Some Questions about Purim, Hanukkah and Christmas

Discussion in 'Worship' started by Tom Hart, Dec 4, 2018.

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  1. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    Did Jesus celebrate Purim and Hanukkah?

    Does it matter if he did?

    Does the establishment of Purim (Esther 9:20-22) and Hanukkah (1 Macc. 4:59; see also John 10:22) go against the set patterns of days and festivals that God had given through Moses?

    How does this affect the doctrine of the Regulative Principle? Does it show that believers are at liberty to set aside festival days?
  2. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

  3. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior

    An honest question:

    Would you have issues with celebrating these days as long as they were not considered "holy days" which by necessity binds men's consciences?
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2018
  4. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    You'll have to explain what that would look like.
  5. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    According to Gillespie, they would presumably be "days of civil mirth and gladness, such as are in use with us, when we set out bonfires, and other tokens of civil joy, for some memorable benefit which the kingdom or commonwealth has received. For they are not called the holidays of Purim, but simply the days of Purim, “days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another” (Esther 9:19, 22). No word of any worship of God in those days."

    It's not clear why Gillespie thinks that a day of civil mirth and gladness with no act of worship would be a good thing in response to a divine act of deliverance such as we see in the Book of Esther, even if that was what actually happened. It's clear that the Puritans favored days of public thanksgiving for special providences that included acts of religious worship (see the Westminster Directory of Public Worship). Had the events of Esther's day happened in Puritan times, it is unimaginable that they wouldn't have gathered in church (at the behest o the governing authority) to pray, preach, sing psalms and give thanks.

    In fact, we don't need to speculate because the Puritans observed just such an event with respect to the gunpowder plot. Not only were there civil and religious celebrations at the time, but it was made an annual (religious) celebration by the edict of James I (and VI) in 1606. We know that one of the Westminster divines, Anthony Burgess preached on that day on 1644, presumably as part of just such an annual thanksgiving service since it wasn't a Sunday. The practice was enshrined in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. as can be seen from the service designated for November 5th (see this 18th century edition:

    So there is at least some inconsistency among the puritans on the subject, and Purim is not quite as easily disposed of as Gillespie imagines.
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  6. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    The puritans did have some variety when it came to views or practices regarding fast and thanksgiving days (such as recurrence, and the Scots were uncomfortable with the in perpetuity monthly fast in England called for until the war was over). Gillespie acknowledges the call for providential fasts or thanksgiving days.
    2. God has given His church a general precept for extraordinary fasts (Joel 1:14; 2:15), as likewise for extraordinary festivities to praise God, and to give Him thanks in the public assembly of His people, upon the occasional motive of some great benefit which by the means of our fasting and praying we have obtained (Zech. 8:19 with Zech. 7:3).
    In the case of Purim as far as what happened at the time, he's of one school of thought as far as only civil joy, etc. I tend of agree with Thomas M'Crie the elder who disagrees with Gillespie and that school. Gillespie's English Popish Ceremonies is a remarkable work, for a 22-23 year old, but isn't a perfect work (there are actual mistakes). ;) That being said, M'Crie takes the same view in end as far as recurrence and as far as the attempt to color out of the lines and argue from occasional days of fasting and thanksgiving to the set apart "holy" days as actually holy, like the Lord's Day, against which is what Gillespie et al were arguing. Here M'Crie, it is not that long. The text below comes from The Religious Observance of Christmas and ‘Holy Days’ in American Presbyterianism.
    Appendix 1: Thomas M’Crie on The Days of Purim
    [In the following extract Dr. M’Crie addresses the nature of the days of Purim, the authority of their appointment, and the relevance of these days to ‘holy days’ and the Westminster Confession’s days of fasting and thanksgiving. ]

    The feast referred to in our text is called the feast of Purim, or Lots, from the Persic word pur, which signifies the lot; and the name was given it because Haman had cast lots to determine the day on which he should destroy all the Jews; but He who has the disposal of the lot, “caused his wicked device to return on his own head,” and saved his people.

    There are two questions respecting this feast. What was its nature? And by what authority was it enjoined?

