In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul the apostle of Yeshua the Messiah instructs the early Jewish and non-Jewish believers about the spiritual ramifications and significance of the Passover and the biblical Feast of Unleavened Bread. Then in verse eight, he assertively declares, “Let us keep the feast not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
You who call yourselves Christians and who don’t celebrate the biblical feasts including the Feast of Unleavened Bread, what about this command do YOU not understand? How can anyone declare that the YHVH’s biblical feasts were done away with, or were for the Jews only, when the apostle in this letter is addressing the non-Jews as well? How can we justify substituting non-biblical holidays such as Christmas and Easter for YHVH biblical holidays and call ourselves Bible believers and followers and imitators of Yeshua and the early book of Acts church? These are serious questions that many of us need to ask ourselves if we’re serious about our faith walk before YHVH Elohim and Yeshua the Messiah.
1 Corinthians 5:6, Purge out. The greater context of this passage is about putting sin out of our life (which is the temple of YHVH’s Holy Spirit, 1 Cor 3:16–17), which collectively form the spiritual body, church or the greater temple of Yeshua’s spiritual body (John 2:21). Therefore, sin that defiles the temple of Elohim must be put out of the church. In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul is especially concerned about the sin of sexual immorality that the church in Coringh had allowed to come into its midsts (1 Cor 5:1ff). From the context of this passage in light of Paul’s discussion about Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it would appear that he wrote this letter just prior to the spring festivals (1 Cor 5:6–8). He is urging the church to remove the leavening of sin from its midsts prior to keeping the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which he, by the way, urges the Corinthian believers to do. In fact, Paul’s admonition to “keep the Feast [of Unleavened Bread]” in verse eight, is the strongest imperative command in the Testimony of Yeshua (or NT) to keep the biblical festivals, and from this it’s evidence that in the mind of the apostle the biblical festivals were still relevant to Yeshua’s followers well past the middle of the first century, which means they’re relevant to the saints of today as well.
In his admonition to the Corinthian believers, it’s possible that Paul had in mind two examples in the Tanakh where spiritual revivals occurred after Hezekiah and Josiah cleansed the temple in Jerusalem of the filth of idolatry in preparation for Passover. Similarly, Ezra finished completion of the rebuilt temple in time to celebrate Passover (Ezra 6). These examples teach us that YHVH commands us to cleanse or deleaven our spiritual temples (individually and collectively) of sin annually in preparation for celebrating Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This spiritual spring house cleaning at the beginning of the biblical new year sets the tone spiritually for the rest of the year to go forward in a sin-free state.
1 Corinthians 5:7, Messiah our Passover. In the Bible, the term Passover refers to both the appointed time or moed and to the sacrifice that was made on that day.
1 Corinthians 5:8, Let us keep/observe the feast. This verse proves several things. First that Paul (a Jewish believer) kept the biblical feasts, that non-Jewish believers kept the feasts, and that all believers could keep the feasts outside of Jerusalem.
Leaven. For the biblical definition of sin, how leavening is a biblical metaphor for sin and how to overcome sin, see notes at Exod 12:15.
What specifically is leavening? Leavening is primarily yeast that makes bread rise and, biblically, it is the symbol for the sin of pride. Leavening is also a symbol of decay. The rising of bread dough is only possible by the natural process of decay. In ancient times, a pinch of fermented or sour dough was placed into a batch of unleavened dough to make it sour and cause it to rise. Yeast is a living micro-organism that is classified as a fungi. Fungi feed on both living and dead and decaying organic matter. Yeast turns food sour through the process of fermentation and this begins the process by which something dies. Yeast is an apt metaphor for the corrupting influences of sin, which invades our lives and turns our souls (our mind, will and emotions) from sweet to sour leading to spiritual death. Were it not for the curse of death because of Adam and Eve’s sin, it’s quite possible that fungi would not exist.
When YHVH commands us to remove the leavening from our homes during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, he’s teaching us an important lesson: We must remove the contagion of sin from our lives if we’re to be sweet, pure, sinless and holy (or set-apart unto YHVH). Sin, like yeast fungi, causes decay and death, and to remove yeast from our homes is like removing sin from our lives, thus reversing the curse of death resulting in eternal life.
In ancient times, unleavened bread was made to rise by the injection of sour dough or leavened dough into the pure and undefiled unleavened lump of dough. Unleavened dough has nothing old from the past that is added to it. It’s a totally new lump. That’s what we’re to be in Messiah—a new creation, or a new lump.
Leaven of malice and wickedness. Interestingly in the Torah, there are two Hebrew words used for leaven, which is a biblical metaphor for sin. The first word, chametz refers to the sin of malice (or ill-will, malignity, desire to injure, or bitterness), while seor, the second word, refers to wickedness or sin in general, which the Scriptures refers to as the violation of YHVH’s Torah commands (1 John 3:4). It is likely that Paul had this concept in mind when he wrote this verse.
