With regard to how to construct a calendar acceptable to God, the Bible offers very little by way of specific information. What we have today and what we have had from antiquity is built upon longstanding practice (tradition) and ‘mountains’ of conjecture. The biblically stated parameters we have are:
1) Sunset – to begin the day – mentioned only obliquely in reference to the Day of Atonement,
2) First visible crescent – to begin the month – though not specifically stated,
3) The abib – to begin the year – a sometimes fickle indicator, needing human assessment.
4) The completion of the fall harvest so that the worshipper could bring a true tithe to the Feast.
Why is so little specific information given? If the “true” calendar of God is such an all-important instrument, and He expects mankind to “keep it” so precisely, why is there such a lack of specific criteria by which to construct one? If God is so adamant that we keep His Holy Days on ‘the right day’, why isn’t there more criteria given to establish unequivocally what all the ‘right days’ are?
If God is so insistent that ‘right days’ be observed, why would He provide us so few absolute and irrefutable benchmarks? As shown above, each of the above determination methods are increasingly imprecise. If God is so insistent on exactness, as many calendar enthusiasts insist, why provide mankind with so few absolute specifics, while what is provided is subject to wide ranging interpretations? But the greater question is, do the calendar enthusiasts have sufficient basis to take the attitude toward others that, “If you don’t have the right calendar (as I define it) then you are dirt to me! You are not worthy of my fellowship.” Unfortunately, that happens.
This is the human reaction, but is it God’s? Does God anywhere in scripture fault His people for ‘calendar error’? Do we have any specific statement from Him regarding such matters? Was any High Priest ever struck dead for entering the Holy of Holies on the “wrong day”? People sure do have a lot to say on His behalf! Are they correct, or are they ‘out there’ on their own on such things? In other words, does their position reflect God’s, or not? Is the calendar an acceptable base from which to generate disdainful contempt of fellow believers? Is such action on their part “God ordained” or God desired? Do we enhance ourselves in God’s sight by such a stance toward others, (being a champion of ‘calendar law’) or do we, by taking that position, exhibit a quality He does not want?
What we need to admit to ourselves is the obvious fact that MOST of what we know and practice with regard to the lunar calendar (that entity many refer to as “God’s Calendar”) is the result of human determinations. In that we have so few clearly defined specifics, nearly all determining factors are conjecture on the part of men. Some men, presumably well-qualified men, at some time. They have to be! We need to acknowledge that fact.
One explanation of why there are so few instructions given in scripture is that mankind had established a calendar centuries before. Why would God need to instruct humanity in the time of Moses about specific things that they already had been doing during the previous 2500 years? Now, He did make one clarification, that their year was to begin in the spring. That may not have been the practice prior to that. After all, it is regarded by some that the days of Creation were set in the fall season. But in order to correlate the Plan of Redemption of humanity with the pattern seen in the seasonal harvests, He made clear that the year was to begin in the spring season. But, let’s keep in mind, that the ancients were not at all ignorant of the seasonal cycles. In fact, astronomy was one of the first and most highly developed sciences in the ancient world, even pre-flood.
But in all of the various calendars, and all of the methods employed to make them, there is one inescapable over-riding fact. Nearly everything written and nearly everything practiced is based on human conjecture and human determination. I’m not saying ALL human determination is all wrong, just that it is human, not Divine. Other than the few items presented above, we have little else. Let’s be honest about that. Yet calendar enthusiasts of all the differing persuasions act as though they have explicit scriptural basis for all that they believe about the matter.
I have read many ‘calendar papers’ written by very scholarly individuals. Many with whom I agree. Many are well-researched, well written, logical and convincing. But there is no escaping the fact that their research quotes the writings of other men for the greater part. Much has been written over the centuries, and a lot of that reflects a wide variety of opinions. As many variations as we have today, and maybe more! They all quote other scholars and present ideas of men. But who among them are the ultimate authorities? It’s a grab bag.
‘Experts’ typically select the ‘authority’ that suits their preferences. None of these authorities actually speak with the authority of God or rise to the level of scripture, but men polarize upon their opinions as though they did.
