"God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for the set timesthe days and the years" Gen 1:14, Tanakh.
Many Sabbath-keepers believe in keeping the annual holy days. The Bible gives a specific day of the month to observe most of these days, but how do we know when the month begins? Did the Jews preserve a sacred calendar given by God? If not, does the Bible explain a specific calendar? Can you fellowship with someone who uses a calendar different than yours?
By Norman S. Edwards
A great many articles and booklets have been written about the Biblical calendar. Many of them start by telling the reader that if he keeps the wrong calendar, he is keeping the wrong day for Passover and therefore will be cut off from his peoplelose his salvation (Num 9:13). This scare-tactic may be good for recruiting new members to a small group, but it also produces an attitude of "I'm right and don't have to listen to anyone else."
We hope you will find this article very different! While we believe in living "by every word of God," we feel it is better to admit that we are still learning the will of God in complex areas than to claim that we know it all and later find we are wrong!
Our Father is more merciful than some admit. The entire nation of Israel had forgotten to keep the true date of Passover (read all of 2 Chronicles 30). All the people should have learned the law from their parents (Deut 4:10) and should have known when to be ready to keep it. Certainly, all of them did not meet the exception conditions spelled out in Numbers 9:9-14. Yet, the Eternal allowed the entire nation to keep the Passover a month late (2Chr 30:2), and keep 14 days of unleavened bread instead of seven (v 23). What was the Eternal's reaction to these humanly devised changes to His Holy Days? Did He say, "Sorry, I did not make these days holy, so, your keeping them is meaningless?" "So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. Then the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard; and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven" (v 26-27).
The Holy days were kept differently than prescribed by the commandments, but they were blessed and their prayers were heard because they were in the process of turning from their idols to the One that made them a nation. While the scripture does not say how they kept the Passover the next year, it says Hezekiah restored the teaching of the law (2Chr 31:4). It is safe to assume it was done by the commandments.
Today, we may be further removed from knowing the originally intended Biblical Holy days than the people of Hezekiah's day. The scripture indicates that they had no trouble knowing when the month began, only in being physically ready for the Passover. Hezekiah came to power only 16 years after the last righteous king, Jotham, and only a few hundred years after David. The truth of the calendar was certainly known by many people. Today, we are thousands of years away from that time, virtually no records about the Biblical calendar have survived, and we must peer into the scant information in the Bible or into the sometimes doubtful records of history to try to figure out how to establish a calendar.
If our Father was merciful in helping the Israelites get back on the track after a very short apostasy, will not He be even more merciful in helping us back to truth lost over millennia?
But the Eternal's mercy is no reason for us to be ignorant of his word. He gives his holy days as a certain day of a certain month. If we do not know when each month begins, how can we know when to keep the holy days for that month?
Purpose of this Article
We hope this article will give readers an understanding of the facts regarding calendars and introduce the major arguments for a variety of calendar systems, including the Jewish system. Also, we will point out technical questions that must be answered if we are to construct a calendar from the scriptures. Finally, we hope that the reader will realize the diversity of sincere opinions in calendar systems and be tolerant of brethren that use other calendars.
What is a Day, Week, Month or Year?
|Period||Number of Days||Physical Definition||Bible Definition|
|Hour||1/24th||1/24th of a day||Same (John 11:9)|
|Day||1 exactly||Earth rotates around its axis||evening & morning|
|Week||7 exactly||None now7 creation days||6 days of labor, 1 of rest|
29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes,
|One revolution of the moon around the Earth||Months begin on "new moons," but when are they?|
|Year||365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46.069 sec.||One revolution of the Earth around the Sun||Begins with the month of Abibno specific formula.|
The most fundamental unit of time is a day determined by one rotation of the Earth. From our perspective on Earth, we see the sun set and rise it gets dark then it gets light outside. Every normal human that is older than a toddler, in every culture, understands what a day is.
The turning of the Earth is an extremely consistent natural event. You can set your clock by it! (Occasionally, scientific organizations such as the National Bureau of Standards will detect that the Earth's motion has sped up or slowed down over a number of years and add or subtract one second from their official time. However, for most purposes, it takes exactly 24 hours for the Earth to turn completely on its axis.
