Category Archives: Christian holiday – Jewish Holiday

Questions and Answers about Jews and Christmas

INTRODUCTION: This article stems from some wonderful, lively discussion around a post on Facebook about what not to ask Jews at Christmas.  The comments and inquiries were sincere and thought provoking; so much so, that it was felt that this would be the best place to answer those, as well as the original questions.  We trust that this will be of interest to those that follow the Jewish Roots of Christianity.

Here is the original post from Facebook:

Ten questions not to ask Jews this time of year:
1. I know you’re Jewish, but you do have have a Christmas tree, right?
2. But you had one growing up, right?
3. Then what did you put your presents under on Christmas morning?
4. Does that mean you don’t get presents?
5. So how *do* you celebrate Christmas?
6. Do you at least eat a Christmas ham?
7. You must be envious of everyone that *does* celebrate Christmas, right?
8. Don’t you feel really left out that you’re missing out on all the fun?
9. Don’t you wish you had holidays and special food to look forward to?
10. But Chanukah is like a Jewish Christmas, right?

Here are 4 of the comments and questions that were posted which we will attempt to answer below:

  1.  “Hahaha to #9…how many holidays and how much special food we have!”

  2. “I once got that “everyone” celebrates Christmas because it’s not a religious holiday.”

  3. “Why not ask these questions? I didn’t have the privilege to grow up around a Jewish community, I don’t know the answers to a lot of these questions. There are more subtle ways to ask some of the questions, sure, but I hope someone who’s genuinely interested and not intending any offence wouldn’t be judged for just trying to understand someone else’s experience at this time of year.”

  4. “The real question is what do you ask Messianic Jews??”

The answers to these questions are as diverse as Jews themselves!

Two Jews, Three Opinions

First of all, it is impossible to speak of “the Jews” — both in Biblical times as now, as a homogeneous group with unified beliefs.

In the New Covenant (Testament) when “the Jews” are referred to, Scripture identifies which Jews were being spoken of; whether they are Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, or ordinary Jews who followed Yeshua (Jesus) from the Galilee, the Decopolis, Judea and Samaria and from beyond the Jordan (Matt. 4) .

It is very important for Christians to keep this in mind when studying the teachings of Jesus or of Paul, because the things that they said were to a specific group for a specific reason.  Reading “up” in a passage to find “which Jews” where being spoken to is required to understand what was being said, and as importantly what was not being said.

It is equally impossible to speak of “the Jews”  today as if they were a homogeneous group. 

Jews range from Orthodox to secular  — and everything in between and within each category there are many subgroups.  As well, there is a great deal of variation as to how each group would define itself as well as how it would define other groups of Jews — or whether some of those “others” would be even be considered “Jews” (such as Kairaites or Messianic Jews).

The expression “two Jews, three opinions” captures this well.

To begin to comprehend how “Jews” would answer the above questions, requires knowing a little bit about the different sects of Jews and what they believe relative to each other.

Here is a brief sketch of the main sects of Jews;

The term Orthodox Jews is synonymous with the term Rabbinic Judaism and originated with the biblical Pharisees. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the Pharisees who had already established and led and taught in the synagogues were the only group who retained their influence. The Essenes and Nazarenes (term for the first “Messianic Jews”) were considered “heretics”.  For the first 3 generations after the death of Yeshua (Jesus), the Jewish believers were still able to attend the traditional synagogue but in 72-73 CE (40 years after Jesus’ death), the addition of the Birkat ha-Minim forced the Jewish believers from the traditional synagogue.

[see the section on the “Blessing” of the Heretics” in the previous post titled “The Temple and synagogue in the Early Church”:]

The Orthodox Jews of today includes the Masorti (traditional Orthodox), the Chasidim (one form of “black hat” Jews including the Lubavitch and Breslov that originated in Eastern Europe in the 1700s), and the Israeli Haredi (also “black hat” Jews, non-zionists — believing only Messiah can establish Israel) and Dati (modern Orthodox, zionist).

