Mathematical Bias and the Biblical Calendar
(Revised 2015)

By: Shawn Richardson

Section 3:


At the very beginning of the Bible, during the Creation Week in Genesis, we are told exactly how days were measured by Yehovah Himself. Genesis 1:3-5[1] states:

Six times in Genesis 1, we are told that the Day was divided into two parts: evening and morning. This same phrase is repeated for each day of the Creation Week (Genesis 1:8, 13, 19, 23 and 31). In order to have an evening and a morning, light was required to divide light from darkness - and we read that light itself was first created on Day One. Although some attribute this "light" as referring specifically to the Messiah as what was actually being created here (with the sun and moon coming later), this is debunked by the apostle John who explained in chapter 1 of his gospel:

We see here that, like Yehovah, Yeshua has always existed and nothing (not even the light created on Day One) was made except through Yeshua. Although light may seem like a fitting and appropriate analogy for Yeshua, it would be illogical for Yeshua to have created Himself. In order to have any sort of evening and morning, there had to be some sort of light source that caused the earth to be divided into two parts: day and night. Now, many will claim that the Bible only considers the literal day-time portion as constituting a Biblical Day (with the evening portion being ignored). In other words, the Day would begin at sunrise and end at sundown with the darkness serving only as empty filler in between. But this would ignore completely the description of the evening and the morning as comprising each day of Creation. There are also many examples that describe the Day as starting and ending when the "sun goes down." For example, Exodus 22:26[1] states:

Obviously, there's nothing that says you can't take your neighbor's garment unless the sun is shining. Even if you took it in the middle of the night, you should still be returning it before the end of the day. Leviticus 22:4-8 states:

Using this example, should we infer that touching a dead corpse in the middle of the night has no effect on our cleanliness - because the sun has already gone down? Of course not! Similar examples include Deuteronomy 16:6, 24:13, Joshua 8:29, 10:13, 10:27, Judges 14:18, II Samuel 2:24, 3:35, I Kings 22:36, II Chronicles 18:34, Ecclesiastes 1:5, Jeremiah 15:9 and Daniel 6:14.

Further explanation of days is referred to as "evening to evening", "between evenings" or "twilight". The going down of the sun is also shown as being before the "evening" or "even". Deuteronomy 23:11[1] says:

Joshua 8:29[1] says:

Joshua, here, was following the Torah's instruction in Deuteronomy 21:22-23[1] regarding the handling of dead bodies of those put to death:

All of these examples clearly indicate that the Day ends at evening, as the sun had gone down. In the context of a calendar, obviously the Biblical Day includes more than simply the daytime portion, as not everything that happens at night simply falls into some sort of black hole never to have existed. The question simply becomes: does the evening belong to the day preceding the evening or immediately after? Some will attempt to use sequential logic to reinforce sunrise as being the start of the Day by claiming light was first created in Genesis 1. However, this also tells us that the world started out as being in darkness - therefore, by using sequential logic, it was actually darkness that existed before any light was created. Finally, the scriptures we just read indicate that the Biblical Day must begin, or reset, after the sun goes down - and, the Biblical Day (or date) comprises of both an evening and a morning (according to Genesis 1).

A very specific example of the Biblical Day starting at around sundown is given in Nehemiah 13:15-22[1] where the Sabbath is clearly described as beginning with the closing of the city gates as the evening arrived:

The burden being avoided here was the merchants pushing to sell their goods inside the city on the Sabbath (starting in verse 15). This is important in that the Sabbath required no work or business to be conducted the entire evening and the following day (and the Sabbath was no exception in how Days were to be measured - it was merely the seventh Day to be counted)! Leviticus 23:3[1] states:

Therefore, the scripture in Nehemiah is a clear example that shows the Sabbath day of rest, being the seventh Biblical Day, began in the evening as the sun was going down and as it "began to be dark". This example clearly debunks arguments that the Sabbath, or the Biblical Day, should only be during the daytime portion (or that it begins at sunrise). If this were true, trading would have continued into the evening without any issue.

Scholars argue that the better translation of "evening" in the Bible is "dusk". The definition for dusk is (Merriam-Webster dictionary) "darkness or semidarkness caused by the shutting out of light". The source of this light is the sun and the consistent cause of shutting it out would be the horizon of the Earth. Therefore, logically speaking anyway, the proper starting point of dusk (or evening) would be sundown (or after the sun has gone down).

If you will remember, Genesis 1:14-19 gave us three signs that are used in the Biblical Calendar - the sun, moon and stars. We are also given three functions that these signs provide. The first rules over the day - the sun would clearly play that role here. Although the moon can be seen during the day at particular phases, it certainly does not overpower the sun's light. The second and third signs rule over the night and separate the day from the night. Since the moon can be seen during the day, it obviously does not separate the day from the night. However, when visible in the night sky, the moon does dominate as being the more powerful light source. Therefore, the moon rules over the night and the stars serve as the sign that separates the day from the night. Stars only appear to an observer after the sun goes down.