If you measure the time with a watch, from one sunset to the next, you would probably find it either slightly longer or shorter than 24 hours. The length of an observable sunset-to-sunset day varies by a couple of minutes because the Earth's axis is tilted and the angle at which the sun's light strikes the Earth varies slightly as the Earth goes around the sun. Sunset-to-sunset days are slightly longer in the Winter and Spring and slightly shorter in the Summer and Autumn. (Do not confuse this with the total daylight part of the day which is longest on the first day of summer and shorter on the first day of Winter.) However, if we would accurately compute the average length of every day of the year, it would be within a few seconds of exactly 24 hours.
We used the word "sunset" for the start of day above, but there is actually a dispute as to the original meaning of the Hebrew words for evening and sunset. Does the new day begin the second the sun slips below the observable horizon (which may include mountains, buildings or trees), below the actual Earth horizon, or when it is dark? These questions will play a role in a later section.
The week has no correspondence to any physical event, other than the original creation week. It has been counted ever since that time. It is found nearly everywhere throughout the Earth. Half of the languages of the world have a something sounding like "Sabbath" for the name of the seventh day of the week.
There are a very few people that believe the Bible does not specify a 7-day week. They believe the Sabbath should be kept by counting periods of seven days from the beginning of each month until a new month starts. We can see no way to reconcile this with Exodus 20:9-10 which commands us to labor six days and rest the seventh. If Sabbath counting started over at the beginning of a month, we would be laboring 7 or 8 days between some Sabbaths. We will not spend any more time with this unusual calendar approach because it is indeed hard to work with these people since their Sabbath changes to a different day of the week every month.
The table above also shows that the month and the year do not correspond to an exact number of days. This is where the difficulty lies in determining a calendar. If the Eternal had moved the moon slightly further away from the Earth, and moved the Earth a little closer to the sun, He could have made months that were exactly 30 days and years that were exactly 360 days. There would have been twelve months in every year, and 10-year old children could explain the system in detail. But our Creator did not do that. He gave us years that were about (but not exactly) 365¼ days, and months that are 29½ days.
One might ask, "Who cares about the ½ or¼ days? What would happen if we just forget about them?" Bad results! If a year were always considered to be 365 days, the calendar would effectively slip one day forward every four years. After four hundred years of that system, the calendar would be 100 days off from the true seasonsSpring would not start March 21st as it usually does with our calendar, but near the end of June. Problems are noticeable much more quickly if we inaccurately calculate moon cycles.
Our Current Gregorian Calendar
It is important to understand our own calendar before trying to understand someone else's. When looking at a new thing, there is a great tendency to see its faults, pronounce it "miserable" and walk away from it. When we see complexity in something that we use personally, then we are more likely to want to understand it and accept itand be more ready to understand something else.
We are all fairly familiar with how our Roman calendar solves the problem of the extra ¼ day in the year. Every four years we have a leap year. This would allow our calendar to operate perfectly if years were exactly 365 years and 6 hours. But, our years are really 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46.069 seconds long. Our Calendar would get away from the natural seasons 11.235 minutes every year or 1 day every 128 years.
The average man in the street might say: "Don't worry about it, I'll be dead before it gets one day off." But mathematicians, purists that they are, have devised a system of occasionally missing leap years that will keep our present calendar synchronized with the seasons for millions of years to come. It was the ignoring of these 11 minutes that was recognized by pope Gregory in 1582. He added 10 days to the calendar (October 4 was followed by October 15th that year.) These days compensated for all of the unnecessary "leap years" from the council of Nicea till that time. Hence, our present calendar is called "Gregorian."
With all this precise math preserving the exact relationship between our calendar and the seasons, exactly what are we preserving? And who decided when the year would start? Is there a way to look up into the sky and know when January 1 arrives? Not easily. With precise measurements and calculations, you can recognize any day by the positions of the sun or stars, but January 1 is no easier than any other day. The calendar Gregory replaced was the Julian Calendar, named after Julius Caesar. However, it is likely Julius appropriated a much older solar calendar already known. If the original calendar was created around 1000 BC, its first day of its first month was probably the first day of winter. (When Julius Caesar was around, December 25 would have usually been the first day of winter.)
