Mystery of the Magi: Who Were They?

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Mystery of the Magi: Who Were They?

by Kelly McDonald, Jr.

The Upcoming Fall Holy Day Season is the time for us to remember the incarnation. This is when the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. In John 1:14, we read, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (KJV). The Greek word translated as dwelt is skenoo. Its root word is skene; it can refer to the booths from Leviticus chapter 23. In other words, Christ came down and tabernacled with us. One reason we celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles is to remember the perfect life of Christ, who is the Word.

Among the mysteries surrounding Christ tabernacling among men is that of the Magi. We read about this event in Matthew chapter 2.

“1  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men [Greek: Magoi – literally translated as Magi] from the east to Jerusalem, 2  Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:1-3).

In Western culture, we often think that there were three Magi. However, the Bible does not say how many Magi there were; they brought three gifts (Matthew 2:11). But there are important questions regarding their appearance. How did they know that the King of the Jews was being born? We know the star guided them, but how did they know such specifics about him? Why would they look to worship a Jewish king? Why was Herod and the city of Jerusalem troubled at their appearance? The only other individuals who knew about his royalty were the angels, Mary and Joseph (Luke 1:31-33).

When the Magi came to worship Christ, He was in a house (not a manger – Matthew 2:11). This means the Magi did not arrive at the time of Christ’s birth. These individuals must have been very important because they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod. Due to their visit, Herod wanted all the children two and under to be put to death.

To understand the identity of the Magi, we must go back far in time. In the period leading up to King David’s reign, the tribes of Israel were divided between two groups. In the north dwelt Israel; Judah dwelt in the south. During Saul’s life, a distinction is made between them.  “He numbered them in Bezek; and the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand” (I Samuel 11:8, KLV). David is recorded as ruling over both. “In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years over all Israel and Judah” (2 Samuel 5:5).

This united Kingdom continued into the reign of Solomon, David’s son. In I Kings 11, we are informed that Solomon turned away from God and fell into idolatry. As a result, the northern tribes of Israel were separated from Judah during the reign of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. The two groups – Judah and Israel – became known as two separate nations.

“20 When all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the congregation, and made him king over all Israel. There was no one who followed David’s house, except for the tribe of Judah only. 21 When Rehoboam had come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, a hundred and eighty thousand chosen men, who were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon” (I Kings 12:20-21).

The house of Judah was ruled from its capital of Jerusalem. Eventually, Israel developed its own capital named Samaria. It was founded by Omri.

“23 In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri began to reign over Israel for twelve years. He reigned six years in Tirzah. 24 He bought the hill Samaria of Shemer for two talents[a] of silver; and he built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill” (I Kings 16:23-24).

Omri’s son was named Ahab. He is one of the more well recognized people in the Bible because of his wickedness. “In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel. Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. 30 Ahab the son of Omri did that which was evil in the LORD’s sight above all that were before him” (1 Kings 16:29-30).

Historical records from two different people groups confirm that other nations identified the northern tribes by the name Israel: the Moabites and Assyrians. The Moabite stone, which dates to around 830-840 BC, reads: “Now Om(r)i, King of Israel, he oppressed Moab many days, for Chemosh was angry with his l(a)nd. His son succeeded him, and he also said, I will oppress Moab. In my days he said, (Let us go)” (Records of the Past, vol. 11, p 165).

The Assyrians also discussed the Kingdom of Israel. The ruler Shalmaneser listed several nations he defeated and the number of troops from each peoples. Among the kings mentioned is Ahab, the Israelite; his name in Hebrew is Achav.

“From the city of Argana I departed. To the city of Karkara I approached. The city of Karkara, the city of (His) Majesty, I threw down, dug up (and) burned with fire. 1200 chariots, 1200 magazines, (and) 20,000 men of Rimmon’-hidri of Damascus, 700 chariots, 700 magazines, (and) 10,000 men of Irkhuleni of Hamath, 2000 chariots, (and) 10,000 men of Ahab (Akhabbu) of the country of the Israelites (Sir’ila-a-a)…” (ibid, vol. 3, p 99).

Omri and Ahab both are identified as Israelites (the Assyrian word for Israel in this text is Sir’ila-a-a). Not long after this, the appellation changed. In the 840s BC, Shalmanesser III erected an Obelisk, or erect stone monument. In it is engraved pictures from different peoples he conquered with inscriptions. The Obelisk is currently on display at the British Museum, so it can be viewed online. Among the kings depicted on this monument is Jehu (Hebrew name: YAHUA). On it, he is bowing down before the Assyrian king and paying tribute.

“The tribute of Iaua (Jehu) son of Khumri (Omri): silver, gold, bowls of gold, vessels of gold, goblets of gold, pitchers of gold, lead, sceptres for the King’s hand, (and) staves: I received” (ibid, vol 5, p 41).

During the reign of Jehu, there was a sudden change in how the same Assyrian King addressed the Israelites. Instead of using the term Sir’ila-a-a, he called them the Khumri. Scholars agree that this Assyrian word is a reference to Omri. He was the King that founded Samaria. From the reign of Jehu forward, the Assyrians labeled the northern tribes by this name or the Samarians (after the name of their capital).

There was a legitimate reason for this transition. The weekly and annual Sabbaths were revealed to remind us that God is our Creator and that He makes us holy (Exodus 31:12-17). There was even a special national application to this understanding. Starting with Jereboam, the northern tribes abandoned God and the Sabbaths (I Kings 12:26-33). During the reign of Ahab and his wife Jezebel, God sent Elijah and Elisha to perform miracles so that the nation would turn back to God. Jehu, who reigned after them, had a chance to change the nation’s destiny. Unfortunately, they remained in disobedience (see 2 Kings 10:28-33); they eventually lost their identity. Jesus called them lost in His day (Matthew 10:1-6).

In the 730s BC, the Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser III, fought wars with both Judah and Israel. One of his inscriptions mentioned both groups. The inscription is a little damaged, but we can still gain valuable insight from it.

“2 ….. (in the) course of my expedition the tribute which 3 …. (AZARI)AH of the land of Judah like …. 4 …. Azariah of the land of Judah in …. 29 (I imposed upon them). The tribute of Kustaspi of the city of Kummuhai, of Razinu of the land of Damascus, of Minihimmi of the city Samirinai…” (ibid, vol 5, pp 45, 48)

This inscription references both Azariah and Menahem from the Bible. “In the thirty ninth year of Azariah king of Judah, Menahem the son of Gadi began to reign over Israel for ten years in Samaria” (2 Kings 15:17). Notice that even the Assyrians designated them as ruling over separate peoples.  Fragments of the same ruler go on to describe the house of Israel again.

“…The land of Beth-Omri (Khumri)…. the population …. the goods of its people (and the furniture to) the land of Assyria I sent PAKAHA (Pekah) their King they had slain . . . HUSIH (Hoshea) to the kingdom over them I appointed . 10 talents of gold, 1000 of silver…I received from them as their (tri)bute…” (ibid, p 52).

This inscription indicates that the first deportation of Israelites happened in the 730s BC. Tiglath also mentions Pekah and Hoshea, the last two kings of Israel. The Biblical records the same details. “In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria” (2 Kings 15:29).   Hoshea killed Pekah (2 Kings 15:30).

The Bible discusses the captivity of the northern tribes further. They were sent to various places, with the final captivity taking place between 721 and 718 BC. “In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kings 17:6).

The deportation locations mentioned in 2 Kings 17:6 are somewhat debated. Some of these locations are closer to the capital of Nineveh (Halah and Gozan), while others such as the cities of the Medes, are farther away. Generally speaking, the locations of exile stretch from southeastern Turkey out towards eastern Iran.  This captivity is discussed further by Inscriptions from Sargon II.

“…I plundered the district of Samaria and the entire house of Omri (Khoumri)… “My mighty hand reached from the town of Hasmar until the town of Simaspatti in Media the far one, which is situated at the rising sun, the lands of Namri and Ellip, Bet-Hamban, Parsua, Van, Armenia, Kaska (Colchis), Tabal, until the Moschians, I instituted my Lieutenants as Governors over them and I imposed to them the prostration of the tributes like to the Assyrians…besieged, I occupied the town of Samaria and I brought into captivity 27,280 persons; I took before all parts over them 50 chariots, the part of my kingdom. I took them to Assyria…” (ibid, vol 7, pp 26, 28).

The bull inscription of Khorsabad (722-721), also constructed by Sargon II, discussed more about this event. “…he conquered the countries of an Karalla, Andia, Zikirtu, Kjsasi, Kharkhar, and placed Media and Ellip under the dominion of Assur….He swept away Samaria, and the whole house of Omri (bit-Khumri) and Kaska. He subdued the country of Tubal, and the whole of Bet-Burutas, he overcame Egypt near the city of Raphia, and placed Hanun, King of Gaza, in slavery…” (ibid, vol 11, p 18).

