Biblical Calendar of Observation vs. Calculation
A response to
By Shawn Richardson
This paper is in response to the United Church of God’s Doctrinal Paper titled “The Hebrew Calendar” published by the Council of Elders Jim Franks, Burk McNair, Peter Nathan, Leon Walker and Don Ward (see http://www.ucg.org/papers/hebcal.pdf). This paper purports the reason for the selection of the Hebrew Calendar as being the chosen calendar method by the United Church of God and addresses reasons for that selection. Although their paper outlines very clearly the reasons for the decision that was made, I would like to propose an alternative concept and address each of their reasons and issues presented by the Council. The concept I propose is a calendar method that has been in existence throughout Biblical times and in current times and is based solely on scriptures within the Bible.
In the UCG paper, the council quotes “we do not know when the Jews began using a calculated calendar instead of simply relying on visual observation.” In addition, the council states “there are no calculations provided in the Scriptures.” I propose to the Council to look at these statements closely and consider that the Bible never instructs the calculation of a calendar and, therefore, God never intended on His people to calculate, but rather to simply observe the signs, times and seasons ordained by God to determine His true appointments as supported by scripture.
The reason I write this letter is based on scripture in that we are to prove all things (I Thessilonians.5:21) and to do so by searching the scriptures (Acts ) in order to diligently present our beliefs as approved by God (II Timothy ). These three scriptures, I believe, indicate that we MUST use the Bible to PROVE whether or not any method is of God! If a teaching or doctrine is not found or supported within scripture, then it simply cannot be of God! I submit to the Council that since calculations of a calendar do not exist within scripture, then God did not intend on His people predicting His Festivals and appointments through the use of calculation.
We are living in a modern world of computers, satellites and science. We have developed a bias that makes each of us believe there is mathematical, scientific exactness and explanation for everything in existence. For those of us that believe in the Almighty God, we understand that this is not the case. God Himself cannot be packaged neatly in a mathematical formula and it is our human tendencies that wish to do the same to God’s times and seasons. Our human history has had a calculated timetable, or calendar, embedded into our thought-process for thousands of years now and it is difficult for us to grasp a concept differently than one based purely on mathematics. But God is, in essence, simple. God would not create a doctrine that is complex and confusing as He is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians ).
I am not claiming to have all of the answers, but I do strongly believe that scripture does give us all we need to determine God’s days and His method for proclaiming Festival dates if we simply let go of our mathematical bias and put ourselves in the shoes of the time period.
GOD’S ORDAINED METHOD:
Genesis quotes God saying “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night and let them be for signs and seasons and for days and years.” What were these lights? Genesis explains “Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.” This clearly tells us that God created the Sun and the Moon as signs for us to be able to determine seasons, days and years. Jeremiah 31:35 further clarifies “Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar.” It was God that set these signs in motion and, therefore, is the ordained system by God to be the ultimate authority as our true calendar.
Knowing this fact from Genesis, it is simply logical to conclude (since no other scripture states the use of mathematics to calculate and predict when these signs are to occur), that we must observe the heavens in order for us to be able to determine the days of God’s calendar.
This is God’s ordained method. It is this method that the Jews and many other peoples have used throughout ancient history: observation. So, now we must look at further scripture to know what those signs mean.
During the Creation Week, we are given clear understanding of how days were measured by God. Throughout Genesis, we are told the evening begins a day. Genesis 1:5 states “the evening and the morning were the first day.” We can further determine through scripture that the day ends with the “going down of the sun.” Some examples of this reference as being synonymous with days are Exodus 22:26, Leviticus 22:7, Deuteronomy 16:6, 24:15, Joshua 8:29, 10:13, Judges 14:18, II Samuel 3:35, II Chronicles 18:34, Jeremiah 15:9 and Daniel 6:14.
Psalms 104:22 also states clearly that “He appointed the moon for seasons; the sun knoweth his time to go down.” Further explanation of days is referred to as “evening to evening” or “between evenings”. The going down of the sun is also shown as being before the “evening” or “even”. Deuteronomy 23:11 says “but it shall be, when evening comes, that he shall wash with water; and when the sun sets, he may come into the camp.” Joshua says “And the king of Ai hanged on a tree until evening. And as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his corpse down from the tree”.
