It has become common for Christians seeking to recover the Jewish roots of their faith to claim that the Church celebrations are on the wrong dates and therefore these Church dates are of pagan origin.

Christians holding to this view seek a return to "God's appointed feasts." (Lev. 23) I have generally found that Messianic Jews do not make these assertions as much as Christians who have attached themselves to Messianic congregations or to the Jewish people in general. Internet communication has made this claim very common. What a message is being given to most Christians - they are compromised by paganism! Easter and Pentecost are the wrong dates due to paganism, and Christmas is wholly rooted in paganism. This is such a divisive claim that we had better be sure that it is really grounded in factual evidence.

The evidence for this claim is not clear cut. In the past, we have argued that Christians in this age are not responsible for the Jewish calendar, which is part of a covenant made with the Jewish people. Acts 15, Romans 14, Colossians 2, and Galatians make this quite clear. However, the Church has embraced a yearly calendar cycle of celebration and gathering. The less traditional celebrate weekly on Sundays and yearly at Christmas (in early January in the Eastern Churches), Easter and Pentecost. More traditional churches include many more dates built around a year designed to recognize events in the life of Yeshua: His circumcision and dedication, Lent, Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Ascension Day, All Saints Day and more.

I believe that the problem with the Church days of celebration is not the dating, but that they are not anchored in their ancient roots. This has allowed some pagan symbolism and interpretation to be imposed upon the celebrations. It is not our part to criticize the Church for its dating. Rather, a return to Jewish roots is a return to Jewish contexts for understanding, an embrace of Jewish believers who obey their calling to remain within and witness to the Jewish community, and an affirmation of Jewish life. Let me suggest some reasons why I think that the claims against Church celebrations as pagan on the basis of incorrect dating are wrong.

1. The Rabbis teach that the dates of the Feasts are set by man; only the Sabbath is set by God. What does this mean? We know the right day for the Sabbath, as it is simply the seventh day week after week. However, when we deal with the annual biblical calendar, we have a major problem. How shall we bring the cycle of the moon into reconciliation with the annual cycle of the Sun? Because 12 lunar months will be out of alignment in a solar year by at least 5 days, something has to be done so that we are not celebrating the fall festivals in the winter! The Jewish lunar calendar compensates for the difference between the lunar and solar year by establishing a 19 year cycle to harmonize itself on track with the solar year. One extra lunar month is added to seven of the years in the cycle, giving us a 13 month year in those 7 "leap" years. Solar calendars make a reconciliation by adding a day to five of the twelve months and then, in contemporary times, adding one extra day every four years.

The Bible does not tell us how to resolve the discrepancy between the lunar and solar calendars. This is a human decision. In addition, the consensus of the Rabbis determined the exact day of the new moon and full moon. Contra-wise, the ancient Essenes, the Jewish ascetics from the first century, chose the solar calendar and made an annual reconciliation. Some argue that the calendar discrepancy can even be found in the Gospels. The Gospel of John can be read to suggest the celebration of Jesus took place before Passover; the Synoptics on the actual Passover date.

2. The evidence of history, as detailed in Oskar Skarsaune's monumental book, In the Shadow of the Temple, is that the Eastern and Western Churches differed on when to celebrate the church feast days. In the East, closer to the Rabbis, the death and resurrection of Yeshua was celebrated on the date of Passover according to the Jewish calendar. The Rabbis taught that the feast of First Fruits was the day following Passover; this was known as the quartodeciman position. In the West, the Church decided to work back from the Resurrection which was always on a Sunday, the day after the Sabbath of Passover week. This produced a great controversy at the end of the second century as both churches claimed apostolic authority for their celebration dates.

If the Eastern Church followed the Pharisaic observance of First Fruits and the resurrection being together and the Western kept First Fruits on the Sunday of Passover week as did the Sadducees, we can see the controversy itself as rooted in Judaism. Skarsaune argues that the celebration of First Fruits is behind the Western tradition. From Resurrection Day, the Church calculated back to their celebration of the crucifixion, rather than strictly keeping to the Hebrew dates, Nisan 14 and 15. Interestingly, but unintentionally, this coincides in most years with the Sadducean Temple date for First Fruits.

Skarsaune also provides amazing details concerning how the liturgy for communion took over elements from the early Passover Seder! Observing Sunday as a weekly celebration may be rooted in this as well, though my study suggests that the evidence here is more ambiguous. However, the resurrection became the dominant reason for Sunday observance. The sad aspect to this was the later rejection of the legitimacy of the seventh day Sabbath for Jews.

3. Pentecost would then follow from these calculations (both by the Western and Eastern Churches) fifty days later, and is obviously rooted in Shavuot (Pentecost). Skarsaune also argues that themes of the Law and the Spirit were also found in Judaism and became incorporated in the Christian celebration.

