Counting the Feast of Weeks
The laws for counting to the Feast of Weeks, also called Shavuot and Pentecost, are in Leviticus (Vayikra) 23:10-21.
From the King James Version, also known as the Authorized Version and in this study as KJV...
10Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: 11And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf an he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering unto the LORD. 13And the meat offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto the LORD for a sweet savour: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of an hin. 14And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 15And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: 16Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD. 17Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals; they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the LORD. 18And ye shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering unto the LORD, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet savour unto the LORD. 19Then ye shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings. 20And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits for a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the LORD for the priest. 21And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.
...and Deuteronomy (D'varim) 16:9-12...
9Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn. 10And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the LORD thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the LORD thy God, according as the LORD thy God hath blessed thee: 11And thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the LORD thy God hath chosen to place his name there. 12And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt: and thou shalt observe and do these statutes.
These scriptures provide information on how to count to Shavuot. They alone do not provide all of the information needed to determine when it is observed, but they show that the count is begun the day after a sabbath. - Leviticus 23:11, 15
Many accept the authority of the mainstream Jewish calendar to identify when the first day of the first month is, and thus, the day of eating the passover (the first day of unleavened bread) and the last of unleavened bread. Some choose to start the first month of the religious year at a different time than the Jewish calendar. This study does not consider that viewpoint. It supports the position that since the Jews have never forgotten the seventh day sabbath and that they were entrusted by the Eternal to mark the beginning of months for religious purposes, their judgment on when the first month begins is trustworthy. - Romans 3:1-2
Reason for Disagreement
The day for observation of the Feast of Weeks is a point of disagreement for those who observe the feasts (appointed times, Hebrew - moedim) because they understand the terms sabbath and sabbaths in Leviticus 23:11, 15-16 differently. This study will focus on different understandings of the definition of sabbath(s) (Hebrew - shabbat, plural shabbatot) in these scriptures and how they result in different days of observance. There are other understandings of these scriptures held by a small number which result in other days being observed. These understandings will not be discussed.
Count from the Moed on the First Day of Unleavened Bread
Those who observe Shavuot counting from Aviv (Nisan) 16, which is the day after the annual high sabbath of the first day of unleavened bread (identified by green squares in the calendar below), understand that...
in Leviticus 23:11, sabbath refers to the "high sabbath on the first day of unleavened bread" (Aviv 15).
In Leviticus 23:15, sabbath refers to the "high sabbath on the first day of unleavened bread" and seven sabbaths means "seven weeks".
In Leviticus 23:16, seventh sabbath means "seventh week".
This is the understanding of modern mainstream Judaism and comes down historically through the Pharisees in the time of the Messiah (Hebrew - Moshiach) and rabbis in later times.
Count from the Weekly Sabbath
Those who believe that Shavuot occurs on a Sunday every year understand that...
in Leviticus 23:11, sabbath means the "weekly sabbath".
In Leviticus 23:15, sabbath means the "weekly sabbath". Some believe this is the sabbath within the feast of unleavened bread (identified by blue circles in the calendar below), which was the view of the Sadducees in temple times. Others believe that this weekly sabbath does not have to be contained within the feast, but the first day of the count does (identified by red triangles in the calendar below). Many of those with this understanding believe that this is the view of the Sadducees. Both groups agree that seven sabbaths means "seven weekly sabbaths". Note: In years that the first day of unleavened bread is not on the first day of the week, both groups are in agreement with the Sadducees. In years that the first day of unleavened bread is on a weekly sabbath, both of these groups begin the count on the second day of unleavened bread.
In Leviticus 23:16, seventh sabbath means the "seventh weekly sabbath".
The following is the basis for argument of those who believe that the day in question is a weekly sabbath:
They agree that sabbath in verses 11 and 15 can refer to a holy day - Leviticus 23:24, 32, 39. However, because the terms seven sabbaths and seventh sabbath are used in verses 15 and 16, then context, at least in this translation (KJV), shows that the day in question refers to the actual "weekly seventh day sabbath". Some even argue that if "week" or "weeks" was meant, another word would have been used in Hebrew and also by the translators. Also, some assert that sabbath cannot be defined as "week".
Definition of Sabbath
We know that the Hebrew word shabbat can mean a weekly or annual feast day sabbath and that it is also a type of intermission. The Bible shows that it means more by its use in other scriptures. Leviticus 25:4 shows that sabbath can be a "year". The same word is used in Leviticus 25:8. In this verse, seven sabbaths of years means "seven sevens of years". So now sabbath also means "seven."
"Shabbat" means "week" in the sense that a "week" is a "rest" or a "reduction" of unit time in relation to a New Moon ("kodesh" which means both "new moon" and "month"). In the idiomatic manner in which "kodesh" means both "new moon" as well as "month," the Hebrew word "shabbat" means both "sabbath" and "week."
Also in the day of the firstfruits, when ye bring a new meat offering unto the LORD, after your weeks be out, ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work:
There is no mention of the word sabbath(s) (shabbat, plural - shabbatot) in Numbers 28:26 and Deuteronomy 16:9-10. Also, the term translated as weeks is the Hebrew word shavuot (singular - shavuwa) and is nowhere translated sabbaths in the scriptures. Moreover, this high day is called the Feast of Weeks (Hebrew - Chag Shavuot) according to Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10, not the Feast of Sabbaths.
