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How to Count Pentecost?

In our free booklet, “The Meaning of God’s Spring Holy Days,” we explained the following:

“The Church of God and the Orthodox Catholic and Protestant world may… at times observe Pentecost on the same Sunday. But this is merely coincidental. There are many years when the Church of God and the Orthodox Christian world celebrate Pentecost on different days. Why? Because the Church of God determines the correct date for Pentecost by counting 50 days from the Sunday [after the weekly Sabbath], which falls within the annual Holy Days of Unleavened Bread, as instructed in the Bible (Leviticus 23:11).

“The wave sheaf was offered on the Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread. The wave sheaf pictures Jesus Christ, who ascended to heaven on a Sunday, even though He was resurrected on Saturday evening, just around sunset. Exactly 50 days later, He poured out the Holy Spirit from God the Father on His New Testament Church. This was the Day of Pentecost.

“In other words, we are not to count 50 days from the weekly Sabbath that falls within the seven Days of Unleavened Bread, but from the SUNDAY on which the wave sheaf was offered—and it is that SUNDAY, that must fall within the seven Days of Unleavened Bread (compare Leviticus 23:14-15; Joshua 5:11). [This will be explained below in more detail.]

“Orthodox Christianity determines the date of ‘Pentecost’ by using Easter as a starting point for counting 50 days. Easter, however, is not the correct starting point, as it is a pagan festival. It is not even mentioned in the Bible, and it is not a feast to be kept by true Christians… There are other obvious distinctions between the Biblical Pentecost, which IS to be kept by true Christians, and the Pentecost of this world, which was designed by the Roman Catholic Church and includes numerous pagan customs… [God] does not accept syncretism—which… is the combining of different forms of belief or thought, such as, mixing paganism and Christianity. Christ said that we worship Him in vain when we teach as doctrines the commandments of men, and when we follow man’s traditions in an attempt to worship God (compare Mark 7:6-9).”

In this Q&A, we want to further address the reasons as to why the Church of God celebrates the biblical Pentecost by counting 50 days from the SUNDAY within the days of Unleavened Bread, which follows the weekly Sabbath. Apart from the confusion created by Orthodox Christianity to count “Pentecost” 50 days from Easter, there is also utter confusion within Judaism as to how to count the biblical Pentecost.

The following article from the website of karaite-korner.org/shavuot.shtml gives interesting information as to why many Jews are incorrect on the issue:

“Shavuot (Feast of Weeks/Pentecost) is the Biblical harvest-festival celebrated 50 days after the Sunday which falls out during Passover [i.e., the entire Passover “season,” including the seven Days of Unleavened Bread]. These fifty days are called the Counting of the Omer. The Rabbis incorrectly celebrate Shavuoth on the 6th of Sivan. In late Second Temple times a debate arose between the Boethusians and the Pharisees about whether the ‘morrow after the Sabbath’ [Heb. Mimohorat Ha-Shabbat; compare Leviticus 23:15, Authorized Version] refers to the Sunday during Hag HaMatzot [Feast of Unleavened Bread] or the second day of Hag HaMatzot (i.e. the 16th of Nissan). Like the Boethusians and Ancient Israelites before them [including the Sadducees], the Karaites [a movement within Judaism] count the 50 days of the Omer from the Sunday during Hag HaMatzot and consequentially always celebrate Shavuot on a Sunday.

“The Rabbanites claim that in the phrase ‘the morrow after the Sabbath’ the ‘Sabbath’ referred to is the first day of Hag HaMatzot [i.e., the First Day of Unleavened Bread, on the 15th of Nisan]. In the Rabbanite reckoning the 50th day of the Omer (=Shavuot) would NOT be on ‘the morrow after the seventh Sabbath’ as commanded in Lev[iticus] 23:16. Instead it would be on the morrow after the 7th Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday or whatever day it happened to fall out after. The only way for the 49th day of the Omer to be a Sabbath, thereby making the 50th day ‘the morrow after the Sabbath’ as commanded in Lev[iticus] 23:16, is if the 1st day of the Omer is on a Sunday.”

