Some say there was no need for the Jews to preserve a God-inspired calendar, since God gave all the necessary instructions in the Bible for counting time yourself. That is simply not true.
During the time of the second temple, the Hebrew calendar was calculated and announced to the people by the Jewish court known as the Sanhedrin. “The new months were sanctified,” says Arthur Spier, “after witnesses had testified that they had seen the new crescent and after their testimony had been thoroughly examined, confirmed by calculation and duly accepted” (Comprehensive Jewish Calendar). This was such an important calculation that it was kept secret from the general population.
It was in A.D. 358 that the knowledge concerning proper calculations for the Hebrew calendar became public. At that time, the chief Jewish leader, Hillel II, was responsible for regulating the calendar. Notice what Arthur Spier wrote: “When oppression and persecution threatened the continued existence of the Sanhedrin, the patriarch Hillel II took an extraordinary step to preserve the unity of Israel. In order to prevent the Jews scattered all over the surface of the earth from celebrating their new moons, festivals and holidays at different times, he made public the system of calendar calculation which up to then had been a closely guarded secret” (ibid.).
The October 1957 Good News discusses this crucial point in history: “In that year [when Hillel II made his decree] the Jewish leaders published the information for all to know, so the broken and scattered Jewish nation (and Christians as well) would be able to continue the observance of God’s feast days in accordance with the new moons as calculated from Jerusalem.”
According to the Encyclopedia Judaica (Volume 8), Hillel II was the one who “regulated the order of intercalation, reckoned the year, and fixed the months for generations to come.” That is true. He did it according to precise calculations revolving around the 19-year cycle. But notice what else the encyclopedia says: “The opinion has been expressed that Hillel II was not the original creator of the fixed calendar but that it was the result of centuries of development which aimed at achieving a perfected system of fixing the calendar.”
With Hillel’s decree, leap years were predetermined and the rules of the calendar were fixed, all according to the precise calculations based on the solar system and its 19-year cycle. After that, when the knowledge was made public, anyone could precisely calculate God’s holy days in their seasons by following the fixed 19-year cycle of the Hebrew calendar.
Rules of the Calendar
Calculating the Hebrew calendar depends on three relatively simple steps. First, the precise time the new moon appears must be determined. Anciently, this was done by sight. Today, it can be figured by simple calculations. Secondly, once the new moon (or molad) is determined for the month called Tishri (the seventh month), the Feast of Trumpets (to be observed on the first day of the seventh month) is adjusted according to certain rules discussed below. And thirdly, a leap year is periodically introduced into the 19-year cycle in order to keep the calendar in season—in harmony with the solar year.
Here is the important point: anciently, these steps were calculated and determined privately by the Sanhedrin. Today, they are fixed according to the Hebrew calendar finalized by Hillel II. The new moons can be calculated precisely. The four postponement rules are listed below. And the predetermined leap years occur in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the cycle.
The new moon of Tishri is the point in time that sets the other dates of a year. Once Tishri 1 is established, the rest of the year is set and the following year can be calculated with extreme accuracy.
The new moon and the first day of Tishri occur on the same day 40 percent of the time. The calculations involve the application of four rules known as the postponements or Dehioth. In these specific instances, the first day of Tishri is postponed by one or two days which happens in 60 percent of the years:
1) If the new moon appears on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday, the first day of Tishri is postponed until Monday, Thursday or Saturday.
2) If the new moon first appears at 12 noon or later, the first day of Tishri is the next day unless the next day is Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday, in which case it is delayed a second day because of rule number 1.
3) If the new moon appears more than 11.3 minutes after 3 a.m. on Tuesday of a common year (non-leap-year), then the first day of Tishri is postponed until Thursday.
4) If the new moon appears more than 32.7 minutes after 9 a.m. on Monday of a common year succeeding a leap year, the first day of Tishri is delayed until Tuesday.
The first two rules are the most frequently used. The reasons for the use of postponements are as follows:
• The first rule prevents holy days and the Passover from occurring at awkward times. For instance, if Tishri 1 (Feast of Trumpets) falls on Sunday, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day would be on Sunday making Feast preparation difficult due to the weekly Sabbath. If Trumpets is on Wednesday, the Day of Atonement would be on Friday (preparation day) and Passover would be kept Sabbath evening. If Trumpets is on Friday, then the Day of Atonement would be on Sunday, after the Sabbath.
• The second rule is purely an astronomical adjustment. From the earliest known times, noon was the only logical line of demarcation for the seasons and the new moon. The main reason for this is because while the time for sunrise and sunset varies, noon does not.
