Christian COG: Observed or calculated calendar?

Older Hebrew Calendar


Rich Traver, once in WCG and later in UCG, and now of Christian Church of God, Grand Junction, sent me the following:

Fundamentals of the Calendar

Various religious groups put forth opinions about the calendar.  Those positions can be divisive and can create dismissive attitudes that discourage fellowship among like believers.  Where those opinions can be especially counterproductive is when people take the position that THEIR views are the only right way and all others are corrupt or false and their people not worthy of fellowship.

Perhaps the underlying premise that is the cause of polarizations among and between believers is when groups take the position that the calendar itself is a religious institution.  Many believe that the calendar was given through Moses, that all matters related to correct calendar determination began with Moses and are found in the words of Scripture.  From that basis, it’s easy to see how such drastic and hard-set opinions are formed.

When Did the Calendar Originate?

In practical fact, there was a calendar in use long before the time of Moses.  The idea that a calendar can be determined exclusively through the writings of Moses is faulty.  In fact, detailed references are sparse!  We have Biblical evidence that there was a calendar in use at the time of Noah (some 900 years before Moses) which Moses acknowledged when compiling the records of the flood. (Genesis 8)  Moses would not have made such specific mention of the precise dates of the milestone events of the Flood if they were not relevant to the people reading his accounts in later generations.  Other scriptures, such as the book of Job (which may have been written prior to the time of Jacob, perhaps Job was even a contemporary of Abraham), show that astronomical sciences were highly developed in ancient times.  (Job 9:9 & 38:31-33)  Job KNEW of these astronomical phenomena which Yahweh challenged him with.  Yes, Job had knowledge of them, but God had placed them and had them in His control.

The point here is that we have clear evidence from many sources that a calendar existed from the beginning of time, and a calendar was seen as important to the planting of crops and to the all-important harvest seasons.  What we need to acknowledge is the fact that there was a calendar in existence for some 2500 years prior to Moses and the Exodus.  It did not come into existence only at the time of Moses.  It was recognized that it was important to plant only in the proper season and to harvest in the proper season.  Much evidence also exists in archaeological history to show that the movements of the sun and moon and constellations were followed and carefully charted in most cultures, including ancient Europe and North America. [1]  Enduring monuments were built to chart the courses of the sun and moon.  Astronomical science was the most highly advanced field of study in ancient times. The calendar is not a new thing.  It was already very ancient when Moses was born.

How Was the Calendar Conceived?

But, what methods were used to create the basic calendar in the earliest generations of man?  Genesis 1:14-19 presents the fact that the visible heavenly bodies and their movements were the basis from which the calendar was formed from Creation forward.

The sun determines night and day.  According to the first chapter of Genesis, the evening begins each day.  The moon‘s phases were the basis for determining months.  The heavenly display as seen in the positions of the stars (constellations) was one method used to determine the start of each new year.  It was not the only one.

Theologians may speculate why there is so little definitive information provided in the pages of Scripture describing how to create the calendar.  It may be explained that there had been a calendar in use for all those many centuries.   Why was there any need to instruct mankind on what they had always been doing?

Calculating the Known

This brings us to another consideration.  With mankind charting the movements of the sun and moon for so many generations, it became possible to know accurately just when a new moon would occur, even though it may not actually be visible due to clouds or haze.  Thus, calculated methods could have been used anciently, and likely would have been used when there was need to do so.   At what point in history calculated methods were first employed in ceremonial observances is a matter of certain dispute.  However, it’s relatively certain that Israel’s first century Priesthood employed observational and calculated methods together in conjunction with one another.

There WAS a Change!

What we DO find different in the Mosaic Calendar, based on God’s instructions, was the use of the readiness of grains for harvesting as the basis for determining which month is to be regarded as the first month of each new year.  That instruction was given to Moses in Exodus 12:2.  This was something new!  The reason for this change was to positively reorient the religious year to their agricultural harvests.  The harvests present an illustration of God’s Plan for the redemption of humanity.  There was to be an early harvest for God’s Family, one smaller than the great harvest which would come later.  Newly revealed Holy Days further emphasized the important milestones in God’s Plan for the redemption of humanity.