chametz/ץמח, is a noun (Strong’s H2557) meaning “leaven, that which is leavened, bitter.” Chametz is from the root H2556 chametz/ץמח (a verb) meaning “to be sour, to leaven.” According to The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, the root word chametz designates the action and result of yeast, which ferments or sours bread dough. This idea of becoming sour is extended to a person’s negative attitude. For example, in Psalm 71:4 chametz is translated as cruel [and in Ps 73:21 as grieved]. The Torah strongly instructs that anyone eating chametz during Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread will be “cut off” from Israel (Exod 12:19–20). Exodus 12:39 notes that the daily bread the Israelites baked on the day they left Egypt was not leavened because they left Egypt in such haste that there wasn’t enough time for their bread dough to rise. Thus it had the symbolic value of teaching Israel that having been redeemed from Egypt they should leave their old life [and sinful, “sour” carnal nature] behind quickly and set out toward the Promised Land in a sin-free state. Leavened bread was also prohibited in connection with the sacrificial system (Exod 23:18; 34:25). Neither leaven nor honey could be burned with the meal offering (Lev 2:11), and it could not be baked with the fire offering (Lev 6:15). But leavened bread could be eaten with the thank offering (Lev 7:13) and with the first fruits offering on Shavuot or Pentecost. In later Jewish thought, leavened bread become a symbol of corruption and impurity. This is evident in Yeshua’s teachings (Pss 71:4; 73:21; Hos 7:4; Matt 16:2; Mark 8:15) and in one remark by Paul (1 Cor 5:8; TWOT, vol. 1, page 289).
se’or/ראשׂ (Strong’s H7603) means “leaven.” This is the generic term for leavening or leavened bread and is found five times in Scripture (Exod 12:15, 19; 13:7; Lev 2:11; Deut 16:4). In the first four references, se’or is used in parallel construction with chametz. In all places but Leviticus 2:11, it is used in reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, while in the former se’or is used in reference to the meal offering.
Paul juxtaposes malice, wickedness and leavening with sincerity, truth and unleavened bread. The former is sinful and unacceptable to Elohim and must be gotten rid of, while the latter is righteous and accepted of Elohim and must be cultivated in the saint’s life. The latter is in agreement with Elohim’s holy and sinless character, and the former is not. If the believer’s life is analogous to a lump of bread dough, then the malice and wickedness of sin, like yeast, infects, sours and brings rottenness and causes the dough to be puffed up. This is human pride that blinds one from his sin. By contrast, the character traits of sincerity and truth keep one humble thus preventing one from having an inflated or prideful view of oneself. Pride usually comes at the expense of others and involves maliciousness, or putting others down to augment and maintain one’s inflated or prideful view of oneself. We are all guilty of this sin. Sin in our lives is like yeast that so thoroughly infects and mixes itself with the dough as to be indistinguishable from the bread. Let’s cast this sour dough of sin out of our lives and become a fresh lump of unleavened dough through Yeshua!
Malice is the Greek word kakia meaning “malignity, malice, ill-will, desire to injure, wickedness, depravity, wickedness that is not ashamed to break laws, evil or trouble.” As the The TDNT points out, this word describes the evil that humans do to one another resulting in the destruction of fellowship between humans resulting in disruption of fellowship with Elohim. Malice is a trait which is common to all humans, but which is broken by the kindness and love of Elohim toward us through his mercy that saved us, and through the spiritual cleansing and renewing of our hearts through the outpouring of his Set-Apart Spirit (Tit 3:3). When we comprehend how sinful we are, and how undeserving we are of YHVH’s mercy and grace, hopefully we’ll be less inclined to act in an evil or malicious manner toward others. Fellowship within the community of believers gives us the opportunity to lay aside the sin of malice (1 Pet 2:1; Jas 1:21). Malice is often expressed through corrupt words that fail to edify and impart grace to the hearers. Paul calls this “evil-speaking” and urges us to put it away from us along with malice (Eph 4:29 cp. 31). Malice is an attribute of the of old sinful man, which must be put off in favor of the new man who is renewed in the knowledge and after the image of Yeshua (Col 3:8 cp. 10).
Wickedness is the Greek word poneria meaning “defectiveness or physical sickness.” According to the The TDNT, the apostolic writers use the word in a moral sense to denote “worthlessness as a result of greed” (Rom 1:29) as does Yeshua (Luke 11:39). This word also is used generically to describe evil spirits in high places, which believers are called upon to overcome by putting on the spiritual armor of Elohim (Eph 6:12 cp. 11).
Malice and wickedness are both sin. Sin as the violation of the Torah (1 John 3:4) is often discussed, but the sin of ill-will, bitterness, or a sour attitude toward others tends to be overlooked. This is because this sin is so deeply rooted in one’s personality that it’s often hard for the sinner to see it in himself, although it may be clearly visible to others—especially its victims. This sin is rooted in a heart of unforgiveness and bitterness toward others due to past hurts or wrongs committed against the person who views himself as the victim and who is now harboring the bitterness (cp. Acts 8:23; Rom 3:14; Eph 4:31; Heb 12:15). If not dealt with, bitterness becomes like a deep taproot that penetrates deeply into the person’s heart and mind (Heb 12:15). It can permeate (like leaven) one’s entire soul negatively affecting those around them—especially toward those who remind them of the past hurt committed against them causing the ill will to be triggered.
Now let’s look at the converse of malice and wickedness: sincerity and truth. Sincerity is the Greek word heilikreneia meaning “warmth or light of the sun, or tested by the light of the sun” with the moral sense being “completely spotless, pure or purity or moral purity.”
Truth is the Greek word aletheia and as used in the Testimony of Yeshua means “that which has certainty or force, is the valid norm, is genuine or proper” (The TDNT, 1:232). As used in the LXX, it is equivalent to the Hebrew word emet and thus in an OT sense can be viewed as relating to the Elohim’s Torah, which is the ultimate standard of truth. Truth, therefore, relates to what Elohim demands of men and has to do with judicial righteousness or the standard by which Elohim will judge all men (ibid., Rom 2:2). As such, Elohim’s judgments are truth because they’re based on truth. The followers of Elohim are expected to walk in truth or uprightness (John 3:21; 1 John 1:6), or by extension, in Torah-obedience, for Scripture defines Torah as truth (Ps 119:142, 151).