Scholars argue that the better translation of “evening” in the Bible is “dusk”. However, the definition for dusk is (Merriam-Webster dictionary) “darkness or semidarkness caused by the shutting out of light”. The source of this light is the sun and the shutting out of the sun would be caused by the horizon. Therefore, the proper starting point of dusk (or evening) would be sundown.
Scripture plainly supports that a day begins following sundown and that a complete day is sundown-to-sundown. This delineates a day as following the ordained sign of the sun. Therefore, it is of God’s choosing that when the sun goes down, then we are to begin our next day.
This concept is not new to any of us within the church. Even the Hebrew calendar denotes days as starting at sundown. It is this same method that most of us still practice today within the Churches of God to determine when to keep the weekly Sabbath – we simply observe sundown. By now, most of us that keep God’s Sabbath have grasped this concept of observation of the sun and do not rely on a timetable of calculated averages to determine when Sabbath begins. Although math could be used as a tool to try and predict when the sun will go down at a given geographical location, we understand that it is not that calculation that determines when the day begins, but rather the sun. Also, if either method differs from the other, it is ultimately the sun that we should observe and not calculation.
As humans, we tend to want to change God’s methods for our own selfish reasons. One of these reasons would be for convenience. For example, an employed person may determine that in order for them to be available to work at the office on a Friday until in the winter (after the sun has gone down), they will self-appoint Sabbath as being observed from . They may convince themselves that they are still making an attempt to keep God’s Sabbath while at the same time conveniently pleasing their boss’ wishes to work past sundown on Fridays. Since is a specific time that can be mathematically predicted, we then convince ourselves that our own methods are easier to use in this age. But this method is not supported by scripture and would not be of God! This example is evidence that calculation should not to be used to determine the Sabbath, but rather observation of the sun should trump any other method of determination regardless of its intention. A calculated timetable, such as the schedule, would ignore the ordained sign of the sun and go against scripture. A schedule would not be of God!
The Hebrew word for “month” in the Bible is nearly always “Chodesh” or “Yerah”. “Chodesh” literally translates as “New Moon”, whereas “Yerah” translates simply as “moon”. In this modern age, we again apply a bias toward the meaning of the word “month” as being a set, determined number of days. Yet, the scriptures pertaining to months are conveyed directly through the use of the terms “Chodesh” and “Yerah”, which literally refer to the next sign of God’s ordained calendar – the moon itself! When reading scripture, it is best to let go of our bias by replacing the word “month” with either “new moon” or “moon” to have a better understanding of how to determine months in God’s calendar.
For example, Genesis 7:11 would be better understood as “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second MOON [Yerah], the seventeenth day of the NEW MOON [Chodesh], that same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up”. This literally states that this event occurred on the seventeenth day of the second Moon cycle that started with the New Moon. Using our previous ordained sign of the sun, we can then determine 1) the second moon cycle had started, 2) the seventeenth cycle of the sun had begun since the second moon cycle started and 3) the second moon cycle started with the new moon.
Another example would be Leviticus 16:29. “And this shall be a statute for ever unto you; that in the seventh MOON [Yerah] on the tenth day of the NEW MOON [Chodesh], ye shall afflict your souls and do no work at all.” Here, referring to the Day of Atonement, we are again referring to the seventh cycle of the moon and the tenth cycle of the sun since the new moon. There are literally dozens of examples throughout the Bible that refer to the moon in this manner and that the words are used interchangeably with month. So, we can see clearly that scripture uses the sign of the moon as literal translation of God’s months and that the moon’s cycle contains an undetermined number of days that begin with the New Moon. Just as sundown is observed to begin the day, we would also observe the new moon to begin the month.
As quoted earlier, Psalms 104:19 states clearly “He appointed the moon for seasons”. The Hebrew word here for “seasons” is “Mo’adim” or “appointed times”. It is this same Hebrew word used to reference God’s Festival days in Leviticus 23. We can see, therefore, that certain days (or sun cycles) within particular moon cycles are considered holy. We are to track those days (or sun cycles) by counting the complete number of days (or sun cycles) from each New Moon.
