Israel's 3 feasts and Universalism


Hi All,

I’d like to kick off a discussion about an aspect of Universal Reconciliation/salvation that I haven’t seen used in evangelical books/articles (there are others but I will see how this goes before starting other threads). This particular subject concerns the prophetic significance (or not) of the 3 feasts of Israel with regard to Universalism. Now I am no great marshaller of arguments in print (the sheer volume and clarity of thought in Jason Pratt’s posts terrify me :slight_smile: - only joking Jason) so most of my posts will consist of links to other material which is explained much better by the original authors than I will be able to do.

Anyway - The thrust of this particular post concerns the 3 feasts that Israel observed during each year in the Old Testament. These are Passover (leaving Egypt), Pentecost (the giving of the law at Sinai) and tabernacles (crossing Jordan to the promised Land - also known as booths in the NT). They are each associated with a particular harvest during the year - Barley, Wheat and Grapes. barley ripens to maturity first and only needs the action of the wind to
separate the usable portion of the grain from the chaff - a process known as winnowing. Wheat ripens next and requires threshing to separate the usable from the dross (a more severe process than winnowing). Grapes ripen last and need to be pressed in order to release the required part of themselves (with a force that rips the very flesh of the fruit open).

Thus, the argument runs that these things represent the 3 orders of person referred to in the NT passage 1 Corinthians 15 (v22 on).

For as in Adam ALL die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive but every man in his own order:

  1. Christ the first fruits; (barley - winnowed).
    2 afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming (wheat - threshed).
  2. Then cometh the end (grapes - trodden or pressed)

Traditionally these verses are interpreted under the assumption that Christ the firstfruits refers to Jesus himself (which would mean that Christ himself was made alive in Christ with regard to the preceding statements in the verse) but an interesting view is quoted below: (from the site - it’s quite a way down the page)

This is a link to the full e-book ‘Creation’s Jubilee’ (from which the above extract quotes) by Dr. Stephen Jones which is quite an in-depth study of these things (including the law of Jubilee as prophetic of universalism - I will start another thread exclusively for this if people are interested) … index.html
(Chapter 6 relates specifically to the topic at hand).

This link is to an article that is a short but good introduction to this particular subject … tivals.htm

Anyway - that is enough to be going on with. I look forward to hearing your views on this (is it something new to you or am I mistaken in thinking it does not figure much in evangelical universalism literature).



Thanks muchly for the reference! It’s a new angle to me, and I haven’t seen it reffed in the literature with regard to universalism myself. That the res/judgment digression in 1 Cor 15 is universalistic, yes, including the grapes-of-wrath analogy and the military victory parade analogy. According to this kind of agricultural interpretation, though, no.

I don’t know enough about 1st C (or centuries prior, maybe, when the feasts were originally established) Palestinian agricultural timing to be able to comment on the timing elements involved in the theory.

But typically, first-fruits involve a tithe offering in gratitude for God showing (by the first fruits) that the rest of the harvest will indeed be on the way. This wouldn’t apply conceptually to different harvests… I think. It isn’t like the barley harvest was gratefully accepted as a promise from God that the wheat and wine harvests would arrive.

And I’m pretty sure I recall that the start of the civil year was in autumn with the main harvests; consequently the first official harvest of the ‘year’ would be connected to Tabernacles. (But I should check on that…)

There are other problems, too. It seems peculiar that Paul was supposed to be using Xristos as an adjective (but not in adjective form?) instead of as a name/title for the Messiah–quite in contravention with his (near??) unanimous established usage everywhere else–and then immediately afterward use Xristos as a name/title for the Messiah. The lack or presence of a definite article (Greek has no indefinite articles, iirc) might be meaningful as such; but it also might not: one of the frustrating elements of Greek is that the absence of a definite article doesn’t necessarily mean that one is not tacitly implied. (In fact, definite articles often function as grammatic clarifiers instead, since they morph more steadily than nouns: the form of the definite article tells more clearly than the noun suffix whether the noun is a subject, some kind of object, etc. This is why proper names typically, though not always, have a definite article in front of them in Biblical Greek.)

Checking my Greek Concordance, I can’t find a single reference to Xristos simply being used as an adjective for anything other than the person of Christ, and even then only as a title. I’m not totally sure, but I think that if Paul had been meaning to write that the first-fruit is ‘anointed’, he would have called it “Christian”. (I observe also that both Xristos and first-fruit are singular in that sentence.)

I realize part of his argument against the first usage meaning Christ Himself is that Christ Himself would then be made alive in Christ Himself. But this is certainly an orthodox interpretation, whether one considers YHWH making YHWH alive by YHWH’s own power (either in eternal self-begetting or in the more specific sense of Christ’s resurrection: “I lay down my life and I take it up again”), or whether one considers the two-natures doctrine of Christ’s humanity and divinity (i.e. YHWH raises the human nature of the Incarnate Christ which of itself could never be raised). Notice that this would have a strong connection to what the Evangelist says about the Logos near the beginning of the GosJohn prologue, too.