As a side note, this does not necessarily mean that a Day has always lasted 24 hours in length (as our minds today have been trained to think through the use of fixed formulas). In fact, it was not until the fourth day of the Creation Week that both the sun and moon's movements were set into place and ordained. This opens up the possibility that a Biblical Day may have lasted any number of hours in length (perhaps even as long as several years if you measured it with a stopwatch). Joshua 10:12-13 gives us an example where Yehovah extended the Day (by as much as an additional 24 hours), which is known as "Joshua's Long Day". This is a clear example that shows that the Biblical Day should not be measured by mathematics. It is measured by observing the Biblically-based signs - regardless of how long it takes - with the new Day starting after the sun is down and stars are shining.

Clearly, Yehovah understands the concept that the sun doesn't actually "go down" or stop shining light as it is the earth that moves in relation to the sun. Rather, He inspired scripture to be described from an observer's perspective on the earth's surface - and not from any specific location. He does not describe them with abstract, mathematical concepts or detailed explanations. If it were His intention for us to fully understand the celestial movements to create calculations for a mathematical calendar, the sun would never have been referenced so consistently in this manner. With the added Biblical description of the sun being a sign ('oth) in Genesis, our beacon of light, it is clear that Yehovah refers to time from an observer's visual perception. You will find no further instruction to repeatedly calculate using a defined mathematical formula, or to make any attempt to predict when this (or any) sign will occur in the future.

In modern society, we begin days starting at midnight. This is a point on the mathematical timetable of a day that spans exactly, just as our minds have been trained to quantify as being, 24 hours (plus or minus a possible leap second in Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC). Most of us are used to 12-hour clocks that complete a full 12-hour cycle twice a day. Originally, these two cycles were tracked by the sun and the moon, and evolved to the mathematical noon, or 12 p.m. (or post meridiem, meaning "after midday"), and midnight, or 12 a.m. (ante meridiem, meaning "before midday"). The Romans, historically, used a 12-hour clock to measure the daytime portion (while night was divided into four watches)[68].

Midnight is a mathematical concept that roughly coincides with the celestial event called "solar midnight". Solar midnight is when the sun is directly behind the Earth in correlation of where we are located on the Earth's surface (or when the sun is at the most direct point below our feet). This concept is the exact opposite of "high noon" when the sun is directly overhead and begins its decent toward the western horizon. Historically, 12-hour clocks were synchronized with this locally observed event when the sun could be seen at its highest point in the sky. Many communities, just a few centuries ago, marked the high noon event using a time ball. This was generally located on a pole in the center of town that would drop a ball from the top of the pole to the bottom, giving everyone a chance to sync their watches to the exact moment the ball completed its fall. This concept is the origin of today's New York Times Square event every New Year's Eve marking the arrival of the new year on the Gregorian calendar (albeit, in a much more elaborate fashion). This practice, however, varied slightly from town to town and led to confusion for those traveling via the Railroad system developed in the late 1800's. It quickly became evident of the difficulties involved creating arrival and departure schedules for each town that would set their local time of day based on their local observations. For this reason, mathematical and geographical time zones were created to bring mathematical consistency in calculating and telling time (the development of the telegraph also helped play a role). Eventually, city dwellers decided to change over to the railroad's method for setting the official clocks around town. Certainly, this mathematical solution served its purpose well, but it has now become ingrained into our way of thinking when we consider time itself.

In contrast, Biblical Days remain relative based on differences in geography and seasonal positioning of the celestial objects. Mathematics was never intended to be applied like it was for the railroad system. Therefore, the Sabbath begins for different individuals at varying times around the world and does not universally begin at the same time, on the clock, for everyone. Even if two observers are located in the same time zone, one person may observe sundown (the Sabbath) up to an hour earlier (or more, in some cases) than the other. This is due to the curvature of the Earth and its axis being tilted in relation to the sun as the Earth completes its orbit. Our clocks have become an average mathematical timetable, similar to a mathematical calendar, and have completely redefined the concept of a Day from that in the Bible. Obviously the Biblical examples we read above do not translate the Day to begin at solar midnight or when our watches show 12:00 AM. We have completely abandoned the Biblical concept of time and, instead, chosen to follow a mathematical concept (such as the railroad timetable system). Now, we rely solely on the latter, which has caused us to have a bias in favor of the mathematical rules - often without even knowing that we're doing it. And if we consider going back to observation, it may seem too chaotic as it presents a much higher risk of throwing things out of unity.

