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Mathematical Bias and the Biblical Calendar
(Revised 2015)

By: Shawn Richardson

Section 1:

INTRODUCTION

This paper was inspired by my own personal study and findings regarding the Biblical Calendar. It did not involve creating large, complex timelines, researching deep into layers of Biblical prophecy nor did I have a sudden revelation from the heavens. Rather, it was a desire to answer a very simple question. How can I determine when to keep the Sabbath and Annual Festivals that are commanded within the Torah (the first five books of the Bible)? These Festival days are directly commanded by God (Yehovah) Himself and spelled out at the time of Moses in Leviticus 23. Therein contains the list of days that Yehovah's followers were to observe from generation to generation. For example, verses 4-8[1] describe the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread:

A total of seven days a year are specified, in addition to the weekly Sabbath, as having a holy convocation. These days were to be considered as set apart (holy) from all others. A convocation, or "rehearsal" (miqra - Strong's 4744[3]) is an assembly of followers that gather together as a means of practicing His laws (Torah) in order to understand what these days picture - the overall salvation of mankind. But what the days represent is a topic for another paper. However, these appointed days continued to be observed for thousands of years, even up through the generation of Jesus Christ (Yeshua the Messiah), where we are told that He and His apostles also observed these important dates. Furthermore, these festivals are specifically described as being kept by all nations throughout the world in the future coming Kingdom here on Earth. We are told this in Zechariah 14:16-19[1]:

Today, many individuals continue to recognize these days with a few making the choice to do so not out of tradition, but by studying the Bible and living a life according to its principles and instructions. These days are a part of the Torah that Yeshua claimed would continue to be valid until heaven and earth pass away (in Mathew 5:17-19[1]):

I have been keeping the Sabbath and Holy days for over 30 years in one form or another. In doing so, I know that I have been blessed simply by making these days a priority in my life. It's also important that we keep these days with other like-minded individuals. Matthew 18:20 tells us that where two or more are gathered together in His name, Yehovah is there with them (through His Holy Spirit). It is at these appointed dates that we are instructed to gather together in His name as a Body of Believers. Just as His people once gathered together to keep these days at the temple in Jerusalem, today it is His body of followers that serve as His temple (I Corinthians 6:19-20). The example each of us is given on how to live our lives was presented by the Messiah, Yeshua (a.k.a. Jesus), and He now serves as the temple's High Priest and our intercessor to the Heavenly Father.

For many years, though, I never questioned how to determine when to keep these specific Festivals. Instead of learning for myself what it really meant in the scriptures when it stated the Feast of Tabernacles began on the "fifteenth day of the seventh month" (as instructed in the above verse), I would instead pull out my wallet-sized pocket-calendar card published by my church organization. My card conveniently listed all of the Festival dates that corresponded to the Gregorian calendar (which most of us use today to organize our day-to-day lives - especially in the Western World). Usually, the card provided dates for the next 5 - 10 years from when it was published. It came in very handy whenever I would start making travel arrangements or began to ask for time off from school or work. I never gave it a second thought beyond the simple comprehension that the list was somehow derived from the Hebrew calendar used by the Jews. Even mainstream Gregorian calendars indicate Jewish festival names (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, etc.). It was for this reason that I never questioned why the Feast of Tabernacles, for example, always fell in either September or October.

It was only after several years of keeping these Feasts that it was pointed out to me that the moon had a correlation with the Holy days, as it was nearly always full when certain festivals began each year. But several more years would pass before the first realization hit me that something was amiss. It wasn't until I began searching the internet one day for a list of church organizations that observed the Biblical Festivals. It came as a surprise to me to learn that some organizations were observing these days differently than what showed on my pocket calendar. While a few were one or two days off, some were being held an entire month later. At first, I brushed this off believing these organizations must not have had a complete understanding of the Feast days themselves. After all, it was in my own experience that my family and I departed ways from a rather substantial, established organization called the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) who, just a few years earlier, began to loosely treat the weekly Sabbath and the Festivals as being irrelevant and old fashioned, changing the observation of Festival dates to a more convenient Weekend getaway rather than the full eight days (and more importantly ignoring the first and last days that were to be considered as High Sabbaths). Eventually the organization abandoned them all-together. Perhaps, I thought, these organizations were destined for that same path.

It wasn't until my wife and I learned that a good friend of ours, who also had a background in the WCG organization and continued to keep the Sabbath on her own, also kept the Festivals on different dates. It was then I knew that I needed to learn why there was a difference of opinion. At first I was ready to dive into scripture with the purpose of proving that what I had been practicing for years was correct. Then it dawned on me - I, myself, did not have a clear answer from scripture as to why I kept the dates that I did! I knew that keeping the Festivals was important, but I simply could not explain how my pocket-calendar card was created.

At this point, I knew I had to take a step back and approach this subject with a completely open mind - and I started with the Bible. I Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to "prove all things". It's important to always search the scriptures to prove to ourselves why we believe what He has instructed, as demonstrated in Acts 17:11 (here specifically, the Old Testament scriptures were used). We are told to diligently present our beliefs as approved by Yehovah Himself (II Timothy 2:15). In other words we must use the Bible to prove whether or not any doctrine or belief is of the Heavenly Father! Therefore, if a teaching or doctrine is not found or supported within scripture (the Old Testament specifically), then it simply cannot be of Yehovah!