Then there is the winnowing analogy which is supposed to be connected to the barley and thus to the first-fruit Christians. But winnowing as an analogy in the Gospels is still connected to the wrath of God, and pretty strongly, too. Whereas, insofar as any of this imagery might be connected to Christ Himself, it would seem to be the bitter dregs of the cup!

There is also the question of how the first-fruit Christians are supposed to be majorly distinguished from those who will be arriving with Christ at His second coming, which on the discussed interpretation would be the second squadron but which would seem to involve those first-fruit Christians, too.

The concept is certainly suggestive; but so far I would say the strengths of the approach are not exclusively related to the approach. That being said, I haven’t had time to read the fuller apologia of the argument, yet; so at least some of these concerns may be addressed already.



Thanks for your initial thoughts on this subject. I have wanted to discuss (I don’t say debate because I am not a good debater) these ideas with someone from the evangelical community for a long time because of the lack of these types of views in the evangelical literature.

I did email Stephen Jones and point him at this site but as I suspected he is so busy travelling the states speaking that he said he just doesn’t have time to enter into debate here - (thinking about it though perhaps I could ask him to do a similar thing to Joel Green).

As for the first fruit or barley company my understanding of this is that it ties in with the concept of the ‘remnant taken out in his name’ as well as Paul’s desire to attain the better resurrection. The concept seems to be that each holy people (first Israel and then The Church) are given a privileged position intended by God to be used to usher in his kingdom to everyone else (based on the role of the firstborn son who although he received a double portion of inheritance had responsibilities to his brethren - including redeeming them if they fell into bondage among other things). However, they both (Israel and the church) fail because they tend to enjoy the blessing but not live out the responsibilities. Because of this the overcomers in the church (or perhaps the set of all Christians would be a better way of putting it than church) are those who really ‘get’ (so to speak) their calling to help (not cause - which is the job of the Holy Spirit) bring everyone to repentance (solving some of the calvinist interpretation of predestination). I have seen the overcomers/rest of the church explained in terms of the spies who went into Canaan - although all 12 were part of the chosen people (the church of the day) only 2 really got it and said yes they are there for the taking (because they saw that God was in control).

I will stop rambling now :wink:

Here is a link to Dr Jones’ article on the barley overcomers … cfm?PID=10 . I wish I were better able to set out the position myself and I will provide links to other authors on this subject (I don’t like relying on just one man’s views).


I very much appreciate the links and info you’ve provided on the topic, btw! :smiley:

I do want to go over the linked articles in more detail (I mean read them and maybe take notes, not necessarily critique them in-depth pro and con here).


It’s a pleasure Jason,

I appreciate your replies as it is good to see where you disagree and why.

As a supplimentary question to what we have already discussed re: ‘as in Adam… so in Christ’ in your opinion is there any signifigance to the future tense ’ … all WILL be made alive’ - is that conveyed in the Greek? if that is the case then at the time of writing Jesus had already been made alive (and does the word alive refer only to physical resurrection or to the eonian life?).

In another email Dr Jones said he would be willing to contribute a short article to this site but didn’t have the time to enter into a debate on the forum. Might it be an idea to ask people here to come up with a few questions for him to answer that would form the article?


Didn’t Macdonald in TEU touch on this subject a bit? If I recall he does mention the feasts and how they give a Universalistic picture the very way your OP does. He mentions Christ being called the first fruits and the church also being called first fruits and then the latter harvesting.

I sympathize on your OP (though I know VERY little of the detailed facts of the feasts or even Jewish culture in scripture). However I see the whole OT being a historical future (if that makes sense) statement of the messiah. What I mean is I see the scriptures as being multi fold.

I’ve read in “typologies of scripture” by patrick fairbairne (I think i misspelled his last name) that saints such as Augistine and Origien saw the scriptures as multi folded rather than a single. Origien argued for as many as four folds, and even states he saw origien as being “ahead” of the others on the typological views.

I say this because these feasts are “types” or meanings and can be understod differently, depending on how you read scripture.

The whole bible is constructed this way, I believe which is why I opened up a “Typologies of scripture” forum in the main index. I don’t have time to even start there as I’m contemplating these heavily and am trying to do some writing on the subject. I actually became aware of them ESPECIALLY after reading Talbotts book; not that he tackles the subject. But it was his unique way of looking at different passages and ideas that these began to jump out at me. Lucas (Star Wars) I believe knows these things and this (artistic) way of seeing scripture then began to take shape. That is The feast do indeed mean something concerning the messiah, Isreal being chosen means something concerning the Messiah.

So I’m looking forward to reading you and Jason more on this topic.