A Secular Instrument

Where problems arise is when men make a religion of the calendar itself.  Variations in calendar determination methods are not new.  There have always been differences of opinion as to what benchmarks ought to be employed in declaring months and annual dates.  The primary point of dispute is what is it that determines a “new moon” (the first day of a new month)?  Some say it’s the moment of the astronomical conjunction, when the sun, earth and moon are in alignment.  Others say a new moon is when the moon’s crescent is first seen on the western horizon just after sunset.  The fact that first visibility is achieved some 16 to 18 hours after a conjunction is unacceptable among those who allege “perfect accuracy”, as they define it.

But why the crescent?  It is because the average worshipper, despite his location, can see it and know when it is, rather than having to attempt to self-determine an invisible conjunction, which of itself does not resolve all questions. [2]

Occurring Where Can Matter

Within the conjunction method advocacy there are points of difference.  Some insist that the day in which a conjunction occurs is the new moon, no matter how late in the day it might occur.  Others insist that the conjunction must occur before a certain hour in order for that day to be regarded as the new moon.  Yet another position regards only the next whole day after the conjunction as a new moon day.  Those people who hold to this latter determination method are more likely to coincide with the observed visible crescent advocacy.

Yet among visible crescent method advocates there are also variations of opinion.  Some determine first crescent visibility only by an actual eye-witness sighting, while others accept calculated methods to determine when visibility is achieved, on those occasions when weather conditions aren’t suitable for an actual sighting.

Furthering the disputes is the pre-calculated calendar which attempts to predict dates of first visibility far out into the future.  Some insist that the pre-calculated calendar was produced by a reprobate priesthood and must be rejected.

Does the New Testament Matter?

While none of these above points of difference are new to this generation, we’re left to struggle with the realization that the issues didn’t warrant even the least mention in the writings of the New Testament.  May we draw a conclusion from this fact, that the matter does not warrant the degree of divisiveness many self-focused ministries place upon it?

Unwarranted Division?

Earlier it was mentioned that some men make a religion out of the Calendar itself.   Their positions are at times quite hard-set, causing divisions among believers.  Their declared Holy Days usually fall on slightly different dates, and they go on to discourage fellowship with those who observe them a day (or two) differently.  Is this division something that God’s Church ought to accept?  What was done in the earliest New Testament Church?

While the New Testament is largely silent on calendar differences, there is one passage that might have bearing.  It quotes Christ Himself, where He, in the first verses of Matthew 23, instructs the people and the disciples to “observe what the Scribes and Pharisees bid them to observe”! [3]  But aren’t these those reprobates mentioned above!?  (And Christ’s assessment of them in those following verses confirms as much, at least as it regarded their cultural and religious practices.)

Accuracy versus Unity!

Our question is, was it their accuracy that Christ was endorsing, or was it a unity of practice that was the more important consideration?   What did the hearers in that day understand Him to be saying?  Keep in mind, Matthew was written a full generation after the actual event spoken of.  If there were disputes on the matter, there were decades to address and resolve them.  But Matthew saw no need to make any qualification of Christ’s instruction.  Then, should we?

Was Christ’s instruction an endorsement of the calendar determination method in use among the religious leadership of the day?  Does this explain why there was no further dispute among early believers on the issue?  That the Temple Priest’s determinations and declarations were acceptable for general use among His true worshippers, despite perhaps the Priest’s inadequacies in other areas?  The reality is that there is evidence that Jesus Himself accepted the calendar in use in His day, which did employ calculations together with observation, a method that relied upon the visible crescent, not an invisible conjunction.

Being “User Friendly”

Another advantage of using the first visible crescent is that worshippers in the diaspora (regions far from Jerusalem) could see a crescent themselves.  This allowed them to achieve reasonable accuracy on their own without each worshipper having to be highly trained in astronomy.   Since God is not the author of confusion (1st Corinthians 14:33) simple and practical calendar methods greatly facilitated His people around the world in observing His commanded Holy Occasions in relative unity.