Sennacherib, a later Assyrian King, took a great number from the southern tribes into captivity during the reign of Hezekiah. This is a detail that is often overlooked in the research of this subject. Thus, a significant number of the tribe of Judah went into captivity – no mention of Israel is found.

“And Hezekiah King of Judah, who had not bowed down at my feet Forty six of his strong cities, his castles, and the smaller towns…in their neighbourhood beyond number…with warlike engines…I attacked and captured. 200,150 people small and great, male and female, horses, mares, asses, camels, oxen and sheep beyond number, from the midst of them I carried off and distributed them as a spoil. He himself, like a bird in a cage, inside Jerusalem his royal city I shut him up…” (ibid, vol 1, p 38).

While the northern tribes were first taken captive decades before this event, they were eventually joined by a significant number of their brothers from the southern tribes.

There is one linguistic detail that is necessary for the study of this subject. Edward Lipinski, in his work “Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar”, notes the following: “In Neo-Assyrian [g] and [k] seem to be positional variants of the same phoneme. The voiced pronunciation is attested in intervocalic position by Aramaic and Hebrew transcriptions, e.g. mngsr for Mannu-ki-sarri…” (page 145).

The well-known Assyrianologist Archibald Henry Sayce said, “In Babylonian g commonly takes the place of kh (as also in later Assyrian)…” (Sayce, p 48).

Thus, the kh sound in Assyrian is sometimes interchanged with g in Assyrian or when one transliterates from Assyrian to Babylonian. The sound kh in Khoumri is interchangeable with the g sound.

The Assyrian kings wrote letters during their respective reigns. These letters reference a people group called the Gimiri or Gimiraa. This would correspond to the Israelites or Khoumri. For one example, I have included an excerpt from Letter 1237.

“Belushezib to King Esarhaddon:…Let the cavalry and the Dakku invade the Cimmerians (Gimiraa), who have spoken saying, “The Mannai pertain to you, we have not interfered.” Certainly this is a lie. They are the offspring of outcasts, they recognize neither the oath of a god nor a (human) agreement. Let the chariots and baggage wagons take up a position on either side of the pass; (then) with the horses and the Dakku, let them enter and take the plunder of the plain of Mannai; and let them return at the pass let them bivouac once or twice they shall enter and…plundered and the Cimmerians (Gimiraa)…” (Waterman, pp 358-359).

Notice that the translators reckon Gimiraa as the Cimmerians. They are mentioned alongside a group called the Mannai, who dwelt in modern-day southeastern Turkey/northeastern Iran. This is in the same area that the northern tribes of Israel were sent! There are other records that shed light on the Gimiraa; one of them is the Behistun Inscription.

In the early 500s BC, Darius the Persian had a massive inscription carved in rock. It is called the Behistun Inscription, and it is located in modern-day Iran. It is the Rosetta Stone of ancient languages. On it, he proclaimed his victory over conquered peoples in three languages: Babylonian, Susan (or Elamite), and Persian.

Each section begins with Darius proclaiming himself king of kings and listing provinces he controlled. We have an excerpt from section VI in each of the three languages.

Behistun Inscription

Babylonian: “6. Ba-ah-tar (matu) Su-ug-du (matu) Pa-ar-u-pa-ra-e-sa-an-na (matu) Gi-mi-ri (matu) Sa-at-ta-gu-u…”

English translation: “VI. Bactria, Sogdiana, Paruparaesanna, the land of the Cimmerians, Sattagydia…” (Behistun Inscription, 161-162)

Susan: 13. Paksisaiak (m)Suktas-pe aiak [(m)Parruparae]sana aiak 14. (m)Sakka-pe aiak…”

English translation: “Bactria, and Sogdiana, and Parruparaesana, and Scythia…” (ibid, page 96)

Persian: “Bakhtris Sugjuda Ga(n)dara Saka…”

English translation: “VI. Bactria, Sogdiana, Gandara, Scythia…” (ibid, page 4)

It is fascinating that the term Gimiri (translated as Cimmerians) was considered synonymous with the Sakka or Scythian peoples in other languages. Keep in mind that the translators from the Behistun Inscription are different than those from the Assyrian Royal Correspondence we quoted earlier. The Gimiraa are described as the offspring of outcasts, which is a description we would expect of the northern tribes of Israel.

The Cimmerians are not mentioned in historical documents until 714 BC; they are mentioned in as dwelling in modern-day Southeastern Turkey (Aruz, Farkas, and Fino, p 148). The Scythians are not mentioned as a separate group until the 670s, when they were allied with the Medes (ibid, p 25). The first two mentions of these people groups are not long after the captivity of the northern tribes. Even the place the tribes were taken to (land of the Medes) is mentioned. Scythian burial mounds, also called kurgans, date to the same time period (Kuz’mina, pp 390-393; Bliss, pp 52-52-55).

From these primary sources, we are able to link the terms Khoumri and Gimiri in Assyrian and Babylonian with the ancient peoples of the Cimmerians, Sakka, and Scythians in the Susan and Persian languages. They are synonymous with each other.

According to Herodotus, the first Scythian Empire controlled all of Asia for a period of about 28 years (book 1, sections 104-106). They are mentioned with the Medes. Once again, we have a reference to the Medes and the Scythians within a reasonable time period of the captivity.

While Scythian dominance was temporary, they would have another opportunity at greatness in the ancient world. The Roman geographer and historian Strabo (lived 63 BC to 24 AD) wrote about a revival of Scythian dominance. Recalling the time period about 240 BC, he wrote:

Afterwards Arsaces [Arsakes], a Scythian, (with the Parni, called nomads, a tribe of the Dahae, who live on the banks of the Ochus) invaded Parthia, and made himself master of it. At first both Arsaces and his successors were weakened by maintaining wars with those who had been deprived of their territory. Afterwards they became so powerful, in consequence of their successful  warfare, continually depriving their neighbours of portions of their territory, that at last they possession of all the country within the Euphrates…They now have an empire comprehending so large an extent of country, and so many nations, that it almost rivals that of the Romans in magnitude. This is to be attributed to their mode of life and manners which have indeed much of the barbarous and Scythian character…” (Strabo, 11.9.2).

In about 240 BC, Arsakes and his Scythian peoples conquered the area known as Parthia (eastern Iran). The Parthian Empire is reckoned from Arsakes’ reign forward. It was composed of Scythians and had their cultural influence. Arsakes is depicted on the coinage of Parthian kings from the 200s BC to the early centuries AD (see figure one as a demonstration of this). He was so important that all future Parthian kings retained his name as part of theirs. Strabo also records this.

“Such also is the custom among the Parthians; for all have the name Arsacae, although each has his peculiar name of Orodes, Phraates, or some other appellation” (15.1.36). Elsewhere Strabo tells us about other tribal names of the Scythians: Daae, Massagetae and Sacae (11.8.2). This Scythian-Parthian Kingdom had a special class of individuals who chose their kings. They were called the Magi.

“…We have enlarged on the subject of the Parthian customs in the sixth book of historical commentaries, and in the second of those, which are a sequel to Polybius we shall omit what we said, in order to avoid repetition; adding this only, that Psedidonius affirms that the council of the Parthians is composed of two classes, one of relatives, (of the royal family) and another of wise men and magi, by both of which kings are chosen” (Strabo, 11.9.3).

The Parthian ruling class was composed of two groups. One were relatives of the royal family and the other were wise men and Magi. The Kings of Parthia were chosen by these individuals. The implications are that the Magi and wise men chose from the royal family of the Parthians.

The Parthians and Romans had a rocky history. Among the worst military disasters in Roman history was the battle of Carrhae (southern Turkey). In 53 BC, the Parthians defeated over 40,000 Roman troops; most of them were either killed or taken captive.

In 40 BC, the Parthians conquered Judea and set Antigonus Matthatias over the King of the Jewish people. It is interesting that the Parthians set Antigonus, a Jewish man and Hasmonean descendant, to be the king and high priest of Judea. They could have established whomever they wanted to be their puppet ruler. Instead, they chose a native born.

During this same time, a man named Herod, an Edomite by birth, sought to rule Judea and Jerusalem. He gained the support of the Romans; they recognized him as the legitimate king.  After 3 years of fighting and a siege of Jerusalem, Herod prevailed. He had Antigonus put to death by the Romans. This was the first time the Romans put a king to death. Antigonus was the last of the Hasmonean rulers.