The Septuagint Translation
The translation from the Hebrew and Aramaic sources into Greek commenced around the third century BCE in Alexandria, Egypt with the blessing of the Sanhedrin and High Priest in Jerusalem. The Septuagint (LXX) was widely used in the time of the Messiah. Scholars now know that that the LXX reflects an older, underlying Hebrew text than the Masoretic text (MT) we know today. The Masoretic text was the basic text used by the King James translators for translating the old testament with other texts also consulted. The copying, editing, etc. by the Jewish Masoretes occurred in the later part of the first millenium of the Common Era, many years after the Messiah lived on earth.
In Leviticus 23:11, the Septuagint translation into English uses the term first day from the Greek word πρώτης whose root is πρώτος (>protos - meaning first). In verses 15-16, the translation uses the term weeks from the Greek word έβδομάδας whose root is έβδομάς (>ebdomas - meaning a period of seven, week).
Leviticus 23:9-16 from the Brenton translation of the LXX...
9And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 10Speak to the children of Israel, and thou shalt say to them, When ye shall enter into the land which I give you, and reap the harvest of it, then shall ye bring a sheaf, the first-fruits of your harvest, to the priest; 11and he shall lift up the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you. On the morrow of the first day the priest shall lift it up. 12And ye shall offer on the day on which ye bring the sheaf, a lamb without blemish of a year old for a whole-burnt-offering to the Lord. 13And its meat-offering two tenth portions of fine flour mingled with oil: it is a sacrifice to the Lord, a smell of sweet savour to the Lord, and its drink-offering the fourth part of a hin of wine. 14And ye shall not eat bread, or the new parched corn, until this same day, until ye offer the sacrifices to your God: it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 15And ye shall number to yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which ye shall offer the sheaf of the heave-offering, seven full weeks: 16until the morrow after the last week ye shall number fifty days, and shall bring a new meat-offering to the Lord.
The LXX clearly shows that the word sabbath(s) mentioned in Leviticus 23:9-16 in the Masoretic text can mean "week(s)" and that the sabbath of reckoning being referenced in verses 11 and 15 refers to the first day of unleavened bread, thus clarifying the Masoretic text. Therefore, we find that sabbath (shabbat) can refer to the set apart weekly rest, an annual feast, or a period of time (seven day week, year, seven) while week (shavuwa) refers only to a period of time (usually seven days).
Neither the Greek word for week nor its root, described previously, are used in the new testament. In fact, the new testament Greek uses the same word for sabbath and week (from the root σαββάτον - sabbaton) - cf. Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-2, Luke 18:12. While there was obviously another word that could have been used for week by the writers, this Greek word was purely derived from the Hebrew shabbat and those writing in Greek used it exactly as they would have used the Hebrew. We can be sure they were not abusing its usage when they used it in the sense of week in these scriptures.
Reference from the Book of Joshua
Deuteronomy 16:9 tells us that this count begins at the time the sickle is put to the corn (grain, in this case barley), which is the day after the sabbath in question. Since the count begins from this ritual harvest and ends with the annual sabbath of Shavuot, it necessarily had to take place immediately after the beginning of the day, which is defined by the Bible as starting at sunset - cf. Leviticus 23:32. This cutting of the sheaf was to start when Israel entered the promised land according to Leviticus 23:10.
Joshua (Y'hoshua) 5:10-12 in the KJV says...
10And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho. 11And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day. 12And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
To justify their method, some proponents (blue circles) of a count starting from the day after the weekly sabbath understand that this means that the first day of unleavened bread was on a weekly sabbath that year and that verse 11 shows that they did not eat the new grain of the land that day. They understand that verse 12 was the day that the omer was offered and that Israel was able to eat the new grain that day (the first day of the week). However, if the meaning of the scriptures is that verse 11 is one day and verse 12 the next, the scriptures say that the manna ceased on the morrow after they ate the grain of the land indicating that it had come the previous day, which in their understanding was the first day of unleavened bread and the day when the passover was eaten. If the first day of unleavened bread was on a weekly sabbath, the manna would not have come. - cf. Exodus 16:4-5, 22-30
There is also another problem with this understanding. The view that verse 11 refers to the first day of unleavened bread on a weekly sabbath and that verse 12 speaks of the next day when the omer was waved cannot be reconciled to the scriptures. Leviticus 23:14 prohibits eating parched grain until the day the omer is waved. However, verse 11 says they ate parched grain.
Others with the understanding represented by the blue circles might suggest that the first day of unleavened bread was on the first day of the week that year. According to verses 11-12, they would believe that Israel started counting a week later, which was the day after the only weekly sabbath within the feast and the day after the feast had ended. This understanding would require that the morrow after the passover spoken of in verse 11 means the day after the entire feast of unleavened bread. However, understanding verses 11-12 as placing the day that the omer was waved a week later on the first day of the week (and the first day of unleavened bread on the first day of the week seven days earlier) still presents the problem of reconciling this belief with Exodus 16:4-5, 22-30. Also, verse 11 says they ate unleavened bread on that day. There is no reason why the scriptures would describe them eating unleavened bread when the feast had already passed.