Seasons change at the spring and autumn equinoxes. This has to do with the tilt of the earth (23½ degrees on its axis) and the width of the sun as it apparently passes (actually it is the Earth which is moving) the celestial equator during the spring and autumn equinoxes. The precise moment of this passage occurs when the center of the sun passes the celestial equator. However, the trailing edge of the sun lags behind this equinoctial point by ¼ degree. It takes six hours for the sun to move ¼ degree. And six hours before sunset, during the time of an equinox is 12 noon—an obvious dividing point.
According to John Kossey, “Just as noon arbitrated the first day of spring and the first day of fall, it served a similar function with the assigned day of the molad—that is, the molad or conjunction of the moon had to have a natural and arbitrary limit, in this case noon” (The Hebrew Calendar: A Mathematical Introduction).
• The maximum number of days for a common year (non-leap year) is 355. Without rule number three, there would be common years with 356 days.
• The minimum number of days for a leap year is 383. Without rule number four, there would be leap years with only 382 days.
Without these rules and the application of the leap years, the calendar would fluctuate greatly from year to year. “The sacred calendar would be in a perpetual state of confusion,” writes John Kossey. Combined, these rules produce an orderly progression from year to year and season to season. They accommodate the differences in the solar year and the length of months or the lunar year. They permit us to keep God’s holy days in their seasons (Leviticus 23:4).
Once these rules for the calendar were made public, anyone could determine the first day of the month of Tishri. The exact time for the new moon of Tishri the next year can be calculated by adding 356.24 days to the current time of the new moon. The holy days for the rest of the year and the next year could then be determined by calculation. Passover is always 164 days before Trumpets. Atonement is 9 days after Trumpets, on Tishri 10, etc.
These rules demonstrate that God places greater importance on His holy days than He does on the calendar. John Kossey summed it up this way: “Instead of the sacred festivals being subordinate to the Hebrew calendar the latter serves the holy days.”
Avoids Scriptural Contradictions
“Why do God’s festivals fall when they do? Have we ever asked why Passover does not fall on the eve of Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday? Or why the fast of the Day of Atonement does not occur on Friday or Sunday? Or why the seventh day of the Festival of Tabernacles does not fall on the weekly Sabbath—but the eighth day commonly does. These are all curious features of the calendar God caused the Jewish people to preserve for us. These features are lost among those who invent their own rules for their own calendars. They are lost because people have lost sight of God’s authority over time” (Good News, April 1981).
There are obvious reasons for these God-inspired postponements. In Exodus 16:16-25, God instructed the Israelites to gather enough manna on Friday (sixth day) so they might have food for the Sabbath. Friday was a day to prepare for the Sabbath. This God clearly commanded in verse 5: “And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.”
Today, the sixth day is still a preparation day for God’s Sabbath. The four Gospels plainly refer to the day before the Sabbath as the preparation day (Matthew 27:62; Luke 23:54; Mark 15:42; John 19:31, 42).
Now, let’s look at one of God’s annual holy days—the Day of Atonement. This day, according to God’s calendar, is on the tenth day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:27). On this day we are to afflict our souls, or fast, which is to go without food and water for one complete day (sunset to sunset). For all of the other holy days, God commands that “no servile work” be done (see Leviticus 23:8). In other words, no work, except the obvious work needed to reheat food, feed yourself and so on. Yet on the Day of Atonement, God simply commands “no work” (verse 28)—not even final preparations for a meal.
Now ask yourself this: What if the Day of Atonement fell on the sixth day, the day before the weekly Sabbath? Then there would be an obvious contradiction in Scripture. How could you prepare for the Sabbath on the Day of Atonement? Likewise, what if Passover occurred on a Saturday night? Imagine a deacon trying to hurriedly prepare for the Passover service, while at the same time keeping the Sabbath day holy. God did not intend for His holy days to be in subjection to the calendar. It is just the reverse! And since we cannot alter the rotation of the moon or any other heavenly body, God has allowed for postponements so we can alter the calendar, while at the same time ensuring that all of His holy days are kept in their proper season.
Yet, there are those today who suggest we should just throw out the Hebrew calendar (even though it is referred to often in the Bible) and rely solely on looking for the first moon crescent, while not allowing for any postponements whatsoever. This is exactly what some Jews were demanding anciently! Notice what Jesus said to the multitude and the disciples in Matthew 23:2-4: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (Revised Standard Version).