Another clash between the two Empires occurred in 36 BC. Marcus Antony tried to invade Parthian territory and suffered a humiliating campaign. Tens of thousands of Roman troops died in this debacle.

We return to one of our original questions: Why were Herod and Jerusalem alarmed at the coming of the Magi? Herod was installed by Rome, who was a bitter enemy of the Parthians. Herod overthrew Antigonus, the Parthian-chosen king of Judea. The Magi came from Parthia to honor a king – and Herod was likely concerned that this king would replace him in Jerusalem.

The residents certainly did not want war or bloodshed. Recall that the Roman-supported coup of Herod involved a siege against Jerusalem. Herod tried to kill all the babies under 2 years old.

The Parthian King in this time, Phraates IV, was getting older. He died approximately 2 BC (some sources say as early as 4 BC). The Magi were entrusted with the task of finding candidates for the throne of their Kingdom. I have a coin of Phraates IV (pictured in figure two). Perhaps not coincidentally, face is looking towards a star. It was a star that led the Magi to Jesus (Matthew 2:2).

The Parthians were descended from Israel through the Scythian/Khoumri lineage. There were also Jews who lived among them, as Assyrian kings took Judeans captive in the reign of Sennacerib. The appearance of the Magi can only mean that Jesus was considered a relative of the kingly line of these Scythians/Parthians. Phraates IV died before or near the time that the Magi arrived. They were looking for the King of the Jews because these were the peoples that ruled over them.

They prostrated themselves before Him, which was an act of submission to a ruler. They brought Him gifts fitting royalty. What gifts will you bring when you worship your King this Fall Holy Day Season?

Bibliography

Aruz, Farkas, and Fino, eds. The Golden Deer of Eurasia. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Symposia. New York, 2006. pp 25, 148.

Behistun Inscription. Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities. The Sculptures and Inscriptions of Darius the Great on the Rock of Behistun in Persia. British Museum, London: 1907.

Bliss, Frank. Social and Economic Change in the Pamirs. Nicola Pacult and Sonia Guss, trans. New York: Routledge, 2006. pp 52-55.

Catholic Encyclopedia 1911: Captivities of the Israelites

Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition: Phraates (IV).

Herodotus. The History. Greene, David, trans. The University of Chicago Press, 1987. pp 82-83.

Jewish Encyclopedia 1905: Antigonus Mattathias; Ashkenaz

Kuz’mina, Elena E. The Origin of the Indo-Iranians. Boston: Brill, 2007. pp 390-393.

Lipinski, Edward. “Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar”. Sterling, 2001. p 145.

Sayce, Archibald Henry. Lectures upon the Assyrian Language and Syllabary. Oxford, 1877. p 48).

Strabo. H.C. Hamilton and W. Falconer, trans. The Geography. 1856: Vol 2, pp 250-251. 1857: Vol 3 p 97.

The Society of Biblical Archeology. Records of the Past. Vols 1, 3, 5, 7, 11. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, Late 1800s. (pages referenced above).

Waterman, Leroy. Royal Correspondence of the Assyrian Empire. University of Michigan Press, 1930. pp 358-359.

A further resource for recommended reading: Parthian Coins and History by Fred Shore.

Bible verses from: King James Version. Public Domain; Kingdom Life Version:  Old and New Testaments with Text Notes and Words of   Jesus in Red Letters, 1st Edition, Public Domain.

All language references come from Strong’s Concordance or The New Greek English Interlinear New Testament.

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Did Constantine Influence the Sabbath?

Did Constantine Influence the Sabbath?

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Among the more commonly held beliefs in the Sabbath community is that the Roman Emperor Constantine changed the Sabbath or passed laws prohibiting its observance. Those who hold this view typically claim that it occurred at the Council of Nicea in 325 or as a law passed in 321 AD.

Before we delve into this subject, it is important to understand how proper research is done.

When we undertake a scholarly review of a subject, it is best to start with the primary source material available to us. A primary source is a person or object that records historical facts about the time period being examined. If someone just writes a book or article and claims “Constantine changed the Sabbath” then that claim is only valid if it is supported by primary source evidence. Otherwise, hearsay becomes the basis for fact and no objective truth can be established.

From primary sources, we are able to draw a degree of certainty about events that happened in a specific time period. The more primary sources we have, the greater degree of certainty that can be achieved. When it comes to Constantine, the primary sources are plenteous and are broken down into three categories: 1) the laws of the time period, 2) preserved writings about the council of Nicea, and 3) contemporary writers who recorded Constantine’s reign.

The primary sources regarding laws passed during the reign of Constantine are chiefly contained in two annals of Roman Law. The first is called the Codex Theodosianus, and it was issued by Theodosius II in 438. The second is the Codex Justinianus, which was issued by Justinian in the 530s. These codices are compilations of Roman laws categorized by subject matter. English versions of them are available (I have access to both). Among the laws issued by Constantine, not a single law mentioned the Sabbath.

The Council of Nicea is the second primary source usually cited in regards to this subject. To view the proceedings of this council in Latin (with some notes in Greek), one must view volume 2 of Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collection edited by Joannes Dominicus Mansi in 1759. It is listed under the title “Sanctum Concilium Nicaenum Primum Generale” starting on page 635. To review details from this council in English, read A history of the Christian Councils from the Original Documents by Charles Joseph Hefele, translated into English by William R Clark, second edition from 1883. The historical background starts on page 231, but the canons (with commentary) are found on pages 375-435. Not a single canon from Nicea referenced the Sabbath.

A third source for Constantine’s reign is the historians who lived in his time period. The historian Eusebius wrote a brief history about Constantine’s life and reign called “The Life of Constantine”. Another man named Lactantius, who was the personal tutor for Constantine’s son Crispus, also recorded some events. These two primary sources do not allude to the Sabbath as it relates to Constantine.

Setting the Record Straight

Let’s set the record straight. Firstly, no one can change the Sabbath. Think about that assertion for a moment. The Sabbath has been and ALWAYS will be Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. No one can change that eternal truth. Secondly, primary sources from the time period indicate that Constantine did not attempt to ban or forbid Sabbath observance. How did confusion arise concerning this subject? There’s misunderstanding about this subject because Constantine took actions that indirectly affected the Sabbath. Let’s explore this further.

On March 7 321 AD, he approved the “day of the sun” as a rest day for the empire. Translated into English, the first part of this law reads: “All judges, city dwellers, skill workers, and the offices of all should honor the venerable day of the sun and rest. However, those placed in the country freely serve the fields of culture…” (CJ.3.12.2: Imperator Constantinus).

In the Latin manuscript, the phrase translated as “venerable day of the sun” is venerabilis dies solis. Constantine’s decree was based upon his admiration for the celestial body we call the sun. People in the country (farmers) were still required to work on the day. Notice that no worship is mentioned in the law. The decree did not mention God or Jesus Christ. In fact, the day after this Sun-day law, he enacted a law which allowed pagan soothsayers to enter buildings where lightning had struck (CT: 16.10.1). This decree upheld the ancient Roman custom.

On July 3 of the same year, he issued a second law which freed slaves from labor on Sunday and suspended certain legal proceedings. Sometime after these Sun-day laws, he ruled that the marketplaces were to be open when the special Roman market days (called nundinae) occurred on Sundays (Orelli, Inscriptionum Latinarum, 140).

Many people are not aware that Constantine called for the Council of Nicea to be held. He oversaw its proceedings. During it he pronounced that Christians should not keep Passover like the Jewish people. Instead, he conveyed that people should follow the custom of the Roman Church, who celebrated Passover on Sunday (Euseb. Life of Constantine, 3:17-18, Socrates, Church History, 1:9; Theodoret, Church History, 1:9). The Roman Church used this yearly worship on Sunday as the reasoning to push Sunday rest every week. Despite this decree, significant numbers of Christians still honored Passover in the Biblically prescribed way (see John Chrysostom’s work Eight Homilies Against the Jews).

Lastly, the historian Eusebius wrote that Constantine required all his troops to pray on Sunday (which he called the ‘Lord’s Day’ – Life of Const, bk 4:18-19). We have no corroborating evidence to verify this claim by the writer. Constantine continued to honor others gods decades into his reign and he was not baptized until just before his death. Moreover, Eusebius was an ardent opponent of the Sabbath (Odom, “Sabbath and Sunday in Early Christianity”, 292). When put together, these details make it difficult to conclude that Constantine would force anyone to pray to one God on Sunday.

Constantine’s two Sun-day laws created a government-mandated imitation day of rest beside the true Sabbath, which was still being observed. Thus, an entire generation of Christians grew up honoring the seventh-day Sabbath because of the Bible but also resting on Sunday because it was an enforced civil law. In other words, people were socialized to rest on Sunday.

