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GOD'S CALENDAR IN THE HEAVENS
Note! This booklet has been written in response to the several letters received with sincere questions regarding the Hebrew calendar. Hopefully more light than heat can be added to this somewhat controversial subject.
SHOULD WE QUESTION THE HEBREW CALENDAR
The Church of God, in its enthusiasm for doctrinal purity, has been the forerunner in exposing erroneous traditions which have developed over the centuries within orthodox Christianity. Some traditions are harmless and can even be good. However, where tradition disagrees with the Word of God, examination is always in order. Especially, when traditions inhibit our religious conduct and promote pagan ideas, we have, in the past, brought the subject into question.
One of the outstanding qualities of Biblical understanding is the fact that the Bible is the revealed Word of God. It was not developed over the centuries as its opponents have argued. The religion of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and all God's people is a revealed religion from the Creator. On the other hand, the pagan religions were and are developed from the minds of men and/or Satan. In revealed religion God made man-in developed religion man made his idea of God and his idea of God's will for himself.
What has all this to do with the calendar? Just this-the present day Hebrew calendar is not what was revealed from God. It has been developed over many hundreds of years from the minds of men, very wise men no doubt, but even the wisest of men can be at odds with God Solomon, for example. We here at Churchlight dislike controversy, yet there are times when questionable subjects must be addressed and decisions made. In addressing this subject, we want it known to all that we do not condemn those who may reach a different conclusion. We just ask them to examine this brief evidence for the facts before dumping the question in the trash as another crackpot notion.
Since God made man, He has the right to regulate man's life and his religious duties. If it were left up to man to worship God any way he saw fit, God would not have condemned the use of idols in the worship of ancient Israel. Nor would He have told them not to learn the ways of their unbelieving pagan neighbors. But, He was quite emphatic, "Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen..." (Jeremiah 10:2).
THE REVEALED CALENDAR
Many people are not aware that God did reveal His method for men to count time. In the account of creation, God revealed one of His purposes for the sun and moon-it was for man to know how his Creator governs time for special events.
"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years" (Genesis 1:14).
The Hebrew word for seasons in this scripture is moedim and is used throughout the Bible as "feasts, festivals, or appointed times" (see Leviticus 23:1-4).
In The Pentateuch And Rashi's Commentary, we find the following explanation on the words "and for seasons" in Genesis 1: 14---~'With reference to the future; to be commanded concerning the festivals and these were reckoned according to the birth of the moon [the new moon]." This word moedim has been translated "festival" in the New English Bible, The Jerusalem Bible, The Good News Bible, The Living Torah, and several others.
Throughout Biblical history, the moon regulated the beginning of each month. When the crescent of a new moon could first be seen in the western sky, shortly after sundown, the Jews knew that a new month began that day, according to God's revealed calendar. The Hebrew word for new moon is chodesh and means "a lunar month, beginning at the new moon" Gesenius'Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon To The Old Testament, word #2320.
This method of fixing each month was still in use during Jesus' earthly ministry. This fact is attested to, without any doubt, by both Jewish and Christian scholars. It was always the visible sighting of the new crescent which began the next month, with only one exception; if clouds obscured the moon's visibility, no month could be more than 30 days. Hence, if it was cloudy on the evening of the 30th day of the month and no new moon could be seen, the following day was the first of the next month. We offer the following evidence for your consideration:
"Little is known of the procedure of determining the calendar up to the 2nd cent. C.E., when a description is given of the traditional practice. It ran as follows: On the thirtieth day of the month a council would meet to receive the testimony of witnesses that they had seen the new moon. If two trustworthy witnesses had made deposition to that effect on that day, the council proclaimed a new month to begin on that day ... If no witnesses appeared, however, the new moon was considered as beginning on the day following the thirtieth" The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, page 632.
"The importance of the moon to the Hebrews is seen when it is noted how fundamental a division of time the month was for them. The date of the new moon as marking the beginning of a new reckoning of time was by them not calculated, but observed. The length of a month, twenty-nine or thirty days, depended, therefore, upon the day when the moon was seen, except that in cloudy weather the thirtieth day was reckoned to the preceding month" The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, page 492.
Many other additional sources could be listed and quoted to add a mountain of proof that it was the anciently accepted method of actually seeing the visible new moon that determined each new month.
The method described above was in use during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and we find no evidence anywhere that He objected to this methodology. If He accepted the visible appearance of the new crescent as the beginning of the month, as the Bible and history implies, how can we discard this method for one that was developed and adopted by the Jews over 300 years later?
BEGINNING OF THE NEW YEAR
Finding the first month of the new year is a little more complex, but is not out of reach for any member of the church. We know God told Moses, "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you" (Exodus 12:2).
The question is-which month, which visible new moon? It becomes like a puzzle to us because we a re living about 3500 years later than Moses, but this puzzle can be solved quite easily from your own Bible.
First, this new moon was just prior to the barley harvest, but long before the wheat harvest time in Egypt.
