Mathematical Bias and the Biblical Calendar
(Revised 2015)

By: Shawn Richardson

Section 11:


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]:

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:

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. There is no scripture stating Yehovah then gave a separate calendar to calculate instead. Many will attempt to change what is in the written form by stating the phrase Living Oracles implied a separate oral instruction that contained different information! Based on the infrastructure of the Hebrew Calendar, however, this concept would introduce contradictions to the written instruction, the scriptures, which state that nothing should be added or subtracted from the written law and that Yehovah does not change! Therefore, 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). The concept that portions of the Torah instructions were in written form while others only given orally is clearly not supported. Exodus 24:3-4 [1] explains:

We see here that the written Oracles contain all of 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. They understand that the Hebrew Calendar is different from that which is contained in the written Torah and there was no meticulous history of preserving a separate calendar system in the same manner. 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 (starting with Hillel's 19-year cycle introduced in the 2nd century A.D. and ending with Rabbi Maimonides' confirmed system in the 12th century A.D.). Their own documented history supports an original calendar system as once being based on observation and eyewitness reports (a practice documented by the Sanhedrin) which were based on instruction given directly from the Torah.

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. As we read in an earlier section, the Sanhedrin believed that observations were required to be made, or at least confirmed, from the temple or courts. The Jewish leaders were then forced to create an alternative solution for the people as they were being expelled from the Holy Land in the third and fourth centuries A.D. Even though this fact is recognized by many Jews today, they now believe that changing back to an observed system would require the restoration of this Sanhedrin authority or by the sought-for Messiah they still expect to arrive in flesh-and-blood to establish his physical kingdom and the third temple within Jerusalem. It is believed that such an established Priesthood could then correct matters such as the calendar. Until then, the latest authority is recognized and the calculated Hebrew calendar continues to be observed.

This Rabbinical authority is documented in the Talmud and includes the establishment of rules and many 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 it favors the Hebrew Calendar. Despite what 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:

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.

Any church organization that accepts the Hebrew calendar doctrine based on the Jewish claim of authority must also accept their authority over Yehovah Himself and ignore all scripture conflicts. Although following this concept may be a convenient answer that can provide unity, it cannot be supported by scripture and, therefore, another answer must be sought. Perhaps, out of ignorance, some groups believe that the Hebrew Calendar has also been preserved in the same manner as the scriptures themselves from the time of Mount Sinai, but that would be untrue. Simply stated, one or both are incorrect and both cannot be truth. Even though it can be difficult to let go of tradition and what is comfortable, church groups claiming "authority" through the Oracles for acceptance of today's Hebrew calendar is just illogical.

On the flip side, many church organizations use authority to purport the claim that individual supporters of an observed calendar also have no authority to determine a conclusion for themselves despite what Biblical scripture claims. United Church of God addresses this in their doctrinal paper[19]:

It is the Bible, though, that serves as the authority in this matter! Yet, even this Church of God group defended their decision of following the calculated Hebrew Calendar - not because they can prove it from the Bible, but - because the Jewish community is their chosen, self-appointed authority they have recognized for this topic. They are self-appointed because, as we read earlier in Deuteronomy 4:2, there is no authority but Yehovah Himself that can trump the Bible. We also saw that it was Yehovah Himself that ordained the signs of the sun and moon for times, seasons, days and years. Surely, this group doesn't teach that we should ignore Yehovah or that He bestowed an authority (the Jews) to then change what He has already ordained, do they? This is precisely the conflict that members of these churches are seeing.

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

If, indeed, a Rabbinical authority were given by Yehovah Himself for us to follow, then the entire Talmud must also be accepted along with their calculations for a calendar. Although it's important to have an authority within an organization and equally important to not disrespect that authority held by a given office or position within any organization, it cannot be blindly followed whenever its judgment contradicts with scripture. 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, in actuality, they were 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:

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]:

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

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". Certainly we are to respect and follow the laws of men as long as they do not counter the laws of Yehovah or attempt to add/subtract from Yehovah's original instruction. Yet, Rabbinical rules give men an authority to create what are called takkanot, or decrees, that are not only binding on followers of Yehovah, but even on Yehovah Himself! Jewish practice goes as far as constructing a seat within the synagogues that is referred to as the Seat of Moses (as referred from the verse above) where such Rabbinical decrees are established by the person sitting on it. Mr. Gordon further explains that this scripture continues in the Hebrew as:

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]:

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:

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 through the use of 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:

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

Moses was not given a special authority to change Yehovah's laws or instructions. Instead, he served as a spokesperson for all of 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:

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 of 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:

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.