    What was its nature? Was it religious, or merely civil? Some interpreters are of opinion that it was entirely civil or political, and intended to commemorate a temporal deliverance, by such expressions of outward joy as are common among all people on such occasions. In corroboration of this opinion, they observe that nothing peculiarly sacred is mentioned as belonging to its celebration, but only eating and drinking, rejoicing, and sending portions to one another, and gifts to the poor; that they were not restricted from ordinary work, but merely rested from the trouble and sorrow which they had lately felt. But though it should be granted that the description contains nothing but expressions of secular joy, we would scarcely be warranted to maintain that this feast had no religious character. It is of the nature of this Book not to bring forward religion expressly, for reasons that we formerly assigned. Would we say that the fast formerly observed by Esther and the Jews in Shushan consisted solely in abstinence from food, because there is no mention of prayer combined with it? Nay, we find this exercise specified in the account of the feast: “they had decreed for themselves and for their seed the matters of their fastings and their cry,” that is, their prayer (v.31). Now, though this should be understood as looking back on their exercise when the murderous edict was first promulgated, yet its being named here gives a religious character to the feast. Can we suppose that they would fast and pray during their distress, and not rejoice before the Lord, and give thanks to him after he had hearkened to them? But it is more natural to understand the words prospectively, and they may be translated thus – “adding fasting and prayer.” Accordingly, in after times, the Jews kept the thirteenth of Adar as a fast, and the two following days as a feast.

    By what authority was it enjoined? Or, in other words, did the observance of it rest on mere human authority? Did Mordecai, in proposing it, act from the private motion of his own mind; and, in confirming it, did he proceed entirely upon the consent of the people? Or was he guided in both by divine and extraordinary counsel, imparted to him immediately, or by some prophetic person living at that time? That the vision and the prophecy were still enjoyed by the Jews dwelling in Persia, cannot be denied by those who believe the canonical authority of this book, and what is contained in that of Ezra. We have already seen reasons for thinking Mordecai acted under the influence of the faith of Moses’ parents, from the time that he proposed his cousin Esther as a candidate to succeed Vashti the queen. There can be no doubt that he was raised up in an extraordinary manner as a saviour to Israel; and in the course of this Lecture we have seen grounds for believing that, in addition to his other honours, he was employed as the penman of this portion of inspired scripture. From all these considerations, it is reasonable to conclude that the feast of Purim was not instituted without divine counsel and approbation. Add to this, that the decree of Esther confirming it, is expressly said, in the close of this chapter, to have been engrossed in this book, by whomsoever it was written.

    From what has been said, we may infer that this passage of Scripture gives no countenance to religious festivals, or holidays of human appointment, especially under the New Testament. Feasts appear to have been connected with sacrifices from the most ancient times; but the observance of them was not brought under any fixed rules until the establishment of the Mosaic law. Religious festivals formed a noted and splendid part of the ritual of that law; but they were only designed to be temporary; and having served their end in commemorating certain great events connected with the Jewish commonwealth, and in typifying certain mysteries now clearly revealed by the gospel, they ceased, and, along with other figures, vanished away. To retain these, or to return to them after the promulgation of the Christian law, or to imitate them by instituting festivals of a similar kind, is to doat on shadows — to choose weak and beggarly elements — to bring ourselves under a yoke of bondage which the Jews were unable to bear, and interpretatively to fall from grace and the truth of the gospel. “Ye observe days and months, and times and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holiday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come.” Shall we suppose that Christ and his apostles, in abrogating those days which God himself had appointed to be observed, without instituting others in their room, intended that either churches or individuals should be allowed to substitute whatever they pleased in their room? Yet the Christian church soon degenerated so far as to bring herself under a severer bondage than that from which Christ had redeemed her, and instituted a greater number of festivals than were observed under the Mosaic law, or even among pagans.

    To seek a warrant for days of religious commemoration under the gospel from the Jewish festivals, is not only to overlook the distinction between the old and new dispensations, but to forget that the Jews were never allowed to institute such memorials for themselves, but simply to keep those which infinite Wisdom had expressly and by name set apart and sanctified. The prohibitory sanction is equally strict under both Testaments: “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.”

    There are times when God calls, on the one hand, to religious fasting, or, on the other, to thanksgiving and religious joy; and it is our duty to comply with these calls, and to set apart time for the respective exercises. But this is quite a different thing from recurrent or anniversary holidays. In the former case the day is chosen for the duty, in the latter the duty is performed for the day; in the former case there is no holiness on the day but what arises from the service which is performed on it, and when the same day afterwards recurs, it is as common as any other day; in the latter case the day is set apart on all following times, and may not be employed for common or secular purposes. Stated and recurring festivals countenance the false principle, that some days have a peculiar sanctity, either inherent or impressed by the works which occurred on them; they proceed on an undue assumption of human authority; interfere with the free use of that time which the Creator hath granted to man; detract from the honour due to the day of sacred rest which he hath appointed; lead to impositions over conscience; have been the fruitful source of superstition and idolatry; and have been productive of the worst effects upon morals, in every age, and among every people, barbarous and civilized, pagan and Christian, popish and protestant, among whom they have been observed. On these grounds they were rejected from the beginning, among other corruptions of antichrist, by the reformed Church of Scotland, which allowed no stated religious days but the Christian Sabbath.
  7. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    This is excellent.
  8. G

    G Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks for sharing this! I have already shared with others. The author makes a great point.
  9. richardnz

    richardnz Puritan Board Freshman

    The Regulative Principle does not require a explicit command to establish God’s will in worship or in anything else.