So now we are left with the definition of “New Moon” and what phase of the moon we should look for in order to determine that the moon is, indeed, “new”. Again, only in recent years has mankind determined that a “new moon” be the astrological event of the moon’s conjunction (i.e. when the Earth, moon and sun are in line with one another during each lunar cycle around the Earth). This recently defined classification again causes bias of what we determine is a New Moon. The modern Hebrew Calendar uses the Mo’lad for its basis of calendar calculations. The Mo’lad is a mathematical average of the point between the waning and waxing crescent moon. However, we know that historical references to the New Moon were obtained through observation and are assumed to refer to the thin waxing crescent (or when the moon first becomes visible to the naked eye). But the use of the waxing crescent is not just an assumption and is also supported within scripture.
For example, we know from scripture
that the new moon event itself can be specifically pinpointed. Numbers
states “in the day of your gladness, in your appointed feasts, and at the
beginning of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings
and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings.” This instructs the people of
Again, when looking at the Hebrew word “Chodesh”, the reason it is translated as a “New” moon rather than an “Old” moon is that it refers to the birth, or renewal, of an object (in this case, the moon). This implies that the moon is made new, or is born. Just as a baby’s head crowns at birth, so does the start of the moon’s cycle. The point at which visible light appears would indicate the new birth of the moon’s cycle. Therefore, the meaning of the word itself describes the new birth of the moon. From an observational perspective, this would be the first view of the waxing crescent moon.
NUMBER OF DAYS
It is our practice to assign months a predefined number of days. Again, this is a mathematical timetable that we have engrained in our thinking. However, the number of complete days (or sun cycles) between two crescent moons vary from one moon cycle to the next. From a mathematical perspective, the moon’s cycle is approximately 29.5 days in length. This means that a Biblical month, from a mathematical perspective, has 29 or 30 days depending on when it is sighted. However, we are not given scriptural support for a set number of days between moon cycles. So, when do we determine the first day of the month?
We have already established that the month begins with the New Crescent Moon. However, in order to have the first day of that moon, we must have the beginning of a day (or sundown) to preserve the ordained sign of the sun and follow scriptural instruction. Therefore, the first day of the month would begin at sundown following the visible new moon crescent. If the new crescent is not observed until the middle of the day (between the two sundowns), you cannot state that the first day of a given moon has begun because you did not know when the day started that it was also the new month. Therefore, to recognize both of God’s ordained signs, you would begin counting days starting with the first sundown following the visible new crescent.
This means that the tenth day of the seventh month is the tenth sun cycle within the moon’s seventh cycle starting at the new crescent. This mirrors scripture when it states “in the seventh MOON [Yerah] on the tenth day of the NEW MOON [Chodesh]” (Leviticus ). This same pattern is repeated throughout the Bible.
Now we are
left with the final question: when is the first moon? Again, we are given the Hebrew word for the
first moon (or first month) that doubles as our description. Exodus 12:2 states “this month shall be your
beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” This instruction was given to
To better forego our bias, we can again use replacement to better understand when the first month was to begin. “This MOON (the moon of green, tender ears) shall be your beginning of MOONS; it shall be the first MOON of the year to you.” Again, you cannot determine that a moon cycle is the moon of green, tender ears unless the ears are already visible at the beginning of the month, at the time of the observed new crescent. Therefore, the first day of the year is the first full cycle of the sun following the first sighted new moon crescent that also observes the existence of green-eared barley within the fields. If green-eared barley does not exist at the time of the new moon crescent, then the New Year has not yet begun. This preserves all three signs ordained by God in scripture.
Again, there is no scriptural basis for a particular number of months within a given year. Nor is there any calculation for an intercalary year. There also exists no scriptural basis to consider the spring equinox, nor is this an observable event. Therefore, the simplicity of looking for green-eared barley indicates the seasons and is in direct correlation to the celestial objects allowing for a harvest to begin. Even though the observance of this event can often be twelve or thirteen cycles of the moon, it does not mean that we should calculate an average cycle of new moons to determine the year nor do we require an intercalary calculation of moon cycles. We are simply shown by God when to begin the New Year through His ordained signs.
As we have
established above, using only scripture and eliminating bias, we have
established that days, months and years are determined through God’s ordained
celestial signs of the sun indicating days (starting at sundown), the moon
indicating months (starting at the visual new crescent) and barley indicating
years & seasons (starting at the visual green-eared stage). You must also take into account
When using this method, there is one noticeable complexity when compared to other calendars: you simply cannot predict with any certainty when these signs will occur. Although mathematics has recently matured to a point that will allow man to calculate when the sun should go down in a given geographical region or when the new crescent should be visible to the naked eye, determining when barley crops will be ready to harvest months or years in advance cannot be determined with any level of accuracy. This is mostly due to weather conditions and other environmental variables that are beyond our understanding. However, we are not told anywhere in scripture that we are to predict God’s appointed signs; neither are we instructed to calculate those dates. This requires us to have faith in God to show us His signs and that dates are controlled by God rather than by man. Given the lack of any further instruction on the calendar, we must then infer that we have been given all that we need.