4. Even Christmas - although corrupted with pagan imagery, especially in the secular society, and its convenient dating to sanitize the pagan feast of Saturnalia - may also have Jewish rooting by the conflation of the 25th of Kislev, Hanukkah, with December 25th. This is the most likely time for the conception of Yeshua on the basis of the calculation of the birth of Yeshua at Sukkot (Tabernacles). If so, the evidence of Hegissipus, a 2nd century historian who claimed that Yeshua was born on the 25th of December, could be a confusion of birth and conception.

5. Skarsaune's evidence for Jewish influence on the creeds is very important as well. He sees them as preserving the Jewish understanding in the Scriptures against heresy that arose out of the broad pagan Hellenistic culture of the Roman Empire.

Therefore, the Church imperative to return to Jewish roots is not based on calling it to adopt the true Jewish dates of feast days as if rabbinic dating methods are absolute. Rather, it is overcoming the paradox of the early churches faulty objective to have it both ways; adopting practices rooted in the Jewish traditions while rejecting the Jewish people themselves. This rejection disguised the Jewish roots still present in the Church with something other. This can be seen in the common symbolism shared by both the Church and the Synagogue.

The Church is called to return to Jewish roots in the sense of being joined together with Israel and the Messianic Jews, acknowledging Jewish roots and understanding the Bible in its original context. This requires returning to a more Biblical understanding of an involved and responsive God, over against the abstract changeless God of Greek philosophy that has dominated Christian theology. The repudiation of the theology that says the Church has replaced the Jewish people is a foundational key in all of this.

Such an approach to Jewish roots is a much more feasible and truthful way to approach the churches and to gain their support in the great last days work for the salvation of Israel.

By Daniel Juster

Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International. Donate to Tikkun International.

Let us know what you think - why not comment to this article. The authors of these articles are often involved in intense ministry and are thus unable to respond to most comments. As is normal with print and online magazines, Tikkun reserves the right to publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.
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14:24 02Mar09 Suzie Hieter -
Oh dear, I found this quite confusing ... but I -think- you're saying that the Church does NOT supercede the Jewish people ... Yes?? That works for me.

  -- Webmaster replies: Absolutely right - the Church does not supercede the Jewish people!

14:33 02Mar09 Gay Ford -
Wonderful! In Eph.3:10, there was no greater division in the human race than that between Jew and Gentile. That they could be united with each other in CHRIST displays the profound wisdom of G-D, and the powers even to supernatural powers that JESUS is YHWH of the universe.
My prayer for years is that we can worship together again in Spirit and Truth!! I love Israel and know I am only grafted in because of HIS death. I KNOW HE is gathering HIS elect ones from all over the world to come together. We will receive a greater blessing because HE is working in Israel to save HIS sheep. Praise HIS Holy Name!!
I also know our holidays are pagan. I try not to celebrate them then, but every day. I have been to Israel and worshiped with you and those precious ones over there. I want so badly to return. I just got back from a 3 month stay in Africa. So dark, but yet HE is moving there also. Israel was like having a small piece of paradise and Africa like darkness. May we pray for each other to return to TRUTH and NOTHING but the TRUTH, HE is TRUTH and HIS WORD is TRUTH!!

14:48 02Mar09 Nancy -
I know many Christians who are going to thrilled to read your understanding of the Calendar. I'm one of the ones shouting "Paganism." Thanks for helping me rethink this.

18:29 02Mar09 Debra Kleemeyer -
I began celebrating the Biblical appointed times eight years ago and stopped celebrating holidays I previously celebrated. I have been blessed by this decision and plan to celebrate them the remainder of my life. My life is fuller and richer for this decision. I share this decision with people who are interested in knowing the truth so that they can be blessed as soon as possible.

22:17 02Mar09 David Niles -
Thank You again for your excellent article about the Feasts and the Church. I have encountered many well-meaning, zealous Messianics who feel we as the Body of Messiah must put ourselves under the full submission of Torah. The Church should have a healthy balance of being one with Israel, and appreiciate our Jewish Roots, while not becoming to the point of "Torah-submissive" in our walk with Yeshua. The Torah was,and is, a tutor/schoolmaster to bring us to Messiah. We are justified by His Grace and Saved by His Grace.

22:52 02Mar09 Ashlee -
Thank you so much for brining such clarity to what I have been trying to figure out for the last couple of years. This past year has been the least festive of my life, mainly because I wasn't sure what to do. After learning of the "asherah" origin of Christmas trees and wreaths I was so grieved at all that others were celebrating. It seemed that time of year was more of a contribution to the gods of materialism rather than a celebration of the promise of God becoming a tiny human being, hidden in the humble womb of a young jewish girl. I have wondered what the Messianic community's convictions were about all this.

05:01 03Mar09 Keith -
I applaud this effort to avoid a sterile debate & focus on what is truly important, i.e. acknowledging the "root" so we can be properly nourished by an "involved & responsive" God. On a point of detail, the sabbath wasn't originally just a cycle of the seventh day week after week? There were "dark-moon" days, some months, in between the 4 weekly cycle (lunar months aren't exactly 28 days!) This is true today, the Shabbat does not always fall properly on the moon phases - one has only to go outside & look! So the current continous calendar of weeks, a Roman rule one can trace back to Egypt, is not quite Biblical and so also Rabbinical ... how we love things to be cut and dried, when they're not, and how great God's mercies on humanities lack of understanding.

