Why is it that millions call the Bible the Word of God but are not willing to do what it says? Why is it that many of the same millions call God the author of time but are not willing to keep holy the days God made holy time?
And why is it that even among the now numerous sects, usually miniscule by this world’s standards that do acknowledge God’s Sabbath and His annual Holy Days, so few are willing to submit to the authority of the calendar God authorizes to measure time?
To understand this authority, it is necessary to see how God has worked through history. In preserving the written Word, the Bible (in Hebrew and Greek), God has done something very similar to what has occurred with development and preservation of the Hebrew calendar.
The Bible is the public literature of a people. That people was ancient Israel. It was organized as God’s nation and church. To that people were committed the oracles of God, God’s revelation to man of essential knowledge. The martyr Stephen, in speaking of Moses said: “This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: To whom our fathers would not obey” (Acts 7:38-39).
Paul continues the thought in Romans 3: “What advantage then hath the Jew? Or what is the profit of circumcision? Much every way: first of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. For what if some were without faith? (Remember Stephen’s words: “our fathers would not obey”) shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God? God forbid; yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar. But if the truth of God through my lie abounded unto his glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?” (vs. 1-4, 7).
Paul is here reasoning with Greek converts. The Jews, he tells them, have the advantage of being entrusted with the oracles, or divine revelation of God. The ancient Greeks were always impressed with their oracles that came from demons!
But what if the people to whom the oracles were committed sinned – rebelled against God’s authority? Did that mean God would not preserve His revelation through them? Not at all. He simply pruned off those who refused to preserve His revelation for men. That is one reason the 10 tribes of Israel were cut off and sent into exile.
The Jews of the house of Judah alone retained the oracles. And even though some of them have become atheists and liars about that revelation and refuse to obey it, does that mean the oracles are not true, that God has failed to have His revelation to man providentially preserved through the Jews in a public way? Not at all!
Later, of course, the New Testament in Greek, which the Jews officially rejected at Jabneh, in Judah, in public session around A.D. 90, would be providentially preserved by the Greeks in a public way. And they too, like the Jews, do not as a whole follow what is written in the oracles committed to them!
But what were the oracles committed in a public way to the Jews? The Hebrew Bible only? By no means! The Hebrew calendar also! For without the calendar, it would be impossible to fulfill correctly what is written in the Hebrew Bible about hallowed annual times. And not only the Bible and calendar, but the week also.
These three, the Bible, the calendar and the week are all part of the oracles committed to the Jews for all mankind.
They have been committed in a public way, not secretly. They have not therefore been subject to private tampering away from public scrutiny. Men indeed have lied, saying the week has been lost, that time has been lost, that the public keeping of the knowledge of the Sabbath by Jews has no meaning. Or, that Jesus’ agreement with and keeping of it have no meaning. As Paul wrote, “let God be found true, but every man a liar!”
The kind of evidence men demand to prove that the Hebrew Bible, and for that matter the Greek New Testament, has been preserved accurately does not exist. There are no original autographs extant for men to peer at and criticize. God lets them criticize copies, while they lose sight of what is written in them, through disobedience.
So, we see that the kind of evidence men demand to prove the authoritativeness of the Hebrew calendar does not exist. God has seen to that also, so critics would have their chance to invent their own calendars. And think themselves wiser than God for having invented a calendar more accurate than what God committed to Israel as His own!
Men live by human reason. They want the original sources to criticize. They do not want secondary evidence, that is, copies of an original that have passed through the hands of men. Yet that is exactly what God has chosen to provide them.
By faith we know we have copies, providentially preserved, of the original Word of God. By faith we know that the leadership in the Jewish courts did preserve the rules of the calendar God committed to them, even though they themselves have not wanted to follow those rules at all times.
It is all a question of government, whether God is capable of ruling. Whether God can intervene in the affairs of His people to correct their errors – no men are perfect.
Throughout history people have wanted to correct, by using their own human reason, what God may allow. They have not waited to have God lead and guide and direct those whom He has set in authority among His people. They too often want to exercise that authority for themselves.
Thus we have critics of the Bible who see it as their responsibility to determine what the written Word of God is. They are paid to find fault with the way the scribes copied the Hebrew Bible.
Though Jesus said very plainly: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not. Yea, they bind heavy burdens to grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move to do them with their finger” (Matt. 23:2-4).
The scribes – copying the verses of the Hebrew Bible as one of their duties, were in authority. Jesus said so. They sat on Moses’ seat. They, not their jealous critics among modern and ancient scholars, determined for us the manner in which the Bible should be preserved.