In regard to the last comments in the above-stated article, please note Luke 6:1. We read that “it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields.” Some translators, unsure as to what the phrase means, omit it altogether and just say that it happened on a Sabbath. Others give numerous interpretations, but Luke 6 seems to be referring to the second Sabbath—the weekly Sabbath—after the first Sabbath—the annual Holy Day of the First Day of Unleavened Bread, showing that there were two Sabbaths in that week.

The One Volume commentary by Dummelow explains that it was the custom to number the Sabbaths from Passover to Pentecost from the day when the wave sheaf offering had been given.  As Leviticus 23:16 commands to count fifty days to the day AFTER the SEVENTH Sabbath, the Scripture in Luke 6 seems to confirm that the counting has to occur, beginning with the Sunday following the weekly Sabbath as, otherwise, we would not reach Sunday as the 50th day, being the day after the SEVENTH Sabbath.

The above-quoted article explains correctly that the “day” or the “morrow (morning) after the Sabbath” must refer to Sunday morning, following the WEEKLY Sabbath within the Days of Unleavened Bread. It does NOT and CANNOT refer to the annual Sabbath of the First Day of Unleavened Bread. There was a controversy, according to the Jewish historian Josephus of the first century, between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. While the Sadducees counted the 50 days correctly from the Sunday which falls within the Days of Unleavened Bread and which follows the WEEKLY Sabbath, the Pharisees counted it from the day after the ANNUAL Sabbath—the first day of Unleavened Bread. But we should note, as will be explained below, that the Temple service was entrusted to the Sadducees, not the Pharisees. Their determination as to when to celebrate Pentecost was conclusive and decisive for the public celebration, as long as the Second Temple existed.

However, modern Judaism has adopted the view of the Pharisees, thereby celebrating Pentecost ALWAYS on the SIXTH DAY OF SIVAN (which could fall on any day of the week).  In passing, we should notice as well that most modern Jews have also adopted the view of the Pharisees (contrary to the view of the Sadducees) that one must observe Passover on the 15th of Nisan, which is the wrong day and one day too late, erroneously claiming that the Passover lamb was sacrificed at the end of the 14th day of Nisan, while it was actually sacrificed at the beginning of the 14th day of Nisan, “between the two evenings”—the time span between sunset and nightfall.

In an article written by Herbert W. Armstrong and Herman L. Hoeh in 1974, the following is stated:

“The New Testament shows the Pharisees had considerable power among the people…  On the other hand, they had no official function in either the temple or the judicial system. Their power was through influence rather than direct office…  The Sadducees were most influential among the priests and those in charge of the temple…  the Sadducees (Boethusians) were firmly in control of the temple and the ritual until shortly before the 66-70 war, and… the wave sheaf was always offered on Sunday and Pentecost counted from then… Acts 5:17ff shows the Sadducees in charge of the temple. About a quarter of a century later, the Sanhedrin is divided between the Pharisees and Sadducees (Acts 23:6ff). But even then the Sadducees have their way in keeping Paul in prison although the Pharisees wanted to release him (23:9)…

“The Encyclopedia Judaica has this significant comment to make: ‘The Sadducees (and later the Karaites) understood the term “Sabbath” in these verses literally, hence, for them Shavuot [Pentecost] always falls on a Sunday’ (Ency. Judaica, 1971 ed., Vol. 14).

“The Universal Jewish Encylopedia says: ‘The Torah provides that the seven weeks up to Shabuoth be counted “from the morrow after the day of rest” (mimohorath hashabbath) of the Passover festival (Lev. 23:l5). The interpretation of this passage became one of the outstanding points at issue between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. According to the Pharisaic point of view, supported by the Septuagint and later universally accepted in the Talmud, the shabbath in question was the first day of Passover [the first Day of Unleavened Bread]; hence Shabuoth [Pentecost] would always fall fifty days later, on the 6th of Sivan. The Sadducees, however, and later the Karaites, supported by the Samaritans, took the word to mean literally the Sabbath after the beginning of the Passover festival: thus Shabuoth [Pentecost] would always fall on a Sunday and might vary in date…’ (The Universal Jewish Ency., 1943 ed., Vol. 9).

