The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) is the only festival of Yahweh* that is to be counted each year. All other annual holy days are on a set day of a certain month. That we are to count 50 days for Pentecost is in itself evidence that Pentecost does not regularly come on the same date of the same month. Counting seven weeks plus one day is easy, of course. The question is, when do we start the count? Some might say that we are to follow the Jewish reckoning because to them were given the oracles of Yahweh. This at first seems to be wise advice. When we consider, however, that there have been at least four different opinions among the Jewish people on when to begin the count to Pentecost, then something more is needed.
The Sadducees began the count on the morrow after the weekly Sabbath, which came during the Days of Unleavened Bread, so that Pentecost was always observed on a Sunday. The Karaite Jews and the Samaritans retain this custom today. The Boethusians also counted it this way. The Pharisees began the 50 – day count on the morrow after the 15th of Abib, so that Pentecost is always observed on the 6th of Sivan. This practice prevails among the majority of the Jewish people today. The Essenes used a solar calendar and so could not be expected to be Correct on any dates for the holy days. It is interesting to note, however, that they began their count to Pentecost on the 27th of Abib. They always observed Pentecost on Sunday the 15th of Sivan (the third month). The Falasha Jews of Ethiopia begin the count of the 50 days from the morrow after the 21st of Abib, therefore Pentecost is always celebrated on the 12th of Sivan.
In view of this information, is evident that we cannot follow the practice of the Jews. Because it is our belief that the Bible is given by inspiration of Yahweh, and it is the Holy Scriptures that tell us what our doctrine should be (2 Tim. 3:16, 17), let us consult this great work and see what it has to say.
“ … When you come into the land which I will give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest; and he shall wave the sheaf before Yahweh, … on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. And you shall count from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven full weeks shall they be, counting 50 days to the morrow after the seventh sabbath; …”Lev. 23:10, 11, 15, 16 RSV).In beginning the count of the fifty days, the questions has been asked, “To which Sabbath does verse 15 refer – the weekly Sabbath, or the annual high day, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread? Two points are clearly made in these verses: --The count is to begin on the morrow after the Sabbath. --The count is to end on the morrow after Sabbath--the seventh Sabbath. To determine which day begins the count to Pentecost, let us begin by examining the third month of the Scriptural Calendar. Are any of Yahweh’s festivals in the third month? There is only one – The Feast of Pentecost. All the other annual high days of Yahweh’s Calendar are in the first month or the seventh month, as can be noted by consulting Lev. Chap. 23. Once again, the only Scriptural, yearly high day occurring in the third month is the Feast of Pentecost. Therefore, all other Sabbaths in the third month are weekly Sabbaths. Pentecost should always follow a Sabbath, “ …even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; …” (Lev. 23:16). Since Scripture tells us that we are to count to “the morrow after the seventh Sabbath,” (for determining Pentecost), then it is evident that the “seventh Sabbath” refers to the seventh day of the week, because (except for Pentecost itself) there are no Sabbaths in the third month except the weekly Sabbath. When we count backward from “the morrow after” any weekly Sabbath in the third month, the fiftieth day will always be a weekly Sabbath. Try it, please. This being true, it then becomes easy to count forward from the morrow after the (weekly) Sabbath which falls during the days of unleavened bread in the first month. The fiftieth day (the morrow after the seventh Sabbath) is Pentecost. It is always in the third month of the Scriptural calendar year. ** Another indication that the count is to begin on the morrow after the weekly Sabbath is the statement in Lev 23:15: “Seven full weeks shall they be.” Some versions say “seven complete weeks.” By using the term “full,” or “complete,” the meaning seems to be a week of seven days beginning with Sunday. Any time period of seven days is a week, but this calls for a complete week. We often use a similar statement by saying, “Was it this week, or last week, that John was here?” The full week begins on Sunday.
This being true, the Feast of Pentecost will always be on a Sunday. This raises another question. Which Sunday? The day of the week on which we are to start the count has been established. What time of the year–what week–are we to start counting these fifty days? As was noticed earlier, all of the different Jewish religious sects began the count during or in the week that followed the Days of Unleavened Bread.
Again, we should not be guided by Jewish tradition, as there is no agreement among them as to which week the count should start. Let us consult the Bible. The account in Lev. 23: 9 - 21 does not tell us conclusively that the count is to begin during the Days of Unleavened Bread. There is only an implication that this is so. No doubt Moses understood that he was to start the count at this time.