Simplistically put, Orthodox Jews believe that the Torah has two partsthe “Written Law” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) that was given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, along with the “Oral Law” needed to understand and practice them. The “Oral Law”, as the name implies, was originally not written down, but is said to have been passed down from Moses, and from there from father to son, and from teacher to disciple. “Oral Law” dictates everything from the wearing of phylacteries (tefillin) and the colour of their straps, to how many walls and the size of those walls, required to build a Sukkah (booth for the Feast of Tabernacles).

Halakhah (literally “the path that one walks“) is the complete body of rules and practices that Jews are to follow, including Biblical commandments and the commandments instituted by the rabbis, based on “Oral Torah”.

The Talmud

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the Rabbinic authorities were concerned that the “Oral Law” would be forgotten, so it was written down in the form of the Mishnah, a shorthanded collection of the oral teachings. That is, the “Oral Law” was “oral” from 70 CE until 190 CE (2nd century after Yeshua’s (Jesus’ death), when the Mishnah was completed.

It was believed by the rabbis that important information was missing from the Mishnah, so this material was compiled in the Gemara (also spelled Gemorra), which comprises rabbinical commentaries on the Mishnah. The Gemarra includes the Melchilta (exegesis on the Book of Exodus) , Safra (exegesis on the Book of Leviticus),  Sifri (exegesis on verses in Numbers and Deuteronomy) as well as the Beraisos (commentaries on the Mishnah) and Tosefta (an appendix to the Mishnah).

The Talmud, is the compendium of Jewish law and thought, including the Mishnah and the Gamara.

Regardless of the sect they come from, Orthodox Jews recognize the authority of both the Written Law and Oral Law.  How those are interpreted and expressed, may vary however between the different groups of Orthodox.

Reform Jews do not believe that the Torah, even the Written Law, was given by God. For the most part, they seek to practice the ethics and values of Judaism without any obligation to God.  As such, they do not seek to practice the commandments attributed to God in the first five books of Moses  (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or Halakhah

Conservative Jews grew out of the tension between Orthodox and Reformed Judaism and began as an American movement in the early 1900s. They generally accept the binding nature of Halakhah, but believes that the Law should change and adapt — absorbing some of the practices of the predominant culture around them, while remaining true to Judaism’s values and ethics.

The Kairaites — literally “people of the Scripture” originated with the Sadducees.  As mentioned above, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Pharisees who established, led and taught in the synagogues were the only group with influence. The Kairaites do not accept the concept of “Oral Law” given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai along with the “Written Law”. They only recognize the written Law, as recorded in the first five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). The Kairaites distinguish themselves from the Rabbanites (Rabbinical Judaism, derived from the Pharisees) and believe it is their responsibility to study the written text in Hebrew and to interpret the texts of Scripture, without rabbinical interpretation.

The first thing to know about Messianic Jews is that they are Jews. Messianic Jews did not ‘convert’ to Christianity.  Like the Nazarenes of the first century (i.e. Paul, Matthew, Mark, etc.) who were referred to as the ‘Jews that believe’, Messianic Jews believe that God’s promised Messiah has come.  Many Messianic Jews, like the early Jewish believers of Scripture, continue to set themselves apart as Jews, a distinct people, because God called the Jewish people to.

Torah-observant Messianic Jews don’t follow the Law because it will “save” them, but because God called them to. While this may come as a surprise to some Christians, Jesus followed the Law.  While this may be obvious once it is thought about, He followed the commands of Moses (not the “Oral Law” of the Pharisees) and had He not, He would have been committing sin and would no longer have been the Lamb without blemish.

It is also important to understand that what He taught was not different than what was taught in the Law of the Old Covenant (Testament). If it was, He would have been a false prophet, not the Messiah.  

Likewise, He didn’t give ‘new meaning‘ to what was taught in the Law as that would have been causing us to rebel against God and His commands; a most grievous sin.

Yeshua (Jesus) not only upholds the Law but speaks of the Law’s continued relevance and practice to Jews in the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount. If one “reads up” from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew to see “who” He was speaking to, it says!  He was speaking to the ordinary Jews who followed Him there from the Galilee, the Decopolis, Judea and Samaria and from beyond the Jordan (Matthew. 4).

