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The Apostolic Church argued over WHEN to keep Passover (Quartodeciman Controversy)

Posted Apr 25, 2022 by Danutasn Brown in Christian History
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Intro regarding the Changing of the Law

And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws (Daniel 7:25)

Carnal human nature considers God’s law to be an arbitrary thing, just like man’s own laws are. In one country alcohol is illegal, in another it is sold only to those above 21, at another above 18; some countries you cannot drink outside publicly – like the US – and others would see this prohibition as an outrage (I did, as someone moving from Thailand to America prior to conversion). America prohibited alcohol in 1920, and it lasted 13 years, and then it was legalized again. And thus man’s laws are as fickle and variable as his moods, forms of governments, and cultural trends.

But are God’s laws like this? We know they are not, for Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and his law is an outgrowth of that unchanging character of goodness and self-sacrifice. His law is more akin to laws such as gravity, which is unchanging regardless of time and place.

But humans think that God is like us, and thus we see His law as something we can just change based on convenience. This is especially true when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. When Roman imperial law is considered Christian law, where did Rome’s laws (which could be changed and updated) end, and Christian laws begin? The church-state system had failed in Israel due to man’s hardness of heart, and its failure was to be a lesson to the new Christian church made up of people of all nations and languages – that it should not get involved in politics. (see Tim Jenning's excellent lecture on this, entitled Designer or Dictator)

But it happened, and all the pagans of Rome became “Christians”. Theologians became policy creators, thinking how to use the state to shape society. They felt God’s law could be updated to better fit their context. Thus the 10 Commandments of Rome is different, with the command not to worship idols deleted.

But this change took time, for Christianity didn’t officially become the state religion until 380AD with the Edict of Thessalonica. Originally, the church was distinct from Rome, refusing to serve in its army or get involved in politics. It was initially a Jewish-led Church, and the Jewish converts added to their deep reverence to the law of God the recognition that they needed the Son of God to be able to understand and keep that law.

 

What laws were kept?

Our article is on the Passover, and on this we will focus. The current debate among Adventists is whether we should keep the feasts or not, with most seeing it is as ceremonial and therefore done away with at the cross. But Daniel says it was the sacrifices and offerings that were done away with. The Sabbath, which is also called a feast in Lev 23 and during which sacrifices were done (double a normal day of the continual sacrifice, Numbers 28), is observed by us. So what about the Passover? What did the early church think about this feast?

The Apostolic church kept the Sabbath, the health laws, and the feasts – the most important of which was Passover, for Jesus had died and was resurrected during it and had told the disciples to foot wash and do communion at that time. In fact, the controversy was not whether or not it should be celebrated, but when it should be celebrated. The controversy of when to celebrate the feast honoring Jesus death and resurrection has never gone away – the Orthodox church disputes the date with the Catholic church to this day.

 

Why do we know nothing about this controversy?

We know nothing about this debate because of the position we inherited from our Adventist forefathers, who considered “Easter” a “Catholic festival” – implying that it is unbiblical and made up by the Papacy, and that it is Pagan and is connected to the worship of Ishtar (Easter) or other gods and the vernal equinox and the harvest. For example, Walter Veiths 3min video Easter? There is No Such Thing (Pagan Origins)Also, J.N. Andrews is dismissive of the controversy in his book the History of the Sabbath (see end of chapter 13), where his dealing with the feasts is deeply affected by his erroneous ideas on the covenant that I don't feel the need to get into it here (see Chapter 7 of that book).

The Jewish feasts were definitely also connected to the harvests. It undoubtedly comes down from antiquity to honor and thank God for our harvests, and that is why all nations have celebrations, new years, or ceremonies connected to the harvest. Passover had first fruits, and its timing was connected to the ripening of Abib – barley, the first grain to be ready to reap. Tabernacles was connected to the fruit harvest, at the end of the harvest season. Between these two dates was the most joyous and bountiful time of year, compared to the dark, cold days of winter.

Many say that anything connected to the harvest is pagan, which isn't true. It is like avoiding the sun and living inside because the sun was worshipped as a god, or to stop drinking water because the Philistines worshipped Dagon, the god of water. It is to say the Saturday is evil, because it is dedicated to Saturn. Do we let man’s definitions of God’s creations overrule God’s purposes? Can man, by imagining his own evil on something, make something evil that God has created good? Surely we can misuse the things God created, but we cannot fundamentally change its essence from good to evil, or as belonging to God to belonging to Satan.

