Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 21 Number 1 January 2019
Page 11

What Is Hanukkah?

R.C. Lupo

R.C. LupoHanukkah is a feast that was instituted by Judas Maccabaeus (not God) in the year 164 or 165 B.C., in commemoration of him purifying the Temple after it had been defiled by the Syrian, Antiochus Epiphanes. When Antiochus heard that the Jews had made great rejoicings because of a report of his death, he quickly left Egypt, returned to Jerusalem and took the city by storm. Of the inhabitants, in three days, he slew forty thousand Jews; forty thousand more, he sold for slaves to the neighboring nations. Not content with this, he sacrificed a great sow on the altar of burnt offerings, and broth being made by his command of some of the flesh, he sprinkled all over the Temple, including the Holy of Holies, intending to defile it completely.

There are not just a few problems with the historical accuracy of the Maccabean record. There are at least two (some say three) contradictory accounts of the death of Antiochus Epiphanes, mentioned above. One narrative records that Antiochus and his company were “cut to pieces in the temple of Nanaea by the treachery of Nanaea’s priests” (2 Maccabees 1:13-16), while another version in the same book states that Antiochus was “taken with a noisome sickness” and so “ended his life among the mountains by a most piteous fate in a strange land” (9:19-29).

We must remember that the apocryphal books are not inspired of God. Israel had become so wicked that God cut off His communication with the Israelites. The apocryphal books:

Originated During Divine Silence: The apocryphal books were produced in an era when no inspired documents were being given by God. Malachi concludes his narrative in the Old Testament by urging Israel: “Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, even statutes and ordinances.” He then projects four centuries into the future and prophesied: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Jehovah come” (Mal. 4:4-5). This text pictured the coming of John the Baptist (cf. Mt. 11:14; Lk. 1:17). The implication of Malachi’s prophecy is that no prophet would arise from God until the coming of John [the baptizer, RCL]. This excludes the apocryphal writings. Josephus confirms this when he declares: “It is true, our history has been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but has not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time.“ He further says that no one “has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them” (Against Apion 1.8). (Wayne Jackson. “Is the Apocrypha Inspired of God?” Christian Courier).

The Timing of the Hanukkah Feast

The Hanukkah feast began on the twenty-fifth of the month Cisleu (pronounced “Kislev”). Hanukkah seems to begin on a different date every year, but it actually occurs on the same date every year. It is just that the date is not on the secular calendar, which is also called the Gregorian calendar, which is used around the world in modern times. The date is on the Jewish calendar. There are differences between the Jewish calendar and the Gregorian calendar. Another reason why Hanukkah seems to be on a different day every year is that it is not a one-day holiday like Christmas. Hanukkah actually lasts eight days. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, which means it is based on the moon’s rotation around the earth. The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar and is based on the earth’s rotation around the sun. Because one calendar is based on the moon and the other is based on the sun, two different cycles are in use. That is why the dates are different every year on the Gregorian calendar, and that is why Hanukkah does not begin on the same day on the Gregorian calendar every year. However, Hanukkah does begin every year on the same day of the Jewish calendar. The 25th of Cisleu could fall anywhere from late November to late December on the Gregorian calendar. For example, in 2016, Hanukkah began at sunset on December 24 and ended January 1 at nightfall. In 2017, it began on December 12 at sunset and ended December 20 at nightfall. For 2018, Hanukkah began Sunday, December 2 and concluded December 10.

This feast has been the most popular of the post-biblical feasts in Judaism. Since this feast often occurs so close to Christmas, it has acquired for the Jews a comparable social significance including the custom of exchanging gifts and greeting cards.

What Does the Bible Say about Hanukkah?