Others (red triangles) believe that these scriptures show that the first day of unleavened bread was on the first day of the week and that the wave sheaf was offered that day allowing Israel to eat the new grain of the land because they were reckoning from the weekly sabbath that occurred before the feast. However, understanding verses 11-12 as placing the first day of unleavened bread on the first day of the week presents the problem of reconciling this belief with Exodus 16:4-5, 22-30. Moreover, despite this group's argument to the contrary, the historical sources indicate that the Sadducees of the first century CE would not have done this, but would have instead started the count after the weekly sabbath that was contained within the feast of unleavened bread. Also, observing the day of the omer on the first day of unleavened bread presents other problems which will be described later in this study.
Other translations of these verses are different from the King James Version. In fact, some Masoretic text translations and the Septuagint do not use the term old in verse 11 when describing these events. The Hebrew word abuwr, translated old corn in the KJV, is not one of the words usually used for produce or fruit and is used in this sense in the entire Tanakh only twice, here in verses 11-12. In other translations, the grain is called new or the word produce is used......
Joshua 5:10-12 from the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh 1917...
10And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal; and they kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho. 11And they did eat of the produce of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes and parched corn, in the selfsame day. 12And the manna ceased on the morrow, after they had eaten of the produce of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
...from the New Revised Standard
10While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna;
...and from the Brenton translation of the LXX...
10And the children of Israel kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, to the westward of Jericho on the opposite side of the Jordan in the plain. 11And they ate of the grain of the earth unleavened and new corn. 12In this day the manna failed, after they had eaten of the corn of the land, and the children of Israel no longer had manna: and they took the fruits of the land of the Phoenicians in that year.
These translations depict the events in a different light than the King James Version. However, none give additional information that aids in determining what day of the week the first day of unleavened bread occurred. While a study of the various English translations along with the Hebrew and Greek lends credence to the understanding that verses 11 and 12 are speaking of the same day, they also show that the meaning of these particular verses of scripture may not be as specific as we might like them to be.
Either count (from the weekly sabbath or the annual sabbath) allows for the first day of unleavened bread to be on a weekly sabbath or first day of the week. However, the scriptures make it difficult to conceive that the first day of unleavened bread occurred on the weekly sabbath or the first day of the week that year, which is required by those who believe in starting the count on the first day of the week every year. In addition, what is certain is that this historical event is described in terms of the days of the month (the fourteenth day, etc.), not the days of the week.
Jewish history shows that the Pharisees and the Sadducees were two sects of Jews in the time of the Messiah. The Pharisees believed that the counting of the days to Shavuot was to begin on the second day of unleavened bread soon after the sun had set ending the first day when the sheaf of barley was cut and that this omer was to be offered several hours later in the morning. The Sadducees believed that the count should begin after the weekly sabbath during the feast of unleavened bread. The Sadducees held the highest temple positions, including high priest, at this time. The office of high priest was a political one, usually manipulated by the Roman occupiers, and not handed down from father to son as had been the case until the Hasmonean period (for the most part). Even though the Sadducees held higher offices, the Pharisees were more influential with the common people.
According to historical sources, the Pharisees' religious views held sway with the people and the count of the omer began on the second day of unleavened bread. Philo of Alexandria, Egypt (c. 20 BCE - 40 CE), a Jewish historian who lived during the time of Yeshua, has one of the earliest accounts of the waving of the barley sheaf (omer)...
There is also a festival on the day of the paschal feast, which succeeds the first day, and this is named the sheaf, from what takes place on it; for the sheaf is brought to the altar as a first fruit both of the country which the nation has received for its own, and also of the whole land; so as to be an offering both for the nation separately, and also a common one for the whole race of mankind;... (emphasis added by the author throughout this study)
Josephus (c. 37 - 100 CE), writing late in the first century, agrees with Philo...
But on the second day of unleavened bread, which is the sixteenth day of the month, they first partake of the fruits of the earth, for before that day they do not touch them. And while they suppose it proper to honor God, from whom they obtain this plentiful provision, in the first place, they offer the first-fruits of their barley, and that in the manner following: They take a handful of the ears, and dry them, then beat them small, and purge the barley from the bran; they then bring one tenth deal to the altar, to God; and, casting one handful of it upon the fire, they leave the rest for the use of the priest. And after this it is that they may publicly or privately reap their harvest. They also at this participation of the first-fruits of the earth, sacrifice a lamb, as a burnt-offering to God.
When a week of weeks has passed over after this sacrifice (which weeks contain forty and nine days,) on the fiftieth day, which is called Pentecost ...
Unger's Bible Dictionary adds this...
Amid all the changes of government under Romans and Herodians the Pharisees maintained their spiritual authority. Consistency with principle was on their side, and this consistency procured them the spiritual supremacy. Although the Sadducean high priests were at the head of the Sanhedrin, the decisive influence upon public affairs was in the hands of the Pharisees. They had the bulk of the nation as their ally, and women especially were in their hands. They had the greatest influence upon the congregations, so that all acts of public worship, prayers, and sacrifices were performed according to their injunctions. Their sway over the masses was so absolute that they could obtain a hearing even when they said anything against the king or the high priests. . . . Hence, too, the Sadducees, in their official acts, adhered to the demands of the Pharisees because otherwise the multitude would not have tolerated them.
And the Encyclopaedia Judaica says...