Another important development during his reign was the interweaving of the Roman Empire with the Roman Catholic Church. These events opened the door for more stringent Sunday laws with supposed Christian significance starting with the reign of Theodosius I from 379 to 395 (we reviewed this in the Jan-Feb edition of TSS). Despite these influences, most Christians continued to honor the True Sabbath into the 400s AD (see Augustine, Letters 36 and 82 and Socrates, Church History, book 5, chapter 22).

We can conclude that Constantine did not attempt to ban Sabbath observance. Some of his decrees and political activity indirectly impacted the Sabbath over a long period of time. He laid the foundation for later Roman Sunday laws supported by the Roman Church.  As the Roman Church became more influential in the political realm, they persuaded temporal authorities to war against Sabbatarians. Constantine influence the Sabbath indirectly in ways that developed over centuries and in some ways has lasted down to our modern times.

 

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The Art of Delayed Gratification

The Art of Delayed Gratification

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In our society, we are sounded by instant gratification. Text messages, social media, 24/7 news updates, emails, and of course phone calls are a routine experience for the average American. In addition to this, we have access to fast food, online ordering, 2-day shipping, and moment by moment weather updates; the list goes on and on. These conveniences are reaching beyond other first world countries into the developing and underdeveloped areas of the world.

While there can be positives to each of these things, there is also a downside. Unfortunately, having instant access to so many things has caused many to forget the art of delayed gratification.

God does not dwell in time the way that we do. “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4). He is not pressured or rushed; His will is carried out at His pace. This makes Him the Master at delayed gratification.

When something is God’s will, that does not mean it will happen very quickly. Consider some examples:

Noah and his family were never told how long they would be on the Ark with the animals. They were on the ark for about 1 year.

God promised Abram (who was later renamed Abraham) that he would have a child in Genesis 15:1-7. It was over 13 years before this promise came to pass.

God gave Joseph a dream that his family would bow down to him. It took about 13 years for this to come to pass.

The Prophet Isaiah received a revelation from God that Immanuel would be born as a sign from God. This was a prophecy about Christ being born; it came to pass about 700 years after Isaiah received the promise (Isaiah 7:14).

These are just a few of many examples we could give. When God gave the promise to each of these people, He never set a time table on when these events would come to pass. While a promise from God can be very encouraging, we are often frustrated while we wait for it to come to pass.

There can be negative consequences to rushing God’s timing. Consider Abram for just a moment. Sarai and Abram rushed God’s timing in having a baby. Abram conceived a child with Sarai’s maidservant Hagar. The child was named Ishmael and his birth caused conflict within the family.

Another interesting story is found in the book of I Samuel. King Saul was asked by Samuel to wait seven days for his arrival. At the end of seven days, Samuel would make a special sacrifice to honor God.

“8 He stayed seven days, according to the time set by Samuel; but Samuel didn’t come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9 Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering to me here, and the peace offerings.” He offered the burnt offering. 10 It came to pass that as soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him. 11 Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul said, “Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you didn’t come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines assembled themselves together at Michmash; 12 therefore I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down on me to Gilgal, and I haven’t entreated the favor of Yahweh.’ I forced myself therefore, and offered the burnt offering.” 13 Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of Yahweh your God, which he commanded you; for now Yahweh would have established your kingdom on Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom will not continue. Yahweh has sought for himself a man after his own heart, and Yahweh has appointed him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept that which Yahweh commanded you” (I Samuel 13:8-14).

Saul pre-empted the appearance of Samuel by just a few moments. If he would have waited a little longer, God would have brought about a complete victory for Israel. Saul’s dynasty would have been established forever. The consequences were definitely not worth the rushed action.

Saul allowed what he saw to rush the sacrifice. People were fleeing; he was concerned. He allowed the size of the enemy to steer him towards action.

Abram and Sarai did not see results in the timing they liked, so they rushed to have a child. Each of these decisions caused pain and heartache. In Saul’s case, just a few moments made the difference between obedience and disobedience. It was years before the promise came to pass for Abram and Sarai.

In both cases, trusting in God’s promise and timing would have produced more fruitful results.

We want what we want when we want it… God wants it for us when we are ready for it.

We will continue this series in our next blog.

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Did the Resurrection have any impact on the Sabbath?

Did the Resurrection have any impact on the Sabbath?

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Lamb

Some claim that the resurrection of Christ changed the Sabbath. There are some problems with this claim.

First of all, there is not a single verse in the New Testament that states “The Sabbath as changed by the resurrection”. The authors of the New Testament never mention the two subjects in the same context. The Sabbath was established in Genesis and continues into the New Heavens and New Earth (Isaiah 66:22-24).

Also, if we look at the book of Acts they preached about the resurrection and still honored the Sabbath. Did the resurrection of Jesus change their view of the Sabbath?  We have some examples below.

Acts 13:13-15

“13 Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. 14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”

Pisidian Antioch is in the region known as Galatia. Paul wrote an entire letter to the churches in this region (the letter to the Galatians). We can clearly see that Paul practiced the Sabbath. Let’s look at the content of Paul’s preaching.

Acts 13:28-31

“28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. 29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. 30 But God raised him from the dead: 31 And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people.”

Paul preached about the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. After preaching on Christ’s death and resurrection, not once did he mention it changing the day of worship away from the Sabbath. On the contrary, they continued to honor the Sabbath even after hearing this message.

Acts 13:42-45, 48

“42 And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. 44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.… 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed..”

After hearing the message of Jesus’ resurrection, the people wanted to hear more about Jesus on the next Sabbath. Clearly there is no connection between the resurrection message and the Sabbath being changed. But, there are more details to learn from these verses.

In Acts 13:43, Paul taught them to continue in the grace of God. In verse 44, they met on the Sabbath with Jews AND Gentiles. He taught them about grace as they obeyed the Sabbath. This proves that grace and Law are not contradictory concepts. Gentiles were there and believed in Jesus.

Acts 17:1-4

“1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, 3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. 4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.”

In Acts 17, Paul preached in the city of Thessalonica. The writer of Acts is clear to point out that Paul’s manner or custom was to attend the synagogue on Sabbath. Greeks also attended to hear the message – and many them believed. In fact, a larger number of Greeks believed in Jesus than the Jewish people (only some of them believed). The resurrection of Jesus was the main content of Paul’s message; the Sabbath remained unchanged.

If the resurrection had such an obvious and unmistakable impact on the Sabbath – then why wouldn’t the first disciples receive and spread that message? If the resurrection had such an obvious impact on the Sabbath, then you would think that Jewish people would especially need to hear this, right? Well, they did not need to hear it. Keep in mind – there is not a single verse in the New Testament applies resurrection to changing the Sabbath.

When we hear people give reasons why they think the Sabbath has been changed or is no longer relevant, none of their reasons are found in the New Testament.

When Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth, He honored the Sabbath. It was his custom. He chose this day, above all others he could choose, to fulfill the verses in Isaiah concerning the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 14:17-21). Jesus also said the following:

“27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).

In these two verses, Christ declared that the Sabbath was made for man – not for Jews or Israelites. It was established in Genesis 2:1-3 before God made any distinction of nations. He also proclaimed that He was Lord of the Sabbath. It is the only day of the week over which He proclaimed Himself Lord.

The resurrection had no impact on the Sabbath.

God bless!

Kelly

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The Timeline of Christ’s Passion

The Timeline of Christ’s Passion

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price for the sins of humanity with His own life. He laid down His life to show His love for us. Did you know that the end of Christ’s earthly life occurred during the Passover season? This was the season in which God chose to show His love for the world. The timeline of events from His last Passover through His resurrection is sometimes called the Passion of Christ.

Before we can understand this timeline of events, we must first understand the Passover Season. To delve deeper in this subject, we must first review some details from the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the foundation of knowledge for the New Testament. It is the backdrop for all events in the New Testament. The Old Testament is quoted hundreds of time in the New Testament. Thus, to FULLY understand events in the New Testament, we need a grasp on the Old Testament. This will make the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ come to life.

The second detail we must grasp is how time is reckoned in the Bible. When Jesus was on earth, He only gave us one sign. “39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, but no sign will be given it but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39-40). In Jonah 1:17, the Bible records that Jonah “…was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

If this was the ONLY sign, it seems that it would be important to know it. What does three days and three nights really mean? The Roman Catholic timeline of Christ’s Passion is as follows: He had Passover and was arrested on a Thursday evening. He then suffered and died on Friday afternoon; lastly, He resurrected on Sunday morning. Many non-Catholic Christians also accept this view. Do we simply accept the traditional view? Only the Bible can direct us in the proper understanding of days and nights and the timeline of Christ’s Passion.

