A Calendar Bias for Biblical Time
(Revised 2015)

By: Shawn Richardson

Section 11:

AUTHORITY

Although Christians, in general, do not recognize a Rabbinical authority on establishing doctrinal beliefs or following Talmudic traditions, many Sabbath/Festival keeping church groups tend to give an exception on the topic of the Hebrew Calendar. Their primary reason for doing so is based on the Jews being given the Oracles, as explained in Romans 3:1-2[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." {Underlined emphasis added}

Notice the oracles were Yehovah's - not of men! This is referring to Biblical Scripture - more accurately, the Tanakh that included the instructions given to Moses in the wilderness at Mount Sinai and described within the Torah portion (the first five books of the Bible). While it is true that the Jews have preserved most, if not all, of the original writings, they have also added to them additional traditions and rules in both written and oral form. Many people assume that these oracles must have also included a calendar and its mathematical calculations. Acts 7:38 further describes what these oracles entailed:

    "This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us."

In the earlier sections, we just read from these same Oracles the words given to Moses regarding the New Moons, blowing of trumpets, and setting the year to the Aviv harvest moon. It is the scriptures that have been given, which state that nothing should be added or subtracted from the written law and that Yehovah does not change! Many try to change what is in written form by claiming this phrase, Living Oracles, implies a separate oral instruction that contained completely different information, even if they contradict! If there were any spoken oracle given at the time of Moses, it simply would have expounded on what we already have in the written version (not change it or contradict it). There is also no support for the Torah being partially in written form while others were only given orally. Exodus 24:3-4 [1] explains:

    "And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do. And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel." {Underlined emphasis added}

We see here that the written Oracles contain all the words of Yehovah given to Moses. Even though Jewish traditions have been added over many centuries, the Jews have managed to preserve this written oracle in its original form, as Paul explains in the Romans verse above. In fact, Jewish tradition required the scriptures to be meticulously preserved by creating copies word by word, line by line and then rechecking by counting paragraphs, lines, words and even letters to assure nothing had been missed. A finished copy of the Tanakh was extremely accurate from its original and allowed the original words to continue in their original form long after the animal skins and parchment faded away. Jewish scribes dedicated their entire lives to preserving the scriptures. However, this does not mean that everything the Jews interpreted from those scriptures were correct. Regardless of interpretation, however, even the Jews themselves - the holder of the Oracles - do not believe a separate calendar system has been preserved from the time of Moses. It is understood, even by the Jewish orthodox, that the Hebrew calendar is a Rabbinically-authorized calculated system that contradicts the written Torah and that today's mathematical version has been an evolving process over the centuries. Their own documented history proves the original calendar system as once based on observation and eyewitness reports (a practice documented by the Sanhedrin), based on instruction given directly from the Torah.

Rabbinical Authority

The Rabbinic authority within present-day Orthodox Judaism is often referred to as Da'as Torah (meaning the opinion of Torah). It is generally accepted on most every imaginable topic, if it is based in a halakhic fashion (that is, the divine law as presented within Torah). This is a more modern approach. However, their authority has derived, historically, from the High Court system of ancient Israel, which was the Sanhedrin. The eventual creation of fixed days and month cycles, along with the institution of mathematical rules, are strictly based on a Rabbinical authority that, they believe, is directly tied to the Biblical Pharisees[43] that were established under the Sanhedrin.

Much of the Rabbinical authority is based on the writings within the Talmud. While there are two different schools of thought on the extent of authority a rabbi may have, one being maximalists extending over religious and civic issues, and minimalists that greatly limits rulings from being enforced. It is believed that many Rabbinic texts were produced following the destruction of the temple in the first century that help reinforce their influence.

The Talmud includes the establishment of several rules and man-made traditions that require one to follow in addition to the written Torah. These traditions dictate details that go as far as which shoe to put on your foot first [56]. It was this authority and leadership that Yeshua Himself challenged throughout His ministry by overriding their so-called "traditions" of man-made laws and regulations.