At the end of the Second Temple period the Pharisees ensured that the high priests, who were of the Sadducean faction, nevertheless performed the service in the proper Pharisaic manner. One of the means of Pharisaic control was the segan, who attended the high priest when he ministered and so could see that he did not deviate from the form prescribed by Pharisaic teaching. The holders of the office of segan who are known by name were all Pharisees.
The expression, "the morrow after the sabbath" (Lev 23:11), has sometimes been misunderstood as implying that the presentation of the so-called "first sheaf" was to be always made on the day following the weekly sabbath of the Passover-week. This view, adopted by the "Boethusians" and the Sadducees in the time of the Messiah, and by the Karaite Jews and certain modern interpreters, rests on a misinterpretation of the word "sabbath" (Lev 23:24,32,39). As in analogous allusions to other feasts in the same chapter, it means not the weekly sabbath, but the day of the festival. The testimony of Josephus (Antiq. iii. 10, 5, 6), or Philo (Op. ii. 294), and of Jewish tradition, leaves no room to doubt that in this instance we are to understand by the "sabbath" the 15th of Nisan, on whatever day of the week it might fall. Already, on the 14th of Nisan, the spot whence the first sheaf was to be reaped had been marked out by delegates from the Sanhedrim, by tying together in bundles, while still standing, the barley that was to be cut down. Though, for obvious reasons, it was customary to choose for this purpose the sheltered Ashes-valley across Kedron, there was no restriction on that point, provided the barley had grown in an ordinary field-of course in Palestine itself-and not in garden or orchard land, and that the soil had not been manured nor yet artificially watered (Mishnah, Menach. viii. 1, 2).
The Jewish Encyclopedia...
The "first-fruits of the harvest" were offered on the 16th day of Nisan, from that fruit which ripened first in Palestine-barley (but see Men. 84a) -and with considerable ceremony, in order to emphasize dissent from the Sadducean interpretation of the Scripture text, "the morrow after the Sabbath" (Lev. xxiii. 11), which is, according to the Sadducees, always Sunday (Men. 65b). The ceremony occurred toward the evening of the first day of Pesah., in a field in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, sheaves of choice barley having been bound there before-hand by men deputed to this work by the authorities. In the presence of a vast throng, from the neighboring towns as well as from Jerusalem, the sheaves to the amount of three seah were cut by three men with three sickles and placed in three baskets. As soon as it grew dark the "harvester" addressed to the assembly the following questions, repeating each one three times, and receiving to each an affirmative reply: "Has the sun set?" "Is this the sickle?" "Is this the basket?" and on Sabbath, "Is this the Sabbath day?" He next inquired thrice: "Shall I harvest?" to which they answered: "Do harvest." All this was to confound the Sadducean heresy. Note: The question "Is this the Sabbath day?" was only asked when the 16th occurred on the weekly sabbath. This small harvest of grain was allowed because the Torah set the offering of the omer at a certain time. Also, Jacob Neusner's The Mishnah, A New Translation has the information in the references above (Menachot 84a and 65b) placed in Menechot 10.2b and 10.3.
The Bible Review says...
...any light that might be cast on the history of the Pharisees and their teachings in the pre-destruction period would be critically important. With new evidence from the Dead Sea scrolls, it is now possible to demonstrate that for much of the Hasmonean period Pharisaic views were indeed dominant in the Jerusalem temple, In short, the reports of the religious laws, or Halakhah, attributed to the Pharisees in late Talmudic texts are basically accurate.
The Brit Chadasha
The new testament (also new or renewed covenant, Hebrew - brit chadasha) provides us more information on what Yeshua would have considered the correct method of counting, although it is indirect.
In Matthew (Mattityahu) 22:29 the Messiah said to the Sadducees when queried about resurrection...
...Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. - cf. Mark (Marcus) 12:24
The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. Also, there is not a single positive reference to Sadducees noted in the scriptures.
Yeshua upbraided the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. However, Matthew 23:1-3 states...
1Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: 3All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
In fact, the Messiah told a scribe that his correct interpretation of the Torah as to what the Creator expects of man had brought him not far from the kingdom of God. - Mark 12:28-34
It would seem that if the Sadducees' way of counting to Shavuot were correct, Yeshua would not have told the people that the scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses' seat (were the interpreters of the law given to Moses for Israel) and that they should observe and do what the Pharisees bid them to observe.
Moreover, if the people were observing Shavuot at an incorrect time due to the error of the temple authorities, there would be discussion of it in the gospels. There is none. This is the same point made by those who have seen that there is no discussion in any of the gospel accounts that the Jews were in error in their timing of the observance of Passover. The identical reasoning would follow for Shavuot.
Yeshua says in Matthew 5:20...
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
He said this right after saying that He had not come to destroy the law. He meant that we must adhere to the spirit of the law as well as the letter. The righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, by adherence to the letter of the law, was not enough.
The Messiah ate with Pharisees and was invited into their homes - Luke (Lucas) 11:37. He was accepted by some of them. Pharisees would not eat with people they considered apart from their sect. In fact, they wondered why Yeshua ate with those people. - cf. Matthew 9:11
Paul says in Acts 23:6 that he is a Pharisee. It has been purported that he said this to divide the Sanhedrin so he could escape. It did cause division. However, if Paul was not a Pharisee at that time, then he lied when he said this. The verb translated in the scripture "I am a pharisee" is in the present tense in the Greek.
