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Mathematical Bias and the Biblical Calendar
(Revised 2015)

By: Shawn Richardson

Section 14:

COMMON CONCERNS

There are several arguments against using an observational calendar, but most are based on an incomplete understanding of observation or an inability to let go of the comforting mathematical bias. Many don't even attempt to use scripture to disprove observation even though many already use observation of the Sun to begin the Sabbath Day. Obviously the sun and moon move differently in relation to an observer on the Earth's surface, but watching for these signs are very similar and no one can use scripture that shows one sign should be observed and the other calculated. But it is with specific instructions given in scripture to blow trumpets at the New Moon, to gather together for a sacrificial meal, and to begin our months based on the Aviv harvest that we find direct Biblical support of an observed calendar! But there are other concerns that are a common thread when discussing the Biblical Calendar. We will now begin to take a look at some of these concerns.

Some will claim that the Aviv barley harvest in Jerusalem can span over several months in length and cannot, therefore, refer to only one specific month. By utilizing observable signs, including that of the Aviv harvest, you cannot begin monthly and daily accounts until after the sign has appeared. You cannot go back in time and pretend the sign existed nor is it a Biblical principle to predict when it will arrive in the future. Therefore, once the Aviv harvest is ready to harvest (regardless of how long the harvest itself lasts), the sign has appeared. You cannot then go back to the previous new moon and claim that it contained the Aviv harvest because you did not see the Aviv sign when the month began. By consistently applying the same logic of observing signs, you would then start the year after sundown where the new moon crescent is confirmed (either by sight or from hearing trumpet blasts) and after the Aviv harvest has been identified.

Another concern is that there is no clear direction to keep New Moons specifically as a Festival day or as a Sabbath day and they are not listed in Leviticus 23. We have seen, though, the keeping of a New Moon day supported throughout the Bible. It is true that New Moon days are not listed as a Sabbath or Holy Day in Leviticus 23 (nor should they be treated as such), but just because they are not ordained as a Sabbath day does not mean we should not be keeping them as instructed - they still exist in the Bible and in the Torah! The gathering together for a meal did serve a purpose outside of temple worship and is also supported in the Jewish traditions of Rosh Chodesh.

This leads to the belief that since the sacrifices are no longer required, due to the destruction of the Temple and the dissolution of the Levitical Priesthood or Yeshua's crucifixion, that the references to a New Moon day are also no longer required. However, the days mentioned in the Bible for us to observe are not done away with and will be kept in the future Kingdom - including the New Moon (Isaiah 66:23). There is no reason to believe we should not be keeping them now and, at a minimum, communicating to one another when the Biblical signs appear (this would also fulfill the requirement of a trumpet). Finally, this is no excuse to believe that the Biblical signs, ordained by Yehovah Himself, are no longer required or recognized for their intended purpose.

The shape of the crescent moon, as a symbol, can often be found in Pagan-related idols and practices. Because of this, many will negate the new moon crescent as being Biblical because they believe it is, instead, a Pagan symbol. Pagan practices, however, utilize the entire lunar cycle and follow traditional practices that correlate with each phase of the moon (new, waxing, full, waning, dark and eclipse) - not just at the time of the crescent. Pagan practices, however, that involve the moon do not make the moon itself Pagan any more than Pagan's worshipping the Sun god negate observing the sun to begin the Biblical Sabbath. This is a fickle argument that would require the elimination of any reference of the moon to determine times and seasons (including the Hebrew calendar). Furthermore, many of these symbols usually portray the crescent as being illuminated on the left side of the disc with its points pointing to the right (this is a portrayal of the waning crescent as seen in the eastern horizon just before sunrise in the northern hemisphere). The new waxing crescent, though, is seen in the western sky and the bottom right portion of the moon's disc is illuminated with the points generally pointing upward or to the left. Many Islamic traditions are also attributed to be a mixture of moon-god worship that was referred to as Allah. It is true there are Pagan practices associated with the name Allah[55], but not all references are directed to the Pagan deity directly. Even mainstream Christianity has adopted practices of sun-god worship and use the title "Lord" that happens to be a transliteration of the Pagan god Ba'al[53] - replacing Yehovah's actual name within the Biblical text. Similarly, Jews also replace Yehovah's spoken name with the term Adonai, a term transliterated from the god Adonis[54]. By not using Yehovah's actual name, much ambiguity and confusion often exists within religion. At best, Allah is now a generic term used by many Arab peoples in the same way English now uses "God" or "Lord" as Yehovah's name. Remember, Islam and Judeo Christianity come from the same genetic roots adopting Pagan practices along the way. But to ignore the sign of the moon to begin the Biblical month based on this correlation is just as illogical as ignoring the sign of the sun to begin the Sabbath. Finally, whether you observe the signs or base your calculations on them, it does not change the fact that the Bible references them to indicate times and seasons.