The events that are easy to observe with the solar year are the solstices. The Winter solstice, usually December 22, is the day of the year with the shortest daylight portion. The Summer solstice occurs on the longest daylight portion of the year, usually June 21. (In the Southern Hemisphere, these events are reversed we will deal only with the Northern Hemisphere for simplicity.) If you can see the sunrise and sunset each day, and accurately record the lengths of them, you will find the shortest and longest daylight portions will always occur mentioned on the days above. Another way to determine these days is to put a thin, but strong (so it won't move), stick in the ground and mark the shortest shadow each day (about noon-time). The day with the shortest noon-time shadow is Summer solstice and the day with the longest noon-time shadow is the Winter solstice.
There are two other periods of note: the Spring equinox and Fall (Autumn) equinox. These days are halfway between the solstices, usually March 21 and September 22. These days mark the beginning of spring and fall. The length of the day will be halfway between the longest and shortest day.
We use the word "usually" with the equinox and solstice dates because these dates can vary by one day based on the slightly irregular shape of the Earth's orbit and the current phase of the leap-year cycle.
The months in the Gregorian calendar are very simple to deal with. They do not correspond to the moon at all. They are a fixed number of days except for February, which can vary by only one day. There is no scientific (or Biblical) reason why each month has its specific number of days.
In summary, our current Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar (it is based only on the length of a year). The starting day of the year and the length of months are not based on any physical or Biblical principles but merely a happenstance of history.
How the Biblical Calendar Works
The calendar described in the Bible is a lunar-solar calendar. Months are governed by the moon and years are governed by the sun:
He appointed the moon for seasons [Literal Hebrew means "set times"]; the sun knows its going down (Psalm 104:19).
While this provides a physical way to look outside and know approximately what day of the month it is, it adds more complexity to calculations because neither the sun nor the moon cycles are an exact multiple of one day.
Since the moon cycle is about 29½ days, the Biblical months are either 29 or 30 days long. Nearly everyone agrees that the month begins at the "new moon." It is obvious that festivals were held on this day in the Old Testament (1Sam 20:5, 2Kngs 4:23, Amos 8:5) and that practice continued on into the New Testament period (Col 2:16). The practice will continue into the Millennium (Isa 66:23, Ezk 46:1,6). The exact method for determining when the new moon begins is in dispute by many people. We will cover that in the next section.
There is no specific Bible reference saying, "a year is this long," or, "this is when you begin the year." Exodus 12:2 states: "This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you." 1 Chronicles 23:1-15 certainly conveys the idea that there are 12 months in the year. However, if a year only had 12 monthssix with 30 days and six with 29-days, that would make a 354-day year. If nothing were done to correct the situation, it would only take 15 years for the Spring Feasts to become Fall Feasts and vice versa. Nearly everyone agrees that the solution is to add a thirteenth month as necessary. The question is, "Exactly when should it be added?"
As with the question of the month, there are many different methods advocated for determining exactly when to start the new year. This is no trivial matter, either. There are only two possible outcomes to make in deciding when to start the next year: 1) start it after the 12th month of the previous year. 2) start it after the 13th month of the previous year. However, the results of this decision are very far-reaching. Since all of the holy days are figured from the start of the year, adding or not adding the 13th month will make a whole month's difference when the holy days are kept that year.
This concept of a year is far different than the more precise year of the Gregorian calendar where the new year always begins after December 31 of the previous year. A single Biblical year is more of an approximate measure. If someone said "my child is one year old today," few people would stop to think about whether he is 365 or 366 days old. Under the Bible calendar, the child could be 12 months or 13 months old which is significantly different. However, over the course of many years, it all averages out. About one out of three years will have 13 months. When someone or something is said to be 27 years old, few people would care if it is 526 or 527 months old.
Before we get started on the methods of beginning the month or year, we will try to establish some naming terminology. Most references to days in the Bible are like Genesis 7:11: "In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month..." The day and the month are numbered, but the year is given as a year of the persons' life, the year of a king's life, or the year from some big event. There is no undisputed way to assign a "BC" date to every event in the Bible.
Although months are generally referred to by number, there are two systems of naming them in the Bible. The first system uses Hebrew names, the second largely Babylonian names acquired when the Jews were in captivity in Babylon. The three Hebrew names are Abib, the first month (Ex 13:4, 23:15, 34:18, Deut 16:1); Zif, the second month (1Kngs 6:1,37); and Bul, the eighth month (1Kngs 6:38). The original Hebrew names for the other months are apparently unknown.