In Acts 26:5, he says that he lived as a Pharisee (in agreement with the Pharisees and against the Sadducees pertaining to resurrection). - cf. Matthew 22:23
In Acts 22:3 Paul says...
I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.
Gamaliel was a high ranking Pharisee. - Acts 5:34
In Philippians 3:4-9, Paul says...
4Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
Some may believe that being a Pharisee and being blameless according to the righteousness which is in the law meant nothing to Paul and should mean nothing to us because he calls these things dung in verse 8. This statement does not mean that these attributes were useless to him. However, they certainly had no use to him without the knowledge of the Messiah. This is the point of verse 9. It really is nothing to know the law and abide by it if there is no sacrifice of the Messiah. No man is perfect. If he is guilty of breaking the law in one point, he is guilty of all - James (Ya'akov) 2:10. Without the faith in the sacrifice of Yeshua, even a man with only one sin is dead. Therefore, knowing and understanding law is useless unless one has the Messiah to cover his sin. With His sacrifice, the understanding of the law is very important. We need to know what sin is to avoid it. The law tells us what is right and wrong and how to repent.
There were a number of Pharisees that became followers of the Messiah according to the gospels and Acts. As a matter of fact, the Bible still calls them Pharisees in Acts 15. These men were not perfect, but the Bible indicates that the scribes and Pharisees were the interpreters of the law. The Bible does not record that any Sadducees became followers of the Messiah.
To sum it up, with no testimony in the scriptures to the contrary, the biblical and contemporary historical evidence speaks with a unified voice as to how and when the cutting of the wavesheaf and the counting of the days and weeks to Shavuot were observed by the Jewish people, even by the Sadducees despite their protests.
Misinterpretation of Other Scriptures
The First Day of the Week after the Resurrection
Yet another basis for observing Shavuot on the first day of the week each year comes from John (Yochanan) 20:1-18. In verse 17, Yeshua tells Mary not to touch (in KJV) Him because He has not ascended to the Father, but to go and tell the brethren that He ascends to His Father. Proponents see this as Yeshua warning Mary that He is about to ascend to heaven and present Himself to the Father and that touching Him at this point is some sort of defilement, or that she must not delay Him. The unfortunate choice of words (touch me not) by the KJV translators is more accurately translated in most modern versions to "do not cling to" or "do not hold on to", in accordance with the Greek meaning. Moreover, proponents offer no proof as to how a spirit being could be defiled or delayed by a human.
It seems that their understanding of John 20:17 comes from the belief that the presentation of the omer on the first day of the week symbolizes Yeshua being presented to the Father as a firstfruit of the harvest (the wavesheaf) based on I Corinthians 15:20. The belief that He ascended to the Father on the first day of the week leads them to the conclusion that this is always the day the omer is waved. However, there is a misunderstanding on their part regarding the meaning of the omer.
Firstfruits of the Harvest
Philo provides, in the quote above, the contemporary Jewish understanding of the wavesheaf grain offering (omer presentation) as representing the firstfruits of the nation of Israel and of all the nations, which the followers of Yeshua are said to be. The offering that was lifted at the altar was from a harvest of thousands of grains of barley (much fruit).
Moreover, in John 12:24, the Messiah explains to us what His purpose was and what it would produce. He said that unless He died, He would abide alone. However, because He died, He brings forth much fruit - cf. Matthew 13:18-32. So what is this fruit that His death brings forth?
His death is symbolized by the sacrifice of the passover lamb (as well as other sacrifices commanded by the Torah) and in the parable by the grain of wheat that fell to the ground (was buried). His resurrection would bring forth much fruit, just as a grain would produce many more grains. The first of this new grain is symbolized by the presentation of the omer described by Philo. In I Corinthians 15, Paul is speaking of this fruit. Those who are symbolized by this fruit will show works that are not in vain because they are to become incorruptible.
James 1:17-18 and Revelation 14:4 show that the disciples of Yeshua (talmidim Yeshua) are firstfruits. Obviously, it cannot be denied that the Messiah was a firstfruit of those that slept. However, John 12:24 shows us that the result of His death (the passover sacrifice) was to produce much fruit. He never needed to die for Himself (to make Himself become incorruptible). In fact, the scriptures show He was guiltless. He chose to die for us, so that we can become incorruptible.
Paul states in Colossians 1:12-20 that the Messiah is the head of the assembly and by Him, all things exist. He is not the firstfruits of the harvest to whom the scriptures refer. He is the originator (creator) and harvester of the firstfruits, as John 12:24 and I Corinthians 15:12-25 also show. While the Messiah was the first to obtain resurrection, those who show faith by obeying the commandments of the Eternal Creator and accept Yeshua as the one and only Messiah will be the firstfruits of the harvest when He comes. - cf. Hebrews 11. This was symbolized in the temple on the first day of the count to Shavuot by the priest (a type of Messiah) presenting the firstfruits of barley (a symbol of the faithful) to God. In the future, when the Messiah has completed His harvest (not just the firstfruits) and put all enemies under His feet, He will deliver the kingdom to the Father.