Paul and the early Christians were not worshipping Ishtar when they gathered together to keep the Passover and remember the words taught to them at that holy time. Nearly a third of the book of John was spoken to the disciples during Christ’s last Passover on this earth. The timeline of the events of Passover, unleavened bread, sabbath, and first fruits, have been made eternally a part of the passion of Christ. Not to understand these feasts, means to not understand why all the Jews were there in Jerusalem, what they were doing, what types Jesus was trying to fulfill, and why the Jews misunderstood the types.

Some say keeping the feasts will cause us to forget the typology, and draw us away from Jesus. Such reasoning is ridiculous. Does keeping the Sabbath cause us to forget creation? Does reading the law cause us to forget grace? Does remembering the Passover cause us to forget what happened on Passover? Does learning about the Son cause us to forget the Father? They shouldn't be. Doing the first establishes the second.

 

What was first changed?

I will leave arguments for Paul teaching the keepings of Passover to another article, but it looks clear enough when Paul says that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven (old covenant of works), neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (new covenant relationship agape faith of Jesus)”. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8

In the same epistle he recounts how

“Jesus that in the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, ‘Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.’ After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”  (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

While we can do communion at any time (along with foot washing) due to our understanding of the everlasting cross - Christ suffering continually to give us life through our carnal nature - the fact that “this bread” is mentioned here suggests a connection to Passover, for the bread that Jesus took the night of his last supper would have been unleavened bread, connecting the fact that “as often as ye eat this bread” – this unleavened bread, you do shew the Lord’s death till He come. This particularly special type of bread is connected to this particular special time. Communion is forever linked with the sacrifice of Jesus, and so is the Passover. They become intertwined, a new international festival for Christians, as Ellen White states. Thisis exactly what it turned into, as shown in the history of Christianity.

Christ was standing at the point of transition between two economies and their two great festivals. He, the spotless Lamb of God, was about to present Himself as a sin offering, that He would thus bring to an end the system of types and ceremonies that for four thousand years had pointed to His death. As He ate the Passover with His disciples, He instituted in its place the service that was to be the memorial of His great sacrifice. The national festival of the Jews was to pass away forever. The service which Christ established was to be observed by His followers in all lands and through all ages. {DA 652.2}

Therefore, while communion can be done whenever, there is a time when it is suggested here that it must be done ­– at the Passover. And thus the Apostolic Church kept the Passover, all the churches all around the world. And that is why the word “Easter” in most other European and far-eastern languages is some variation of Pescha or Pasach – they didn’t even make a new word for the high annual Christian festival, they used the same word as in Hebrew. In English this etymological connection is sadly lost, causing much confusion all over the world as English dominates, so we get the loan word in Thai of Easter rather than Pascha, which it should be.

Albanian

Pashke

Basque

Pazko

Catalan

Pasqua

Corsican

Pasqua

Danish

påske

Dutch

Pasen

Finnish

pääsiäinen

French

Pâques

Frisian

Peaske

Galician

Pascua

Greek

Πάσχα [Páscha]

Icelandic

Páska

Italian

Pasqua

Norwegian

påske

Russian

Пасха [Paskha]

Portuguese

Páscoa

Romanian

Paști

Azerbaijani

Pasxa

Kyrgyz

Пасха

Turkish

Paskalya

Turkmen

Pasha

Uzbek

Pasxa

Kurdish (Kurmanji)

Paskalya

Malay

Paskah

Sundanese

Paska

Latin

paschae

 

The Quartodeciman Controversy

We know that the Apostolic Church kept the Passover because of the Quartodeciman controversy. As mentioned, this controversy was about when to keep the Passover, not whether or not they should keep it. This is a short 16min video on it that covers it in more detail, but I will share what I consider the most fascinating elements of how the early church dealt with this issue. (The Quartodeciman Controversy - Ancient History - Church History) I also embed it below.

Jesus kept the Passover, and so did Paul, on the 14th day of Abib, the first month of the Hebrew calendar. It is interesting to note that whereas our calendar has as its starting zero date the birth of Jesus (inaccurately), and in Thailand we have our starting date as the birth of the Buddha (now we are in year 2565), the Jews had their 0 starting point centered around Passover – the first new moon before the full moon of Passover.