In this paper, we will use the modern Hebrew names (based on the Babylonian names) since there is a complete set of them. While some will claim that the current Jewish Calendar is completely Babylonian and therefore corrupt, it is hard to accept it when we see so many of the Babylonian names used in Scripture. On the other hand, it is very clear that the Eternal's calendar did not pass through Babylon unscathedthere is a month named for Tammuz, an abomination (Ezk 8:14-15). The following table shows the month names and where they are found.
|No. of Month in year||Modern Jewish Name & Alternate Spelling||Referenced in Bible:|
|9||Kislev, Chislev in NKJV||Neh 1:1, Zech 7:1|
|10||Tebeth, Tebet||Esth 2:16|
|11||Shebat, Shebet||Zech 1:7|
|12||Adar||Ezra 6;15, Esth 3:7,13, 8:12, 9:1, etc.|
|13||Adar II||[Added occasionally]|
When Does a New Month Begin?
Every one agrees that a month should begin on the new moon, but when is a new moon? Jewish tradition says the month begins when the first crescent after the dark moon appears in the sky. Others say the new month should begin as soon as you cannot see the old moon. Still others have said the crescent moon is an object of pagan worship and the month should start at the calculated period when the moon is dark. And finally, some believe the month should start with the full moon.
There is no Bible command saying, "you shall start your month like this." What indications are there:
Numbers 10:10 tells us this:
Also 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; and they shall be a memorial for you before your God: I am the LORD your God.
This shows that a trumpet was to be blown at "the beginning of months". The Hebrew for "beginning" in this verse is roshe, which is usually translated "head" or "top". What is the top of a month? We've been conditioned to think it is when the moon to first showwe say the moon "waxes and wanes" (grows bigger, then grows smaller). On the other hand, would it not also make sense to say that the full moon is the "top" or "head" because that is when the moon is largest? It all depends on what we are used to.
Psalm 81:3 addresses the subject directly, but its exact meaning is in dispute. The KJV completely dodges the issue with:
Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.
The NKJV is much more accurate here:
Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, At the full moon, on our solemn feast day.
The Hebrew keceh definitely means "full moon" as translated above. The Tanakh (modern Jewish translation) says:
Blow the horn on the new moon, on the full moon for our feast day.
If we read this verse literally, it is saying that the new moon and the full moon are the same time. There is no "and" in the Hebrew to imply these are separate events. When two things are stated without a connector in Hebrew, the implication is that they are equivalent. Hence, we see the Scriptural basis for those who begin months on the full moon. Our first reaction to this might be, "that's impossiblethe full moon occurs at the 15th of the month, on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles and of Unleavened Bread." But, does the Scripture say this, or does tradition? If you know of scriptures proving this, please write to the address at the end of this publication.
The commonly accepted explanation of this verse is that it refers to two "trumpet blowings" that are very closely related so no "and" was used in the Hebrew. The two blowings are the Feast of Trumpets on the new moon (first crescent) and the Feast of Tabernacles on the full moon. Most traditions take this approach.
There is some etymological evidence for using the first crescent: The Hebrew chodesh ("month" or "new moon") is from a root chadash which means to renew and can be used for polishing a sword. Some will say that this definition fits a new moon that looks like a curved, shining sword. However, this can hardly be referred to as a scriptural command.
Other researchers point out how many false religions have feast days when the crescent moon appears and show how the crescent moon is used as an occult and Pagan symbol. They conclude that one must use the dark moon (usually calculated) to avoid the Paganism. Our intuition tells us that there were crescent moons in the sky long before the first Pagan was born. Similarly, our creator made holly berries, poinsettias and little pine trees. If we can prove that the Eternal intends us to begin the month with a dark (or a full) moon, and we change to a pagan crescent moon custom, then we have erred. But if the Eternal originally gave the crescent moon for the start of the new month, and the Pagans appropriated it for their own celebrations, it would be a mistake to cease using it. We must go back to the Scriptures and history to determine what the Eternal intended.
Some other scriptures are used to aid in establishing the time of the new month, but they all seem to weigh heavily on an interpretation of the Scripture, not what the Scripture plainly says.
When Does a New Year Begin?
The new year always begins on a new month.
This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you (Ex 12:2).
The question is, "which month do you call the new year?" Since Hebrew years can be either 12 or 13 months, the practical decision is whether or not each year should have a 13th month. We have even less scriptural information on how to do this than we do on determining the month. The most commonly cited verses to establish this time are:
These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons (Lev 23:4, KJV).
Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season (Num 9:2, KJV).