06:01 03Mar09 Margaret Preston -
Thank you!! Just yesterday I was discussing this same subject, your clarification of facts is enlightening. Your explanation of the facts vs. speculation is what stops misinformation from becoming 'fact' within certain Christian circles.

07:02 03Mar09 Dr Jane Oloo -
Thank you Dr Juster. Indeed I have been needing this correction in my spiritual walk. I was absorbing the correct message of return to Judaic roots but there was insufficient balance in my understanding.

14:22 03Mar09 B. LaDell Cook -
This is exactly what the Spirit of God is telling me and has been telling me for a long time, even in my youth. Even though I am Gentile, I am engrafted and replacement has never been option. Jews first, then Gentiles. I am sharing this article to other Gentiles I know.

17:22 03Mar09 Leigh Ruth Cohen -
At first, I wondered exactly what path is Dan taking us on? This subject (and similiar ones) pertaining to the Church, (esp. Catholic) and its relationship with paganism/celebrations, etc. comes up more often nowadays. Having the opportunity to be in Hindu, Muslim. atheist, pagan, Jewish and Christian homes over the years, I have asked why they choose to celebrate Christmas and have received some very interesting answers. Dan's article clarifies the issue(s) of Sabbath, feast days and Holy days, mirrors our own research over the last three decades and provides an important testimony we all need to keep the lines of communication open with those seeking the Truth.

23:54 04Mar09 Daniel Buffenmeyer -
Excellent article. During my years in the Messianic Movement, I rubbed elbows with many who claimed that the feasts of the church were pagan and should not be observed.
Later, with my investigation into the ancient churches both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, It became overwhelmingly evident that many of the things taking place there were not from pagan roots at all, but were rooted in elements of Judaic Temple worship. Of course with the expanding of the church to many cultures, foreign elements did creep in.
I read somewhere (from a Jewish source) that when elements in the temple were dedicated, they were anointed with oil in the sign of the letter Tav. The Orthodox Church has retained this practice by anointing their holy relics in the sign of the letter Tav which they claim is the Sign of the Cross. Many other things like this are still practiced in the ancient churches. Yet no one gives any thought as to where they came from. From a modern western perspective, they seem so foreign, that they are just considered pagan. Let's face it, the Pope wears a Kipah and the Orthodox Patriarchs look like they just stepped out of the trial against Yeshua.
I have long felt that contemporary, Evangelical Christianity is not the best soil for the Messianic Movement to grow, but that the movement would integrate far more easily in the soil of the ancient churches if those churches would allow them to come in.
As far as the feast of the Jews, it's very natural for Jews to create additional feasts as new momentous occasions arise. It could be the death of a sacred Rabbi, or a victory for the nation. To me, celebrations revolving around the life of Yeshua are a very Jewish concept. If Messiah were born, no doubt feasts would be created to celebrate him. I agree with Dr. Juster that its not so much the timing of the feasts that makes them important as it is the perspective of the feasts to acknowledge a Jewish savior for Israel and all mankind.

09:02 06Mar09 Alicia -
I recently have a discussion with friends who believe this above doctrine or theory. It causes quite a controversy in some. I also have seen one website that insists on this and the leader of the website is not born Jewish but believes in the bibical feasts. I do believe that God wouldn't judge other believers that would not keep these bibical feast. To keep them one has to have one's own conviction and the Holy Spirit's leading too.

09:04 18Nov09 Igor Miguel -
What I love in Skarsaune is his style to legitimate Christian tradition under Jewish tradition. He doesn't use the creeds or father's quotes as "guns". He's interested to show the Jewish foundation of latter Christian Theology.

00:43 27Jan10 Joe C. Davidson -
By the repeated affirmations in the Torah on the part of Adonai that he did not have a different rule for strangers in the camp than the native born, and the fact that the new covenant is with Israel, as well as Ephesians says we as gentiles are engrafted into Israel, also that Adonai said don't add to or take from my word: it would seem natural for us gentiles to worship the God of Israel in the way he prescibed for His people. Which people we are, now that we are engrafted.

  -- Webmaster replies: As Galatians 3:28 makes clear, Gentiles are not Jews - "There are neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua." By listing three categories of people in which it is impossible to blur the edges (not many men have babies, after all), Sha'ul demonstrates how those categories continue to exist as distinct groups yet find unity in the Messiah. The Gentile calling remains distinct, as does the Jewish calling, working alongside each other in the body, each performing their own unique function as well as their co-operative and overlapping functions. Gentiles can (and, indeed, should) certainly share with Jewish people to worship in a Jewish context. Jews may share with Gentile people to worship in a Gentile context.

Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Marty Shoub: The Immovable Stone
Eitan Shishkoff: "When There Is No Rain"
Asher Intrater: The Ladder Of Gospel And Law
Liat And Idan: Israeli Evangelism In India