Old Testament Background

Our examination of this subject will start with an understanding of the first Passover. In Exodus chapter 12, the children of Israel honored their first national Passover. On the fourteenth day of the first month on the Hebrew Calendar they killed a one-year old lamb and placed its blood on the top and sides of the door post outside their homes. That same night they ate a meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. That same night the death angel came through the land of Egypt to slay the first born of those who did not follow these instructions. The people were commanded to stay in their homes until daylight (Exodus 12:22).

After the Passover is a seven-day period called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The First and Last Days of this seven-day period are annual Sabbaths. Annual Sabbaths are special days in a year in which no work or labor is to be performed (this is in the same manner as the weekly Sabbath, which is from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset).

Altogether, Passover and Unleavened Bread are eight days. Sometimes they are listed separately and at other times the entire eight-day period is called Unleavened Bread. We have some Biblical examples below:

“5 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening, is the LORD’s Passover. 6 On the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the LORD. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. 7 In the first day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no regular work. 8 But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD seven days. In the seventh day is a holy convocation: you shall do no regular work” (Lev. 23:5-8).

“Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover to the LORD your God; for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night…3 You shall eat no leavened bread with it. You shall eat unleavened bread with it seven days, even the bread of affliction; for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste; that you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life” (Deut. 16:1, 3).

“Three times in a year all of your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which he chooses: in the feast of unleavened bread, in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tents. They shall not appear before the LORD empty” (Deut. 16:16).

“14 You shall observe a feast to me three times a year. 15 You shall observe the feast of unleavened bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib (for in it you came out of Egypt), and no one shall appear before me empty…” (Exodus 23:14-15).

These details provide the necessary background information to understand the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Sometimes Passover is listed separately from Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:5-8; Deu. 16:1-3). In Deuteronomy 16:16 and Exodus 23:14-15, God gives a summary of the three Holy Day seasons. While it is not specifically mentioned, Passover was still observed the day before the Seven Days of Unleavened Bread.

As we read the gospels, we learn that Christ was not just keeping “the last supper” with His disciples. They were keeping Passover.

The Meaning of Three Days and Three Nights

The next step is to understand how time is calculated in the Bible. Christ said He would be in the tomb three days and three nights. There has been a debate about the meaning of these words. Was Jesus in the Tomb parts of three days (such as part of Friday, Part of Saturday, and Part of Sunday) or was He in the Tomb three whole days and three whole nights (72 hours). A series of verses will provide clarity.

“Jesus answered, ‘Aren’t there twelve hours of daylight? If a man walks in the day, he doesn’t stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if a man walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light isn’t in him’” (John 11:9-10). These verses describe events that happened just before Passover. Jesus plainly said that there were twelve hours of day. Night is juxtaposed as a separate time from the twelve hours of day.

Some would use Jesus’ words to proclaim that only the hours of day are counted. However, the hours of night and day are both counted in the Bible. “For these aren’t drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is only the third hour of the day” (Acts 2:15).  “Prepare two hundred soldiers to go as far as Caesarea, with seventy horsemen, and two hundred men armed with spears, at the third hour of the night” (Acts 23:23).

These two examples from Acts teach us that both the night hours and the day hours are counted. In fact, the night was divided into four watches of so many hours each. “In the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came to them, walking on the sea” (Matthew 14:25).

In Mark 5:5, we learn about the man of Gedara, who was possessed by demons. “And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying and cutting himself with stones.” Obviously, night and day are mentioned in the verse to describe a 24-hour period. The man was crying out at all times.

In Matthew 4:2, we learn that Christ fasted forty days and forty nights: “When he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry afterward.” I have never heard anyone make the assertion that Christ fasted less than forty days with 24 hours each.

From these Biblical examples, the answer is plain. Jesus was in the tomb three days and three nights or 72 hours.

Now that we have the Biblical understanding of Passover and time, we will begin to map out the events that happened from the Passover through the Resurrection. One detail to keep in mind is that the Jewish people celebrated Passover on the wrong night in Jesus’ day (they celebrated it on the 15th of Nissan). This allowed Jesus to celebrate it with His disciples on the 14th of Nissan, after the Biblical reckoning, and still be sacrificed as the Passover Lamb according to common Jewish practice. As we go through the timeline, we will quote as many Scriptures as space allows. We will have references for summarized verses.

Tuesday Night – The Passover

Matthew 26:17-20 – “Now on the first day of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus, saying to him, ‘Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?’ He said, ‘Go into the city to a certain person, and tell him, ‘The Teacher says, ‘My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ The disciples did as Jesus commanded them, and they prepared the Passover. Now when evening had come, he was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples.”

The first day of Unleavened Bread mentioned in these verses is later clarified as the Passover. Matthew is clearly referring to the entire eight days as Unleavened Bread. Passover comes first. Notice that Passover began in the evening. A full day in the Bible begin and end at sunset (Genesis chapter 1 informs us that evening and morning are one day). While Jesus kept the Passover, the following events happened:

John 13:2-17 – As the meal was being served, Christ washed the feet of His disciples. He set an example for us to do the same.

Luke 22:17Jesus opened the Passover meal with the blessing of the first cup (historically this was called the Kiddush).

Matthew 26:23-25; John 13:18-30 – Judas eats the bread dipped in the dish. He left the meal to betray Jesus. “Therefore having received that morsel, he went out immediately. It was night” (John 13:30).

Matthew 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20 – Jesus took the unleavened bread and the last cup; He revealed and instituted that these elements represented His body and blood. Luke noted that this cup was taken at the end of the meal.

Matthew 26:31-35 – Jesus told the disciples that they would stumble this same night. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of me tonight’…” (Matthew 26:31). Peter contended that he would never fall away. Jesus then prophesied that Peter would deny Him three times.

John Chapters 14-17 – Christ taught the disciples about the meaning of discipleship and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He prayed for all those who would believe in Him.

Matthew 26:36-46; John 18:1; Luke 22:39-44 – Christ went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray with the disciples. He took on the sins of the world and suffered in great agony. In this angst, He sweat great drops of blood.

Matthew 26:47-56; John 18:2-12 – In the Garden, Judas arrived with troops and soldiers to betray Jesus. Our Savior was arrested and the disciples were scattered.

Matthew 26:57-68 – Jesus was led before the high priest, elders, and Sanhedrin; He was hastily put on trial and falsely accused.

Matthew 26:69-75 – Peter denied Christ three times. The rooster crowed; he realized his sin and wept.

Wednesday Morning

Matthew 27:1-2 – “Now when morning had come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: and they bound him, and led him away, and delivered him up to Pontius Pilate, the governor.”

Matthew 27:11-26a; John 18:28-40 – Jesus was put on trial by Pilate; while many accusations came forward, Pilate declared Him innocent. The people refused this ruling and wanted a criminal released instead.

John 19:1-3; Matthew 27:26b-30 – Jesus was mocked and subsequently scourged by the Romans. He had a crown of thorns driven into his head. The people wanted His crucifixion; Pilate washed his hands of Christ’s blood and turned Him over to their demands.

Wednesday Afternoon

Matthew 27:31-38; John 19:16-24 – Jesus was led out to be crucified; He began carrying his own cross. At some point along the way, Simon of Cyrene helped him carry the cross. He was crucified along with two convicted criminals, who were placed on either side of Him.

Matthew 27:39-51 – Christ was mocked while He suffered. Darkness covered the land from the sixth hour unto the ninth hour of day (12 pm to 3 pm in our reckoning of time). About 3 pm, Christ breathed his last breath and died. This detail is very important. Our countdown to His resurrection begins at this moment.

Wednesday Late Afternoon

John 19:31-33 – “Therefore the Jews, because it was the Preparation Day, so that the bodies wouldn’t remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a special one), asked of Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Therefore the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who was crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was already dead, they didn’t break his legs.”

In Roman times, they broke the legs of those nailed to a cross because it hastened the process of death by suffocation. John’s gospel informs us why they wanted the bodies off the crosses.

John 19:31 reads: “…for that Sabbath day was a special one” The Greek word translated as ‘special one’ is megas. When megas is used with the word Sabbath, it refers to an Annual Sabbath (not the weekly Sabbath). Therefore, John 19:31 references the First Day of Unleavened Bread, which is the day after Passover. They did not want the bodies to remain on the crosses during this Holy Day. Jesus had already passed away before they could break His legs.

Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47 – In the late afternoon, Joseph of Arimathea asked for Jesus’ body. He wrapped the body in linen cloth and laid it in his own tomb, which was carved out of rock. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin. This means he had to bury Jesus’ body, wash with water, and still attend the public celebration of Passover after sunset.

Mark 15:47 – “Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joses, saw where he was laid.”