To these ordinary Jews He said;

“anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matt 5:17-19

It should come as no surprise that many Messianic Jews are Torah-observant. Messiah was.

Questions and Answers

Perhaps now it is easier to see that depending which sect of Jews are asked, the answers to the above questions will be very different!

To Orthodox Jews, Christmas is a Gentile holiday. God in His Law commands the Jews not to follow the practice of the nations around us, so while they would have no issue with Gentiles celebrating it, Christmas and anything to do with it are foreign practices. Conservative Jews would hold a similar position. Reform Jews don’t believe that the Scriptures were inspired by God, so anything attributed to God is not binding. They would have no issue with decorating a tree or celebrating the secular version of Christmas — with Santa Clause and mistletoe. Since Kairaites follow the written Law, they would not follow any of the practices of the nations around them.  That said, they would have no issue with Gentile Christians celebrating it. Torah-observing Messianic Jews are not that different from Kairaites, except that they believe Messiah has already come. Most Messianic Jews would not have any problem with Gentile Christians celebrating Christmas in whatever way they wish, including Christmas trees and ham! While we certainly can’t speak for “all” Messianic Jews, we can say how we view Christmas. We believe that Yeshua (Jesus) was born during Sukkot (see previous blogs) and we commemorate His coming to “tabernacle” among us, during the Feast of Tabernacles.  We are fine with Gentile Christian celebrating their Savior’s birth at Christmas and take no issue with them having Christmas trees, or mistletoe or Christmas hams. There is nothing in Scripture defining what Gentile Christians can do or eat, outside of Acts 15 (see previous blog).

We mean no offense to our Gentile Christian brothers and sisters by not having a Christmas tree and we hope they will understand that God called the Jewish people not to follow the ways of the nations around us, so we don’t.


For His own reasons, God called us to be a distinct nation and a peculiar people and we choose to honor Him by maintaining the Jewish practice and observance that He called us to. We are not better for not doing so, just distinct.

As Messianic Jews, raised in Jewish families, here are our answers to the ten questions:

1. I know you’re Jewish, but you do have have a Christmas tree, right? nope

2. But you had one growing up, right? nope

3. Then what did you put your presents under on Christmas morning? Since we didn’t celebrate Christmas we didn’t get any presents on Christmas morning. So we didn’t need to put the presents we didn’t get under anything.

4. Does that mean you don’t get presents? On Chanukah (which falls at different times relative to Christmas each year because ours is a lunar calendar), our parents would give us a gift of money and chocolate coins. 

5. So how *do* you celebrate Christmas? We don’t. We commemorate the birth of Messiah at Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). 

6. Do you at least eat a Christmas ham? nope. We do not eat pork because God listed a few foods in His Law that were “to be unclean to us” (not that they are inherently unclean). Since pigs do not have a cloven hoof and chew the cud, we don’t eat pork. 

7. You must be envious of everyone that *does* celebrate Christmas, right? nope. We have so many holidays that God called us as a people to observe “from generation to generation” that we are not in the least bit envious that you celebrate Christmas. Actually, we feel a little “bad” that Gentile Christians only have Christmas and Easter.

8. Don’t you feel really left out that you’re missing out on all the fun? nope. We have many holiday and special foods and observances. If you are would to include us in your celebrations, please feel free to invite us, but please don’t mind if we don’t eat the ham.

9. Don’t you wish you had holidays and special food to look forward to? nope.  We are still recovering from all the food from the several Fall Festivals and have 8 days of sufganiyot (Israeli donuts) and potato latkes (fried potato ‘pancakes’) to eat during Chanukah. Then we have a bit of time to recover before Passover and the Feast of Unleavened bread. We have no shortage of holidays and special food.

