THE CASE FOR CHRISTIANS USING THE TRADITIONAL JEWISH CALENDAR
Eric Snow, UCG Lansing, MI Bible Study May 21, 2005
Can the Bible itself become a trap? Can God’s holy word be misused? Can Christians focus so much on a part of God’s truth that they neglect other parts that are more important overall to living a faithful and righteous spiritual life?
We know there are vast theological, religious, and historical swamps out there that Christians could not only explore endlessly, but get spiritually lost in. A particular tree in God’s forest gets overemphasized, and the forest gets forgotten. Interpreting the Bible’s prophecies about end time events and drawing up charts and time tables have consumed a number of Christians, true and otherwise. The location and identity of the various tribes of Israel in today’s world and tracing their movements into the past would be another time consumer. We also can endlessly debate picky details of the law. For example, consider the endless debates we could engage in about proper Sabbath observance. Think of all the specific legislation that the Jews came up with on this issue in the Talmud, which is an ancient written commentary on what was the oral law tradition. For example, they spent a lot of time figuring out what is “carried” on the Sabbath (not allowed) and what is “worn” on the Sabbath (allowed). They concluded that jewelry should not be worn if it later may fall off, and thus be carried. A woman could wear a wig at home, but not outside. False teeth shouldn’t be worn since they could fall out, and thus have to be carried.
Likewise, in this vast religious swamp, there’s some theological quicksand that’s just begging for any Holy day observing Christian to step in. And many have gotten sucked up by it, and have sunk out of sight. And that’s the whole Jewish calendar issue.
The issue isn’t trivial in concept: Are we observing the right days for the Passover, Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, etc.? There are those in the Messianic Christian Jewish community who argue that the traditional Jewish calendar is wrong. Likewise, some reject the Hebrew calendar who are associated with the Sacred Names groups and the general Church of God movement that accepts Herbert W. Armstrong’s basic teachings as correct. They will claim that we Christians can come up with a calendar that’s better based on the Bible alone or various texts within it. Since these people observe the Sabbath and the Holy Days, we can’t just ignore them and pretend their teachings don’t exist. Especially since we live in a religious and economic Babylon, or world of confusion, this is especially true. The Internet can bring all this nonsense to our homes today almost instantaneously. So we need to look at their arguments some so we can avoid those creeping doubts on about whether we as a church are observing the wrong days for God’s Holy Days.
S.P.S. Because various humanly devised assumptions have to be used in addition to Scripture in order to construct a calendar for keeping the Holy Days, we should rely on the traditional Jewish calendar as what God has providentially preserved for Christians to use today. A calendar for keeping the Holy Days simply can’t be constructed using the Bible alone, any strong, emotional claims to the contrary notwithstanding.
One text subject, arguably
Do we trust the Jews to have correctly preserved the Old Testament? Distinction between accepting their interpretations of it and accepting in faith their accurate preservation of it. God will intervene to avoid serious errors from arising—verse 4. Do we have faith or not? The same now goes for the calendar. God uses people who sin and reject His will despite themselves: The nation that rejected Jesus as the Messiah and as Savior was still used to by God to preserve the Old Testament in its original languages. DSS issue example vs. Masoretic text. Caiaphas’ prophecy, used vs. self, about Jesus’ dying for His nation, yet still plotted to kill Jesus. Can’t say, “We reject the traditional Jewish calendar because rebellious men devised it,” yet turn around and say, “These same rebellious men accurately preserved the Old Testament.” It requires faith to believe God would and has intervened in history to ensure His truth would be preserved for His people to observe today. Augustine & Thomas Aquinas’s insight: Complex issue, yet those unable to comprehend it should accept it by faith. How mathematical is your mind?
Now I could end this Bible study. I really think this is a one-text subject. But I really know I shouldn’t! . . . Today, I’m your semi-expert native guide in this theological jungle, so let’s press on . . .
Jesus recognized the authority of the Jewish leadership despite all of their sins coming from a misplaced emphasis in their spiritual priorities concerning the law.
Key issue: No record of a dispute about the calendar rules between the Jewish leadership and Jesus or the early Christians. Even deep into second century, those Christians who observed the Passover instead of Easter, like Polycarp and Polycrates, I know of no record that they came up with a different day based on a different calendar.
This is what the calendar issue can become: We can get lost in debates about new moons, postponements, green barley ears, leap years, new crescents, equinoxes, solstices, the international date line, intercalary months, conjunctions (when sun, earth, and moon in a straight line), lunar years, solar years, lunar-solar calendars, intercalary months, etc. Meanwhile, God may want us to figure out how to love our mates and children more, restrain our tempers better, be less judgmental, lust less often, be less greedy and materialistic, etc. instead. A key aspect of a good Christian life is making correct spiritual priorities among a number of possible choices, or keeping the main thing, the main thing. Most Christians should not focus their Bible studies on the validity of the traditional Jewish calendar.
One independent COG leader noted went to calendar conference, 70 people had 7 different calendar systems, teachers all had very small groups. None changed minds from discussion. If had more unity, could take more seriously, like on Passover and Pentecost dating issues.