Ascension of the Messiah
The purported ascension of the Messiah to the Father on the morning of the first day of the week after His resurrection can be dismissed using the scriptures. In Matthew 28:1-10, it specifically states that they held Him by the feet, obviously touching Him. In verse 10, He tells them where He will meet His disciples. Combining this with John provides a clearer picture than reading John 20 by itself.
Hebrews 9:12, 24-28, and 10:10-13 show that Yeshua offered Himself once for all. When He had done that, He "sat down on the right hand of God". He did not present himself to the Father then come back to earth and then go back and sit at the right hand of God. These scriptures also show that for those who "look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation". Those who believe that the Messiah ascended to heaven after speaking with Mary and then came back later that day cannot reconcile this belief with the scriptures. These scriptures clearly indicate that the first coming of Yeshua was His natural birth after being begotten from the throne of heaven and they clearly indicate that the second coming will be at His return from heaven to harvest His people in preparation for His reign on earth. These scriptures show that there is no other coming to earth from heaven by the Messiah between these events.
Luke 24:49-53, Acts 1:1-3, and Acts 1:9-11 show that He revealed Himself for forty days after His resurrection and then ascended to heaven.
The scriptures offer no proof for an ascension into heaven by Yeshua to present Himself to the Father the morning after His resurrection.
Confusion in the Assembly
The belief in a wavesheaf offering on the first day of the week has caused debate in the assemblies when Aviv 14 (the day of the passover offering) is on a weekly sabbath and the first day of unleavened bread (Aviv 15) is on the first day of the week. Evidently, the connection to Yeshua as the wavesheaf offering means that His purported ascension (based on KJV John 20:17) was contained in the week of unleavened bread. Therefore, the day on which the count to Shavuot begins must be in the week of unleavened bread. On the other hand, others say the weekly sabbath after which the count begins must be in the week of unleavened bread (view of the Sadducees).
Given these beliefs, some choose to begin the count to Shavuot on Aviv 15, which allows them to start the count during the days of unleavened bread, but not begin the count the day after a weekly sabbath that is contained within the days of unleavened bread. Others begin the count on Aviv (Nisan) 22, the day after the only weekly sabbath contained in the days of unleavened bread. However, their count obviously does not begin during the days of unleavened bread. Since 1994, this has happened twice (1994, 2001). It will occur again in 2005 and 2008. The following scripture is a good reference for this situation...
I Corinthians 14:33 - For God is not the author of confusion...
Calendar of Moedim for Spring 2005 CE
Below is a calendar for April - June 2005 (Nisan - Sivan 5765 in the Hebrew calendar). The red triangles indicate the first day of the count of the omer and the day of Pentecost for those who believe the count must begin within the feast of unleavened bread. Notice how the weekly sabbath after which the count begins precedes the days of unleavened bread.
The blue circles indicate the first day of the omer and the day of Pentecost for those who believe the weekly sabbath after which the count begins must be contained within the feast of unleavened bread (view of the Sadducees). Notice how the first day of the omer is after the feast of unleavened bread.
The green squares indicate the first day of the omer and the day of Pentecost for those who believe the omer is counted starting after the sabbath (high day) of the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. Both the first day of the omer and the sabbath after which the count is begun are contained within the feast of unleavened bread every year.
The scriptures and historical sources show that the sabbath after which the count begins is contained within the days of unleavened bread. They also show that the actual day that the count begins is contained within the feast of unleavened bread. The understanding of the Pharisees, which has continued down to our day via orthodox Judaism, means that this occurs without exception.
It has been noted by some opponents of the Sivan 6 Shavuot, which is always its date in the Jewish calendar today, that this feast was never to be observed on a specific day like other feasts, such as the Day of Trumpets (Yom Teruah), are observed. Indeed, they are correct. The reason for a Sivan 6 feast is that we use a calculated calendar in our time. Therefore, the feast falls on that day every year. In the times of the Bible when the new moons were sighted in Jerusalem, both observation and calculation were used. Thus, the months could have a different number of days based on observation of the new moon. In those times, Shavuot could have been observed on Sivan 5, 6, or 7. Note: Calculation methods were developed even though observations were made because of the possibility of poor observing conditions, as well as other reasons.
Moreover, the Torah says that we must actually count the days of the omer - Leviticus 23:15-16. We are also to count the weeks - Deuteronomy 16:9. Many do not count as directed by the scriptures. They have the day noted on a calendar, but do not note the passing of the days and weeks. However, this count is not just to calculate when the feast occurs. It is a fifty day, as well as seven week, noting of the action of moving toward that feast and what it represents.
In addition, the counting of the omer beginning on the second day of unleavened bread always places the feast of Pentecost exactly fifty days after the day we partake of the passover. The number fifty is related to release or liberty - Leviticus 25:8-13. Also, the word Pentecost comes from the Greek and means fiftieth day.
Leviticus 23:10 indicates that the wavesheaf offering on the first day of the omer was a firstfruits of the harvest. Obviously, this barley sheaf was unleavened when it was offered to the Eternal. It (containing many grains) was harvested and processed before its presentation.
The ears were brought into the Court of the Temple, and thrashed out with canes or stalks, so as not to injure the corn; then "parched" on a pan perforated with holes, so that each grain might be touched by the fire, and finally exposed to the wind. The corn thus prepared was ground in a barley-mill, which left the hulls whole. According to some, the flour was always successfully passed through thirteen sieves, each closer than the other. The statement of a rival authority, however, seems more rational-it was only done till the flour was sufficiently fine (Men. vi. 6, 7), which was ascertained by one of the "Gizbarim" (treasurers) plunging his hands into it, the sifting process being continued so long as any of the flour adhered to the hands (Men. viii. 2).