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:

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]:

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:

And in Aramaic:

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).

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:

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

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. By using Psalm 81 to force the new moon and full moon to always be on the first and fifteenth is not only mathematically impossible, it simply is not an actuality. Rather, this Psalm is speaking generically and in poetic context that was never written to be interpreted as law. There are no other verses that mention Festivals or calendar dates concurrently with the full moon. By claiming the Festivals must take place on the day of the full moon would contradict the direct instruction given to us to count from the new moon (chodesh) within the Torah, which we have seen begins with the crescent. However, several of Yehovah's festivals do take place on the 15th day of the month (or of the new moon) as commanded which naturally occurs around the time of the full moon as its light covers the night-time terrain.

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 splinter 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 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. Mr. Armstrong agrees that the Jews rejected Yeshua and apostatized in doctrine, but didn't seem to recognize that they have chosen a calculated calendar that is not based on the written Torah. There are those, however, that would be willing to change back to the original system of observation - perhaps even preferred - but the Jewish view of authority, which they believe will be restored with the arrival of the Messiah, keeps them from doing so.

Herbert W. Armstrong was correct in that the Oracles were preserved, but the Orthodox Jews do not act upon those written Oracles due to man-made traditions! These man-made traditions are what continues to survive today and has been continued into the many Churches of God that Herbert Armstrong originally founded. But even Armstrong was, at least at one time, aware of the original observational traditions that were more relevant to scripture and the earlier use of the new moon crescent to determine months. He quotes in God's Sacred Calendar for the Worldwide Church of God for 1986-1987[12] after citing Exodus 12:2 that:

But Mr. Armstrong never explains why the Jews no longer base their calendar on the appearance of the "first faint crescent" and, possibly, believed that the Hebrew calendar still utilized the crescent somehow in its calculated formulas. He even goes as far as making the distinction between the new crescent and the astronomical new moon of conjunction. However, the final conclusion made is to utilize the calculated Hebrew calendar on, what appears to be, a mathematical bias to maintain order and unity. For example, he states in his Good News[10] letter:

He later states in the same letter:

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 of these so-called requirements are assumed because he is biased toward mathematics and a specific authority that spells it out mathematically. Because no mathematical formulas are found anywhere in the Bible, this bias appears to have affected Armstrong's decision on choosing a calendar method. He understood the need for an intercalated year by adding a 13th month to keep the Festivals of Yehovah in their seasons - but he then abandons this concept immediately by assuming the answer to be calculated using the 19-year cycle rather than the looking for the new moon of the Aviv barley. He also seems to forget that the terms month and new moon convey the same meaning (cognates) even though he explained this in his 1986-1987 calendar article (see illustration above underlined in red). By observing the new moon crescent (or faint crescent as Armstrong called it), counting the number of days from that new moon crescent to determine Festival dates, and starting the first month of the year with the first new moon crescent of the aviv, we are then able to follow Biblical instruction (with the scriptures serving as that authority)! By repeating this process through observation, the intercalary calculation of adding a 13th month is resolved naturally by observing the new moon crescent of the aviv - the ripened barley! The ambiguities within the 19-year average cycle of aviv harvests is resolved by witnessing the actual event occur (especially when we have full access to the Holy Land). But instead of heeding what we are told in scripture, Armstrong dismisses these differences entirely and seems to submit, instead, to the authority of the modern Orthodox Jewish calculation.

Only when we let go of our mathematical bias (and turn away from man-made rules and calculations) can we begin to see directly from the Bible how to experience the Passover when it arrives - along with all of the other Holy Days every year. What's the drawback? We cannot calculate these events months or years in advance - but that is not a requirement of Yehovah! Rather, it is having faith in Him to show us when the time comes!

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