Thursday Morning

Matthew 27:62-66 – On the First Day of Unleavened Bread, the priests and Pharisees asked Pilate to place a guard over the cover of the entrance to the Tomb for the next three days. They recalled Jesus’ words that He would rise from the dead after 3 days. Pilate agreed and sent troops. The tomb was also sealed to prevent anyone from rolling it away.

Thursday Evening or Friday Morning

Mark 16:1 – “And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.”

The Sabbath which passed was the First Day of Unleavened Bread. No shops would have been open, so they had to wait until the Annual Sabbath was over before they could buy and prepare them.

Luke 23:56a – “They returned, and prepared spices and ointments…”

Friday at Sunset

Luke 23:56b – “…On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” The weekly Sabbath is a commandment.

Saturday Afternoon – Jesus resurrected from the dead. This was 72 hours after He died and was buried. Most Jewish people would have been at synagogue or resting at home.

Saturday Evening – “Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went early, while it was still dark, to the tomb, and saw the stone taken away from the tomb. 2 Therefore she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him!’ Mary came to the Tomb and found it empty. She ran to tell Peter and John. They ran to the tomb to see that it was empty” (John 20:1-2).

Recall that Biblical days begin and end at sunset. Therefore, early on the first day of the week while it was still dark would have been just after sunset on Saturday. As soon as the Sabbath ended they went to the Tomb. It was empty.

Thus, we can see that the only arrangement of time that allows for 72 hours to elapse from Christ’s death to His resurrection is a Tuesday night Passover and arrest, a Wednesday crucifixion/death, and a Saturday afternoon resurrection. This arrangement also allows for an Annual Sabbath and weekly Sabbath to be included.

Now we can better understand the gospel accounts describing the timeline of Christ’s Passion.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

 

Sources

Holy Bible. Kingdom Life Version.

Jewish Encyclopedia 1905: Kiddush; Seder

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The Hanukkah Miracle: Fact or Fiction?

The Hanukkah Miracle: Fact or Fiction?

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

When we think about the Hanukah celebration, we tend to think about God’s miraculous work for the Jewish people. It is a historical account filled with amazing plot lines that we can learn many lessons from today. However, there is one event in the Hanukkah account that may or may not have happened. It involves the relighting of the menorah.

We will begin with a brief overview of the historical details leading up to the Hanukkah story. In 175 BC, there was a Greek king named Antiochus IV who ruled over the Seleucid Kingdom. This kingdom spanned from modern-day Syria to near India. It went as far south as the border of Egypt. Antiochus was not content with this massive territory; he sought to conquer Egypt as well.

He tried twice and failed both times. The second failure occurred in 168. On this expedition, the Romans decided to protect Egypt and opposed his expansion. Antiochus had made extensive preparations for this expedition and was determined to conquer something. Since he was deterred from Egypt, he turned his fury towards the Jewish people and especially the city of Jerusalem.

Initially, Antiochus and his forces approached Jerusalem under a banner of peace. When the army entered the city, they began to slaughter innocent people and even sold them into slavery. As part of his desecration, he invaded the Temple precincts. He erected a temple of Zeus and sacrificed a pig on God’s altar. The pig’s blood was spread inside the Temple. Whole sections of the city were desecrated.

The Jewish people did not remain silent. Antiochus sent his henchmen into the country side to compel Jewish people to sacrifice to the Greek gods and eat unclean animal meat. Among the first men to resist this apostasy was Judeas Maccabeus. He refused to compromise his beliefs and fought back. He led a group that would later become called the Maccabees.

The Jewish people fought valiantly despite being serious disadvantages. They were outnumbered, had inferior equipment and had a lack of military training compared to their Greek counterparts. Despite these apparent deficits, the Jewish people won victory after victory. It was truly miraculous how God came through for His people.

After three years of intense fighting, the Jewish people regained control of the Temple area. Once this happened, they immediately sought to purify it from Antiochus’ defilement. They cleansed it of impurities and prepared it to be used for God’s purposes once again.

As part of rededicating the Temple, they had to relight the menorah. According to Jewish legend, they only found one container of pure oil that had not been defiled. The account goes on to say that they lit the menorah on faith and this one container of oil lasted eight days (the entire time of the rededication). This event is called the Hanukkah miracle.

When we read about Hanukkah and the revolt against the Greeks, the legend of the menorah being rekindled is usually given a prominent place. Some say that the miracle of the oil did not happen.  For some reason, modern people do not place as much emphasis on the military victories – which were miracles in and of themselves. In this article, we will review the historicity of the Hanukkah miracle. The term historicity refers to the historical legitimacy of an event. In other words, did it really happen? Another question we hope to answer: why are the military victories not as emphasized by people today when we discuss Hanukkah?

Let’s start by examining the primary sources nearest these events. A primary source is a person, artifact, or some historical record that is contemporary to the time period being examined.

The first book of Maccabees was written about the time that the events surrounding the Hanukah story occurred. This book describes the invasion of the Greeks, the courageous resistance of the Jewish people, and their victory. In it, the re-lighting of the menorah is told.

“They burned incense on the altar and lighted lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the Temple” (1 Maccabees 4:50). The re-lighting of the Menorah is recounted as a significant event in the rededication of the Temple. This account also mentions how the menorah and altar of incense brought light to the Temple. Thus, the light emanating from the menorah (and the altar of incense) is a central theme of the rededication. However, there is no mention that there was a lack of oil for the menorah or that it burned eight days on a one-day supply.

Another historical work completed after the Hanukkah story is called the second book of Maccabees. The name for this work can be a little deceiving. It is commonly called the second book of Maccabees, but it was a summary of a five volume series written by Jason of Cyrene (2 Maccabees 2:19-25). The author of second Maccabees describes the “mass of material” available in Jason’s work. These volumes recounted the story of Judas Maccabeus and the rededication of the Temple. Second Maccabees mentions the relighting of the menorah (2 Macc. 10:3). It does not mention the Hanukkah miracle. The five volumes by Jason might have contained more details about the lightning of the menorah. Unfortunately, these volumes have been lost.

The next credible source describing these events comes from Josephus, a first century AD source. His account follows first Maccabees pretty closely. He mentions no miracles, but he does mention the menorah being rekindled. The other furniture pieces are also mentioned.

“…they lighted the lamps that were on the candlestick, and offered incense upon the altar of incense, and laid the loaves upon the table of showbread, and offered burnt offerings upon the new altar of burnt-offering…Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival on account of the restoration of their temple worship for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival and call it “Lights”. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond all Hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival” (Antiquities, Book 12, Chapter 7).

This is a fascinating statement. Did Josephus know more than what he disclosed? He called this festival the festival of lights but gives no reason as to why it should be called that. The Greek word translated as lights in this passage literally means illumination – as emanating from a light source. His statement indicates he may not have been completely convinced how the name “Festival of Lights” was conceived.

Josephus, 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees are the primary sources closest to the Hanukkah story. The menorah being relit was obviously an important part of reclaiming the Temple. It is recalled by all of them. If some kind of miracle occurred regarding the menorah (or any other Temple furniture piece), maybe these authors did not know about it or chose to leave it out. The fact that they had freedom from the Greeks seems to be of the upmost importance. The Jewish people gained control of their own destiny and could worship God.

Another very important point to consider in this discussion is the following: how many people would have actually been around to view any miracle inside the temple? Only priests could enter the Temple and re-light the menorah. The writer of 1 Maccabees may not have had access to testimonies about those who witnessed it (if it actually happened). As aforementioned, we do not have the five volumes written by Jason.

The main sources that discuss any miracle of oil come later. The Babylonian Talmud was written between 200 and 500 AD. In it, we read about the miracle. This was hundreds of years after the event happened.

“…When the Greeks entered the sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days. The next year the sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessing” (Shabbat 21b).

How reliable is a document that recorded an event hundreds of years after it happened? First of all, we do not know all the documents that the writers of the Talmud used to compile their books. Wars, natural disasters, and time caused documents to be lost (such as Jason’s five volumes).

Secondly, consider another example. The Torah was given to Moses around 1500 BC, but the earliest manuscripts we have date to approximately 700 BC (800 years later). This does not diminish the content of the Torah. Third, there are other historical details in the Talmud that are accurate.

“…forty years prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, the lot for God did not arise in the high priest’s right hand at all. So too, the strip of crimson wool that was tied to the head of the goat that was sent to Azazel did not turn white, and the westernmost lamp of the candelabrum did not burn continually. And the doors of the Sanctuary opened by themselves as a sign that they would soon be opened by enemies…” (Talmud Bavli, Yoma 39b).

The Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. 40 years prior would have been 30 AD. This was approximately the same year Jesus (Yeshua) was on earth or about the year He died. It would make sense to have these disturbances around that time. When the crimson stripe turned white on Atonement, this was seen as a sign of God’s forgiveness. Jesus said all the blood of the righteous would fall on the generation that rejected Him (Matthew 23:35). They took that blood on themselves.

Fourth, by the time the Talmud was written, the practice of lighting a menorah to honor Hanukkah was deeply entrenched in its celebration. It was so widely practiced that it was recorded as a necessary tradition. For instance, if you only had enough money for Shabbat wine or oil during Hanukkah, you would buy the oil (Shabbat 23b, Raba). Having a Hanukkah lamp ignited was of utmost importance. It became a requirement among Jewish people. A practice of this nature does not develop overnight. It takes time for a custom to become so entrenched that it is viewed as a requirement.

The Talmud also contains a lot of commentary on the schools of Hillel and Shammai, which we know existed in the last century BC/first century AD. Between the two schools, there was a difference as it relates to Hanukkah. The school of Shammai lit eight candles on the first day of Hanukkah and then decreased the amount of candles by one each day. The school of Hillel started with one candle and increased the amount of candles each day by one (Shabbat, 21b).

In other words, there are details in the Talmud that give it a degree of historical accuracy.

One last source we will consider is a document called The Scroll of Antiochus. It is a possible primary source, but it has problems. It records military victory, but also the miracle of the oil. It has some historical inaccuracies, but other correct details.

The main problem with this scroll is that scholars debate the time period in which it was written. The dates range from the 1st century through the 11th century AD. This is a pretty large discrepancy. The majority of scholars settle for a 5th century to 7th century dating because it is mentioned in other writings (the Gedolos in 600 AD; Saadia Gaon in the 800s AD). Nissim b Jacob (around 1000 AD) attributed the scroll on the same level as Scriptural canon. We know that in the 1200s, the scroll was read every Hanukkah in Italy.

We have given a fair overview of sources that recount the Hanukkah story and the possibility of a menorah miracle or a lack thereof. Perhaps it is important to return to our original question: Why was the miracle of the oil found in the Talmud and emphasized by later writers?

The earliest sources mention the great military victories with a minor focus on the Temple furniture, Perhaps the long-term fruit of the Maccabee revolt will guide us towards resolving some of the issues between sources closer to the event and those that are farther away.

The Temple was rededicated around 165 BC. In 142 BC, Simon was proclaimed the leader and high priest of the Jewish people forever until a faithful prophet should arise. Just three years later, the Roman Senate recognized their dynasty. So many good things seemed to be happening. Regrettably, these good times did not last.

Simon was murdered in 135. John Hyrcanus then became the ruler until 104. He wanted to make his wife queen after his death and his oldest son, Aristobulus, the high priest. Aristobulus did not like this plan. Once his father died, he cast his mother and other brothers in prison. His mother starved to death; he later put one of his brothers, Antigonus, to death. He died about one year after becoming king.

From 103 to 76, Alexander Jannaeus, a different son of John Hyrcanus, ruled. After his death, his wife Alexandra became queen for a short time. Not long afterwards, a civil war raged across Judea. It was so bad that the Roman general Pompey eventually got involved in the conflict and put the country of Judea under Roman supervision. They lost some political freedoms and were forced to pay tribute.

From 63-40 BC, Hyrcanus II supervised the government on behalf of the Romans; he was the high priest. The Parthians briefly conquered the Promised Land around 40. They proclaimed Antigonus as king and high priest over Judea. For the next three years, there was contention as Herod, the pro-Roman antagonist, fought for control of the throne against Antigonus. Herod eventually gained control of the country in 37 BC. Herod (called the great) became the founder of the Herodian dynasty. The Romans allowed Antigonus to be put to death; he was the first king the Romans put to death. The Hasmonean dynasty ended.

In 66 AD, the Jewish people revolted against the Romans. Four years later, they were defeated. The city of Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. Over a million people either died or were sold as slaves. About 60 years later, the Bar Kokhba revolt began. Jerusalem was devastated again; the Jewish people were banned from the city and surrounding country side. Over 585,000 Jewish people died from fighting. They would not be allowed to return to the city for almost 300 years.

This is a brief overview of the events that occurred immediately after the Maccabean revolt. Thus, the initial revolt was successful and involved great military exploits. However, the long-term actions of the Hasmonean dynasty were marred with failure. There was betrayal, murder and civil war. The country lost its sovereignty and became subject to another empire – Rome. The city was destroyed twice and the Jewish people banned from even approaching it. These events sound like an account from the Biblical books of Judges with 1 and 2 Kings.

Now that we have reviewed quite a few facts and details, we can have a better perspective.

Here are some final things to remember when you consider the historicity of the Hanukkah miracle. The people who lived immediately after the Jewish victory focused on battles. Those who lived a few hundred years later saw the long-term fruit of that Maccabeean revolt, which was contrary to the very purpose of it (freedom to worship God). They did not value the military victories as much.

If you were writing, what events might you emphasize?

The fact that the menorah was relit (along with the altar of incense and the altar of sacrifice) is recounted by primary sources. It is a significant part of the Temple regaining its light. Josephus even calls it the Feast of Lights. The Bible calls it the Dedication in John 10:22 (literally, “in newness” or “in refreshing”). This is a reference to the rededication of the Temple.

A few hundred years after these events, the lighting of a menorah is the central focus of the Hanukkah celebration. Considering all the details gives the miracle story a little bit more merit.

Did it happen? Well, the menorah was relit. We know the Temple was defiled by uncleanness. Thus, the concept that there was an insufficient supply of Levitically clean oil is not absurd. If there was a shortage of oil, it would have taken a miracle to keep the menorah burning for the dedication process. The holy oil for the Temple required a special process and time to refine it.

There very well could have been a miracle involving the oil. We cannot negate it as a possibility; at the same time we cannot affirm it happened beyond the shadow of a doubt. It does leave our minds to wonder the specific details and conditions surrounding the menorah when it was rekindled.

At the very least, let us consider their struggle to rededicate the Temple as we rededicate our own. What miracles have happened in your life as you sought to dedicate yourself to God?

Sources

Babylonian Talmud. Accessed through https://www.sefaria.org.

Flavius Josephus. The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated by William Whiston. 1737. Antiquities of the Jews. Book 12, Chapter 7. p 302.

First and Second Book of Maccabees (Revised Standard Version). 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Jewish Encyclopedia 1905: Antigonus Mattathias, Aristobulus I, Aristobulus II, Scroll of Antiochus, Hasmoneans, Hyrcanus, John.

Moore, George Foot. Judaism in the First Centuries of the Chris-tian Era the Age of the Tannaim. Vol. 2 Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932. pp 49-51.

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A Brief Exegesis of Hebrews 10:1-4

A Brief Exegesis of Hebrews 10:1-4

by Kelly McDonald, Jr.

“1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (KJV)

Among the more misunderstood passages in the Bible is Hebrews 10:1-4. Some say that these verses declare the entire law of God, including the Ten Commandments, to be a shadow that is no longer relevant. However, a deeper understanding of the Bible will give us a more accurate point of view.

First of all, it is important that we have the correct understanding of the word LAW. The Greek word translated as LAW is NOMOS. It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word TORAH. The term LAW in the Bible can be specific OR generic; the context matters!

The term Law (as well as Nomos or Torah) is a generic word meaning teaching and instruction. Thus, it can refer to anything in the Bible that is instruction. Moreover, it can refer to specific sections of the Bible that contain teaching and instruction. I have some examples below.

Jesus quoted the Psalms in John 15:25 and called it LAW. “But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law [NOMOS], ‘They hated me without a cause’” (John 15:25). This quote is found in Psalms 35:19, 69:4. Paul used the term law when he quoted from the book of Isaiah. “In the law [NOMOS] it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:21). This is a quote from Isaiah 28:11, 33:19.

To review: The term LAW in the Bible can be generic referring to teaching and instruction. However, it can also be specific. In this usage, it refers to instructions given to specific people for a specific application. Many specific laws refer to the Aaronic priesthood and sacrifices. I have listed a few examples below:

Leviticus 6:9

“Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law [TORAH] of the burnt offering: It is the burnt offering, because of the burning upon the altar all night unto the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be burning in it.”

Leviticus 6:14

“And this is the law [TORAH] of the meat offering: the sons of Aaron shall offer it before the LORD, before the altar.”

Leviticus 6:25 

“Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, saying, This is law [TORAH]of the sin offering: In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the LORD: it is most holy.”