"And the flax and the barley was smitten: for the barley was in the ear, and the flax was boiled [in bud]. But the wheat and the rie were not smitten: for they were not grown up" (Exodus 9:302).
So the time of the year was in the spring just when the barley was beginning to ripen, but before its harvesting.
Second, we know that Moses was later told to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread during this first month. During the week of unleavened bread, the third week of that month, there was to be a sheaf of grain (barley) waved as part of the ceremony. The harvest could be under way during the time of this ceremony, but none of it could be eaten until after the ritual.
"When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord..." (Leviticus 23: 10,11).
It is important we understand that the barley harvest was then in process, because this is a necessary clue to determining which new moon to use as the first month.
According to all the histories we have investigated, at the earliest, barley harvest begins in the first half of April by today's calendar. As an example, we offer the following:
"Barley begins to ripen in Palestine with the beginning of April, and in the lower and warmer parts the cutting is begun at the end of the same month. Hence we see that the first new moon, which began the first month and the Jewish year, could only take place in the last days of March at the earliest, and sacrifice of the 'omer' (wave sheaf) at the earliest only some days before the end of the first half of April" Astronomy In the Old Testament, Giovanni V. Schiaparelli, 1905 Oxford, Clarendon Press, London.
The ritual of the wave sheaf was carried out on the day following the weekly Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Abib (Nisan) 15-21.
For us to be in harmony with this festival practice, the first month of the new year must begin on or after the spring equinox (March 20 or 21). If the new year began on the new moon preceding the vernal equinox it might be seen, for example, on March 10. If this began the new year Abib 14 would be on March 23 and there would be no grain for the wave sheaf offering, it still being the last week of March. Hence, we submit the following formula was used by Moses, and would always allow for God's Word to be carried out consistently and without compromise:
Always begin the new year on the first new moon on or after the spring equinox. Always begin each new month on the visible appearance of the new crescent of the moon in Palestine.
THE DEVELOPED CALENDAR
The present day Hebrew calendar has been developed over many years by men. It is cleverly divised by mathematical calculation rather than visual observation. If the mathematical calculation were to show the day of the visibly observable new moon it would be correct; but such is not always the case. Nor does the mathematical calculation agree with the conjunction of the new moon, which usually occurs about two days before the visible new moon. It is a very inconsistent method. Consider the following examples of the recent past:
In 1979 the first day of Abib on the Hebrew calendar was' March 29, one day after the conjunction and one day before the visible new moon. On March 25, 1982, the first day of Abib according to the Hebrew calendar, was two days earlier than the visible sighting. In 1984 and 1985 the Hebrew calendar's first of Abib fell on the day of the visible new moon for both years. This is irrefutable evidence of the inaccuracy and inconsistency of the Hebrew calendar's mathematical calculating method.
The other months are equally as inconsistent. For example, Tishri 1 (seventh month) 1984 was on the day of the visible new moon, but Tishri 1, 1986 was two days before the visible new moon. In the year 2000, the Hebrew calendar shows Tishri I to fall one day after the visible new moon.
To all those who believe we should be keeping the Christian Passover and other feasts of God according to His heavenly calendar, this is of importance, if we are to be as accurate as possible. We realize perfection will not be attained in this life, but we should put forth the effort to correct what we know to be error.
A further problem which is usually ignored by those who want to continue using the Hebrew calendar is the fact that occasionally the Feast of Unleavened Bread falls too early (in March) for the wave sheaf offering date to fit the Biblical account. For example, in 1983 the mathematical method forced the use of the moon before the spring equinox, thus the Passover fell on March 28 that year. Interestingly, in the year of our Savior's death, this same situation occurred, but that was before the mathematical calculating method had become entrenched. Consequently, the new moon which preceded the spring equinox was considered the 13th month in that year and the next new moon was accepted for the beginning of the new year. Because of this, Passover (Abib 14) in AD 31 occurred on Wednesday, April 25 (Julian calendar). A Harmony Of The Gospels, second edition, page 236, Frederick R. Coulter.
For evidence that the Hebrew calendar is indeed a developed work of men, we invite your personal research on the subject. We found the following proof. "The Jewish calendar as now observed is the product of a long historical development" The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, page 63 1.
Further the "metonic cycle" (a discovery that there is approximately 235 months in 19 solar years) was not discovered until 432 BC.
We question whether Moses was able to use this information when he lived 1000 years earlier.
There can be no doubt whether he could see the visible new moon--obviously he could. The metonic cycle used in mathematically calculating the Hebrew calendar was the product of man.
"In 432 B.C.E. the Athenian astronomer Meton had reformed the Athenian calendar on the basis of a cycle of nineteen years, consisting of 235 lunar months adding one month seven times in the cycle to take care of the excess (235 is 7 more than 19 times 12).
This calendar was widely adopted, and was eventually followed by the Jewish teachers...The patriarch Hillel II in 359 AD, decided to publish the rules for the calculation of the calendar" The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, page 632.