Why From Jerusalem?

A new moon (new month) was determined in Jerusalem by the Sanhedrin by hearing witnesses of a sighting of or calculated expectation of the occurrence of first visible crescent (even if not visible to the human eye because of haze or clouds).  The Jerusalem locale was important as that’s where the Temple and its Services were located. [4]   That will be the case once again when the Temple Services are re-established in the New Jerusalem. [5]

Is there any valid reason to employ a different method today?

[1]  Stonehenge is regarded as a monument originally created to chart the heavens after the Flood prior to its later use.  Structures in Chaco Canyon in the southwestern United States are known to accurately mark the lunar cycles.

[2]  Keep in mind, the conjunction can occur in ANY time zone.  One occurring west of Jerusalem but east of North America could cause westerners to declare a new moon a day earlier that middle easterners!

[3]  This would most likely involve establishing Holy Day dates, as they would have known when the weekly Sabbath was independently.  It wouldn’t involve following their religious practices, as reading the rest of the chapter, most of those were soundly condemned!

[4]  Keep in mind the crescent gains 12 degrees of ‘visibility’ with each 24 hour day.  A crescent may not be seen in Jerusalem but which could be seen across the Atlantic!

[5]  Revelation 15:5  The Temple will be the Millennial Worship Center.  See also Ezekiel chapters 40 through 46 which describe the Millennial Temple on earth, and see Zechariah 14:8 through 20 which show the nations ascending to Jerusalem annually to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, which pictures the Greater Harvest of Ingathering of humanity after Christ returns!

When I asked Rich Traver for permission to post the above, he wanted me to mention that he has written other information about the calendar and that the above was to address mainly a specific issue that had come up outside the USA.

The calendar issue comes up from time to time as some are confused about the calendar that the Bible uses for Holy Days.

I believe that a few key points need to be made:
  1. Modern communication methods did not exist thousands of years ago.
  2. Jesus endorsed the basic Jewish calendar (cf. Matthew 23:1-3).
  3. Jesus, who did not sin (Hebrews 4:15), observed a calculated calendar (cf. Matthew 23:1-3, etc.).
  4. Throughout history God’s people not near Jerusalem basically had to rely on a calculated calendar.
  5. Weather and other factors made a strictly observational calendar impossible for use every month.
  6. A strictly observational calendar results in people keeping Holy Days sometimes weeks differently, depending up where they are physically located.
  7. God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33.

There is more information that could be provided on each of the above points, but I thought that summary could be helpful for some as we get closer to the start of the Spring Holy Day season for 2014.

Some items of possibly related interest may include:

Is There “An Annual Worship Calendar” In the Bible? This paper provides a biblical and historical critique of several articles, including one by the Tkach WCG which states that this should be a local decision. What do the Holy Days mean? Also you can click here for the calendar of Holy Days.
What are Postponements? This is by the late evangelist Raymond McNair and explains a lot about postponements and calculations.
Hebrew Calendar and “Postponements” This late John Ogywn writing explains why the most faithful in the Church of God use the calendar that we do and answers such questions as “Did Jesus Observe the Postponements?”
Passover and the Early Church Did the early Christians observe Passover? What did Jesus and Paul teach? Why did Jesus die for our sins?
Melito’s Homily on the Passover This is one of the earliest Christian writings about the Passover. This also includes what Apollinaris wrote on the Passover as well.
TPM: Passover on the 14th or 15th? While the real COG observes Passover on the 14th, some observe it on the 15th. Why is the 14th correct?
The Night to Be Observed What is the night to be much observed? When is it? Why do Jews keep Passover twice and emphasize the wrong date? Here is a link to a YouTube video titled The Night to Be Observed.
Should Christians Keep the Days of Unleavened Bread? Do they have any use or meaning now? What is leaven? This article supplies some biblical answers. Here is a YouTube video intended to be viewed for the first day of unleavened bread: Christians and the Days of Unleavened Bread.
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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