Notice, Christ understood what God had entrusted these men with, even though they were self-righteous and rebellious toward God. They sat in Moses’s seat! The scribes were responsible for the preservation of the Hebrew texts. And it was the Pharisees’ court, also in Moses’s seat, which preserved the Hebrew calendar! Christ said, “practice and observe whatever they tell you.” He commanded the multitude to observe and keep holy the annual holy days according to God’s command—but on the days appointed by the Hebrew calendar.
Yet there was a certain element of people during Christ’s day who “put major emphasis on precise visual observation of the first faint crescent of the new moon. … They were more concerned with the visual appearance of the moon’s first crescent than they were with the spiritual requirements of the Day of Atonement” (ibid.).
Even though their observance was wrong, Christ plainly said there were still certain things God preserved through them, which we are to “practice and observe.” God has protected and preserved His oracles, the Hebrew Bible, calendar and week, through the Jews! Otherwise, the critics would have to admit Romans 3 is wrong.
Without the Jews, the Hebrew Bible simply would not have been preserved. Likewise, how would we know which day was the seventh-day Sabbath, were it not for the Jews? There are people in this world who believe that time has been lost. They seem to have a pretty strong case just looking at it carnally. After all, if 10 tribes of Israel became lost, and the Jews have been in and out of captivity, how can we even know we are in the proper seven-day week? Because the Jews preserved it! But how can that be? Didn’t the Jews reject the teachings of Moses? (Acts 7:39). Didn’t they reject Christ? Then how could they be used to preserve these things? Because God said they would. Likewise, God used them to preserve His sacred calendar.
A Round Earth
“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!” (ibid.).
The Good News went on to explain how, on a round Earth, there has to be a determined international date line. The authoritative dividing line that has been chosen is in the mid-Pacific. And since a straight line would cut right through certain regions or countries, it was determined that the line would circle around the islands in Western Alaska so that they might be included in the eastern zone. Likewise, in the Southern Hemisphere, in the South Pacific island of Tonga, the dateline circles in the opposite direction to incorporate the eastern region of the nation into the western zone. That means if God’s people lived in Eastern Tonga, they would actually observe God’s holy days a whole day earlier than those in Western Alaska. And this is exactly what was done for many decades under Herbert W. Armstrong, pastor general of the Worldwide Church of God. Even today, many Philadelphia Church of God members in New Zealand are near the end of their Sabbath when Americans are just beginning theirs. And that is because of an authoritative, arbitrary decision made by men.
People argue, what if you were stranded on a desert island, with nothing but your Bible? How would you keep track of time? By looking at the moon they insist. Yet, without a Hebrew calendar, if we all just looked for the new moon, do you realize that on a round earth, the new moon would appear at different times in different countries? In fact, 40 percent of the time, someone living in California will see the new moon a day earlier than those in Jerusalem. With God’s people scattered around the face of the Earth, calculating the figures yourself would only bring confusion. This very fact should reveal the need for a central authority concerning the calendar.
“God intended the earth to present just such problems 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” (ibid.).
To avoid confusion, the Hebrew calendar is based on the sun and the moon in relation to Jerusalem, where God’s future headquarters will be when His Kingdom is set up.
Again, let us consider some of the arguments of those who insist that the Hebrew calendar is merely the creation of Jews—not ordained by God. They contend that the Jews developed these rules for their own convenience. They also suggest that postponement rules did not exist prior to a.d. 358 when Hillel ii published them. A little history will easily establish that God expects us to apply these rules, just as Mr. Armstrong did. In fact, the very first year Mr. Armstrong began keeping the holy days, 1927, the rules of postponement put the Day of Atonement on Saturday instead of the preparation day—Friday. Mr. Armstrong observed Atonement according to the Hebrew calendar. He continued this practice until the day he died. The Philadelphia Church of God continues this same practice today. In fact, if we do not apply the rules of postponement, we will be keeping the annual Sabbaths on the wrong day 60 percent of the time.
Let us look closely at the example of Christ to see if He applied the rules of postponement or not. Follow this carefully. If we measure the exact time of the appearance of the new moon of Tishri 1, we can mathematically determine the exact time of the new moon of Tishri for any year. The increased technology in science has made determining the new moon very precise. In fact, the exact time for the new moon of Tishri in Jerusalem in 1978, as determined by scientists, was on a Monday at 5:34 a.m. With that date fixed, it is simply a matter of math to compute the exact time for any other year—before or after.
By calculations, we can determine that the Molad of Tishri for the year a.d. 31 was on a Thursday, October 4, at 11:52 p.m. Since the day begins at sunset, that day on the sacred calendar was actually Friday. Postponement rule number 1 states, “If the new moon appears on … Friday, the first day of Tishri is postponed until Saturday.” By this rule Saturday, October 6, a.d. 31, becomes Tishri 1, or the Feast of Trumpets.