And the Pharisees, too, sat on Moses’ seat. It was their court that determined the Hebrew calendar. It was their court’s decision that determined which day was the beginning of each month. Once that was determined it was the people’s responsibility to keep holy the days God made holy, according to the dates on the Hebrew calendar, not on some other calendar.
Were the scribes and the Pharisees perfect men, without sin? By no means! Jesus made that plain. Yet He also made it plain that they had a responsibility under God to preserve the written Word of God, the week, and the calendar. It was not somebody else’s responsibility! Could they make mistakes in executing their responsibility under God? Of course! But, when mistakes are made, God corrects them.
Did the Jews who were in authority under God over the oracles, the scribes and Pharisees at times err in determining the calendar? Yes. Did God correct the matter? Yes He did as we shall now see!
Remember what Christ said of the Pharisees? “They bind heavy burdens to grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders (Matt. 23:4).
The later Pharisees and their rabbinic successors did exactly that for centuries when it came to determining when the Day of Atonement was to fall. You will remember that the Day of Atonement on the Hebrew calendar does not fall on a Friday, the preparation day for the weekly Sabbath. Do you know why this occurs? And what rule of the calendar determines this?
Think for a moment what it would be like for housewives to prepare food for the Sabbath on a Friday that is a fast day! Of course, the Day of Atonement is so important a fast that no food is to be prepared that day at all. So housewives would have to prepare food on a Thursday for the weekly Sabbath. That would be burdensome. Read Lev. 23:26-32.
If Atonement were to fall on Friday, housewives would have to prepare food for the weekly Sabbath on a Thursday. And that is exactly what the Pharisees anciently required be done!
The Pharisees put major emphasis on precise visual observation of the first faint crescent of the new moon. They overlooked Lev. 23:26-32. So whenever the fist faint crescent of the 7th new moon of the year was seen just above the western horizon after sunset on Tuesday evening for example, they declared that day, Wednesday (which begins the previous evening), to be the new moon.
Consequently that new moon became the first day of the month and was the Day of Trumpets. The result was the 10th day of the month; Atonement would fall on a Friday in such a year.
God, of course, had to correct that, and He did! The Romans finally put an end to visual observation of the new moon by the Jews. The Jews’ chief leader, Hillel II, whose responsibility it was to regulate the calendar, was forced to issue a decree for the year A.D. 358-359 to (re) institute the authority of the fixed calendar we know today as the Hebrew calendar. And of the rules of that calendar is based on Lev. 23:26-32. Hillel II realized that these verses require that the Day of Atonement should not fall on Friday, the preparation day of the Sabbath.
The rule, therefore, is that if the new moon of a 7th month could occur on a Wednesday (beginning the previous evening), that day is not to be declared the new moon. It is to be postponed. But the day following is to be declared the new moon.
By the authority of Scriptures one can’t change the dates of the month that are holy once the month is determined. God hallowed the first and the 10th day of the 7th month, as also the 15th and the 22nd days. There are no other days made holy. But God empowered man to examine all the scriptures and to declare first which is to be the day of the new moon. Once that is declared, the month is determined. And since a new moon begins a month (see Num. 10:10; 28:11; I Sam. 20:5, 24-27; I Chron. 23:31 for proof that the new moon begins the month), we know how to number successive days of a month.
What those today who want to establish their own calendars and their own authority overlook is that we live on a round earth. One would have thought they knew that! A round earth requires an international dateline – one that is universally recognized and established by authority. As it happens any dateline will cut across some major body of land or island grouping.
The one dateline that has been chosen and is authoritative is the mid-Pacific. Since it would cut through Alaska and the kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific, an arbitrary decision had to be made. The islands of Alaska to the west are incorporated into the day that lies to east. And, in contrast, the islands of the eastern part of the kingdom of Tonga are incorporated into the day that begins to the west of the international dateline.
So there are church members who live in the Southern Hemisphere who begin their Sabbaths and Holy Days one day before brethren who live to the west of them in the Aleutian Islands in the Northern Hemisphere. They keep holy the time that comes to them as it has been authoritatively established for a round earth.
God intended the earth to present just such a problem so that authoritative decisions would have to be made and people tested to see whether they are willing to come under authority of those empowered to make just such decisions.