This concept of an observed calendar rather than a calculated calendar may take some getting used to – just as we had to re-train ourselves in the concept of a day being sundown-to-sundown rather than midnight-to-midnight to keep God’s weekly Sabbath. But this method is supported by scripture and it does not conflict with any other scripture. This method is also supported by secular history and there is no indication from the Bible that we should have changed to a method of calculation at any time. Since it can take some time to adjust to a different concept of keeping calendars, it may be our first notion to believe that this method cannot be consistent and could cause discrepancies. However, there is historical evidence of a calendar that has been in existence throughout history and that is based on observation – that is the Islamic calendar.
The Islamic calendar is not solely based on the Koran, and has been established as an orderly method throughout Islamic history. Given the Islamic relation to Christians through the lineage of Abraham, it supports the notion that calendars were, indeed, observed from the time of Abraham. We can also learn from their example methods when we can uniformly declare God’s signs to know when the months begin (the Islamic calendar does not use observation, however, to determine new years). After all, we are instructed to blow a trumpet at the beginning of our months (Numbers )! This is scriptural instruction to communicate to one another the observance of God’s signs so that all can be of one accord and in unity with one another. This announcement is a role the Church should be providing to His people.
Now that we have established the scriptural calendar, let’s now apply them to the doctrinal paper. First, there is a list of complexities associated with choosing a particular calendar method described by the council of elders in their doctrinal paper. They are as follows:
1) The Bible does not provide the complete means for calculating a calendar. This is true as calculation is not given as a requirement for determining a calendar. However, the Bible does provide the complete means of observing a calendar through God’s ordained signs of Genesis 1. Again, calculation is a bias in this statement.
2) Most calendars use the new moon as the beginning of the month and we know of no definitive biblical statement to that effect. There is no Biblical statement, because the word Chodesh, in and of itself, communicates the meaning of the moon’s birth or a new moon. There would be no need to further explain this concept.
The Bible does
not define the term new moon. The
Hebrew word Chodesh itself is the definition. Mathematics was not used in scripture and is,
therefore, not used in a determination.
Visual sighting was the method used in the past and should remain today
based on the information we are given in scripture. The dark moon conjunction is a relatively new
definition of a new moon created by man and mathematicians requiring a
foundational zero to begin their calculations.
This is because mathematics requires a FIXED starting-point (or
zero). When we calculate a calendar, we
require an “international dateline” or reference point to begin. Many choose
4) The vernal equinox is referred to as the first day of spring in various calendars, but is not a Biblical statement. It is correct that there is no statement in the Bible to the use of the spring equinox. Instead, green-eared barley serves as our sign of the Passover season, not the equinox. The Islamic calendar also provides an example of observation of the new moon and a variable dateline for establishing months. This same concept can be applied to the Biblical observation of green-eared barley for determining a new year, as well.
5) The Bible tells us that the month of Abib is to be the beginning of months; this requires the periodic addition of a 13th month to prevent Abib from occurring in the middle of the winter instead of spring. Again, we are not given the required number of moon cycles before we are to look for green-eared barley in the Bible. Abib begins at the beginning of the moon of the same name – the first day of the first month must coincide with the existence of green-eared barley (whether there were 12, 13 or even 14 months since the last sighting). There is no need for a calculated intercalary year when you simply observe the signs.
The observational method given above takes into account all scripture and preserves each of the signs ordained in scripture. The requirement of waiting until sundown to declare the first full day at the start a month fully incorporates the ordained signs and is not an assumption. If you were to begin the monthly moon cycle in the middle of the day, you would be ignoring the sign of the sun and no longer be preserving a method that is “pure” and Biblical. The Hebrew calendar has only been documented from the time of Hillel II in the 4th century AD. The Hebrew Calendar, along with most other calendars, uses mathematics to determine God’s times and cannot accurately predict the movement of the celestial signs within a formatted timetable; nor can mathematics predict weather and environmental conditions on crops years in advance. The Islamic calendar, however, has been a method, based on observation, which has been preserved throughout history and can serve as an example of an orderly, preserved calendar based on observation of the moon.