We deliberately used the King James Version here because so many other Bible students rely on it. They think of the meaning of the English "season"Spring, Summer, Fall and Winterand apply it here. They believe that the calendar should be set so that the Passover falls in the Spring seasonalways after the spring equinox. While this approach agrees well with Jewish tradition, these scriptures do not specifically command it. The Hebrew words translated "seasons" here are moed, meaning "appointed-times", not specifically seasons of the year. Actually, the word for "feasts" in Lev 23:4, is also moed. Each of the Eternal's feasts is not a separate season.
There are several variations on the above method for determining the start of the new year. Some feel that it is only necessary to ensure that Passover is after the spring equinox, while others feel the entire year should be after the equinox. Others say that the new year should begin on the closest full moon to the spring equinox. Lots of arguments are generated, but it is hard to find a clear scripture.
Another approach to determining the beginning of the year is derived from the Hebrew word for the first month: Abib, which means "green ears". Proponents of this approach feel that there must be green barley ears in order for that month to begin. This also helps to ensure that the grain will be ready for the wave sheaf offering. There is some historical evidence for this method and it has been effectively used today, but it is hard to say that the Bible commands it.
Finally, some believe the position of the moon or sun among the stars (constellations) should be used to mark the new year. The historian, Josephus records the Passover being "on the fourteenth day of the lunar month, when the sun is in Aries" (Antiquities 3:10:5). The question still arises: "must we rely on extra-Biblical works to determine when to keep the Biblical holy days?"
Local Observation, Jerusalem Observation or Calculation?
The methods for determining the start of the month and year are further complicated when we ask the questions: who should make these observations and where? We do not all see the sun and moon the same way. The day the first new moon is visible (whether you are looking for crescent, full, or dark) varies depending on the part of the Earth where you live. The observance of the equinox, if done locally and not mathematically, is quite complex and subject to variation around the world. If the "green ears" method is used to start the year, it can vary by quite a bit throughout the world. Furthermore, there are cloudy days when observation is impossible.
Even the determination of a "day" can make a difference. Supposing the Spring solstice occurs at 6:30 p.m. on the 14th of the month? The sun would be below the horizon, but it is by no means dark. If we reckon days by sunset, then a tiny piece of the Passover day would be before the solstice and some people would want to wait a month to declare the new year. If we reckon days from dusk or dark, then the entire day would be after the solstice and the new year could be declared. (While this is a picky point, if two groups each take a different perspective to it, they will be keeping the holy days a month apart.) No serious calendar student believes that everyone (or even every congregation) across the country would come up with the same holy days if they were all keeping the calendar by observation.
Some people believe that the calendar was intended to be a more personal thing, observed by individuals and followed as a part of their relationship with the Creator. They watch the moon and the seasons as reminders of the Eternal's plan for us. This author knows of people who plant barley to determine when to recognize the new year, and when (14 days later) to keep the Passover. From an individual learning perspective, this method can be very beneficial.
However, this individual approach means there is no national standard as to what day it is. It does not fit well with the clear scriptures we have already quoted with instructions to blow trumpets (sounds that could be heard a very long distance) on the new moons. Also, the priests were commanded to offer certain sacrifices on certain daysthey had to be using a single calendar system. People who traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast had to have a way to know when the Feast would be kept so they could come to make festival offerings. Furthermore, without some kind of official calendar, is there any meaning to the day and month that the Bible gives for numerous historical events?
The other question we must ask about locally determined systems is, "Did the congregations of the Eternal have the mathematical and astronomical ability to implement such a system throughout the ages?" While it may be possible, today, for every congregation to have their own computer or their own book of mathematical tables, our Father has had believers throughout all of the ages which kept His feasts by one method or another. It is a bit presumptuous to label something "God's True Calendar" if it could not possibly be kept by most of the Eternal's people through the ages.
The alternatives to local observation is either observation from a central site (usually Jerusalem) or calculation. This writer has heard of groups that send people to Jerusalem to look at barley or to observe the moon in the spring. Observed systems such as these still have the problem of cloudy days. Even people that observe locally admit to "using a little math to predict" when the moon would be visible. Most people who see the need for a predictable calendar prefer to calculate it. The question then becomes, "Who has authority to determine the precise calculations?" All of the issues we have raised in this paper must be considered, plus a host of other problem situations that are infrequent, but do occur.