And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening." (Exodus 12:1-6)

This was given even before they had reached Mount Sinai, even before they had left Egypt. This shows how important this feast and time was, and probably is to be considered the feast that God wanted the Israelites to keep, for theirs and the Egpytians’ sake, when Moses told Pharoah: “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.” We see elsewhere (Calvary in Egypt) how this feast was to keep the hedge of protection around Egypt from the Destroyer, and that is why it is so important Passover be established at the end of time before the Destroyer is allowed free access again, due to our sin and our choosing him as our master, rather than Jesus (“we have no king but Caesar” - John 19:15). Notice carefully! This going to hold a feast was prior to Sinai! In Fact Sinai was given at the Feast of Shavuot, which became known as Pentecost later.

The interesting thing about keeping Passover on the 14th of Abib made it always a Full Moon, and that it could land on anyday of the week. This annoyed the policy makers of the Roman Empire, who didn’t like having to get the date from the Jews (whom they disliked, see here), nor having to wait for the new moon sighting and the checking of Abib (which I believe was still being done, the Hillel Calendar was not used until 300 AD). They wanted a fixed date, like their Pagan holidays, that they could declare to the whole Empire, and they wanted it on Sunday to coincide with their plans to sanctify Sunday as the new holy day of Christianity. Centering the feast around Sunday (which is actually when first fruits is, which could be any number of days separated from the starting date of Passover - See Leviticus 28) would sanctify the day and make it easier to accept as the weekly feast. It would distinguish the religion from Judaism more distinctly. Thus they would introduce the Thursday-Sunday format we have today (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday, Easter – which over the centuries extended to be “Holy Week” from the original “Paschal Triduum”)

A lot of the history of the early church is shrouded in mystery, but this new format quickly spread in popularity, probably due to its convenience, its fitting the Julian Calendar, and its being sponsored by the State. As the religion grew, this dispute over the timing of Passover became more noticeable, and by 200AD it had become a big deal (at least to the Pope of Rome), and the historian Eusebius (writing in the 300s under Constantine) recounts that Pope Victor I wanted to excommunicated the churches who kept Passover on the 14th of Abib, and sent letters all over the world saying he had done so. In my knowledge, this is the first time a Pope ever excommunicated a whole group of churches. Prior to this he had excommunicated individuals like Marcion and Valentinus, and banned people from reading their works, but it wasn’t a blanket ban of established churches and respected bishops as in this case. The churches excommunicated in the Quartodeciman Controversy were ancient churches of what is now Eastern Turkey, including all the seven churches of Revelation 2-3. These churches were united in keeping it according to what they believed had been passed down to them from the disciples.

The other Bishops felt Pope Victor had gone too far and acted too rashly in his excommunication. Irenaeus, in his letter trying to calm Victor down, said that this controversy had been addressed 40 years prior by Anicetus, the Bishop of Rome, and Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna (c. AD 155, the year Polycarp died). It is important to know that though Anicetus was Bishop of Rome, and had influence due to his proximity to the seat of political power, the elderly Polycarp was probably the most revered Christian in the world at that time because he had been a disciple to John and ordained as bishop by John. He was the last one of the 2nd generation of disciples left, and he would have been in his 80s when he met Anicetus.

 And when the blessed Polycarp went to Rome, in the time of Anicetus, and they had a little difference among themselves likewise respecting other matters, they immediately were reconciled, not disputing much with one another on this head. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe it, because he had always observed it with John the disciple of our Lord, and the rest of the apostles, with whom he associated; and neither did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it, who said that he was bound to maintain the practice of the presbyters before him. Which things being so, they communed with each other; and in the church, Anicetus yielded to Polycarp, out of respect no doubt, the office of consecrating, and they separated from each other in peace, all the church being at peace; both those that observed and those that did not observe, maintaining peace.” (From Eusebius Histories)

Does this sound familiar to us? Surely there is nothing new under the sun, for though the Bishop of Rome made no big deal of it while the old generation was still alive, upon waiting for them to pass away he raised the issue again 40 years later. This is similar to what happened in the Adventist Church, as the younger leaders could not change the doctrines of the church while the pioneers lived. The younger generation was more attuned to the winds of power. This is particularly exemplified by Leroy Froom, who worked so hard to compromise the peculiar doctrines of Adventism so as to be accepted as a brother to the Sunday churches rather than a cult. Pastor Adrian Ebens said this about Leroy Froom, which includes a powerful quote by Froom:

It becomes apparent that the praise of his Adventist family would not be enough, he would need to extend this to the wider protestant community and therefore desperately sought to drag Adventism into a bigger pond where a greater praise was to be had. In speaking of his dialog with Walter Martin, Froom comments to R.R Figuhr:

“I do not know where this will lead but I do know that we have won friends in a powerful circle.” – Letter to R.R Figuhr April 26 1955

Why does an Adventist minister consider men who believe in eternal Hell, Sunday and several other false teachings as powerful? In what way are they powerful? How can these men from these Protestant churches be considered powerful? Certainly not in a Biblical sense!