“Notice that the Sadducees’ way of reckoning Pentecost is referred to as ‘the old Biblical view.’ ‘They (the Sadducees) contended that the seven weeks from the first barley-sheaf-offering (‘omer’) to Pentecost should, according to Lev. xxiii. 15-16, be counted from ‘the day after Sabbath,’ and, consequently, that Pentecost should always be celebrated on the first day of the week (Meg, Ta’an l.; Men. 65a). In this they obviously followed the old Biblical view…’ (The Jewish Ency., 1907 ed., Vol. X)… ‘The Boethuseans (a sect of the Sadducees), interpreting the Sabbath as the ordinary Sabbath that fell during the week of the massot between the 15th and 21st day of Nisan, kept Pentecost on the Sunday following the 7th Sabbath’ (New Cath. Ency., 1966 ed., Vol. XI)…

“Notice how, according to history, the Sadducees were in control of the Temple until well beyond 31 A.D. They, therefore, controlled the religious ceremonies and ritual, rather than the Pharisees. ‘The Sadducees celebrated it [Pentecost] on the fiftieth day (inclusive reckoning) from the first Sunday after Passover (taking the ‘sabbath’ of Lv. xxiii.15 to be the weekly sabbath): their reckoning regulated the public observance so long as the Temple stood, and the [Christian] Church is therefore justified in commemorating the first Christian Pentecost on a Sunday… The Pharisees, however, interpreted the ‘sabbath’ of Lv. xxiii.15 as the Festival of Unleavened Bread (cf. Lv. xxiii. 7), and their reckoning became normative in Judaism after AD 70, so that in the Jewish calendar Pentecost now falls on various days of the week’ (The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., by J.C. Douglas)…”

We need to consider the clear instructions in the Old Testament to establish that the Sadducees—and not the Pharisees—were correct in their determination as to when to keep Pentecost.

In Leviticus 23:10-14, we are told that after the Israelites had entered the Promised Land, they had to bring first a wave sheaf offering “on the day [better: “morrow” or morning, compare Authorized Version] after the Sabbath” (verse 11), and only afterwards were they allowed to eat “bread” or “parched grain” or “fresh grain” (verse 14).

In Joshua 5:10-12, we read what happened when they did enter the Promised Land: “Now the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight [in Hebrew: “between the two evenings”—the time span between sunset and nightfall] on the plains of Jericho. And they ate of the produce of the land ON THE DAY [“on the MORROW,” Authorized Version] AFTER the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day. Then the manna ceased on the day [“morrow,” Authorized Version] after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.”

According to the view point of the Pharisees, the wave sheaf offering had to be brought on the day following the ANNUAL Sabbath; that is, on the day following the first Day of Unleavened Bread. The first Day of Unleavened Bread is always on the 15th of Nisan (Leviticus 23:6). So, the Pharisees hold that the wave sheaf must be brought one day later, on the 16th of Nisan. However, this is NOT what happened under Joshua. We read that the wave sheaf offering was brought under Joshua on the day after the Passover (the Passover is to be kept at the beginning of the 14th of Nisan, Leviticus 23:5); that is, the wave sheaf offering was brought that year on the 15th of Nisan—NOT on the 16th of Nisan. The Sadducees’ viewpoint is correct in that the sheaf must be waived on the day after the WEEKLY Sabbath; in other words, on Sunday, which fell that year under Joshua on the 15th of Nisan. This means that Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks) would be celebrated 50 days later—on a Sunday.