Another reason for a central calendar is for fulfillment of prophesies such as those in the books of Haggai and Zechariah. They refer to specific days of the month in which things will occur in the future. Will these things occur at once or will they occur at different times based on whatever calendar a person is using?
How Does the Jewish Calendar Work?
Over the years, the Jews who worked with calendar calculations came up with answers to all of the infrequent, but existing problems. They also added a few ideas of their own.
During the second temple period, the Jews used a combination of secret calculations and observation to determine their calendar. They would accept witnesses of the first observable crescent of the moon to start their months. They would use both the solstice and the progress of the barley in determining the start of the year.
When the Sanhedrin (the Jewish governing body) broke up in the fourth century, the calendar calculations were made public. The calendar was fixed to a certain set of calculations and has been in use, with only minor modifications, since that time. Rules determine when the months and new years begin. The rabbinical calculation for the cycle of the moon was off only by half a secondit will be accurate enough for all known history. Their estimate of the length of a year was off by about seven minutes. This has caused the average Jewish year to begin about 7 days later than it did when Hillel first made the calendar public. There has been recent talk by Jews in Israel of reconvening the Sanhedrin to address this and other problems.
Finally, the Jews also added other features to their calendar for which there is no clear scriptural basis. They occasionally postpone the start of the year in order to prevent the day of Atonement from falling on a Sunday or Friday and to prevent the Last Day of the Feast of Tabernacles from falling on a Sabbath. To explain: their normal rules for determining a new moon might place the first of the month on Friday, but they will simply wait and start the month on Saturday. Since the rest of the months are fixed in length, all of the holy days will be one day different. In order to keep the calendar nice and tidy (prevent 31 day months and other things), they have to postpone the start of some of the other yearssome times up to two days. As it turns out, about 60% of the years have, and will be postponed in some way.
We can be certain that the Jewish calendar and these postponements were not something the Eternal inspired thousands of years ago and have been maintained ever since. There are several references in the Talmud and other histories indicating how to keep the Sabbath when it comes after the Day of Atonementsomething which never happens with the current Jewish calendar.
Do the Jews Have Authority to Set the Calendar?
This argument has many points and can be almost endless. Some claim that the Jews were given authority to set the calendar. Others claim that the Jews from Babylon incorporated many corrupt practices and are deliberately trying to subvert true worship of the Creator by both Jews and Christians. The truth of the matter is probably somewhere in between. The prophecy of the good and bad figs in Jeremiah 24 shows the nature of the people who were about to go into captivity in Babylon. Some were very good and some were very bad. This dichotomy apparently continued to the time of our Messiah, who found corrupt Jews who wanted to kill Him for political gain, and also faithful Jews whom He could use to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, even if it meant their untimely death.
The main scriptures for these arguments are:
Matthew 23:1-4: Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do."
While the rest of the chapter goes on to condemn the practices of the Jewish leaders, these verses still appear to give some ongoing authority. Some writers will claim that Moses' seat was the civil authority and that any religious decisions would have to be made through Aaron, his brother, and the priests that followed him. It only takes a little bit of reading to find that there is no great dividing line between "civil" and "priestly" functions in the Old Testament. The Eternal gave all kinds of spiritual instruction to Moses and he made judgments about these matters. Priests were involved in such mundane things as checking for plagues in houses (Lev 14:44). Also, the Messiah said, "... whatever they tell you to observe..." which probably included the holy days.
Rom 3:1: What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.
There is argument here as to what are the "oracles of God". Most agree that it means every word that the Eternal spoke. To most Christians, that is the Bible. To the Jew, that includes the "Oral Law", a body of laws and judgments that was originally given by the Eternal to Moses and passed down orally from Moses through the prophets. The Jews also added their own judgments and traditions to the "Oral Law" which were finally written down as the "Mishna" and a few other books in the second century. The basic rules of the calendar are considered part of the Oral Law, and the later addition of the postponements as judgments. A whole book could be written on this controversy alone, but we do not want to write it here.
Isaiah 1:13-14: Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, The Sabbaths, and the calling of assembliesI cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.
Is this a condemnation of the Jews for keeping the wrong days for new moons and Feasts? Possibly, but it does not say anything specifically about timing. We know that the Jews were keeping the Sabbath on the right day, even if they were not keeping it the right way. The entire context is what our Savior told the leaders of His day. They were doing all manner of commanded religious things: sacrifices, new moons, Sabbaths, feasts, assemblies and prayers, but their motives and private actions were evil. When Jeroboam actually did change the Feast days for his own motives, the Bible did spell it out (1Kngs 12:32).