If you ask non-believing (in Christ) Jews, they will tell you that the Bible says nothing about Hanukkah. This is because they only consider the Old Testament to be the Bible, inspired of God. It is true that the Old Testament says nothing about Hanukkah. The New Testament, however, which Christians believe is inspired of God, as they likewise believe about the Old Testament (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21), makes one mention of Hanukkah. In most English Bibles, the Hebrew word “Hanukkah” does not appear, but its English translation, “dedication” does. John 10:22 says, “And it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem.” The Feast of Dedication is Hanukkah. The holiday was referred to by Josephus simply as “Lights” (Josephus, Ant., b. xii. Ch. 7). Modern Jews also call it Hanukkah or the “Festival of lights.”

Did Jesus Keep (Celebrate) the Hanukkah Feast?

Messianic Jews of today like to believe that Jesus observed Hanukkah, often citing John 10:22 as proof. However, Hanukkah was not one of the original Mosaic feasts ordained by God. Though any “religious” Jew might be expected to celebrate the feast, the Mosaic law did not require it to be observed.

John’s record does not say that Jesus observed the feast. There is no doubt that He was present at the Temple while the feast was celebrated (John 10:22-26), but nothing says that He participated in it. John Wesley believed that he did. Commenting on John 10:22, he wrote, “So our Lord observed festivals even of human appointment. Is it not, at least, innocent for us to do the same?” We may be able to see a motive for his conclusion in his statement. Calvin seems to disagree with this when he writes, “Christ appeared in the temple at that time, according to custom, that his preaching might yield more abundant fruit amidst a large assembly of men.” It is said that Calvin regarded no manmade days. Motive? Perhaps, but Calvin believed Jesus was there to take advantage of an opportunity to teach. Jesus knew people would be gathered there, and He used the occasion to teach that He was the promised Christ or Messiah. Paul did the same kind of thing. Acts 13-19 tells us that Paul entered into the synagogues on numerous occasions, in various cities, every Sabbath (Acts 18:4), not to practice Judaism (as evidenced by the various attempts to kill him), but to teach about Christ and His kingdom (Acts 19:8). He went where the people or sinners were.

Jesus condemned the supplanting of God’s commands with the doctrines and traditions of men as “vain [useless and evil] worship” in Matthew 15:7-9. He said, “Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts (commandments) of men.” In an effort to keep Jews from being influenced by the Greek world and its religions, Judas Maccabeus and they who were with him ordained by a common statute and decree, that all the nation of the Jews should keep those days every year (2 Maccabees 10:1, 8). Modern Judaism recognizes Hanukkah as a tradition of man and not a command of God. There are some Jews faithful to the Torah who reject and downplay the observance of Hanukkah. While it is true that some customs of men and the observing certain days devised of men did not and do not violate the laws of either Moses or Christ (observance of Purim by Jews under Moses, Esther 9 or other days by Christians under Christ, Romans 14:5-6), God has always rejected the worship of men who disobey Him.

It is commonly believed by many today that so long as a person is religious—in some generic way—he is well-pleasing to God. The notion is popular that man is free to direct his own manner of service to the Creator. For many, there is little connection between one’s religious exercises and his daily life. Worship God—then, live as you please—has been the sentiment of the majority of people throughout all ages. It was true in Christ’s day. Amos went right to the heart of this philosophy when he spoke for God. “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Yes, though you offer me your burnt-offerings and meal­offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace­offerings of your fat beasts” (Amos 5:21-22). Insincere worship—worship divorced from justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24)—is vain.

Ironically, Hanukkah is a celebration of and requesting of the blessings of God. To this day, the majority of Jews reject God as they continue to reject the Son of God. The ultimate blessing of eternal life can only be enjoyed through one’s belief and obedience to Christ Jesus (John 8:24; Luke 6:46; John 6:29-68).

What if you are wrong and Jesus did celebrate it; if Jesus did celebrate it, shouldn’t we? The answer is, “No.” We are not under the Mosaic Law today. Hanukkah never was. Christians keep neither the feasts commanded by Moses, nor the feasts and holidays commanded by men (Colossians 2:6-23).


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