Other Scriptures give more exact information, however, so we need not be in doubt. “While the people were encamped in Gilgal they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at evening in the plains of Jericho. And on the morrow after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased on the morrow, when they ate of the produce of the land …” (Josh. 5:10 - 12, RSV). These verses indicate that they ate the fresh grain that grew in the fields because: They not only baked unleavened cakes but also parched the grain. This indicates that it was fresh from the field, perhaps still a bit green. Three versions of the Bible say that they parched the ears of grain. This would be grain fresh from the field.
The Jerusalem Bible says,
“On the morrow of the Passover they tasted the produce of that country, unleavened bread and roasted ears of corn” (Josh. 5:11).
These “ears of corn” would be the unthreshed heads of grain (barley or wheat) and would be from the new crop that was still in the fields. They ate it on the “morrow after the Passover.” This would have been on the daylight part of the fourteenth or the fifteenth of Abib, depending on the exact meaning of the word “morrow.” This helps to determine when the 50-day count begins, as the following discussion reveals.
In this historical account (Josh. 5:11), the wave sheaf was offered on either Abib fourteen or on the annual Sabbath (Abib fifteen), not on the sixteenth of Abib. Since it was not offered on the sixteenth, no doubt it was offered on the day after the weekly Sabbath; the “morrow after the Sabbath,” as stated in Lev. 23:11.
The day that the sheaf was waved was also the day to begin the 50-day count. As the sixteenth of Abib had not yet arrived, Sunday must have started the 50-day count. That year, the Passover must have fallen on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week.
The wave sheaf is shown to have been offered within the period of the Days of Unleavened Bread. Israel had been west of the Jordan since the tenth of the month (Josh. 4:19). Even so, they had not eaten of the produce of the land until the day after the Passover. Why? Because of the prohibition in Lev. 23:14, they could not eat of the harvest until the wave sheaf had been offered. This indicates the waving of the sheaf of the firstfruits, and therefore the start of the 50-day count, should always be during the Days of Unleavened Bread.
Other Scriptures verify this.
“But in fact the Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep … Messiah the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to the Messiah” (1 Cor. 15:20, 23 RSV).
Look at the connection. The Messiah is the firstfruits of all who are to be raised from the dead to receive immortal life. Just as the sheaf of the firstfruits of the grain harvest was presented to Yahweh, so Yahshua was the firstfruits of the harvest of souls (of human beings) as He presented Himself alive to the Father.
Yahshua was buried in the last minutes of Wednesday, the fourteenth of Abib. He lay in the grave through Thursday the fifteenth, Friday the sixteenth, and Saturday the seventeenth, and presented Himself on Sunday, the eighteenth of Abib. These events took place during the Days of Unleavened Bread (Mt. 26:17).
The facts show that the presentation of the firstfruits of the human harvest was on Sunday, not on the 16th of Abib. Therefore, the count to Pentecost is to begin on the Sunday which comes during the Days of Unleavened Bread.
Consider the error of counting Pentecost as a product of the Pharisees and their misunderstanding.
A few versions of the Bible translate Leviticus 23:16 differently. For example, the Jewish Version reads,
“Even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall you number fifty days.”
To count “seven weeks” instead of “seven Sabbaths” as most versions say, could make a difference. Counting seven weeks, the fiftieth day could fall on any day of the week.
The Pharisees chose to start the count on the sixteenth of Abib instead of the day after the weekly Sabbath. This means that Pentecost always falls on the same day of the month, the sixth of Sivan, and the fiftieth day is only occasionally on Sunday. Are they correct?
The Hebrew word used in verse 16, shabbath or Shabbat, is used 111 times and is translated (in the KJV) “Sabbath(s)” 110 times. Never is it translated “week(s).” The Hebrew word for week is shabua, not shabbath that is used in Lev. 23:16.
In view of this, it would seem that Jewish translations were designed to conform to Jewish custom instead of making custom conform to the Scriptures. There seems to be no justification for any version to read, “to the morrow after the seventh week.”
Josephus wrote that the Jews observed Pentecost fifty days after the sixteenth of Abib. This was the custom of the Pharisees of his day. As a Pharisee, it is only natural that he would write of the customs of his own religious party. As stated above, other Jewish sects did not agree with the Pharisees in this. Of more importance is the fact that Scripture does not support this practice.