While there are numerous scriptures recording the error of the Jewish leaders in the New Testament, a good number of Priests were actually converted (Acts 6:7). Until the conversion of Cornelius, every convert was a Jew (Acts 10). We have relied on the Jews to maintain the Old Testament Scriptures and the Sabbath day. We cannot find an uninterrupted line of "Christian" Sabbath-keepers' texts and worship-day records.
A Way to Compare Calendars
There is a way whereby we could compare calendar systems to see which the Eternal is using. We have done a small amount of research in this area, but much more could be done. We can see, from the scriptures, that many Bible events occurred on specific dates of the calendar. Similarly, we can look at events with a prophetic significance in our time and see if they occur on an appropriate day in calendar system we believe is correct. Here are some examples:
· In 1917, General Allenby entered Jerusalem in 1917 on Kislev 24 (Jewish calendar), a date spoken of as a time of restoring (Hag 2:10, 18).
· The Persian Gulf War ended on Purim in 1991, the day Jews traditionally celebrate victory over their enemies.
· The State of Israel became a nation in 1948 on Iyar 5 and 6 by the Jewish Calendar. Had the calendar been observed, that year would have been started a month earlier and the nation would have been "reborn" on Sivan 6, Pentecost.
This is only a tiny list. This writer hopes to greatly expand it in the future and would appreciate a copy of any similar study.
What Should We Do Now?
So, with all of this calendar confusion should we give up on the holy days and conclude they cannot be kept? Should we stop keeping them if we cannot be sure when they are? Not at all.
The purpose of the holy days is to worship the Eternal. We have exact instructions as to where, within the year, the holy days should be kept, but we have very few specifics about exactly when the year begins. It helps to think of the holy days as a blueprint for a house. They give us certain things to do at certain intervals to build our spiritual house. A builder can position a building on a piece a land in any number of places, but it will still be the same buildingjust a little further or closer to the edge of the property. Similarly, we can learn the lessons from the holy days no matter when we start our year. Once we begin the year, we must stay with it, we cannot keep the Feast of Tabernacles one day after the Day of Atonement so we can hurry up and get back to work. That would be deviating from the "blueprint".
But some will ask, "If we are free to keep the holy days whenever it seems best to us, are we free to keep the Sabbath on whichever day seems best?" The answer is "No!" The Eternal has unmistakably preserved when to keep the Sabbath for the entire world. We should keep that day. There are Jewish communities all over the world which have been there since the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. There is no disagreement among them as to which day is the Sabbath. He has given a formula that any grade school child can follow: work 6 days, rest 1. He has not preserved a calendar in any such way. He has not yet sent Elijah to "restore all things". Until then, we can still worship Him and learn the lessons from the holy days by keeping them the best way we understand.
So what calendar should we use? "... for whatever is not from faith is sin" (Rom 14:23). We have to do what we understand to be right. While the Bible contains little about when to start the year, it contains many commands to have an assembly on certain days. We should keep these days with a group of people who will help us learn and grow.
There is no command to proclaim the Sabbath, but Leviticus 23:2, 4, and 37 command us to proclaim these days. In nation of Israel they were proclaimed by the priests. Today, we have no central administration over all of the congregations, so we can look to the group that we assemble with. We will probably be served best by keeping holy days with only one calendarwe need to keep each holy day in its proper order. We should not shun or condemn other brethren with different calendar systems. We can share the Sabbath with them and respect their decision in this complex and difficult subject.
There is one thing we should not do in regard to the Calendar. We should not let it become a trap to us. Some "church organizations" and groups have a tendency to spend an large amount of time on calendar systems. They leave their attendees with the feeling that it is the most important doctrine, but so complicated that they could never figure it out without the organization. There are many other important aspects in determining with whom we fellowship other than the calendar.
Calendars are complex things and there are no simple, conclusive answers to creating a calendar in the scriptures. We should not judge others for their conclusions on this difficult subject. We should keep a calendar and observe the holy days according to our own convictions determined by our own study and prayer. We should not let our calendar ideas prevent us from growing in the many ways that the Bible does command.
May the Eternal bless you as you continue to study and strive to obey Him!