We could add a great deal more from Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, and even the Talmud proving that the calendar of Moses, which was still in use during Christ's earthly ministry, was based solely on the appearance of the new moon and how this God-revealed method was replaced later by man's developed method. However, our purpose is to expose error, not chastise others. We hope our readers are able to lay aside their prejudices (we all have them), and consider the evidence. Our worship of God should be built on our convictions not on convenience. In the following paragraphs we would like to address some of the obvious objections to making a change back to the revealed calendar God gave Moses.
OBJECTIONS TO THE BIBLICAL CALENDAR
It is always appropriate for different ideas to be challenged. This is healthy for the church because it forces us to examine both sides of the issue. If objections raised cannot be reasonably answered, perhaps no changes should be made. However, if they can be reasonably answered then we must examine our hearts to see if we might be resisting changes for convenience rather than for conviction.
ASTROLOGY. The accusation has been made that using the sun and moon for reckoning the time of God's holy days is practicing astrology. People who make such accusations are unaware of the meaning of astrology. Astrology is using the sun, moon, stars, and planets to foretell the future for any person born on a certain day and time. This is definitely condemned in the Bible. That is not what God intended when revealing His calendar. It is merely a time reckoning device. It is no more astrology than saying, "twelve o'clock noon is when the sun is at its highest point over any given earthly position."
This is an astronomical fact, but not to be considered the practice of astrology.
ORACLES OF GOD. Paul said, speaking of the Jews, "they were entrusted with the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2-NASB), Doesn't this mean they alone have the right to establish the calendar? No! In the first place, Paul is speaking of the scripture which God revealed to the Hebrews. When they change that revealed word, are we to follow them in their error? Of course not! If we were obligated to agree with the Jews on everything pertaining to God, we would be obligated to reject the Messiah, Jesus Christ. That would indeed be absurd. Besides this, we don't know of many who agree with the Jewish calendar even when they claim to do so. For example, most of those using the Hebrew calendar refuse to keep Passover on Nisan 15 as the Jews do and most of them recognize the change the Pharisees made in the dating of Pentecost. If we are going to admit there are errors in these dates, we must admit that Paul was not talking about the calendar which was not even in usage during his lifetime. The "oracles of God" that Paul mentioned, comes from the Greek word logos and was referring to the Word of God, the inspired Hebrew scriptures.
UNITY. For the sake of unity should not all members of the church have the same practices? Yes, this would be nice. However, we all know this is not possible today. Would we be just as insistent upon every member agreeing on every Biblical subject? If total unity is the requirement of the church, Sunday would be our day of worship, no one would be keeping the holy days, we would all be celebrating Easter and Christmas, we would all be eating unclean meats, and we could make a much longer list. When any practice is not supported in scripture it is the right and duty of those so convicted to conform to the Bible as well as they know how. At these points, "unity" must take second place to our conviction of Biblical teaching.
IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE. We would respectfully disagree with those who say it makes no difference when we keep the Christian Passover or other holy days. God has set the time of His feasts and annual Sabbaths just as He has the weekly Sabbaths. It would be hypocritical, in our opinion, if we insist that man cannot change the weekly days of worship, but has the right to change the annual days of worship. Both weekly and yearly Sabbaths have been sanctified by the same God and men have not the rightful authority to change either of them.
IN THEIR SEASONS. Some have tried to make much out of the text, "These are the feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons" (Leviticus 23:4). This word "seasons" is usually misunderstood to be the season of the year; such as, spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The Hebrew word here is moedim and means feasts or appointed times. If it were speaking of the spring or fall seasons of the year, those using the Hebrew calendar would not be keeping the feast days in the same season from year to year either. For example, according to the Hebrew calendar, the Feast of Trumpets was in the summer one year, September 11, 1980 and in the autumn, September 29, 1981 the following year. The Feast of Tabernacles, likewise, was in the summer one year September 17,1983 and in the autumn October 6, 1984 the following year.
The Hebrew calendar, which is based upon mathematical averages of the moon's lunation, is a development of man. Its adherents do not claim it to be inspired of God nor to be revealed by Him. How, then, can they continue using it and rejecting the revealed Biblical method? Not only do they reject the visible calendar God has provided, some of them insist on condemning those who prefer to follow God's calendar. To continue ignoring this simple truth cannot increase our enlightenment.
Our conclusion is that no man, Gentile or Jew, has the right to change days which God has sanctified from all other days. Where we have unknowingly followed the error of these men in the past, we are assured of God's forgiveness. Now that we have the evidence of truth before us, we see no alternative but to follow that truth. May God strengthen each of His children to follow their own conscience in this matter without compromise as they are led by His Spirit.
Those wishing a more detailed writing about God's calendar may write for the 84-page manuscript of a book by Herbert Solinsky and Rob Anderson entitled The Calendar God Gave To Moses. If possible, please consider a freewill offering for this piece of literature to cover the printing and mailing costs.
Churchlight Publishing Association