Passover is always 164 days before the Feast of Trumpets. Therefore, in the year A.D. 31, Passover, the 14th of Nisan, would be on Wednesday, April 25 (164 days before October 6). Did you catch the significance of these calculations? Without the postponement rule, Passover in A.D. 31 would have been on Tuesday. This is important, because A.D. 31 is when Jesus Christ was killed. Furthermore, Scripture says He was killed on the Passover (Matthew 26:2). As Mr. Armstrong plainly proved in his booklet, The Resurrection was not on Sunday, Christ was crucified on a Wednesday afternoon, Passover, and was in the grave three full days and nights and was resurrected late in the afternoon on Saturday.
It proves Jesus Christ observed the Passover according to the rules of postponement! Without the postponement, Passover in A.D. 31 would have been on a Tuesday! If there would have been a problem with the way the holy days were being counted, Christ would have surely corrected it. Yet, He observed Passover that year without any mention of the days being counted incorrectly.
To argue against these plain facts, some try to change historical facts and insist that He died in A.D. 30, when the Passover fell on a Wednesday without the use of postponements. This reasoning is in obvious disagreement with plain historical facts and biblical truth. (Please see article “The Resurrection Was Not Sunday” for more.)
Perhaps the biggest complaint critics have against the Hebrew calendar is that it is “not biblical,” even though certain months on the Hebrew calendar are referred to repeatedly throughout Scripture. Upon examining some of the arguments from Hebrew calendar critics, you will see who is basing their beliefs on the Bible, and who is not.
First, since the Bible often refers to days, weeks, Hebrew months and years, God obviously has a sacred calendar. And if it is not the Hebrew calendar, which calendar is it?
The Good News article asked, “Are we free to decide for ourselves when we think the month Abib—the month of the 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 … 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 not! Nor did the Church ever preserve it. Nor did the Church preserve the Hebrew Bible. We use both. We have authority to teach and preach from the Bible (usually in translation), but God’s Church has been given no authority to preserve the Bible in either Hebrew or Greek. Nor have we been called to determine the rules of God’s calendar. This 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.”
Yet, some have decided for themselves how to determine the calendar. One critic suggested that the Hebrew calendar is not needed, “since God gave all the necessary instructions for figuring the calendar in the Bible.” What follows, are the three main rules promoted by those who have been deceived into believing you can make your own calendar:
1) Establish the time of the new moon closest to the spring equinox from an astronomical table. This establishes the first day of the year.
Mr. Armstrong answered this argument best: “There is no Bible authority whatsoever for figuring the first day of the first month from the new moon nearest the spring equinox” (Good News letter, 1940). Mr. Armstrong was right. Check for yourself. It is not biblical. It is true that God says keep the holy days in their appointed seasons and that the beginning of the spring season is after the equinox, but nowhere does He say this is how the first month should be calculated.
2) If the Passover is after the spring equinox or on the same day as the spring equinox, you can continue to calculate the rest of God’s holy days.
Sounds simple. But that reasoning will lead you into a direct contradiction of scriptural commands. Notice! The spring equinox according to Jerusalem time always falls on either March 20 or 21. According to the above reasoning, the Passover could come as early as the spring equinox. Consider this: if there are 29½ days in every lunar month and Passover is on the 14th day of the first month, and the Feast of Tabernacles begins on the 15th day of the seventh month, that means there are 178 days from Passover to the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Notice Exodus 34:22: “And thou shalt observe … the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.” In most Bible margins, that last phrase reads, “at the revolution of the year.” The Hebrew word for revolution is tequfah and is used specifically for the equinoxes or solstices. This passage in Exodus is referring to God’s holy days and how they are to be kept in their seasons. The feast of ingathering, also called the Feast of Tabernacles, pictures the great fall harvest and therefore occurs every year in the fall. This verse says the Feast is to occur at the turn of the year, which means at or after the autumnal equinox, which normally occurs on September 23.
If the Passover fell on March 20, that means the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles would fall on September 14—meaning the entire Feast and the Last Great Day would occur before the autumnal equinox—before autumn actually begins! This is no small error.
Did you realize that this is the exact same argument Mr. Armstrong faced in 1940? That year, a man was spreading lies that the Passover was to be observed much earlier—on March 22. Mr. Armstrong asked that man on what authority he based his decision. The man said it was based on the principle of finding the new moon nearest the vernal equinox. Mr. Armstrong went on to show this man, who later left the Church, that March 22 was too early for the Passover!