On Shavuot, two leavened loaves were offered - Leviticus 23:17-21. These loaves of bread made from wheat are called firstfruits unto the LORD. The use of leaven in these loaves offered on Shavuot may surprise some because the mention of leaven normally prompts us to think of sin. Yet we have these two offerings, one a sheaf (literally - omer) of unleavened barley and the other two loaves of leavened bread made of wheat. Both of these offerings are called firstfruits.
The reason for the use of different grains is obviously based on the time of year when each would be a firstfruit. However, we must address why the loaves presented on Shavuot are leavened.
Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
We, the firstfruits of Israel (Yeshua's harvest at His coming), are separated from the world by the Creator for His use (symbolized by the selection of the special barley sheaf which is processed and offered to the Eternal). We strive to grow as we count the days and weeks from partaking of the passover on the first day of unleavened bread and move toward the feast of Pentecost. We start our journey with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth - I Corinthians 5:8, symbolized by an unleavened omer of barley (considered a lower quality grain and symbolic of our being less developed in the faith).
During the days and weeks of the omer (our lives), we are tried (symbolized by the barley being touched by fire) and we grow in the spirit (symbolized by the barley being exposed to the wind) until the fiftieth day when we arrive at the liberty of the kingdom of heaven symbolized by two leavened loaves (symbolic of the power from heaven spread throughout our lives and to others by our godly example) of the finest wheat (highest quality grain symbolizing the spiritual maturity that we have obtained). All of this is made possible by the wonderful sacrifice of Yeshua depicted on the first day of the omer and on the Feast of Shavuot (fifty days after the passover is eaten) by sacrifice of lambs, rams, goats, and bullocks - Leviticus 23:12, 18-19, as well as the sacrifice of the passover lamb and all of the other sacrifices listed in the scriptures. Unlike the other counts, the fifty day count starting from the second day of unleavened bread (green squares in the calendar) perfectly symbolizes the progress in our lives beginning with the time of our calling to repentance and our acceptance of the free gift from the Eternal and continuing with our pursuit of spiritual maturity, as we look forward to the day of the coming of the Messiah and the liberty He will bring.
The belief in counting after a weekly sabbath that must be contained within the days of unleavened bread (blue circles in the calendar) obviously deviates from the symbolism described above. As the calendar shows, the first day of the count is not even contained within the feast of unleavened bread in some years, so it is nonsensical that this process is started with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth after the days appointed to partake of unleavened bread. Moreover, the number of days from the eating of the passover to Pentecost is 56, which has no significance.
The other method of counting (red triangles in the calendar) also has its shortcomings. The weekly sabbath after which the count is begun is not contained in the feast of unleavened bread in the years where the first day of unleavened bread is on the first day of the week. It does not make sense that the sabbath used for reckoning is placed before the feast since the feast of unleavened bread represents the starting point. Also, the number of days from partaking of the passover to Pentecost is 49. While that number does have some significance, it does not signify liberty and release as the number fifty does.
In addition, the proponents of this method of counting have not followed the Sadducees' reckoning in some years (e.g. 2001). They began their count on the day after a weekly sabbath that was not contained in the feast of unleavened bread. By the reckoning of the Sadducees, they should have counted from the day after the weekly sabbath contained within the feast (i.e. the last day of unleavened bread). In this case, they have no historical backing of any sort. - cf. Edersheim and Jewish Encyclopedia (footnote 2)
There is also another problem with this method relating to the time when the priesthood served in the temple that many have not considered. The historical sources show that the barley for the omer was cut very soon after sundown. It was then processed so it could be offered in the morning with other sacrifices. The authorities, accompanied by the people attending the feast, would have a harvesting ceremony in the field where the sheaf had been selected.
In years when the first day of unleavened bread (Aviv 15) was on the first day of the week, this would conflict with the preparation and eating of the passover sacrifice that had been killed earlier. During the time after sundown, the people would need to be preparing to eat the passover. The priests would need to be doing the same. These activities would interfere with the preparation of the passover and take the focus off of it.
The feast of Pentecost is always fifty days after the sabbath of the first day of unleavened bread when the count is reckoned from that moed (appointed time). Moreover, the historical sources deal only with descriptions of events (harvesting ceremony, offerings in the temple) based on a count to Pentecost beginning on Aviv 16. Leviticus 23, by its context, shows that the sabbath after which the count begins and the first day of the count to Pentecost are both contained within the feast of unleavened bread, which requires a count beginning on Aviv 16.
The spacing between the feast days of Passover and Shavuot varies with the two alternate counts and in most years they are not fifty days apart. Also, proponents of the alternate counts tend to accept that the sabbath from which the count is reckoned and the first day of the count are both contained within the feast of unleavened bread until encountering a year when the first day of unleavened bread is on the first day of the week. At that point, the explanation of the scriptures becomes a problem and they are forced to defend one side (the sabbath day contained within the feast) or the other (the first day of the count contained within the feast) while the scriptures continue to show that both days are always contained within the feast of unleavened bread. Given the biblical and historical documentation for counting the omer from the second day of unleavened bread and adding to it the symbolism of the offering and its place within that feast, the symbolism of the sabbath (high day) from which it is reckoned, and the symbolism of the process of counting fifty days to Shavuot, we are able to avoid the confusion of what day to begin counting and the broken symbolism that comes from the alternative counts, especially in the years when the first day of unleavened bread (Aviv 15) is on the first day of the week.
