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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Feasting

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1. Pagan feastings.-These are dealt with in this article only in so far as they are alluded to in the apostolic literature. The allusions are incidental, and no attempt is made at minute description.

(1) We find κῶμοι or drinking-bouts mentioned (Romans 13:13, Galatians 5:21, 1 Peter 4:3), and the licentious conduct of those who participated in these orgies may have suggested to St. Paul the famous passages in which he speaks of the works of darkness (cf. Ephesians 5:11-14, 1 Thessalonians 5:4 f.), for these bouts took place at night as distinguished from the tempestiva convivia which ended in daylight: ‘those that be drunken are drunken in the night’ (1 Thessalonians 5:7).

‘When night

Darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons

Of Belial, flown with insolence and wine’

(Milton, Paradise Lost, i. 500ff).

To Plato also they suggested a picture of the licentious tyrannical soul (Rep. ix. 573): ‘there will be feasts and carousals and revellings and courtezans, and all that sort of thin; Love (Ἔρως) is the lord of the house within him, and orders all the concerns of his soul.’

Flagrant, shameless immorality was the invariable result of such feasts, and so we find associated with them ἀσέλγεια, μέθαι, οἰνοφλυγία, ἀσωτία. ‘Wine, women, and song’ went together. Plato speaks of δεῖπνα καὶ σὺν αὐλητρίσι κῶμοι (Theœt. 173 D), and it may be that, when St. Paul exhorts Christians to use psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, he is contrasting the grand reverent music of Christian meetings with the ribald songs of pagan feasts. One may compare the phrase in Pliny’s correspondence (Epp. x. 97): ‘carmen Christo quasi Deo secum invicem.’ A favourite topic of conversation at such gatherings was ἔρως, which is interesting when one thinks of the Christian Agape.

Although philosophers might be able to discuss this topic on a high moral plane (cf. Plato, Symposium), yet ordinarily the ‘love’ spoken of was simply ‘lust.’

St. Paul knew that just as Judaism could descend to this worldly, sensual plane of living when God was forgotten, so also could Christianity. The motto of this kind of life was ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die’-perhaps the philosophic creed of a few, but certainly the practice of many. Hence St. Peter calls it the ‘will of the Gentiles’ (1 Peter 4:3), and St. Paul contrasts it with the ‘will of the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:17). The great moralists of paganism condemned these bouts, and St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:33) quotes Menander (acc. to Jerome on Galatians 4:24)-himself an Epicurean-against the view of life summed up in the aphorism, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.’ The Corinthians, doubting the resurrection-life, must wake up from drunkenness in a righteous fashion. Such deeds of darkness as were associated with these κῶμοι were to be utterly left alone (cf. Romans 13:13 f, a passage for ever associated with the conversion of St. Augustine). Christians were to be filled with the Spirit, not with wine, which leads to profligacy (ἀσωτία). Profligacy is associated with drinking-bouts in 2 Maccabees 6:4 and Test. Jud. 16:1; ‘There are four evil demons in wine-lust, burning sensual desire, profligacy, base greed, of gain.’

Disregard of a future life easily led to sensualism (see Meyer’s Kommentar on 1 Corinthians 15:33 for inscriptions on drinking-cups recently discovered). Christians would of course be looked on by their former pagan associates as austere, gloomy Puritans for leaving aside these practices. So St. Peter declares, and Tertullian later on says: ‘What a jolly boon companion that young man was, and now he is good for nothing; he has become a Christian. What a gay woman that was, how agreeably wanton, and now one dare not utter the least indecency in her presence’ (Apol. 3).

(2) It was not simply gross, licentious, heathen feasts that came into conflict with the moral earnestness of Christianity, but also feasts connected with religions cults. These cults were everywhere, and the cult of the Emperor was sometimes associated with them. They constituted a grave danger owing to the religious sanction they gave to immorality and the easy path they opened up towards virtual apostasy. To participate in these religious feasts was distinctly forbidden, although, according to St. Paul at least, the meat offered for sale in the open markets could be bought.

Christian converts had been brought up in an atmosphere where the belief in the influence of demons was taken for granted, and indeed the common belief of Judaism was similar. The Jew incurred pollution through partaking of food offered to idols. It was believed that the evil spirit entered the food and resided even in those portions sold in public; ‘lying hid there for a long time, they (i.e. demons) blend with your souls’ (Clem. Hom. ix. 9). An extreme form of this view is found in Eusebius (Prœp. Evang. iv. 23-a quotation From Porphyry): ‘Bodies are full of demons; for they particularly delight in foods of various kinds. So when we eat they seize upon the body.’ It was therefore absolutely imperative to attain from festivals connected with idol-worship.