Here is the all-important question. Should a believer take a hard and fast position and stake his salvation on matters that are the deductions and conjectures of men? Should anyone use the deductions and opinions of well-informed, even well-intentioned men, to justify a refusal to assemble and as the basis for denigrating fellow-believers? Is that a safe and God-ordained approach? Is God well pleased with such indignant reactions?
In exchanging rounds of correspondence with many “ardent calendar enthusiasts” over the years, there is the subliminal idea that there is a Master Calendar that God sets in heaven, and man must adhere to IT, or be damned! To have ‘the wrong date’ for a Holy Day is deemed an inexcusable SIN and a fellowship ender.
But, is there really such a Master Calendar up in heaven? God gave certain criteria, and not much of it being all that definitive, leaving us to read the relative positions of the sun and moon as we see them. (Those ‘signs’ all are visible phenomena, not invisible) Those phenomena are visible from here on earth. Sunsets don’t occur in heaven, new moons are not visible from outer space as they are on earth, and there are no ‘abib’ (first ripe barley sheaves) available in heaven by which to project when to determine a first month or when we need to intercalate a thirteenth month. Those are all earth-determined events.
But if He left it to each individual to make those observations and establish our own calendars, there would be little agreement in that there are so many variables, subject to ‘judgment calls’. Prior to Moses, that may have been the practice, of necessity. But for unity of practice, once the nation was formed and a center for worship established, He ordained a priesthood to direct and unify worship. He assigned the task to educated, intelligent men. We know them as ‘calendar priests’. Not every priest was qualified to determine the calendar and make the judgment calls that must be made. (Anyone who has attempted to make calendar determinations will quickly realize that ‘judgment calls’ arise at nearly every turn.)
We should ask if Christ ever weighed in on this matter. It appears that He did!
In Matthew 23, we find this: “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not….” Considering the extremely negative assessment He gave these same muckymucks right after this instruction, we’re pre-cautioned to carefully consider just what His point was.
First, He said this not only to His disciples, but to the general public. He was endorsing their bidding to ‘observe’ something, but that didn’t include doing so in full accord with their practices. (and those unacceptable practices are spelled-out in the following verses). So the people were admonished to observe ALL of what the scribes and Pharisees determined. If their determined occasions were faulty (and many today insist that they were) wouldn’t that call for a ‘qualifier’? Or, may we conclude that it wasn’t as great a matter of concern as we might think? That their variations or misjudgments might’ve been ‘off’ at times (and He would know) apparently didn’t warrant any precaution as to the ‘when factor’. The scribes and Pharisees are endorsed in their calls to observance, not necessarily how they observed. Now, this wouldn’t have been a weekly Sabbath, as that would’ve been a given. The weekly Sabbath is not declared by the priesthood, and never was in dispute. It is an institution maintained from the seventh day of Creation. No instead, such bidding would have been to observances that required annual determination. So the instruction to comply with their determinations, without qualification as to their accuracy, or lack thereof, would appear to be in interest of unity. Is unity the greater interest here? Was Christ more interested in the people not being divided and polarized by personal or sectarian opinions over matters having such a high probability of dispute? Is that the lesson we should discern from this passage?
Let’s ask the question another way. If calendar determinations back then were so ‘corrupted’ and as inaccurate as some insist, why didn’t Christ or the early Church ever make even the least mention of such ‘error’?
We in our time have realized the powerful divisiveness in these ‘calendar issues’. It is shameful how people have polarized themselves behind the determinations of men, above and beyond scripture. And that based not on clear scripture, but on human interpretation of the few passages that could remotely be connected with the calendar, and in absence of clarity, assigning definitions of certain words taking them beyond their true intent. The calendar is rendered “Sacred” in the minds of some believers, though the scriptures never use that term for it. It is “Sacred” only in the minds of those who want to align themselves behind a perception of an instrument that is and always was a product of, hopefully, highly educated men, not God alone.
This is an appeal to all who are hard set behind one calendar method over all others to reconsider whether their aversion to fellowship and a holding a contemptuous regard toward others (of like belief in most other matters), is a safe spiritual position. Is it pleasing to God?