These traditions would never be recognized by Christian churches (Sabbath-keeping or not), yet it is considered acceptable by most when they favor the Hebrew Calendar. Despite what most Christians claim, the Jews believe they must follow the Rabbinical system of government, even when it conflicts with the words of Yehovah. This practice is documented in the Rabbinical Talmud of Baba Metzia 59b[5]. It is here that Rabbis claim they no longer have a need to even listen to Yehovah:

    "That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline."

If this authority no longer listens to Yehovah within its government, then it is not the direct authority of Yehovah! Although the Jews understand the written Torah is from Yehovah, they believe it has now been left for them to interpret. Yehovah Himself cannot correct or challenge their interpretations, regardless of any apparent conflict. This allows them to create new laws and calendars that conflict with the written Torah and with Yehovah's instruction despite the meticulous maintenance of the original scriptures. However, many believe the Sanhedrin first needs to be restored to correct any problems associated with today's calendar.

Any church organization that accepts the Hebrew calendar doctrine based on the authority of the Rabbinic Jews must also accept their authority and Talmudic interpretations that they believe trump Yehovah Himself! Although using the convenient excuse that their calendar has been properly authorized, the Rabbinical authority cannot be supported by scripture and, therefore, another answer must be sought. Since most don't follow the Talmudic authority for other topics, it's mostly out of ignorance that groups accept it for the Hebrew Calendar while ignoring this same authority over most other topics. Therefore, claiming the Hebrew calendar should be used based on Rabbinic authority is just illogical and unscriptural.

Self-Authority?

On the flip side, many church organizations use authority to purport the claim that individual supporters of an observed calendar are using their own, self-authority despite what Biblical scripture claims. United Church of God addresses this in their doctrinal paper [19]:

    "Some people have taken it upon themselves to determine the calendar. God lets them do so, but does He give them the authority in this matter?"

Glenn McWilliams of Torah Keepers discusses this topic in his article [14] regarding Christians and authority:

    "The central and fundamental debate is over the issue of authority. The true question being asked by the members of this infant movement is not which calendar is right but what authority we are to follow. The authority behind the rabbinic calendar is clearly the rabbis. The rabbis have established their authority through the writings of the Talmud, the oral Torah. It is the Talmud that has established the rabbinic calendar as the calendar for all Israel, including those in the Diaspora. On the other hand, the authority behind the biblical calendar is the written Torah. The tension that is tearing at the unity of the Hebraic Roots/Messianic Movement is simply the tension that exists when the written Torah and the oral Torah do not agree. The calendar is only one of many such issues." {Underlined emphasis added}

Although it's important to have structured authority within an organization, and equally important to not purposely disrespect that authority (within any organization). However, it cannot be blindly followed whenever its judgment contradicts with scripture. This is because the bible serves as the documented authority of Yehovah! Even this Church of God group defends their decision to follow the calculated Hebrew Calendar - not because they can prove it from the Bible, but - because they self-appoint the authority of the Jews (and therefore the Talmud). But, as we read earlier in Deuteronomy 4:2, there is no authority but Yehovah Himself that can trump scripture. Certainly, we should not ignore the ordained signs within scripture and, instead, look to the authority of men and the Talmud instead.

Yeshuah's Rejection of Man's Authority

Even Yeshua Himself did not fully accept the oral traditions of the Jewish leaders in His time on Earth and was threatened on many occasions to be stoned to death for breaking their oral traditions (likely assuming he was disrespecting them when they were actually disrespecting Yehovah Himself by not following His authority). Some cite Matthew 23:1-3[1] on the authority of the Pharisees and believe Yeshua instructed the people to follow their teachings in all matters:

    "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." {Underlined emphasis added}