For those who support a count to Shavuot from a weekly sabbath, the following questions must be answered...
- Philo of Alexandria, who lived during the time of Yeshua, and Josephus, who lived in the time shortly after that period through the end of the second temple, both document that the offering of the wavesheaf was made in the temple on Aviv 16. Also, other Jewish sources (Mishnah, etc.) document this and provide information on how the sacrifices and offerings were conducted. What contemporary historical sources show that the opposition view of the Sadducees was practiced? How was the practice implemented during this time? In what years can it be documented that the interpretation of a count starting the first day of the week was observed in the temple?
- (For the proponents who support a count as represented by the red triangles in the calendar)... In addition to the previous question, when the first day of unleavened bread was on the first day of the week, what documentation shows how the ceremony of the cutting of the sheaf was conducted given that the priests and people needed to be preparing the passover that had been killed?
- If the omer was presented in the temple on the day after a weekly sabbath every year, why did Philo, who lived during Yeshua's life on earth, Josephus, who lived shortly after that period, and other Jewish writers write otherwise?
- Given that Philo and Josephus document that the omer was waved on Aviv 16 in the temple during the time of the new testament, why is there no condemnation by Yeshua or any of His followers of this practice of the Jews in the scriptures?
- Why did the Messiah say that the scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses' seat and that the people should observe and do what the scribes and Pharisees bid them to observe and do if their interpretation of when the omer was to be waved was incorrect and thus, they observed Pentecost on the wrong day?
- Why did the Messiah tell the people that their righteousness had to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees and not that of the Sadducees?
- Why did Paul state that, as touching the law, he was a Pharisee, and, as touching the righteousness of the law, he was blameless, and that he was taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers under the Pharisee Gamaliel if that sect understood the law of observing the count to Shavuot incorrectly?
- The presentation of the omer is symbolic of the firstfruits of a harvest. The scriptures indicate that the resurrection of the saints is a harvest of firstfruits of the Creator. The scribes and Pharisees believed in resurrection, but the Sadducees did not. In fact, Yeshua told the Sadducees that they erred in not knowing the scriptures (directly regarding resurrections). How can their understanding of the count be trusted when they did not believe in resurrection and Yeshua never credited them with understanding the interpretation of the scriptures, especially since He said that the scribes and Pharisees (who understood that the count to Shavuot began on Aviv 16) sat in Moses' seat?
1The King James Version, also known as the Authorized Version, is used in this essay unless otherwise noted. Copyright statement for the font used in the "Weeks" image at the top of this essay: "BWHEBB, BWHEBL, BWTRANSH [Hebrew]; BWGRKL, BWGRKN, and BWGRKI [Greek] PostScript ® Type 1 and TrueType fonts Copyright © 1994-2013 BibleWorks, LLC. All rights reserved. These Biblical Greek and Hebrew fonts are used with permission and are from BibleWorks (www.bibleworks.com)."
3Mayer Schachter-Haham, "Shabbat," Compound of Hebrew in Thousand Stem Words: Etymological Dictionary Hebrew-English (Jerusalem: Kiryat-Sefer, Ltd., 1982) 684.
4"Leviticus 23:11, 15-16" - Greek forms, Septuaginta, ed. A. Rahlfs (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1935); Greek roots, Bibleworks 5.0 LXX morphology; Definitions, Bibleworks 5.0 LXX supplement and Liddell-Scott lexicon.
5Copyright statements for the JPS Tanakh and the NRSV: JPS Tanakh - "Copyright 1917, By The Jewish Publication Society of America. All rights reserved." NRSV - "From the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved."
7Flavius Josephus, "Concerning the Festivals; and How Each Day of Such Festival is to be Observed" (Book 3, ch. 10), Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston, Edinbergh: William P. Nimmo, 1867 and Standard Edition, Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publications, 1970) 79-80.
8"Pharisees," Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1969) 854.
9"Temple," Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: The Macmillan Company, 1971) vol. 15, 974.
10Alfred Edersheim, "The Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Day of Pentecost - The Morrow after the Sabbath" (ch. 13), The Temple - Its Ministry and Services (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1994) 203-204.
12Lawrence H. Schiffman, "New Light on the Pharisees: Insight from the Dead Sea Scrolls," Bible Review (June 1992) 30-31.
13Abraham P. Bloch, "Shavuot, An Appendage of Passover," The Biblical and Historical Background of the Jewish Holy Days (New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1978) 179.
14Alfred Edersheim, "The Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Day of Pentecost - The Morrow after the Sabbath" (ch. 13), The Temple - Its Ministry and Services (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1994) 204-205. This quote of Edersheim is a description of the Mishnah's account of the processing of the barley. However, Leviticus 2:14-16 (if the wavesheaf is subject to this regulation) does not specify that the grain be made into flour, but only requires it to be beaten into groats. Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, book 3, chapter 10, paragraph 5) indicates that this may be the case.