10. But Chanukah is like a Jewish Christmas, right? nope. It is a commemoration of when the Jews, led by the Maccabee brothers defeated the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV (~ 165 BCE) after he had plundered the Jewish Temple of its gold objects of worship then and desecrated it by sacrificing a pig on its alter.  As sons of Mattityahu, who was a priest, the Maccabee brothers were also Levites and therefore permitted to rededicate the Temple after it was cleansed, but once the flame was lit, it had to remain lit.  But there was only enough oil for one night and it would take another 8 days to make new oil for the Temple. They lit the flame anyways, and went about making the new oil.  The miracle that occurred on Chanukah (called the Feast of Dedication, in English) is that the tiny bit of oil that was only enough to burn for ONE night, lasted EIGHT nights — long enough for the new oil to be ready.  So we commemorate that “a great miracle happened there”, by lighting an 8-branched Chanukiah and eating foods fried in oil, such as sufganiot and latkes.

Did you know that Chanukah (the Feast of Dedication) is mentioned in the New Covenant (Testament)? 

“At that time the Feast of Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple courts in Solomon’s Colonnade.”

John 10:22

With respect to asking questions about another person’s culture or practices, from our experience, it’s best to ask open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions, such as the ones above can be perceived as judgmental, as the one asking them presumes that the reference point is there own — that “everyone” celebrates Christmas.

Here are some open-ended ways to ask Jews you meet what, if anything they do at this time of year.  These would likely be welcomed by just about any Jew — from the most observant to the most secular;

1. I know you’re Jewish so I’m curious if Jews put up Christmas trees.
2. Did you have one growing up?
3. Do Jews get presents at Christmas, and if so, do they put them under that Jewish candelabra thingy…what’s it called?
4. Do Jews give presents to their children or to each other on Chanukah?
5. Why do Jews not celebrate Christmas?
6. Do you eat any of the holiday foods we eat at Christmas time, like ham?
7. Were you ever envious of everyone that *does* celebrate Christmas?
8. Do you ever feel really left out that you’re missing out on all the things we do at Christmas?
9. Do you have other holidays and special food to look forward to on those holidays
10. I’ve always wondered, is Chanukah sort of like a Jewish Christmas?

Final thoughts…

No, not “everyone” celebrates Christmas and even to some of those that do, it’s not always a religious holiday.

To many, it is about getting and decorating a tree, about giving presents to kids and blaming it on a fat guy in red underwear and drinking rich alcoholic drinks and eating foods that have no affiliation to any religious observance.

As correctly pointed out in the Facebook discussion,  the real St. Nicholas made a point of secret gift-giving.

To observant Christians, while their celebrations may have some of the above,  the main focus is on celebrating the birth of their Savior (whether or not they believe that occurred on December 25th, or not). It is an occasion with deep theological significance, as well as a time to gather with friends and family.

We understand the idea of a holiday being tied to the “commemoration” of an event, as this is very much a part of every one of the Biblical holidays, so whether December 25th is actually the date of the incarnation or not, we understand the importance of commemorating that the Messiah was at one point, a very real human baby. There are “Christmas carols” about “sweet baby Jesus” and the little baby “asleep in the manger”, but He did not remain a helpless baby — and someday, when His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, He will not be a helpless baby, but the ruling Messiah come to judge the world.

There is a day spoken of by Zechariah, the prophet — after the nations of the world come against Jerusalem, where the Scripture say;

“Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle.  On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east”

“On that day there will be no light; the sunlight and moonlight will diminish. It will be a day known only to Yahweh, without day or night, but there will be light at evening”

Zechariah 14:3-4, 6-7

Yes, He came as a baby, but He is returning as Messiah and King.

To you and yours, we wish you and wonderful and meaningful Christmas...

...and from our house to yours, Happy Chanukah!

The New Perspective – second phase of the Reformation?

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed his ninety-five theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. His theses were copied and distributed throughout Europe and the debate which followed culminated  in what we now call the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation restored the Word of God to the ordinary people and called them out of an obligation of submission to the papacy to one of submission to Scripture.  But was the Reformation all that was required to restore the Scriptures to their first century understanding? This is the topic of this article.

Martin Luther taught that justification (God’s declaration that we are forgiven of sin and righteous in His sight ) comes only through our faith in the ‘completed work and the ‘perfect righteousness of Christ’,  which the Father imputes, or reckons to our account through faith.