At first, this seems to contradict the example Yeshua lived and taught against throughout His ministry. Did Yeshua contradict Himself by being disrespectful simply because He disagreed with the Pharisees? No. When you consider the translation of this verse in Matthew, a book strongly supported as originating from Hebrew text, you can clarify what Yeshua meant. Nehemia Gordon, author of The Hebrew Yeshua vs. the Greek Jesus, explains the history of this translation and the verse above[50]:

    "These are two fundamentally different messages, but in Hebrew, this is a difference of only one single letter! In Hebrew, "he says" is yomar while "they say" is yomru. The only difference between the two in an un-pointed Hebrew text is the addition of the extra vav in yomru "they say". That this is the basis for a completely different message is amazing because the vav is one of the smallest letters in the Hebrew alphabet, really just a single stroke!"

By researching the Hebrew text of Matthew[49]), you find that this verse should state, according to the Shem Tov's Hebrew Matthew:

    "Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever HE [Moses] will say to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to THEIR [Pharisees] works; for they say, and do not do." {Underlined emphasis added}

When you continue to follow the examples of Yeshua throughout His ministry, you see that He was telling the people to not follow the Pharisees' teachings whenever they conflicted with the "Law of Moses". As mentioned, we should attempt to respect and follow the laws of men, if they do not counter the laws of Yehovah or attempt to add/subtract from Yehovah's original instruction. Yet, we have seen that Rabbinical rules give certain men an authority to create rules that are binding to others, including Yehovah Himself - these decrees are called takkanot. It was the Sanhedrin, the foundation of today's Rabbinical Orthodox authority, that constructed a seat within the synagogues that was referred to as the Seat of Moses where such Rabbinical decrees were established by whomever was sitting upon it. Mr. Gordon further explains that this scripture continues in the Hebrew as:

    "Therefore, all that he says to you, diligently do, but according to their reforms [takanot - Hebrew text omitted] and their precedents [ma'asim - Hebrew text omitted] do not do, because they talk but they do not do. In the Hebrew Matthew, Yeshua is telling his disciples not to obey the Pharisees. If their claim to authority is that they sit in Moses' Seat, then diligently do as Moses says!"

Levitical Priesthood

However, there are some church organizations that argue that the Jews were specifically granted a separate authority specifically over the calendar in the Bible. For example, Mr. John Ogwyn, in his article for Living Church of God, references Leviticus 23:2[1]:

    "The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts."

Mr. Ogwyn explains the Hebrew word for convocations as being miqra, a word meaning to designate an assembly. He then uses the derived Hebrew verb qara, a word meaning to proclaim, also used in Leviticus 23:2. This same verb qara was used in Genesis 2 when Adam named the animals. His argument is that: since Adam called (qara) each animal's name, this granted an authority upon Adam that allowed him to create names for the creatures. Mr. Ogwyn continues:

    "How does this relate to the holy days? In Leviticus 23, we learned that a certain group, ('you,' plural) was responsible for naming or designating the days on which the congregation was to assemble before God. Numbers 10 explains that this refers to the priesthood, and shows the means God gave them to announce the designation of new moons and festival days. It was not an individual matter for each Israelite to arrive at by himself; rather it was a collective matter to be proclaimed by an authoritative body."

Therefore, Mr. Ogwyn argues that the Levitical Priesthood (using the words you, proclaim and convocation in Leviticus 23) were granted an authority to name (or ordain) Yehovah's appointed days of worship using the trumpet mentioned in Numbers 10:10. He then infers that this authority allowed them to change the days of holy convocations, and the calendar, solely based on this authority. However, Mr. Ogwyn assumes that because Adam was given authority to name the animals that the Levitical Priesthood, in turn, had the freedom to change Yehovah's signs that were previously ordained by Yehovah Himself in Genesis 1. However, the animals named by Adam were not yet named when they were presented to him. Additionally, it was under the command of Yehovah that Adam named the animals. Genesis 2:19 states:

    "Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name." {Underlined emphasis added}

Furthermore, when you combine verse 1 and 2 of Leviticus 23, it becomes clear who Yehovah commanded Moses to speak to regarding the Feasts:

    "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'The feast of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.'" {Underlined emphasis added}

Moses was not given a special authority to change Yehovah's laws or instructions. Instead, he served as a spokesperson for all the people of Israel - an appointment given by the people themselves in Exodus 20:18-19 to interact with Yehovah at Mount Sinai following the daunting encounter with Yehovah when He spoke the Ten Commandments to them:

    "And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die" {Underlined emphasis added}

Additionally, any authority granted to either the Levitical Priesthood or to the children of Israel does not also grant them freedom to change Yehovah's ordained signs; a God that, on principle, does not change! Rather, just as the Levitical Priesthood meticulously carried out all Yehovah's instructions throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, they meticulously followed Yehovah to the letter in fear of death. Aaron's sons learned this lesson when Yehovah struck them dead after not following His instructions and changed Yehovah's command in Leviticus 10:1-2:

    "The Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." {Underlined emphasis added}

Therefore, when a calendar system contradicts, adds specific rules, or creates details (such as mathematical formulas) not given within the established, written scriptures, then any claims of "authority" are dissolved. The Words of Yehovah preserved within the scriptures is the ultimate authority. To choose a calendar method by simply crying "because we say so" or "because the Jews say so" just doesn't cut it.

God-Given Authority?

Carl Franklin, author of The Calendar of Christ and the Apostles[6] published under the Christian Biblical Church of God, attempts to show that an authority was specifically given by Yehovah to calculate a calendar by citing Psalm 81:3-5[1], which states:

    "Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon [chodesh 2320], at the full moon [kece' 3677], on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute [choq 2706] for Israel, A law [mishpat 4941] of the God of Jacob. This He established [suwm 7760] in Joseph as a testimony, when He went throughout the land of Egypt, where I heard a language I did not understand."

Mr. Franklin gives meanings to the Hebrew words in these verses. The first, chodesh (Strong's 2320), he agrees means "occurrence of the new crescent". However, he believes this is only referring to the seventh month (crescent). The second, kece' (Strong's 3677) is translated full moon in the New King James. The third, choq (Strong's 2706), Franklin refers to Brown Driver Briggs (p. 349) who claims this word means "law of a religious festival". The fourth, mispat (Strong's 4941) he says is related to the verb chaqaq (Strong's 2710) and means "something prescribed". Finally, suwm (Strong's 7760) he claims means "to compute". Franklin then concludes [6]:

    "When we understand the meaning of the Hebrew words, it is evident that at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, God issued to Moses and Aaron 'a law of a festival' ({chog} 2706). The festival for which this law was issued was the new moon ({chodesh} 2320) of the seventh month. This law decreed that each year the new moon of the seventh month was to be presented for judgment ({mispat} 4941) by computation ({suwm} 7760), and that a written prescription ({chaqaq} 2710), or calendar, was to be issued."

By rearranging the words using Mr. Franklin's meanings, he pieces together a sentence - shown above - that he claims commands us from the Psalm (not within the original Torah) to calculate, or compute, our calendar. Again, even if you accept Franklin's meanings for these Hebrew words, he does not further explain how we are granted freedom to make our own rules that change Yehovah's previously ordained signs, nor does he explain how we are to base our computations on scripture. However, Mr. Franklin's meanings for the Hebrew words are not fully accurate and are modified slightly out of context. For example, sewm (Strong's 7760) in the Strong's Hebrew Lexicon [4] is described as follows:

    "7760 suwm soom or siym {seem}; a primitive root; to put (used in a great variety of applications, literal, figurative, inferentially, and elliptically):--X any wise, appoint, bring, call (a name), care, cast in, change, charge, commit, consider, convey, determine, + disguise, dispose, do, get, give, heap up, hold, impute, lay (down, up), leave, look, make (out), mark, + name, X on, ordain, order, + paint, place, preserve, purpose, put (on), + regard, rehearse, reward, (cause to) set (on, up), shew, + stedfastly, take, X tell, + tread down, ((over-))turn, X wholly, work."