    The Exile and Return are a very important part of the history of salvation. You can see this simply from the amount of the OT written around these events, ie Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and more.

    Jeremiah 23:7 says:-

    “So then, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when people will no longer say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ Then they will live in their own land.”

    I have noticed that the Return from the Exile is often not given its true biblical significance in much Christian literature. It is this Deliverance and Return that is celebrated by Purim, and it was vital that it should be celebrated. Jeremiah 23:7 suggests that the Deliverance is so important that the glory of God reflected in the deliverance from Egypt will be eclipsed by the Deliverance from Babylon. In both cases the people of God were in subjection and oppressed by the heathen nation of their captivity. The Devil was working toward extermination of the covenant seed, more rapidly in the plan of Haman than the plan of Pharaoh. In both cases a seemingly impossible series of events took place such that the faithful were saved by the power of God and able to establish true religion in the land of promise. The glory of God shone forth most brightly through both events.

    Commenting on this passage Calvin says:-

    “He then says that the days would come in which it would not be said, Live does Jehovah, who brought his people from Egypt, but who brought his people from the land of the North Yet he does not mean that the memory of God’s favor towards the Israelites, when he brought them from Egypt, was to be abolished; but he reasons here from the less to the greater, as though he had said that it was an evidence of God’s favor that could not be sufficiently praised, when he delivered his people from the land of Egypt, that if it were taken by itself, it was worthy of being for ever remembered; but that when compared with the second deliverance it would appear almost as nothing. The meaning is, that the second redemption would be so much more remarkable than the first, that it would obscure the remembrance of it, though it would not obliterate it.”

    Given these parallels and given that the deliverance from Egypt was commemorated annually in the Passover, what would be the natural conclusion of the bible-focused Israelites as they contemplated whether to establish a day of commemoration, the day of Purim? It was obvious what to do. They simply applied the notion of “good and necessary consequence” from the WCF and realised that it was absolutely necessary to commemorate the day. To do otherwise would be an insult to the God who ordained the occasion to identify Himself with His people in place of the Exodus.
    Some may say that there was no specific command, but there is an obvious implied command in the same way we derive other commands from Scripture.

    He has commanded a time of commemoration of the deliverance from Egypt, and so clearly a similar and God-ordained occasion that is of more significance must also be commemorated. This is how we establish God’s will, God’s commands, in the broader sense, by good and necessary consequence (WCF 1:6) . The omission of Purim was never going to be an option, and it was unnecessary to receive additional special revelation to clarify the issue.

    The example of Purim shows how you can deduce God’s commands without requiring a specific command. This is how the confessional Regulative Principle works.
  10. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    You quote Calvin here, but you will be unable to show that he would countenance such a view of worship as you have given.

    He says in the early pages of The Necessity of Reforming the Church,

    "[T]he rule which distinguishes between pure and vitiated worship is of universal application, in order that we may not adopt any device which seems fit to ourselves, but look to the injunction of him who alone is entitled to prescribe. Therefore, if we would have him to approve our worship, this rule, which he everywhere enforces with the utmost strictness, must be carefully observed. For there is a twofold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish his authority that we do not follow our own pleasures but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, what when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions. Justly, therefore, does the Lord, in order to assert his full right of dominion, strictly enjoin what he wishes us to do, and at once reject all human devices which are at variance with his command. Justly, too, does he, in express terms, define our limits that we may not, by fabricating perverse modes of worship, provoke his anger against us.

    "I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is, that whatever they do has in itself sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honour of God. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to his worship, if at variance with his command, what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct,

    "'Obedience is better than sacrifice.' (1 Samuel 15:22) 'In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.' (Matthew 15:9)

    "Every addition to his word, especially in this matter, is a lie. Mere "will worship" εθελοθρησκεια is vanity. This is the decision, and when once the judge has decided, it is no longer time to debate."
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