Something similar can probably be said of many of the theologians in Rome in that early time – particularly Eusebius who, even by Catholic apologists, is known to be embarrassingly flattering of Constantine.

 

40 Years Later

Irenaeus brings this up in his letter to Victor so that he would calm down, encouraging him to pursue a path that the earlier Bishop of Rome had taken. Must such a severe action as excommunication be taken? It seemed most of the world had accepted a Sunday Passover, only these few holdouts were left in Eastern Turkey due to their attachment to the heritage of John. If they just waited, it would soon fade away. But Victor was in no mood to wait. Victor would test how much the other churches would listen to his declaration of “Catholic” (Universal) church policy.

Below is how Eusebius relates the events. Notice that searching the Bible is not mentioned, and it would have been hard to, for a theology of the covenants was beginning to be formed to push away anything Jewish, particularly related to Torah law, so as to allow the newly-forming Imperial Church to make her own law.

(1) There was a considerable discussion raised about this time in consequence of a difference of opinion respecting the observance of the Paschal season. The churches of all Asia, guided by a remoter tradition, supposed that they ought to keep the fourteenth day of the moon of the festival of the Paschal Lamb; and it was incumbent on them, at all times, to make an end of the fast on this day on whatever day of the week it should happen to fall. But as it was not the custom to celebrate it in this manner in the churches throughout the rest of the world, who observed the practice that has prevailed from apostolic tradition until the present time, so it would not be proper to terminate our fast on any other but the day of the resurrection of our Savior.

          Hence, there were synods and convocations of the bishops on this question; and all unanimously drew up an ecclesiastical decree, which they communicated to all the churches in all places, that the mystery of our Lord’s resurrection should be celebrated on no other day than the Lord’s day; and that one this day alone we should observe the close of the Paschal fasts.

The Quartodecimans – the fourteeners – were now led by Polycrates, Polycarp having died. He says the following in response to the pressure being put on them to conform. They will keep the 14th of Abib, for that is what Philip and John, two of the disciples of Jesus did, as well as many other honored elders who have passed away.

(1) The Bishops of Asia, preserving in observing the custom handed down to them from their fathers, were headed by Polycrates. He indeed had also set forth the tradition handed down to them in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome: (2) “We,” said he,” therefore, observe the genuine day; neither adding thereto nor taking therefrom. For in Asia great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again in the day of the Lord’s appearing, in which he will come with glory from heaven, and will raise up all the saints; Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis, and his two virgin daughters. His other daughter, also, who having lived under the influence of the Holy Ghost, now likewise rests in Ephesus. (3) Moreover, John, who rested upon the bosom of our Lord; who also was a priest, and bore the sacerdotal plate (πέταλον), both a martyr and teacher. (4) He is buried in Ephesus; also, Polycarp of Smyrna, both bishops and martyr. Thraseas, also, bishop and martyr of Eumenia, (5) who is buried at Smyrna. Why should I mention Sagaris, bishop and martyr, who rests at Laodicea? Moreover, the blessed Papirius; and Melito, the eunuch, whose walk and conversation was altogether under the influence of the Holy Spirit, who now rests at Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead. (6) All these observed the fourteenth day of the Passover according to the gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. Moreover, I, Polycrates, who am the least of all of you, according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have followed. For there were seven, my relative’s bishops, and I am the eighth; and my relatives always observed the day when the people (i.e., the Jews) threw away the leaven. (7) I, therefore, brethren am now sixty-five years in the Lord, who having conferred with the brethren throughout the world, and having studied the whole of the sacred Scriptures, am not at all alarmed at those things with which I am threatened, to intimidate me. For they who are greater than I, have said, ‘we ought to obey God rather than men.’”

          (8) After this, he also proceeded to write concerning all the bishops who were present and thought the same with himself: “I could also mention.” Said he, “the bishops that were present, whom you requested to be summoned by me, and who, I did call. Whose names, did I write them, would present a great number. Who, however, seeing my slender body, consented to the epistle, well knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs for naught, but that I did at all times regulate my life in the Lord Jesus.”

(9) Upon this, Victor, the bishop of the church of Rome, endeavored to cut off the churches of all Asia, together with neighboring churches, as unorthodox from the common unity. And he published abroad by letters and proclaimed, that all the brethren there were wholly excommunicated. (10) But this was not the opinion of all bishops. They immediately exhorted him, on the contrary, to contemplate that course that was calculated to promote peace, unity, and love to one another.