The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee all his life, even after his conversion on the Damascus road (Acts: 23:6). This would imply that he observed Pentecost as did the other Pharisees. This is not necessarily true, however. It is possible that he differed with them on this point.
Many of the “traditions of the elders,” which the Messiah condemned, were the customs of the Pharisees (Mt. 15:1-6, 23:15). Did Paul observe all these traditions? Not after He was converted. He accepted only the teachings of Moses, the prophets, and Yahshua the Messiah. The teaching of Moses was that the 50-day count should end on the “morrow after the seventh Sabbath.”
Also, the Pharisees may have started this custom after the events recorded in Acts 23:6. We know that they adopted several calendar changes after this date.
The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Pentecost was to be observed fifty days after the sixteenth of Abib. This was C.E. and lived to the year 100 (Who's Who in Jewish History, by John Comay, David McKay Co. Inc., 1974; “Josephus,” pp.229-232). This means that he was not yet born when the Messiah died in about 31 C.E. Josephus was about 33 years of age when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E. For one or two years he was a freedom fighter, along with the other Jews, in the revolt against the Romans. He then surrendered and cooperated with the Roman Army, and was present in the final destruction of Jerusalem. This information is important because in later years Josephus wrote his history in the city of Rome after the fall of the temple in Jerusalem (Who's Who in Jewish History, p. 314). This was after the time of the Messiah and the Apostle Paul. The following information is from The New Bible Dictionary, by J.D. Douglas, Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., 1964; “Pentecost,” p. 964: The Sadducees celebrated [Pentecost] on the fiftieth day (inclusive reckoning) from the first Sunday after Passover (taking the “Sabbath” of Lev. 23:15 to be the weekly Sabbath); their reckoning regulated the public observance so long as the temple stood … The Pharisees, however, interpreted the “Sabbath” of Lev. 23:15 as the Feast of Unleavened Bread (cf. Lev. 23:7), and their reckoning BECAME normative in Judaism AFTER A.D. 70, so in the Jewish calendar Pentecost now falls on various days of the week” (emphasis added). As long as the temple stood, the public worship was regulated by the Sadducees, who counted from the day after the weekly Sabbath during the Passover or Feast of Unleavened Bread. Yahshua and the Apostles participated in the normative public worship. It was only later, after 70 C.E. that the Pharisees were able to change the time for the observance of Pentecost. This, of course, was after the time of the Apostle Paul, who was executed about 67 C.E., three years before the temple fell. Paul evidently observed Pentecost in the normative public worship as did most, if not all, of the Jews of his day; that is, counting from the morrow after the weekly Sabbath. That there was at that time a unity of observance among both the believing and unbelieving Jews is evident from reading the account in Acts Chapter two. Josephus, a Pharisee, gave an account of the customs of the Pharisees regarding the timing for the Feast of Pentecost (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 3, chap. 10, verses 5 and 6). In this same history Josephus also wrote of a time when the Jews observed Pentecost by a different reckoning (Book 13, chapter 8, verse 4). The time of which he wrote was between 134 and 104 B.C.E. Josephus quotes another historian, Nicolause of Damascus, “Antiochus … stayed there two days. It was at the desire of Hyrcanus the Jew, because it was such a festival derived to them from their forefathers, whereon the law of the Jews did not allow them to travel … for that festival which we call Pentecost, did THEN fall out to be the NEXT DAY TO THE SABBATH” (emphasis added). Because the Bible tells us that the count to Pentecost is to begin on the morrow after the Sabbath and is to end on the morrow after the Sabbath (Lev. 23:16), and the previously mentioned Bible dictionary tells us that this custom continued “so long as the temple stood,” the conclusions are quite evident: Yahweh’s original law, both in the Old Testament, in the time of the Apostles, and even today, calls for the count to Pentecost to begin on the morrow after the weekly Sabbath, and end on the morrow after the weekly Sabbath, the seventh Sabbath.
The Bible says to count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. This was Jewish custom “so long as the temple stood.” The Scriptures indicate there was a unity of observance during the time of Yahshua and His Apostles. This included the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the followers of the Messiah. Only after the fall of the temple was this custom exchanged in favor of the count from the sixteenth of Abib. Josephus, a Pharisee, reported the customs of his own party, but also reported Jewish customs of earlier times when Pentecost was observed on the day next to the weekly Sabbath.