The above Biblical calendar of observation does not incorporate Jewish man-made traditions, nor does it include man-made calculations. The concepts are purely scripture-based.
In the letter from Armstrong written in 1940, he states “Yet we know God gave his people a fixed rule for calculating time periods, and for figuring when to hold the Festivals of Jehovah”. Again, Armstrong’s opinion is biased to the requirement of a fixed calculation – a method not supported by scripture. There is no scriptural support for computed intercalary months or fixed rules of calculation or determining the spring equinox because they were not required! When observing God’s signs, we rely on God Himself to indicate when we should be holding the Festivals of Jehovah.
The method referred to by C.O. Dodd observed the Passover a month early because their calculations were based on the vernal equinox. Again, the bias of calculation was used along with the non-scriptural usage of the equinox. The existence of Abib (green-eared) barley is the Biblical determining factor for observing Passover in a given month.
RULES OF POSTPONEMENT
Since the Hebrew Calendar method has abolished observation for the convenience of calculation, it has essentially debased the ordained signs of God by replacing them for the sake of mathematical rules. By allowing a change of the ordained signs for the sake of computation, it also permits freedom to make changes for the sake of convenience. After all, creating a calculated average timetable of days, months and years would only be performed for convenience. This is similar to the compromising example given for the employee that determines a day to observe Sabbath which eliminates the sign of the sun and, in turn, grants the freedom to ignore the specific point of sundown that is supported by scripture. That is the essential struggle being observed by critics of the Rules of Postponement. Although it is true these rules are simple calendar adjustments, changing God’s ordained signs should never be a simple task. Malachi 3:6 states “”For I am the LORD, I change not.” Applying simple changes to the ordained signs is still a change and goes against the very nature of God Himself.
The first rule of postponement changes the months ordained sign from the appearance of the new crescent moon to the calculated mo’lad (or average time between the waning and waxing crescents) that is essentially an average to determine the dark moon’s point of conjunction. One important note is even though mathematics could just as easily obtain the average sighting of the new crescent, it instead uses the dark moon’s conjunction. UCG’s paper also states “It is not the Molad that is all important, but rather it is the appearance of the crescent of the moon that really counts.” However, this rule postpones only the first day of Tishri (not the remaining 11-12 months). It also uses as the cutoff point, but the visible new crescent on average appears 18 hours (shortest time on record is 15.5 hours) following the moon’s conjunction and will not be visible, in most cases, for one to two days following conjunction (see NASA/Naval Observatory paper http://AA.usno.navy.mil/FAQ/docs/crescent.php). Even today, most calendars based solely on observation of the new crescent place the 1st of Tishri one to two days after the Hebrew Calendar (although, it is possible for both methods to have the 1st of Tishri to occur on the same day depending on the window of the observed new crescent and the timing of the postponement rules). Therefore, the appearance of the crescent of the moon is not considered with the establishment of this rule. Furthermore, the invented cutoff time of is strictly man-made and is only created for the sake of having a mathematical foundation (zero) to begin its calculations.
The second rule of postponement creates a fictional decree to avoid having the Day of Atonement fall adjacent to the weekly Sabbath by postponing Tishri if the first day falls on a Wednesday or Friday. According to the Wikipedia Encyclopedia (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_calendar), the first of Tishri is also delayed if it falls on Sunday to avoid the Seventh Day of the Feast of Tabernacles (the day a Jewish festival named Hoshana Rabbath is performed) to fall on the weekly Sabbath. The primary excuse in the UCG paper claims this rule was created to avoid the burden of having two Sabbaths in a row. To state that a day of rest is a burden is beyond reason. Although the preparation day is important to God, it does not mean that preparing for two Sabbaths should be avoided. After all, we still would observe Spring Holy Days in this same manner using the Hebrew Calendar calculations. In addition, The Day of Pentecost is purposely designed to create this very scenario proving God does not see this as a concern. In addition, a day of preparation before the Day of Atonement requires no additional preparation as we do not consume food on that day. Using such an excuse to create a postponement profanes God’s Holy Appointments and His Sabbaths and is certainly not supported within scripture.