Basic parameters of calendars: Roman or Gregorian calendar is a purely solar calendar of 365 ¼ days/year. Ignores moon’s orbits (2,300 mph) around earth totally, synodic month, which are about 29 ½ days each (or, more precisely, 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3.3 seconds). Solves discrepancies by adding a leap day so the seasons stay in synch with the calendar. It’s actually about 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46.069 seconds long. That 11 minutes, 14 seconds added up over the centuries, seasons increasingly misaligned, why Pope Gregory took ten days our of calendar in 1582, Oct. 4 followed by Oct. 15 that year. A purely lunar calendar of 12 moons/months, such as the Muslim calendar, has only about 354 days. It systematically comes out short about 11 days a year. As a result, the month of Ramadan falls behind the solar year, and will move through all the (Roman) months of the Gregorian calendar over a roughly 30-year period.
The Jewish calendar aims to reconcile the solar and lunar cycles by using a 19 year time cycle that periodically adds an extra, or intercalary, month, in years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19, making for 13-month years. This is known as the Metonic cycle, 235 orbits of the moon around the earth line up almost perfectly with 19 orbits of the earth around the sun. (235 lunations are 6,939 days, 16.5 hours; 19 solar years, 6,939 days, 14.5 hours, one day in 216 years off issue). (Speaking like a “Vulcan,” or Spock, here!)
Equinoxes: When day and night 12 hours each. Soltice: When day or night at maximum lengths. Both used to mark when seasons begin by Roman calendar, normally on 21st or 20th of a month.
Must insert months to keep seasons, and their weather, aligned with the regular sequence of months, but when? By whose authority, if reject Jewish calendar’s system?
Fundamental theoretical point: We can’t create a calendar using the Bible’s data alone. We have lots on how to kill, sacrifice, and cut-up various animals. By contrast, we have almost nothing about the specific rules for creating a calendar from Scripture.
Abib, or Nisan (Babylonian name) for first month. “Abib” refers to green ears (of barley). Massive amount read into this verse, into this one word. Some go around in Israel looking for green barley ears in March or April each year. Suppose the ears of grain are green for more than one orbit of moon around the earth: Which is the first “month” then? Is it first month they turn green, or the next? It appears to be left up to us!
People will cite this verse to prove the Feast of Tabernacles must occur during the Feast or before it. A good case of eisengesis, or reading a desired definition into the word. Later technical definition among Jews cannot be properly read back to time of Moses. The word “equinox” does not appear in Scripture. The term “at the year’s end” is translated from a Hebrew word, “tekufah.” If turn to other verses in Bible that use this word, using the Bible to interpret itself, it can’t mean this. This is a harvest festival, not an equinox festival.
Is “season,” meaning, a 3 month period bounded by a solstice and equinox, a Biblical term? English word used in Bible, but doesn’t necessary have this technical meaning. Also note that sequence for seasons different in southern hemisphere, like in South Africa, Australia, and Argentina; brethren there observe a harvest feast in spring, since timing of seasons in Holy Land and the Bible drive the calendar.
Postponements: 4 rules in Jewish calendar. One basic aim to avoid having two holy days come one after another, that is, the Sabbath and an annual Feast on consecutive days. Did the Jews just invent them long after Christ’s time? Does progressive revelation exist among the Jews even after the crucifixion? Hillel II’s revelation of rules of calendar in 358 A.D., when Sanhedrin might get disbanded. Problem: In 31 A.D., the standard date for Jesus’ crucifixion for us in the Church of God, one can only get a Wednesday crucifixion by using the postponements.
Human convenience issue. Can you prepare for the Sabbath on the Day of Atonement? Sacrificial laws (daily sacrifice) overrode Fourth Commandment. Where God places His name issue analogy to Feast of Tabernacles’ site selection. God made certain days, not times from all eternity, holy. A certain level of human involvement in setting them (such as originally by observation) delegated to humans by God. Legalistic Jews not likely to make things really easier anyway.
Leon Walker’s brilliant piece, on UCG Web site in reprint articles area.
Two standard criticisms of Jewish calendar: Any postponement from the conjunction of the moon wrong, and, Only the observed new crescent can start a month. How is a new moon to be defined?
Series of statements, challenging people to cite Bible verses that show one can construct a calendar from the Bible alone without using any assumptions.
Does the Bible define month? No. of days?
When does the month begin? At the new moon. But what is a new moon? Does it begin with the last sight of faint crescent of the old moon? When the moon is in total obscurity and darkness? When see the faintest crescent of the new moon?
Can’t plan to travel as pilgrim unless know when Holy Days are in advance, or do other planning, main purpose of any calendar, if use observations.
Can have two or three day variations in when new moon is said to be based on assumptions and definitions used. Furthermore, “the actual moment of the occurrence of a new moon can take place at any time of the day or night.” Definitional issue compounds by “time of day that observation determined that it occurred.” No Biblical definition available.