In addition, the view point of the Pharisees (and of the modern Jews) that Pentecost always falls on a fixed day—the 6th of Sivan—makes no sense in that the day of Pentecost has to be determined by counting. While each particular day for all the other annual Holy Days has been specifically given in the Bible, this is not the case for the day of Pentecost. It can only be determined by counting each year 50 days from the Sunday within the Days of Unleavened Bread, which follows the weekly Sabbath. If the Pharisees were correct in that Pentecost always falls on Sivan 6, then the injunction to determine the day by counting 50 from the day after the Sabbath would be meaningless and superfluous.

We might also want to point out again that Jesus was the fulfillment of the wave sheaf offering, in that, following His resurrection from the dead on Saturday, just before sunset (having been dead in the grave for three days and three nights, after His crucifixion on Wednesday), He ascended Sunday morning to the Father in heaven. According to the view point of the Pharisees, He would have had to ascend to the Father in heaven on Friday, since the First Day of Unleavened Bread fell in the crucifixion week on Thursday. But Christ was dead and in the grave on Friday. Again, we see that the view point of the Pharisees was incorrect, and that the view point of the Sadducees was correct, in that the wave sheaf offering was brought on the day after the WEEKLY Sabbath—and Jesus fulfilled that ritual at the prescribed time as the spiritual wave sheaf offering.

A passage in the New Testament might shed further light on the controversy between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Holy Spirit was given to the New Testament Church on Pentecost, June 17, 31 AD. Acts 2:1 states that when the Day of Pentecost had “fully” come, the disciples were all with one accord in one place. Some translators had difficulty with this phrase and chose to omit the word “fully” or say that Pentecost was “fulfilled” on that day. Even though the Day of Pentecost was filled with most significant meaning, due to the giving of the Holy Spirit, the Bible does not tell us that the disciples ceased from keeping the Day of Pentecost. The opposite is revealed in Acts 20:16 and in 1 Corinthians 16:8, showing that Paul continued to observe that annual Holy Day. (Another indirect reference to the keeping of Pentecost can be found in Acts 16:13, where we read that Paul and others went “on the Sabbath day” to the riverside where prayer was customarily made. In the Greek, the word for “Sabbath” is in the plural, indicating that reference is made to both the weekly Sabbath and an annual Sabbath or Holy Day—in this case, Pentecost.)

Rather, Acts 2:1 seems to hint at the controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and it seems to emphasize that the Sadducees were correct in that Pentecost had to be kept on that particular day—a Sunday. The J.B. Phillips translation states: “Then when the actual day of Pentecost came…” The reason for this statement could refer to the fact that the Pharisees had preached that the day of Pentecost had already come in that year, i.e. on the previous Friday (since they counted 50 days from the day after the ANNUAL Sabbath or Holy Day of the First Day of Unleavened Bread which was observed that year on a Thursday; that is, they began counting on Friday, not on Sunday, and would have kept “Pentecost” 50 days later, on a Friday). But the correct day to begin counting was Sunday, following the WEEKLY Sabbath, and it was 50 days later, on Sunday, when the Day of Pentecost had “actually” and “fully” come.

We therefore hold that the day of Pentecost is to be observed 50 days after that Sunday within the Days of Unleavened Bread, which follows the WEEKLY Sabbath. This means, that Pentecost always falls on a Sunday. This year (2015), it is to be observed on May 24 (counting 50 days from the Sunday (i.e. April 5, 2015) within the Days of Unleavened Bread, which followed the weekly Sabbath of April 4, 2015). Since the annual Sabbath of the First Day of Unleavened Bread fell this year on a weekly Sabbath, Saturday, April 4, 2015, the Pharisaical view point (counting 50 days from the day after the ANNUAL Sabbath) comes to the same result for THIS year in keeping Pentecost on May 24, 2015). And since Easter Sunday fell this year on April 5, 2015, orthodox Christianity also keeps “Pentecost” this year on May 24, 2015.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link