The third and fourth rules are necessary “fixes” in the math to account for the man-made delay of the first two rules.
HEBREW CALENDAR HISTORY
The first documented existence of the Hebrew Calendar calculations is at the time of Hillel II in 358 A.D. There is also documented history of the Jews being forced to observe the calculated Imperial Civil Calendar for the purpose of paying taxes (see Wikipedia article above). This is the first recorded event of Jews keeping a calculated calendar, but it was not their own. Hillel II instituted a computed Hebrew Calendar due to persecution which can be linked to Emperor Constantine. There is no support for any calculated calendar being used for the purposes of determining God’s Festivals prior to Hillel’s time, and certainly not before the temple’s destruction in 70 A.D. Claiming the existence of such a calculated calendar would simply be an assumption and is not supported anywhere within the Bible. However, there are numerous documented historical records supporting an observed calendar method by the Jews for thousands of years before Hillel introduced his version.
To claim Hillel, or any other man, held authority from God to change the method of tracking appointments, days and seasons and forego the ordained signs of Genesis would go against the character of God, a God that does not change.
An observed method does not require mathematical intercalary years or postponements as there are no predetermined, defined number of days in a given month (or moon cycle) or number of months in a given year (or barley harvest). This issue is resolved naturally by God and requires us to employ faith in Him to establish his appointments. Any variance created through an observation method can be quickly resolved by following the instruction of God (Numbers ) to communicate to His people the start of each month (not just at the Feast of Trumpets) by alerting them when the New Moon occurs. Any delay of physically observing God’s signs would be strictly controlled by God and does not rely on man to conclude postponement rules for themselves.
Certainly there can be discrepancies using an observed method. Just as we observe sundown to determine days and the start of the Weekly Sabbath, discrepancies can exist depending on the observer’s perspective especially if that observer is not paying attention. But it is not for us to determine that God’s methods are unacceptable. We also should not be judging one another on our accuracy. Colossians states “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the NEW MOON, or of the SABBATH DAYS.”
For critics to assume that there must be an exact mathematical calculation to determine days, months and years questions God Himself and disregards the Spiritual guidance we should be relying upon. In addition, the Hebrew calendar (as well as any calculated calendar) does not utilize exact mathematics, but rather averages times to obtain a standardized table. Therefore, following any calendar would be unacceptable to such critics demanding exactness.
The Bible has been preserved for us today to better understand God’s laws and instruction. We have been given everything we need from the Bible to properly follow His instruction. For us to assume requirements are missing is vain and pointless to argue. We must prove all instruction through the scriptures to prove that it is of God! Calculation is strictly an assumed system and is simply not Biblically supported. Although it can be a great tool when used properly, it should never be relied upon to replace God and His instruction.
We also know that God has full control of his times and seasons and can keep His people from determining His days. Ezekiel 32:7 states “And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light.” We must rely upon God Himself to show us His signs to determine when to keep His festivals. Without Him, we are blind to the truth.
History has shown strong evidence of many calculated calendars being in existence thousands of years before the time of Christ. However, the existence of calculation itself does not prove that God intended on its usage. Even if the Jewish community switched to a calculated method, it does not prove that it was ordained by God. The primary argument is whether a calculated calendar existed during the time of Christ since He kept the same days as the Jews recorded in the New Testament. Since there is no documented evidence of any specific calculations, or the existance of calculation at all, we simply cannot know for certain they existed or exactly what they entailed. Just as we can use mathematics to calculate the approximate time of sundown in a geographical region, math can be a tool to help one predict the celestial events used in the Biblical calendar; however it does not prove they were relied upon as dogma or replaced the act of observation that may have corrected the calculations at any given time.
To prove that the current Hebrew calendar existed during the time of Christ, some have constructed a timeline by establishing particular days of the week implied by the New Testament. This is done with three primary events described in the New Testament:
1) A Wednesday Passover crucifixion supporting Christ being in the grave 3 days & 3 nights before His resurrection.
2) The Last Great Day in 30 A.D. occurred on a weekly Sabbath.
3) The Last Day of Unleavened Bread in 29 A.D. occurred on the weekly Sabbath.