What spot on earth should be used for visual sightings, if an observational calendar is to be used? Jerusalem? Not important until time of David. Moses was in Egypt, later Arabia, for decades before going into Holy Land. Also didn’t plant any barley to find green ears then either. What point on earth was used for sightings when Joshua lived, or Samson, or even Saul, lived? Does the Bible say where? Of course not.
Men then invent their own assumptions in place of what the Jews have handed down, and exalt their own authority in place of theirs. They call it a “Biblical” calendar when it concerns their own judgment calls when ambiguities reign concerning how to interpret Scripture.
Since the lunar cycle is 29.53059 days each, have to alternate 30 and 29 day months. Suppose the precise moment of the new moon occurs seconds before sunset, i.e., the end of the day? Do you start the next month with the day that has almost ended? Or, since almost 24 hours of that day have passed, it starts with the next? Does the Bible tell us which to choose?
Some want to go by a purely observational system. Consider this MAJOR problem: If bad weather occurs, and clouds obscure the faint crescent, does the month begin the next day it can be plainly seen? Suppose there’s a cloudless night (or day) in one place, a heavy thunderstorm in another: Does the month start for one place on earth, and waits for the next day at another? Does bad eyesight ever affect the judgment in questionOr some just being more keen than others? ? (The Japanese Zero fighter pilot argument (Saki in Samurai): Elite aces in training beforehand before WWII vs. the USA could see stars in daytime most can’t see).
When does the year begin? In spring . . . but how is that to be defined? Does the first month begin with the first new moon after the spring equinox? Or is it the new moon closest to the spring equinox, BEFORE or AFTER? Does the Passover always have to be after the equinox, or can it occur before it? The Bible is silent on this issue. Those who reject Jewish calendar assume what they want, and exalt their own authority instead.
Some argue the new year (Nisan 1) cannot begin before the spring (vernal) equinox, or else the new year begins in winter. Therefore, the Jewish calendar is deemed “wrong” by this definition of a year’s beginning. Likewise, some say the Feast of Tabernacles can’t end or even start before the fall equinox (c. Sept. 21) since it would be kept in summer and not in autumn. Critics of the Jewish calendar assert these astronomical end points are crucial to God. But does the Bible even mention equinoxes? No, it doesn’t. They’re using their own opinions of when a season ends from God’s viewpoint, when the term “season,” as we use it technically and scientifically, isn’t a Scriptural concept.
In practical terms, we relate seasons to weather conditions, not to the equinoxes and solstices. “Seasons are related to weather and they are not dependent upon a specific day when the earth is in a certain position relative to the sun”—Walker. Suppose a cold spring occurs: Wouldn’t that delay the barley ears from ripening? Roughly 50 day variation in when ripens in Holy Land anyway, depending on where you plant it.
READ VERBATIM SECTION BY WALKER SUMMARIZING THE PROBLEMS WITH PROPOSED “BIBLICAL” CALENDARS.
[“Those who reject the Hebrew calendar claim that the Bible gives the essential elements needed for a calendar. But if the Hebrew calendar is rejected and if the Bible does not give the specific elements needed for a calendar, then it is impossible to have a calendar based on any authority other than that of the individual who created it. As we have demonstrated, God did not reveal in His Word the required definitions and elements for a calendar. The Bible does not define a new moon. The Bible does not give us the specific point on earth that should be used to sight the new moon. The Bible does not explain what should be done when the new moon occurs late in the day. The Bible does not explain how we should deal with the fraction of a day that occurs in a lunar cycle. The Bible does not define precisely when the new year begins. The Bible does not define for us the relationship, if any, between the new year and spring equinox. Nor does the Bible define other elements such as the number of days in the monthly cycles or intercalary adjustments needed to keep the years in their proper seasons.”]
CONCLUSION: Because the Bible doesn’t reveal the rules for a calendar and how to define various astronomical events in relationship to the words actually appearing in it, we have to rely on someone’s authority for the calendar. Since the Jews were given the oracles of God, we should rely on them for the basic calendar system for calculating the Holy Days. Likewise, we Christians rely on them for the preservation of the Hebrew Bible and the choices they made to include and exclude various books from its canon. Those who seek the revise the Jewish calendar for some so-called “Biblical” calendar merely bring their own different sets of assumptions to interpreting Scripture, and exalt their own authority over each other and the tradition we inherit from the Jews. We have to keep our spiritual priorities in the right order: Christians need to avoid majoring in the minors, and to keep the main thing, the main thing. Most Christians need to work at improving their personal relationships with their family, coworkers, and neighbors, to be more disciplined and effective in prayer, meditation, Bible study, and fasting, before delving deeply into the calendar issue. As Mr. Walker wrote: “Since God did not reveal in the bible the essential elements for a calendar, those who reject the Hebrew calendar must rely solely on their own opinions regarding how to create a calendar. However, they cannot legitimately claim that their opinions are based on God’s instructions, for he did not outline the elements these individuals must use in their calendars. Therefore, we have two options: either we accept the Hebrew calendar in its entirety or we choose one of the calendars created by one of the several who have created their own calendars in recent years. The latter is not a logical choice.”