‘Where the feast is held under the auspices of a heathen god and as a sequel to his sacrifice,’ then abstinence must Follow; ‘participation under these circumstances becomes an act of apostasy, and the feaster Identifies himself with the idol as distinctly as in the Lord’s Supper he identifies himself with Christ’ (G. G. Findlay in Expositor’s Greek Testament ii. [1900] 732).

(3) It was not as easy, however, to decide the right Christian attitude in the case of civic and business festivities. Trade-gilds and social clubs were numerous and gave their members many social and commercial advantages. They could hold property, and they gave relief in cases of need to their members. These gilds were under the patronage of some deity who was honoured in feasts-common meals of a sacramental kind at which members ate and drank reclining on couches. These meals were often scenes of revelry (see Ramsay in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 758-9), and it required great constancy on the part of Christian members of such gilds to keep their faith. St. Paul recognizes the impossibility of absolute aloofness from these and from social gatherings; but while he maintains the nonentity of idols, he recognizes the practical power of demonic influence. He allows freedom of intercourse to the strong Christian-provided he keeps from idolatry and fornication-but he recognizes the danger. This was threefold. The weak brother might be made to stumble, the strong Christian might himself be enticed, and the heathen might conclude that the Christianity of the Christian participant meant little. There were three dangers the Apostle had to face in settling this question. There was the danger of asceticism, the danger of a relapse into Judaistic rites, and the danger of antinomian laxity. The danger of asceticism is met in the Colossian Epistle. St. Paul combats abstinence (see article Abstinence). From his mention of angel-worship and στοιχεῖα it seems clear that the demonic influences referred to above were believed in by the errorists of Colossae. Judaistic influence is also discernible (sec article Colossians) The Judaistic errors are met in the Galatian Epistle. It is the libertine antinomian error that seemed most likely to overcome the Gentile Church. St. Paul meets it in 1 Corinthians. The letters to Pergamos and Thyatira meet it with forcible denunciation and threatening (see such articles as Balaam, Jezebel, Nicolaitans), and in 2 Peter and Jude we have an attitude similar to that of St. John (Revelation).

2. Christian feasts (for the Jewish feasts mentioned in the NT see articles New Moon, Passover, Pentecost, Sabbath, etc.). We have the Lord’s Supper as a distinctively Christian feast (see Eucharist), and at least once Agape occurs (see Love-Feast). The well-known Church festivals are of later origin. St. Paul once (1 Corinthians 5:8) uses the term ‘feast’ in a metaphorical sense of the whole life of the Christian community. Philo had interpreted in this fashion before him (de Migr. Abrah. 16). This is suggested to St. Paul by the Lord’s Supper, and the thought is found recurring in later writers. Clement of Alexandria speaks of the whole Christian life of the true Gnostic as a holy panegyric (joyful assembly) (Strom. vii. 7). Chrysostom also says that for Christians their whole life is a feast owing to the superabundance of the good gifts bestowed on them (quoted by Findlay, Expositor’s Greek Testament , on 1 Corinthians 5:8). This feast, says St. Paul, must be held in sincerity and truth.

In 2 Peter 2:13, Judges 1:12 we have an account of libertines who frequent the Christian feasts, but who turn them into occasions of pleasure. The textual questions involved need not be raised here. Even we read ἀπάταις in 2 Pet. for ἀγάπαις (as in Judges 1:12), the reference seems in both places to be to the Christian love-feasts (the term εὐωχία is used of the love-feast by Clem. Alex. Pœd, ii. 1. 6), and a class of men is brought before us who live immoral lives while yet claiming the right to participate in the Christian love-feasts.

These Christian feasts were early misunderstood by pagans. Christians were accused of atheism, of immorality, and of cannibalism. Pliny, by speaking of the innocence of Christian feasts, implies that he had heard these accusations. Similar charges are repudiated by Justin Martyr (Apol. i. 26), and later by Tertullian (Apol. 7, 8). The Christians defended themselves on the ground that such accusations were baseless, or else that they could only be brought against heretics (cf. Iren. I. xxv. 3, and Justin Martyr, Apol. i. 26). For a later defence see Eusebius, HE [Note: E Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.).] 4, 7. That there was some ground for the charge of immorality, even Peter and Jude bear witness, but they testify also to the stern morality of true Christianity.

Literature.-For κῶμοι see Classical Dictionaries: E. Hatch, The Organization of the Early Christian Churches, 1881, Lecture ii. (gives reference to associations.); W. M. Ramsay, article Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) on ‘Pergamus,’ ‘Thyatira,’ etc., also The Church in the Roman Empire, 1893, Index, s.v. ‘Sodalitates.’ Reference must also be made to NT Introductions like Zahn’s (Eng. translation , 1909) and works on the Apostolic Age.

Donald Mackenzie.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Feasting'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/f/feasting.html. 1906-1918.

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