So which day is declared a new moon is not a private matter that can override sensible requirements of the Bible? The Pharisees misjudged the matter when they allowed Atonement to occur on a Friday merely to establish a new moon in its “proper time.” They should have realized that if in Jerusalem the first faint crescent is barely seen after sunset in the west before it slips over the horizon, all people living to the east from Jordan to Japan and the Philippines won’t see the new moon until the first crescent in their western skies appears the next day. So, it is not even possible for all nations to see the first faint crescent on the same day!
It is not required that the first faint crescent visible in Jerusalem always be declared the new moon. What is important is that the authority to declare it arises from Jerusalem! The authority of Jerusalem in the person of Hillel II did speak in A.D. 358-359 to authorize the present Hebrew calendar throughout the future until such time as a new court sitting in Moses’ seat is reestablished in Jerusalem.
The Bible makes plain that the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread must fall in the month of Abib, first month of the Hebrew calendar (Ex. 12:2, Deut. 16:1). The month Abib has been known, since the Babylonian captivity, as Nisan, a word derived from the Semitic root nesu, meaning “to start.” It starts the months of the year. Abib is derived from aviv, meaning “ears” or “green ears of grain.” The first month is the month in which green ears of grain begin to ripen, barely first, and then winter wheat, which is usually still in green ears when barely ripens.
Are we free to decide for ourselves when we think the month Abib, the month of green ears should occur? Are we to decide the matter on the basis of the state of the harvest in the holy land today? Some sects who refuse to use the words God and Jesus Christ claim so. They have taken upon themselves the authority to determine the calendar for themselves. God lets them do so, but He has given them no authority in this matter.
Who has that authority? Did Jesus give authority to the New Testament Church to preserve God’s calendar? Most certainly He did not! Nor did the Church ever preserve it. Nor did the Church preserve the Hebrew Bible. But we use both. We have authority to teach and preach from the Bible, but God’s Church has been given no authority to preserve the Bible in either Hebrew or Greek. Nor has the Church been called to determine the rules of God’s calendar. That is a matter He has left to the Jews, hence it is proper to call it the Hebrew calendar, just as we speak of the Hebrew Bible.
How, then, is the month Abib or Nisan determined? It has already been determined! The matter was decided by Hillel II and his court in the 4th century.
Abib is determined by the rules of the permanent calendar. The new moon of the 7th month determines the character of the preceding months of the year. The new moon of Abib does not determine the character of the year.
The rules of the permanent calendar call each of the first six months of the year to be alternately 29 and 30 days long. Since the Bible does not declare which months have either 29 or 30 days, it is an arbitrary decision, enacted by those who are in authority over God’s calendar. God has left it to them to keep it simple.
If He had not liked their decision He would have caused them to change it. But since each month is slightly more than 29 ½ days long, the decision of the court, or Beth Din, is reasonable.
That means the first half of the year is always 177 days long (three months with 30 days plus three months with 29 days equals 177 days).
And if the first day of the 7th month is on Tuesday, the first of Abib is 177 days earlier, and on a Sunday. (These first six months are always 25 weeks and two days long. And two days before a Tuesday is a Sunday.)
When Nisan begins on a Sunday, the 14th day is a Sabbath. That is, whenever the Feast of Trumpets and the first and 8th days of the Feast of Tabernacles fall on Tuesday, the Passover will be a Sabbath, more specifically, Friday evening. God has not left the matter to each person to decide for himself. God is not the author of confusion. The devil is!
So if someone were to ask: But couldn’t the month of Abib in some years be one month earlier according to the Bible? We answer no, on two counts.
A change in the calendar lacks biblical authorization. The Hebrew perpetual calendar is the sole authority for the Church of God today.
Even if it were permissible to have Passover as early as March 20th, the very beginning day of spring, the Feast of Tabernacles would fall too early.
Did you ever notice that the Bible requires the Feast of Tabernacles, commemorating the second and great harvest of human beings, to at least reach the beginning of autumn? In Ex. 34:22 we read from the English translation of the Hebrew Bible: “You shall observe the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year” (Jewish Publication Society translation, 1985).
What is the “turn of the year”? The Hebrew word translated “turn” is tequfah, meaning “revolution, circuit or end.” It is used specifically for the equinoxes or solstices. It is here specifically referring to the autumn equinox – when day and night approach equal length. But if the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles were one month earlier it would fall wholly in summer and plainly contrary to Ex. 34:22.
So before thinking the Hebrew calendar needs your input, think first how much you need God’s input from His written Word! He does reveal in the Bible more than you may be aware about His calendar. That is why the Church of God New World Ministries observes God’s Calendar.