And in Aramaic:

    "7761 suwm soom (Aramaic) corresponding to 7760:--+ command, give, lay, make, + name, + regard, set."

Nowhere in the Strong's Lexicon is the word compute or the phrase to compute ever used to describe the Hebrew word suwm. There is certainly an example in Psalm 81 that we are to determine when the New Moons and Festivals are to be held and, in turn, blow trumpets to communicate their commencements, thereby setting the start of the Biblical calendar as commanded. However, this does not mean that we are granted the liberty to change Yehovah's signs that have already been ordained by Him; otherwise, we would have the freedom to change any of Yehovah's appointed times (including the Sabbath from the seventh day to Sunday simply by blowing the trumpet a day later or changing how to compute the day of the week).

Even though we have already covered the Psalm 81 verse as it relates to the Biblical calendar, it's worth noting the specific word used here (as well as in Proverbs 7:20), kece' (Strong's 3677), is translated as full moon in the New King James. This word is further described in Strong's Lexicon [4] as:

    "3677 kece' keh'-seh or keceh {keh'-seh}; apparently from 3680; properly, fulness or the full moon, i.e. its festival:--(time) appointed."

And the definition of the primitive root, Strong's 3680:

    "3680 kacah kaw-saw' a primitive root; properly, to plump, i.e. fill up hollows; by implication, to cover (for clothing or secrecy):--clad self, close, clothe, conceal, cover (self), (flee to) hide, overwhelm."

We can see, then, that these are referring to Festivals that take place at, or around, the moon's plumpness, under cover of the moon, or when it the moon is full (kece'). However, just to clarify, we are not given any Biblical instruction to base Yehovah's festivals on the phase of the full moon itself within this poetic book! The instructions given to us in Leviticus, the Torah, and throughout the Bible, specifically use the new moon (chodesh) to count days from - not the full moon (kece'). Therefore, we cannot assume from this one verse that any of Yehovah's Festivals must take place at the Full Moon or at the moon's fullest point, as some wish to interpret. In fact, there is no calendar method that can determine a month starting at the new moon (regardless of your definition of what is a new moon) that would then always start the 15th day of the same month on the exact day the moon is full - as the length of time from the astrological new moon to the full moon can vary between 14 and 15 whole days depending on when your day begins. Using Psalm 81 to force the new moon and full moon to always be on the first and fifteenth is mathematically impossible. Rather, this poetic Psalm refers to festivals that do take place on the 15th that naturally occurs around the time of the full moon as its light covers the night-time terrain.

Armstrong Almost Had It

Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Radio Church of God and Worldwide Church of God, wrote a letter in the Good News Magazine publication in 1940 on the calendar topic. Many splintered Church of God groups I have been involved with in the past rely heavily on the findings of Mr. Armstrong. He says (portion quoted from Bill Bratt's Web Page: How to Figure Passover! [10]):

    "The true sacred calendar is no more lost than the weekly Sabbath. Then WHO HAS PRESERVED THIS TIME, this sacred CALENDAR? To whom did God give it? To whom were "the oracles of God COMMITTED"? To ISRAEL and JUDAH, of course! Israel LOST the Sabbath, LOST time, LOST even her national name and identity. But JUDAH NEVER DID. Judah has kept TIME in respect to the weekly Sabbath. The Jews rejected Christ. They apostatized in doctrine, BUT THEY WERE STRICT STICKLERS FOR THE LETTER. Would such a people have lost their CALENDAR? If so, TIME IS LOST! There is no other source thru whom God could have committed AND PRESERVED His calendar. He did COMMIT it to them. Therefore it must be thru them He has preserved it!"

The Jews never lost time; they changed it. Historical evidence of the Sanhedrin and the meticulous preservation of the written Oracles have kept the original calendar system, one based on observation! Yet Mr. Armstrong seems to miss this point and assumes a mathematical calendar system has always existed. Mr. Armstrong agrees that the Jews rejected Yeshua and apostatized in doctrine, yet he assumes their modern calculated calendar must have been preserved - despite their own testament to changing away from observation and now are waiting on the Messiah or proper authority to reinstate.