Do you think it is just coincidence that on the Hebrew calendar Passover never comes as early as March 20? In fact, the earliest Passover this century occurred on March 26. It usually occurs in early April. This not only ensures Passover will be kept in its proper season, but that the Feast of Tabernacles occurs at or after the autumnal equinox—in its proper season as commanded in Exodus 34!
3) If the Passover (14th day of the first month) falls before the spring equinox, then it would not be kept in its appointed season. Simply go to the next new moon and establish that as the first month.
Once again, there is no scriptural support for such a rule. Essentially, this rule is saying add a leap year (or a 13th month) when Passover falls before the equinox. The Bible nowhere mentions a leap year or a thirteenth month. However, the Hebrew calendar does! It sounds like these “personal” calendars are, in some points, patterned after the Hebrew calendar.
Some people have been deceived by these points because they seem so simple. After all, just determine when the Passover is by looking at the new moon closest to the equinox and count the rest of God’s holy days from there.
Those who have devised their own calendar with its own set of rules have absolutely no scriptural authority to do so. Furthermore, their so-called simple and precise calculations lead to gross miscalculations and scriptural contradictions. This is because God has given the responsibility of preserving His calendar to the Jews.
Critics say there is no Bible authority for the Hebrew calendar. And if that is true, then we cannot know when to observe God’s annual holy days, because there is no Bible authority for any other calendar. God refers to the Hebrew calendar throughout the Scriptures. And in Romans 3:1-2, He says the Jews are responsible for preserving it. By faith we know which calendar is approved by God!
How do we know we have an accurate record of the Hebrew Scriptures? Because God said He would preserve it through the Jews. What is our proof? Faith! But people in this world do not live by faith. God’s evidence is not good enough for them. The Good News wrote, “The kind of evidence men demand to prove that the Hebrew Bible—and for that matter the Greek New Testament, too—has been preserved 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.”
How do we know the seven-day week has been preserved accurately? How can we be sure that time has not been lost? Because God said it would be preserved—through the Jews.
Likewise, God’s sacred calendar has been preserved! By what evidence can we prove that? Faith! But, as the Good News wrote, the kind of evidence men seek to prove its authoritativeness simply does not exist!
Since the Philadelphia Church of God began in 1989, we have continually admonished people to prove all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21). You will be able to prove God’s truth and it will be simple to understand for all who have an open mind. Some have twisted this understanding to say, “You cannot understand the Hebrew calendar and how it works! It’s confusing.”
This is not confusing. For every 19 solar years, the moon orbits the earth 235 times. The Hebrew calendar, based on that 19-year cycle, combines the solar orbits with the lunar orbits, as well as certain rules to make sure God’s holy days fall at their appointed seasons. There is nothing confusing about it. God said He would preserve His calendar through the Jews. And by faith, we believe it!
Now if you sit down and try to calculate and preserve the calendar yourself, that would get confusing—just as you would be very confused if you tried to copy or translate the Hebrew Scriptures! But we have no authority to do that! We do, however, have authority to USE both. We teach from the Hebrew calendar, just as we do from the Hebrew Bible.
This is not confusing. God said He would raise up a servant in this end time who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah and who would restore ALL things (Matthew 17:10-11). We believe, by faith, that Herbert W. Armstrong fulfilled that role. One of the very points of truth he restored was the authority of the Hebrew calendar. Mr. Armstrong came to understand that truth early on in his ministry, due to a controversy that arose in 1940. He studied it thoroughly! The individuals who rejected what Mr. Armstrong taught eventually left the Church, never to be heard from again. The fruits of Mr. Armstrong’s work, however, continued to flourish abundantly as history clearly proves.
No, this isn’t confusing. Walking by faith and then judging by fruits makes this very plain and simple. Mr. Armstrong studied it, proved it, and the Church he raised up followed his authoritative decision until the day he died.
Today, we have again looked into the old arguments that seem to surface from time to time. And after further study, we must abide by the same, God-ordained, authoritative decision Mr. Armstrong made. As the Good News wrote, “Others can go their own way—till the judgment!” •
It is true God has preserved His sacred calendar and holy days, and the correct dates to observe them, through THE JEWS. Yet the PCG and others continue in the proud and stubborn, idolatrous traditions of men and reject the correct Jewish dates for Passover and Pentecost, condemning themselves. Would to God folks would repent and let the truth set them free! Would to God they would practice what they preach and submit to the God-given authority of the Jews on these sacred matters!
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