified the commandments of God, something our Savior often spoke against:
- “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said …But you say … thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:8-13)
- “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat [a seat where the law, as written down by Moses, was read], so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23:2-3)
- “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded …But you say … So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:1-9)
If we want to walk in the commandments of God instead of nullifying them by the traditions of men, we will keep the feasts.
Resources for further consideration
Here is a video that recaps much of what I’ve explored in my previous Biblical Feast Day posts and explores the question, “How long is forever?” God said to keep His feast days forever, throughout all of our generations, so did forever get fulfilled at the Savior’s coming, death, and resurrection?
For further reading, you can check out this excerpt from a helpful book about the Biblical feast days, A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays.
In the next post we’ll explore the prophetic nature of the spring feast days.