It is correct in that the Oracles were preserved, but the Orthodox Jews add man-made rules and traditions that go beyond, and even trump, those written Oracles! It is these man-made traditions that Yeshua disputed, and continue to exist today, that have polluted the various Churches of God that Herbert Armstrong founded. But even Armstrong acknowledged that the Jews once used observation. He quotes in God's Sacred Calendar for the Worldwide Church of God for 1986-1987[12] after citing Exodus 12:2 that:

    "The beginning of this month and of all God's months basically correspond with the appearance of the first faint crescent of the new moon in the west just after sundown. (Traditionally observed from Palestine.) The astronomical new moon calculated for the United States is, in general, a day or two earlier." {Underlined emphasis added}

Mr. Armstrong refers to observation of the faint crescent as being the traditional new moon, and fully understood the distinction between the visible crescent and the modern-day conjunction phases of the moon. He even points out the terms month and new moon conveying the same meaning (cognates), as explained in his 1986-1987 calendar article (see illustration underlined in red). Despite all this, Armstrong immediately jumps to the conclusion that the calculated Hebrew calendar, based on what appears to be his calendar bias, is necessary to maintain God's time and permanently preserve it. For example, he states in his Good News [10] letter:

    "Research reveals two basic points on this question, 1st, GOD DID NOT RECORD IT IN THE BIBLE, which gives us absolutely NOTHING more to go on that I have stated above. 2nd, History is vague on the subject, shedding little light that can be asserted and trusted. Yet we know God gave HIS PEOPLE a FIXED RULE for calculating TIME PERIODS, and for figuring WHEN to hold the Festivals of Jehovah. Otherwise, the prophecies, so full of definite time-periods, can never be understood. Otherwise God's people could not obey Him!" {Underlined emphasis added}

He later states in the same letter:

    "In conclusion, unless God has preserved His sacred calendar thru the Jew, then WE DO NOT KNOW how to figure Passover or ANY of the holy days this year. For there is NO AUTHORITY for any other day.... There is NO BIBLE AUTHORITY WHATSOEVER for (for example) figuring the 1st day of the month from the new moon NEAREST the spring equinox!" {Underlined emphasis added}

Notice the concepts Mr. Armstrong uses here: "a fixed rule" to "calculate" time periods, "figuring" (or computing) Passover or the holy days. He throws in the spring equinox as a contributing factor to determining "the Festivals of Jehovah". All these so-called requirements are assumed because he is biased toward mathematics. He just doesn't seem to make the distinction between what the Jews preserved and what they choose to practice today. This conflictive viewpoint suggests Armstrong believed that the calculation behind the Hebrew calendar is based on what was traditionally observed, possibly believing the faint crescent was somehow included in its calculated formulas. It is because of his calendar bias that he assumes the absence of calculations in scripture means the Jews must have preserved them and are still practicing them!

Summary

The example of the Bereans searching the scriptures daily to prove every teaching or doctrine shows us the only authority they recognized, being directly inspired by God, were the scriptures. The origin of which all scripture is centered around is the Torah (the law of Yehovah). While the Jews were instrumental in preserving the scriptures, they have not been given a special authority to then change the laws of Yehovah, nor can any man trump Him in any matter - the calendar included!

Looking for a separate authority outside of scripture, or by going directly to Yehovah through His Holy Spirit and our advocate, Yeshua, is when we are merely looking for an excuse to do what we seem fit, trying to support what we believe is right in our own eyes. It is our own desire to be able to predict future dates, bringing everyone into uniformity, that attracts us to average mathematical timetables (calendars). But this desire is not a requirement of Yehovah! It's clear He would rather we have faith in Him to show us His time, when it comes, through His ordained signs.



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