Leviticus 7:37

This is the law [TORAH] of the burnt offering, of the meat offering, and of the sin offering, and of the trespass offering, and of the consecrations, and of the sacrifice of the peace offerings;

These are just a few of many examples we could use. At the end of Leviticus chapter 7, God closes out the preceding chapters by saying “THIS is the LAW of…”, which signifies specific laws for the priesthood applied to specific sacrifices. With this understanding, let us examine the verses in question a second time.

Hebrews 10:1-4

“1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (KJV)

These verses are referring to the specific laws relating to sacrifices. Bulls and goats are specifically mentioned. Notice that the author mentions “…the very image of the things”. The Greek word translated as image is eikon, and it is where we derive the English word icon. In other words, bulls and goats are not even in the image of the perfect sacrifice they represented; they are shadows. Just a few verses later, the writer states: “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Christ is the image of God; He came bearing the likeness of mankind (Col. 1:15, Phil. 2:7). He is not a shadow – He is the real thing!

Thus, Hebrews 10:1-4 are plainly referring to the specific law of sacrifice. The Ten Commandments are not shadows; to say so is denying eternal truths. Those who say the Ten Commandments are shadows have not thought out the implications of their reasoning. For instance, consider the first commandment. Is worshipping only the True God a shadow? Absolutely NOT! God’s commandments are eternal truths that will never fade away.

As you read the New Testament, be aware that some references to LAW are generic and others are specific. It takes a careful study of the Word of God and discernment from God’s Spirit to know the difference. 2 Tim. 2:15

 

Your Evangelist,

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

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An Authentic Faith

Teshuvah

In the Bible and history, we find many heroes of faith. Hebrew chapter 11 has a list of them from the Old Testament, including Gideon and David. In the New Testament, Paul, Peter, and others inspire us to pursue God. When we study history, there are a number of men and women who have set a tremendous example of faith such as Polycarp and Wycliffe.

Over the years, I have heard people compare themselves to people from the Bible or history. David is a common comparison. He fought many battles for the Lord and displayed courageousness in the face of peril. He is even called a man after God’s own heart. Keep in mind David also made serious mistakes. One reason why we connect with heroes of the past is because they fell short as we do.

We can also not forget the heroes of today – people from our own lives that have made an impact on our walk with God. This can include, but are not limited to, a pastor, fellow church member, parent or grandparent, and even a sibling. These individuals are dear to our hearts because we knew them. They ministered to us, prayed for us, cried with us, and fought the battles of life with us. We look up to them.

While we have heroes of the faith – whether from the Bible, history, or the present – we also must have our own personal faith in God. This means that we spend time seeking God for His will in our own lives. When someone asks you a question about your faith or the Bible, does your answer sound like the following: “Because my brother says so”; “My mom or dad told me”; “Because my favorite preacher said it was true”; or “Because someone from history believed the same way”.

When we have answers like this, it makes us sound insincere. Jesus said that whatever comes out of our mouths reveals what is in our hearts (Matthew 10:34). Do you know why you believe a certain way? Are you just imitating someone else or following an organization’s command?

It is still important to honor and respect others who encourage you in the faith. At the same time, we want to have an authentic faith. Paul said, “…for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Tim. 1:12b, NKJV). Paul was persuaded because He knew God for himself.

When someone asks you why you believe a certain way – be sure to know where in the Bible you can defend that belief. Then you can say “Because God instructs me in the Bible to do such”, and you can demonstrate where that belief is found in the Bible. When you can defend your faith, you display authenticity.

Heroes of the present and past can certainly encourage, inspire, and teach us. But their example is to encourage us in our own genuine faith. Their faith cannot take the place of our own. Take the time to study the Bible and pray; be convinced and persuaded like Paul. Serve in your local church.

In the process of developing an authentic faith, let us remember that the end result is the example of Jesus Christ. No one else can exceed His perfect life.

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New Booklet: The Power of Forgiveness

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Power of Forgiveness

 

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A Brief Exegesis of Romans 14:5-6

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A Brief Exegesis of Romans 14:5-6

by Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Romans 14:5-6 is among the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. These verses have been misunderstood as negating the Sabbath and other commandments. We will examine the example of Paul, the verses themselves very carefully, and some history. This will make the passage clear.

One of the ways we interpret history is through what we call primary sources. These are people who were eye witnesses to events as well as archeological findings from the time period. The Apostle Peter was a contemporary of Paul. Here is what Peter said about Paul:

“15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. 17 Ye therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own stedfastness” (2 Peter 3:15-17, ASV).

We learn some important details from Peter’s words. Paul wrote some things that are hard to understand, but they do not negate the other Scriptures. The other Scriptures are a reference to the Old Testament. They did not have a New Testament in their day. He was a very educated man, which is why some people struggled with his words.

With this background understanding from Paul’s life, let’s look at the two verses in question: “5 One man esteems one day as more important. Another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks. He who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks” (Romans 14:5-6, KLV).

First of all, in Romans 14:1 Paul identified this issue that was considered disputable. This means it is not clearly defined by Scripture. “Now accept one who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions.” Secondly, the Greek word Paul uses for day, hemera, refers to any common day. It refers to the other six days of the week.

Third, the Greek word for holy, hagios, is not even found in this chapter (Romans 14). Thus, he is addressing common days, not holy days like the Sabbath. If he were referring to the Sabbath, Paul would have used the specific Greek word for Sabbath, sabbaton. Fourth, Paul was not addressing which days God considers to be holy, but what days men esteem higher than others. God is the one who set aside the Sabbath, not man.

Lastly, one must also consider his audience. He wrote this to the Romans. He is applying these verses specifically to days that the Romans considered to be important. Let’s take a look at some primary sources from the time before, during, and after Paul that will illuminate these verses.

The Romans were very superstitious. They considered some days of the week to be unlucky, such as Saturday (Tibullus, 1:3,17-18; Propertius 4:1,81-86). They also considered certain days of the month bad for specific activities such as business or travel (Marcus Varro, On the Latin Language: VI:29-31; Plutarch, Roman Questions, 25). There were even days of certain months on which activities were discouraged, such as marriage (Ovid, Fasti, 5:470-492). Some days of certain months activities were encouraged, such as eating certain foods (Ovid, Fasti, 6:169 –beans and spelt were eaten on June 1st to honor Juno).

They formed their behavior this way for one or more reasons. Sometimes these prohibitions were to honor a specific god or goddess (such as June 1st). Sometimes a certain date coincided with a fortunate or bad event that happened in the past in Roman history (for instance, June 23rd was considered ‘lucky’ because a Carthaginian general, who was an enemy of Rome, killed himself on that day – Ovid, Fasti, 6:769).  At other times, the Romans were just superstitious (as another example, the Romans considered odd numbers as unlucky. Certain odd days of a month were considered bad for business – Plutarch, Roman Questions, 25).  For the superstitions of Augustus, who even thought his shoes were an omen, see Seutonius, Life of Augustus, XCII.

Another issue raised in the verses we are questioning is the issue of abstaining from meat. There was a strain of thought in the Roman world which believed very strongly in vegetarianism (Ovid, Metamorphosis,bk15:76-112, 140-142, 458-462; Seneca, Epistulae, 108:17-22; Plutarch: On the Eating of Flesh, 1:41 and On Isis and Osiris, sections 2,4,7; Lucius Apuleis, Metamorphosis, 11:26-29).  From these sources we can see that their vegetarian beliefs were rooted either in the worship of other gods (such as Isis and Osiris) or in a form of reincarnation which viewed the spirits of dead people as dwelling in animals.

With this historical understanding, we can better ascertain the meaning of these verses. Paul himself was an educated man and even a Roman citizen. While he grew up Jewish, he also grew up in a culture that practiced these Roman superstitions. He was well versed with them.

If we are going to consider a common day as important to perform a specific activity, then we should do so unto the Lord and not to a pagan deity, superstition or any other reason (especially not because of a past event in the Roman Empire, which is the anti-thesis of God’s Kingdom). He is addressing this specific Roman cultural activity for common days and activities, not the Sabbath or any day declared holy by God.

God is the one who declared the Sabbath Holy (Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 31:12-18, and Leviticus 23:1-6 to name a few). Man did not declare the Sabbath holy. Paul would not condemn anyone for keeping the Sabbath as he obeyed it himself. The seventh-day Sabbath persists even into the New Heavens and the New Earth (Isaiah 66:22-24).

Paul’s example in the Bible shows us that he did not condemn any observance of the law, but that he continued to keep and reverence the Sabbath and Feast Days even after his conversion to Christianity (for a few examples: Acts 13, Acts 17, 18, Acts 20:16, Acts 27:9, and I Cor.16:8).

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says to let no one judge them for keeping the Sabbath, Feast Days, and New Moon Celebrations (Col. 2:16). All of the early churches kept the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week.

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