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Interpreting Paul

Learning About Paul

Saul and Stephen

Saul's Conversion?

Saul or Paul?

Paul's Self-ID

Paul & the Synagogue

the Day after Sabbath

Paul & the Festivals

Paul and the Festivals

      We know that Jesus kept the biblical festivals and honored the instructions in Deu. 16:16 that all Jewish men should go to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate Passover, Shavuot (Weeks), and Sukkot (Tabernacles). But what about Paul? Did he do the same?

      There were many occasions on which Paul was on a journey or imprisoned, and not able to get to Jerusalem for the festivals. But several times he expressed an intent to do that.

      Of course we know that before Paul was on the scene, the early disciples were instructed to stay in Jerusalem form Passover until Pentecost (Acts 1:4). Jesus wanted his disciples to continue the command to celebrate the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem, which the did (Acts 2). But what about Paul?

      We first notice that one of Paul's first trips to Jerusalem from Antioch coincided with Passover, or perhaps it was intentional. In Acts 11:30 Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem with a gift in the face of the predicted famine. In Acts 12:2-4 it is pointed out that this happens during Passover. In fact, with many people gathered together (12:12) and Rhoda going to answer the door, it is reminiscent of the time during the Passover Seder when a child goes to the door to open it for Elijah. At the end of chapter 12, after Passover (and maybe Pentecost) Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch.

      During Paul's third journey he expresses a desire to return to Jerusalem by Pentecost (20:16). We wonder if perhaps he intended to go for Passover but was delayed. As we follow the text backward, we see that he had left Philippi after Passover (20:6). He had been there for three months, and had to change his travel plans because of a plot of the Jews. Instead of sailing for Syria (and Jerusalem) he went instead back through Macedonia. Following the text back further we see (19:21) where he made his decision to go to Jerusalem, probably with the expectation of arriving in time for Passover. But as we've seen, he was delayed and doesn't make it in time.

      In Acts 27:9 Paul is sailing toward Rome. Jerusalem is not involved. But Paul still orients his calendar by the Jewish festivals. The Fast he speaks of is the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, which falls in mid-autumn. Paul's point was that since it was after the Fast, it was too close to winter for safe sailing. But it is interesting that he addresses seasons by the biblical festivals. He certainly had not put them out of his mind.

      The final example is in I Cor. 16:8. Paul expresses a desire to stay to stay at Ephesus until Pentecost because a great door for ministry is open for him. Why, then, would he leave at Pentecost? Presumably because of the command to observe the festivals in Jerusalem. If it had not been such an open door in Ephesus, he likely would have gone by Passover, and he feels the need to justify not doing that.

      These examples illustrate that Paul remained aware of his obligation to go to Jerusalem for the festivals, and tried to do that whenever possible, as the Torah commanded.

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I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me.
Psalm 119 :102