If you have observed the Sabbath or have been associated with a Sabbath-observing organization, the concept of observing the sun is not new to you - we simply look to the horizon and observe the sun as it goes down. There aren't too many controversies over this method for determining the Sabbath and the actual timing of the event has little variance (i.e. sunset versus sundown) - likely because the different opinions span only a few minutes compared to a few hours (or days), so we don't worry as much about being consistent or mathematically accurate when observing the start of the Biblical Day. Even though the modern concept of solar midnight would technically be when the sun was at its lowest point before turning back upward again, most Biblical scholars and church organizations accept the Biblical method of observation over unseen mathematical concepts to determine the Sabbath and, therefore, the Biblical Day.

Even Hebrew calendar followers begin days starting at sunset (or sundown) which is observed rather than calculated. Some Jewish traditions do add more specific man-made rules - such as starting the Sabbath (Shabbat) when the sun is seen by an observer at the treetops. This later changed to a requirement of lighting a Shabbat candle (or lamp) 18 minutes before sundown to begin the weekly Sabbath (this would require some calculation to be achieved). Other Rabbinical definitions require that three stars should be visible in the night sky before evening begins (with two stars fulfilling the requirement of twilight). This can be found within the Talmud for Shabbat 35b:

This is in contrast to scripture where we plainly see the sun & stars are directly referred to throughout the Bible and that the day began/ended when the sun was observed to be down and stars clearly divided the day from the night. There is no calculation involved, no rules for treetops or for counting and measuring stars. The Bible gives no other specific examples, rules or mathematical requirements. Therefore, such methods should not be used. Using a simplistic and basic perspective, with no further detailed information, signs (including the sun) would have to be interpreted literally rather than conceptually. This means that the only acceptable argument for using solar midnight would be if the observer could actually see the sun at midnight (which could be the case for individuals in the extreme northern or southern poles, but only at certain times of the year).

In any case, most of us that keep Yehovah's Sabbath have accepted and grasped the Biblical concept of observing the sun (and possibly the stars) and not relying on a timetable of calculated averages to determine when the Sabbath begins. If you are new to keeping the Sabbath, you may still have an adjustment period that many of us have gone through who were not raised from childhood with an observational, versus mathematical, concept. Although math could be used as a tool to try and predict when the sun will either set or go down at a given geographical location, we understand that it is not the calculated concept that determines when the day begins, but rather when the sun actually goes down. Also, if either method differs from the other, it is ultimately the sun & stars that we should observe and comply with, not man-made concepts based on calculations, rules or average timetables (unless there was scripture to specify otherwise).

As humans, we tend to want to change the simple Biblical methods for our own selfish reasons. One of these reasons is often to satisfy our own conveniences. For example, an employed person may determine that - in order for them to be available to work at the office on a Friday until 5pm in the winter (after the sun has gone down) - they will self-appoint Sabbath as being "observed" from 6pm-to-6pm and ignore when the sun goes down (since it is so annoyingly inconsistent throughout the year). They may convince themselves that they are still making an attempt to keep Yehovah's Sabbath while at the same time conveniently pleasing their boss' wishes to work past sundown on Fridays. Since 6pm is a specific time that can be mathematically predicted and consistent from week-to-week, they may then convince themselves that this method is easier to use in this modern age. This person may even further argue that a 6pm cutoff is valid and authorized due to the oral Jewish definition of the "zero hour" that is traditionally defined to begin at 6pm. Of course, now you have allowed man-made concepts to define the Biblical Day. This leads to using additional man-made concepts to accommodate for different time zones, datelines, and the rules of Daylight Savings Time, etc. Finally, if this person were to somehow get a Rabbi or other religious "authority" to approve or excuse these methods, the fact that they are man-made wouldn't matter, right?

But you and I now know that defining days with a daily 6pm boundary is not supported anywhere within scripture any more than it supports the mathematical concept of midnight. We are not given any rights or authorization to make this change on our own. Therefore, this would not be of Yehovah! This is the case regardless of how accurate 6pm would be or how convenient it would be to the masses. Mathematically speaking, using 6pm would certainly seem easier to predict when the day will begin and it could easily provide unity if everyone followed the same rule. But as we have seen, the mathematical clock is blatantly in conflict with the Biblical example of sundown. Again, this is not to say that using mathematics is a sin or should be avoided completely; however, if we replace or abandon the use of observation in favor of mathematics, we end up ignoring the Biblical examples of Yehovah's ordained signs (regardless of our intentions) and rely, instead, on man-made concepts. The primary reason for all of this is due to many leaning toward their bias for mathematics (man's method for understanding time in a unified fashion). As we see in the above example, replacing sundown with 6pm would be an example of doing just that.

Finally, the Biblical Day is an important foundation to the Biblical Calendar. This is because scripture uses the Day for the only mathematical requirement. Simply put, that requirement is to count the number of days starting with particular events. Just as it was demonstrated within the Creation Week, Day One was the creation of light, Day Two the separation of waters in the air creating the sky, followed by Days Three, Four, and so forth. These are the first Biblical dates given to us by referencing the start of creation itself and determining the first Weekly Sabbath, which occurred on the mathematically-counted Seventh Day of Creation!

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