The first event requires Passover to occur on Wednesday in order for Christ to be in the grave for a full 3 days & 3 nights. This is supported with the Hebrew Calendar for Passover to occur on a Wednesday in 31 A.D. There is also evidence supporting the possibility of an eclipse on this same day supporting scripture that the moon became as blood. However, when you compute the likely phases of the moon in 31 A.D., you will find that an observed crescent that year was possible on the same day as the Hebrew Calendar. Since the visible new moon crescent can appear following the moon’s conjunction as early as 15 hours, you find that the new moon could have matured to a visual new crescent on the same day before sundown. Although this model is based on mathematical computation and it is impossible to know, for certain, without any documented evidence of the sighted moon what really occurred. However, you must consider the possibility, based on our current knowledge of the moon’s phase history, that this could have occurred and, therefore, excludes the Hebrew Calendar as being the only possibility.
The second event is based on New Testament testimony given in John 7 & 8. Starting in John 7:37, we are told the following events take place “In the last day, that great day of the feast.” Later, John 8:2 indicates “And early in the morning He came again into the temple.” When you continue to follow the events that took place at the temple, you find this morning was also a weekly Sabbath. Hebrew calendar supporters claim, therefore, that the weekly Sabbath in 30 A.D. (The year proceeding Christ’s crucifixion) was also The Last Great Day, which is supported by the Hebrew Calendar calculations. This claim requires that the events following John 7:37 were either the Seventh Day of the Feast of Tabernacles or was the night-time portion of the Last Great Day. Since the Hebrew calendar’s current Rules of Postponement do not allow for the Last Great Day to occur on a Friday, we are left with John 7:37 taking place on the Final Day, the Last Great Day.
Upon further examination, John further explains “And every man went unto
his own house.” Given the traditional
Regardless, though, we have no definitive link for events in John 8:2 to have occurred immediately following the day described prior to this verse. Although some translations of John 8:2 say Christ entered into the temple the next day, the original Hebrew is simply translated “At dawn, Christ entered the temple.” There is no proof here that the events starting in John 8:2 were still the Last Great Day. The only certainty we have from this scripture is that John 8:2 occurred on a weekly Sabbath sometime between the Last Great Day (starting in John 7:37) and The Feast of Dedication (starting in John 10:22).
The third event is again based on New Testament testimony of a weekly Sabbath. Hebrew calendar supporters have claimed Luke 6:1 also claims these events occurred on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread, which is supported by the Hebrew Calendar. Just as the first event, computer-generated models make it possible for an observed calendar to match this scenario if green-eared barley were seen a month prior to the Hebrew calendar that implemented a 13th intercalary month that year. However, when using Luke 6:1 as evidence that the phrase “second Sabbath after the first” was the Last Day of Unleavened Bread, the argument becomes very weak since the term is based on the translation of an unusual Greek term “en sabbato deuteroproto” (or δευτεροπρώτῳ).
T.C. Skeat (author of Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus) convincingly conjectures that the original copyist-publishers (or scribes) incorrectly interpreted what would be considered today a typo (smudge or blunder) of the original manuscript creating what is coined as a “ghost-word” (or a word which never had any real existence). When investigating this phrase further, you will find that this is the only place in scripture or in generally-accepted documentation where this specific phrase is used. Barnes New Testament Notes (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/barnes/ntnotes.vi.vi.i.html) discusses this Greek word in Luke 6:1 and says “the word occurs nowhere else. It is therefore exceedingly difficult of interpretation.” Even the same event described in Matthew 12:1 and Mark 2:23 do not use this same Greek term nor does any Hebrew term or phrase relate. However, given all of these dilemmas, the generally accepted translation of the word in Luke is “second-first” Sabbath. The article continues to speculate that “The second day of the Passover was a great festival, on which the wave-sheaf was offered, Le . From that day they reckoned seven weeks, or seven Sabbaths, to the day of Pentecost. The first Sabbath after that second day was called the second-first, or the first from the second day of the feast. The second Sabbath was called the second-second,” etc. Yet, we have no secondary witness of this word being used anywhere in literature, so we will never be able to adequately confirm its meaning within this context.
Given the difficulty of translation (since we have no other resource to base its context), you could also translate “second Sabbath after the first” as being the second Sabbath in the count of seven Sabbaths to Pentecost. Another translation of this unusual term is “Sabbath of first rank”. The phrase first rank suggests that the seven holy day Sabbaths (the Last Day of Unleavened Bread being the second of those Sabbaths) rank above the weekly Sabbath. This determination would conflict with the argument, however, that the weekly Sabbath and the Day of Atonement are set apart from the remaining holy days due to their classification of no solitary work to be performed on these days. In either case, there is too much uncertainty to claim The Last Day of Unleavened Bread occurred on a weekly Sabbath in 29 A.D. to prove the existence of the Hebrew Calendar during the time of Christ.