Some organizations turn to modern writings. For example, many Church of God groups will refer to the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong. We read some of his material earlier that showed Mr. Armstrong accepted the Hebrew Calendar in his Good News letter written in 1940. You find that many Festival-keeping organizations use Armstrong's viewpoint to establish doctrine (rather than scripture). Although Mr. Armstrong, I believe, was a strong follower of Yehovah's ways and established a solid foundation for the current-era Churches of God, he was still just a man capable of errors just as much as anyone. There is even historical evidence seen of his errors in regard to the annual Festivals when the Worldwide Church of God rectified Pentecost from a Monday observance to Sunday in 1974. Before keeping Mondays, Mr. Armstrong personally observed Pentecost on the fixed-day of Sivan 6 (the third month of the Hebrew calendar). Obviously when Armstrong recognized his errors he made a change, but there is no reason to believe that he was perfect in his doctrinal beliefs before his death (and neither should any of us). In the end, we all need to be able to defend our faith before the judgment throne as judgment begins with the House of Elohim (I Peter 4:17). If you place your faith in the opinions of men, you may find yourself in serious trouble when that day comes for you.

Another primary concern is that of communication and consistency that mathematics provides. Today, we have the modern conveniences of telephones, faxes, email, etc. for near-instant communication around the globe. Since these methods of communication were not around during the time of the Sanhedrin or earlier, how would people living long distances away from Jerusalem, such as pilgrims, know that the new months had begun if they missed the sign? This would mean that people around the world would possibly keep different days (or even a different month). Therefore, many assume mathematics resolves this problem. But, regardless of the methodology you believe was originally instituted during the time of the Sanhedrin (calculation or observation or both), the challenge of communication throughout the Diaspora remains the same! Since any calculation that may have been used is not documented, a form of communication would have had to been relied upon to spread the mathematical findings of those entrusted to have obtained such calculations. As we covered earlier, many believe the calculations of the Hebrew calendar were held secret by a Yehovah-chosen group of individuals. Obviously, any possibility of inconsistency remains the same. The exception is if the Sanhedrin used secret calculations, they would not have needed to institute a method of witnesses and observing Feast of Trumpets for two days. This makes this argument moot for either method. Modern conveniences would, though, reinforce the accuracy of an observational method through communication whereas the consistency a mathematical table provides would only cause everyone to be correct or everyone to be wrong.

We have also discussed that people who lived in Biblical times were agrarian in nature - living directly off the land - and were highly aware of their natural surroundings (including crops and the movements of heavenly bodies). Geographically speaking, areas outside of Israel - including Egypt - were not very far away and rarely required travel beyond a few weeks' time. Many would have allowed for any such variance. We have seen communication historically taking place through the use of signal fires and messengers to more quickly spread the word. However, in most cases, those living great distances away from the Temple and from the Sanhedrin courts would still be able to observe Yehovah's signs locally and most would have aligned themselves with those in Jerusalem. Even though it is possible some could be off by a day, they would be immediately corrected upon local eyewitness accounts or at the next cycle along with the majority.

For individuals that may keep a Festival day on the wrong date (without knowledge otherwise), there is no reason to believe Yehovah would not recognize their efforts. Surely we are blessed when we attempt to keep Yehovah's holy festivals. Do we question whether those in the Churches of God that celebrated Pentecost on Mondays were not blessed? Yet they saw fit to modify their determination of the Holy Day to a Sunday and corrected their path when they realized they were astray. This is where the calendar becomes a process of faith - a faith in Yehovah to show us His signs and for us to look narrowly and search for them attentively rather than become complacent with mathematical averages.

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