Weird… thought I had posted this earlier, but I guess I got distracted by work :mrgreen: and simply saved it as a draft instead…

I think that’s a fine idea! Must ponder where to put up a request for questions from readers, though… (head’s very fuzzy today, so don’t let me forget I’m going to do this…)

In regard to your other question:

As far as I can tell, 1 Cor 15:20 states, “Yet now Christ has been roused out-from death.” In verse 22, St. Paul continues, “For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, all shall be vivified.”

The firstfruit, Christ (hypothetically assuming standard interpretation of the phrase at verse 23, {aparche_ xristos}), has already been roused from the death He willingly shared with Adam (though sinless Himself); but that hardly abrogates Christ being included in the future state where the vivication (or life-ing) of all shall have been completed.

Note, not-incidentally, that back in verse 20 Paul has already spoken of Xristos as a title-name for Jesus, calling Him the exact same term {aparche_}. Grammatically there seems to be no cogent reason to treat the exact same words paired shortly afterward as a phrase, as referring to a special class of not-Christ Christians. Other than a lack of a definite article in the subsequent verse.

But lack of an article by itself is not enough to overweigh all other considerations, especially when there are other grammatic issues more directly pointing in another direction–as is true in this case, so far as I can tell. {aparche_ xristos} as a phrase looks like it’s being used as a compound name-title: “Firstfruit Christ”. I would think the form of {xristos} at least would look substantially different if the phrase was supposed to mean only ‘anointed firstfruits’. Also, wouldn’t {aparche_} and the adjective describing it both have to be plural?? Because in the text, they aren’t plural. (Hindsight note: actually, I’m going to provide a reference a minute from now, where it’s definitely plural Christians to which the term is applying, but the term is still singular. So scotch that objection. :wink: )

Of course, {aparche_} doesn’t strictly mean first-fruit anyway: it means ‘from-origin-er’. Even though it seems to be used everywhere else in the NT to refer to the first-fruit offering (and thence to something else by analogy), here I expect St. Paul is making a sort of typological pun, applying the more literal meaning of the term to Christ; which would make excellent sense, since he has already just used the exact same term as a title-description for Christ.

The standard interpretation fits very well into the typical notion of the first-fruit harvest offering being given back to God in gratitude for this sign that the full harvest is on the way. Multiple harvests of multiple kinds of crops are not typically in view in first-fruit analogies.

Since Gene mentioned “Gregory”, this is how Gregory understands the application, too, including as a sign of universalistic doctrine.

From p 118 in TEU [with JRP’s comments in brackets]: “This leads us to another clue within Revelation [meaning RevJohn] to support the universalistic interpretation of [Rev] 21:24-27: the fact that the 144,000 are described as being offered as “first-fruits to God and the Lamb” ([Rev] 14:4). The 144,000 represent the redeemed multitude drawn from every nation–i.e., the church. They are said to be the first-fruits. [But the term is singular in Greek, by the way; so I’ll allow that the term need not be plural in regard to Christians, which takes down one of my objections. :wink: Notably, Gregory continues treating the term as a singular despite its plural form in English. The reason for that, though, is coming up next… :sunglasses: ] This is an agricultural metaphor. The first-fruits was the first sheaf of the harvest, which was offered to God and which functioned as a guarantee that the rest of the harvest was on the way. Paul speaks of Christ’s resurrection as the first-fruits (1 Cor 15:20 [not our verse under contention, which is v 23, btw–unless Dr. Jones is also arguing that the ref in v20 is also supposed to mean the church and not Christ Himself!]), but here the church itself [emphasis original] is offered as a first-fruits. This is best interpreted to imply that the nations are the rest of the harvest, which will be harvested at the right time. The church is a guarantee that they will come in.”

So yes, the term can certainly be applied to Christians. But the distinction when it does is to all Christians as first-fruits, not to some elite group of Christians as first-fruits. And in 1 Cor 15, Paul has already just recently applied the term to Christ, in what I will suppose (for now) to be a non-disputed usage. Consequently, when Paul goes on to give the order as {aparche_ xristos} (which is not possessive, btw–it is not “Christ’s first-fruits”); and then those who belong to Christ (possessive form) in His presence; and then the consummation (whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, which St. Paul then goes on to talk about)… {inhale} :mrgreen: … it would seem better to apply the same usage there.

At most, if those who have already died and are being resurrected before other Christians are in the 1 Cor list, they’d be in the second squadron: those who are Christ’s in His presence.

The standard interpretation also happens to fit very well with the triumphal procession theme: first the conqueror, then the loyal and honored troops, then the subjugated enemies. The larger complexity is that the loyal troops are themselves previously-subjugated-enemies of the conqueror, who gives Himself in service to all; consequently, there is no reason for any of us to look down on the members of the third squadron. (On the contrary, per many Synoptic parables and sayings, that’s a clear way to get kicked to the back of the line! :laughing: ) Christ intends to offer us all in subjection with Himself to His father, after the treading of His wrath is complete, so that God may be all in all.


Thanks again Jason - more to ponder.