Has it also been considered how current Jews regard the calculated Hebrew Calendar? It may not be commonly known among the UCG Council that Orthodox Jews observe two days for Rosh Hashanah (see Introduction to Rosh HaShanah by Ariela Pelaia - http://judaism.about.com/od/holidays/a/roshhashanah.htm or Wikipedia Encyclopedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosh_Hashanah). This tradition has been created from the Jews’ own apprehension of the calculated calendar being correct for the seventh month of Tishri. The existence of such a tradition proves that a prior methodology existed before the calculated Hebrew calendar and even they do not identify with the authority implied. In addition, the Jewish community is fully aware that their Hebrew Calendar is flawed and inaccurate. With the current calculations, the Hebrew Calendar “drifts” 1 day every 224 years (see Wikipedia Encyclopedia above). This is because the Hebrew Calendar year is 6 minutes and 2525/57 seconds off from the current solar year. In fact, this one day drift will be in effect for the Passover calculations starting in the year 2011. Many Jewish believers feel that in order to properly “fix” this issue, the Sanhedrin must be reelected. However, in order to accomplish this, the Jews must first rebuild the temple.
The Bible gives clear icons for us
to observe to determine God’s appointments, times and seasons. We also know that these ordained signs have
existed from the time of Genesis and are to continue through to the time of the
Revelation and Christ’s return to setup His Kingdom on Earth. Revelation
states “And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon,
to shine in it: for the glory of God did
lighten it, and the Lamb is in the light thereof.” Isaiah 24:23 confirms “Then the moon shall be
confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the LORD of hosts shall reign in
The UCG paper concludes with the statement “someone has to make a
decision about the calculation of the calendar.” Why do we feel a need to calculate a calendar at all when we have been given all we need to observe? We should be looking to God for His signs and the Church has a responsibility of communicating confirmation of those signs to His people – to blow a trumpet! When we apply scripture and ignore our bias, all questions are answered through God and His Word. I pray that the Council consider this submission seriously and search the scriptures to prove to themselves what God has given for the proper calendar His people should observe regardless of the hardships making such a change in today’s church would bring.
Regrettably, we do not have the personnel to be able to offer analysis and/or commentary on all of the doctrinal papers that people submit to us. Through our doctrinal study papers and our many publications geared to the public, we provide a detailed explanation of our doctrines, enabling people to make any comparisons that they wish to make with their personal writings.
As for the argument for observation over calculation, we discuss this issue in the paper titled “Hebrew Calendar Summary.” From your comments, you may have already read this material, but in light of your question, we recommend that you read it again. If you still disagree with us after reading what the paper says, we will have to agree to disagree on this issue.
Cecil E. Maranville
Personal Correspondence, UCGIA
I cannot simply agree to disagree, that is why I wrote and submitted the paper to the United Church of God to begin with. As a Church of God, responding with such a generic blanket statement is irresponsible to feeding the flock. The point of a church is to have personnel available to teach and explain their doctrine and be able to PROVE ALL THINGS. Once a doctrine is established (as it is a practice by United with many other topics), they should then teach this doctrine by distributing supporting materials and explaining why the Church believes that way it does. Your doctrinal paper admits that further supporting materials would be provided on this particular subject; however, it has now been 13 years and I see none being published or further explained to the general public or to the body of Christ regarding support of this decision by the Council. If you have anything beyond the doctrinal paper (such as brochures, booklets, Bible studies, sermons, etc.) that support this doctrinal "study" of the calendar and its findings that are based on scripture, please send them to me.
Meanwhile, I will keep my paper published on the Internet that thoroughly replies to your doctrinal paper (as I didn't just read your paper once) along with your response. Perhaps, if the Council has an ear, they'll hear what I (and many others) have to say on this issue by reading the paper and not brush it off by simply disagreeing without consideration.
Thank you & God bless,
For a more detailed analysis on this subject, please refer to my Research Paper entitled "The Mathematical Bias of the Biblical Calendar"