So we see that the other bishops were not as quick to excommunicate as the Bishop of Rome. But even though they called for religious freedom and love, all could see what direction the church was moving: more centralization, more power to Rome, more fitting in with imperial policy, more enforced unity; less individual conscience, less freedom to regions and individual congregations, less leting the Bible decide, and less care for what the original apostles and pioneers did.

 

Why this great push to stop Passover being held on the 14th of Abib?

People who aren’t Christian, or are not invested in the Bible, tend to say – Saturday or Sunday, is there really such a difference? Is God limited by days? And of course God isn’t, but He has created His creation a certain way, with rest being enshrined into Saturday. It is like me saying breathing air or breathing water, is God limited by breathing? He isn’t, but He created us to breathe oxygen. But this type of thinking was lost, and that is why for a thousand years during the dark ages the Christian world didn’t really make any scientific discoveries. It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation, when Christians began to realize that God was a God of order and had created things according to laws and systems, that we studied nature thinking it had logic to it, rather than being arbitrary, random, mystical, and magical.

Passover must be important, for it was what He wanted Pharoah to allow the Israelites to do. And God set up His whole calendar (for which he created the sun and moon – Gen 1:14) to keep the feasts on the correct day. Note that the Hebrew calendar uses both Sun and Moon; whereas the Roman-Papal calendar is totally solar and full of man’s astronomical ingenuities – the moon is ignored, as the begotten son has become ignored (see the progression of the begotten Son from the Apostles’ Creed to the Athanasian Creed – He is steadily diminished until He vanishes). Of course, there were sincere people who supported Sunday Passover for the sake of unity - better us all do the same thing - not realizing where the flow of history was moving, nor that God had designed Passover into the fabric of time. 

The reason I think that Satan wanted the Quartodeciman groups to vanish was that he didn’t want them to make a fuss when all the real decisions would be made in the early 300s. This is when the Jews would give up the Abib calendar and the Nicaean Council would set in stone church dogma, supposedly forever. Once Sunday was enshrined as the date of resurrection, then they could really begin to push Sunday, and that is what we see – the Lord’s Day being Sunday is only found in the literature after 194 AD (So JN Andrews states at the end of Chapter 13 of his History of the Sabbath), which is when Victor excommunicated the Quartodecimans. Thus the Sunday Passover was the channel into the Sunday Sabbath. (In this I am indebted to this series of excellent articles by the 'Sabbath Sentinel', which is a treasure of information)

 

Final note

In America, Christians keeping Passover seems to have started with the 7th Day Church of God, a denomination begun by Gilbert Cranmer, who was a Christian Connection Minister, a Biblical Unitarian, and was introduced to the Sabbath by Joseph Bates. They started their own organization distinct from James and Ellen White. They would accept the Passover and preach it to today, and if you search for anything regarding the Quartodeciman Controversy, many resources are by their denomination. Regarding this, they are quite good, though I don’t think they understand Abib (Thank God for our Pioneers and the Midnight Cry to get Oct 22, 1844 from the Karaites), and they believe in a Wednesday Crucifixion – Saturday Evening Resurrection (which we disagree with).

The other group that is gaining in prominence and popularity that is raising this issue again is Orthodox Christians. Why? Because they don’t celebrate Easter the day the Catholic Church does. For example, this year (2022), they celebrated it on Sunday April 24, 2022 compared to April 17, and sometimes this can be as much as 5 weeks apart. As we know, to be a minority and doing something different puts you on the defensive, and so serious Orthodox Christians feel compelled to defend their dating.

Briefly stated, they claim to follow the Nicene Creed whereas the Catholic Church no longer does. I don’t understand the full details, but it seems that the Nicene Creed declared that Christian Passover must come after Jewish Passover, and so it was kept by the mainstream churches for 1500 years. But when the Pope wanted to make a more accurate calendar in 1582 AD, he set the timing of Easter that now it can sometimes be before the Jewish Passover, which is deemed unacceptable to Orthodox Christians. It seems they still use the Julian Calendar also.

Because of their many disputes with Western Catholic Christianity, Orthodox Christians have dug up a lot of old history to prove they are in the right, history that Latin Christianity would have liked to remain buried. I personally support these other groups that are heterodox compared to the mainstream setting of dates that is blindly accepted by people, and I pray in the future we can reach out and work together. The original video I shared above is by an Orthodox Christian.

To be read by me: The Life of Polycarp