As my research expanded, I quickly learned that this topic has sparked quite a few debates. What surprised me the most, though, was how far back these debates began. While many arguments exist for one or more calendar methodologies (good or bad), many church organizations tend to treat the topic as a craze or fad that they hope will quickly pass away (if not forced out by shunning those asking questions). You quickly learn that the topic of the calendar can become a thorn in the sides of many pastors and teachers. As one minister in a WCG splinter group stated, "You don't want to open that can of worms!" Many of them cannot answer these questions directly using scripture - some will claim that scripture simply does not support any specific methodology and that the issue was left in the hands of the Jews (as Romans 3:2 claims they hold the Oracles of God). Therefore, the traditional Hebrew calendar is chosen as doctrine for the sake of unity, to please the masses and as recognition of the Jews as having an authority on the subject. But my research found that even the Jews find fault in the Hebrew calendar and are split into varying opinions on the subject. It is mostly the strict Orthodox Jews that follow the Hebrew Calendar because of decrees set forth by their own rabbinical leaders to keep this specific tradition. But they do not deny the fact that the traditions that make up the construct and foundation of the Hebrew calendar are not all Biblical. Additionally, the Hebrew calendar itself did not exist, in its earliest documented form, until the 4th century C.E. and eventually evolved into the modern format kept today as late as the 12th century C.E. Yet the biggest surprise was when I began to take a deeper look and learned that the modern format of the Hebrew calendar actually contradicts Biblical principles. It was at this point that I knew I was going to need to make a change in how I determined time itself if I was to fully understand when to properly keep the dates Yehovah ordained in scripture!

There are many that have come to this same realization. However, I have found that, in order to solve the problem, several individuals will attempt to create their own calendar methodology using mathematical formulas that are designed to fit with Biblical events. They rip apart scripture, make assumptions, and fill-in holes with excuses and mathematical rules mixed with modern scientific astronomy and numbers that can only be confirmed by NASA researchers. The ultimate result is always the same: find that magical mathematical formula for everyone to use (similar to the Gregorian calendar we hang on our fridge today). Most of these individuals have the right intentions and are simply encouraged to find that one calendar that will bring everyone together as one mind and one accord. But their major flaw is that they begin to lean on their own understanding or, worse, they look to other men to find the secrets of the universe - and that is nearly always in the form of mathematics.

This is not to say that math is evil. However, it does tend to get in the way whenever one looks into this topic. Most of us are ingrained to use math when it comes to day-to-day planning and scheduling when using calendars. We are taught, at a young age, that the Gregorian calendar has 365 days in a year, except every 4th year (leap year) where an extra day is added. We think of a calendar as having 12 months in a year (with February being that special month where the extra leap day is added). As the idiom goes, we tend to not look through rose-colored glasses, but math-colored ones. We have grown partial to the comforts and reliability math gives us when telling time and we have learned to rely on it heavily; even perceiving anyone averting away from math as being abnormal or primitive. The fact remains that math has become a strong bias when it comes to understanding scripture and unless we are told specifically to use math, we must be very careful to not assume it's there.

It can be a challenge to overcome this bias, but if we can accept the challenge and open our minds to the context of the scriptures themselves, we may come to a completely different understanding of time itself. One that is not at all complicated. One that is attainable without requiring a degree in mathematics, physics, or a complete understanding of the universe. Scripture does give us all of the parameters we need to keep His Festivals each year whenever the time arrives. But to fully grasp the concept of time in the Bible, we must first put our mathematical bias aside and look to the scriptures using a pure and simple mind. We must accept an approach free of formulas and concepts that we have been fashioned to use. To best understand, we must do as the wise character Yoda stated in the film Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back: "you must unlearn what you have learned."

In this paper, we will take a look at exactly what the Bible does instruct in determining when to keep Yehovah's Festivals using ordained, observable signs as reference for a calendar. We will look at specific examples that will provide witness to the method of observation. We will then research documented history to find how the ancients observed a calendar and we will contrast the concepts of scripture against the development of the current Hebrew calendar system, how it is currently constructed, why it was introduced in its current form and how today's Jews perceive it.

I encourage you to check all references in this paper - especially Biblical scriptures - and do not simply take my word for it. This subject is an important, foundational element to the Biblical Festivals and it should be a subject taught to all of Yehovah's children - even new-born babes of the truth! This can be accomplished, not by becoming a calendar expert or mathematician as some would have you believe but, by researching the Bible and asking for guidance through prayer. This paper is not intended to attack any individual or organization, but rather to bring attention to those looking for truth from a Biblical foundation rather than the words and ideas of men. I don't claim to be perfect and am always open to correction, but I do implore you to fully research this topic and not simply ignore it. I am aware that various conclusions have been made by many individuals on this subject (and I attempt to cover many of those within this paper), but I do welcome any difference of opinion (without contradicting scripture) that may alter any of my findings as, I believe, iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17) and our understanding can only grow when we work together as a Body of Believers. But for those that are content with blindly following tradition, I do ask you this: should any topic of our faith be like a can of worms?

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