Romans 1:16-17 was central to Martin Luther’s theology and lies at the heart of Reformation theology;

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17

Luther initially had disdain for the phrase, “the righteousness of God” because he understood it to be speaking of God’s standard of righteousness by which He would judge unrighteous sinners;

I was seized with the conviction that I must understand [Paul’s] letter to the Romans … but to that moment one phrase in Chapter 1 stood in my way. I hated the idea, “in it the righteousness of God is revealed”.  I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners .

—Martin Luther

In time, Luther said he began to understand that the “righteousness of God” is given as a “gift of God” given to sinners by faith and by which the righteous live;

“At last, meditating day and night and by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open.

—Martin Luther

James D.G. Dunn, Peter J. Tomson and other proponents of the “New Perspective on Paul” are restoring an understanding of the teachings of Paul to one set in its first century Jewish context, and in doing so, have set in motion what may be viewed as a second stage of Reformation of the Church.

Two foundational books by New Perspective theologians are "Paul and the Jewish Law - Halakha in the Letters of the Apostles to the Gentiles" by Peter J. Tomson (1990) and "The New Perspective on Paul" by James D.G. Dunn (1993)

According to Dunn, Paul’s theology of justification necessarily must be viewed as integral to the commission to preach the gospel to non-Jews.  This after all, is the context of Paul speaking of “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:16-17;

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Gentile.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17

Viewed in context, “the righteousness of God” is not as Luther first thought as “God’s standard of righteousness by which He would judge unrighteous sinners” nor as he later thought, ‘as as a gift of God given to sinners by faith’ — but rather “is a relational term that refers to the fulfillment of one’s obligation to another in the context of a relationship”, specifically;

“God’s fulfillment of the obligations that He took upon Himself in creating humankind and particularly, in the calling of Abraham and the choosing of Israel to be His people.

– James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul, pp 340-346

To Dunn and other proponents of the New Perspective, the ‘righteousness of God’ involves God’s reckoning of covenant membership with respect to Gentiles.  We have referred to this in previous articles as God’s fulfillment of His promise that He gave in the “all nations clause” of Genesis 12:2-3 of the Abrahamic Covenant.

God promised Abraham that he will be (1) the father of "a great nation" -- that is a specific nation (Hebrew: לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל) though Isaac and Jacob (the Jews), and He also promised (Genesis 12:3) that through a physical descendant of Abraham, a Jew, "all the peoples  (nations) of the earth will be blessed".  This is the so-called "all-nations clause".

According to Dunn and other proponents of the New Perspective, the term ‘the righteousness of God’ is not a term indicating transfer, but status recognition;

God’s justification is not His act in first making His covenant with Israel, or in initially accepting someone into His covenant people. God’s justification is rather God’s acknowledgment that someone is in the covenant — whether that is an initial acknowledgment, or a repeated action of God (God’s saving acts) or His final vindication of His people”.

– James D.G. Dunn, “The New Perspective on Paul”, p 97

The ‘righteousness of God‘ refers to God’s fulfillment of the obligations that God took upon Himself;

(1) in the calling of Abraham when He chose Israel to be His people (the “great nation”) and made His “everlasting covenant” with them, giving them as an “eternal possession” all the land of Canaan (Genesis 17:1-8).

and a fulfillment of the obligations that He took upon Himself;

(2) in the “all nations clause” (Genesis 12:3), that through a physical descendant of Abraham, a Jew, “all the nations of the earth will be blessed”.

The New Perspective as a second phase of the Reformation?

The Reformation restored the common people’s access and accountability to the Word of God, but is it helpful to view “reform” as having occurred at one point in history and complete? Perhaps what began in 1517 was the first phase in restoring a correct understanding to Scripture?

Reformation theology failed to understand that the ‘righteousness of God‘ was God’s reckoning of covenant membership to Gentiles and they also erroneously viewed ‘justification’ and the ‘righteousness of God’ as one of transfer, rather than of status recognition.

New Perspective theologians situate the teachings of Paul in their first century Jewish context, and in doing so may form the beginning of a second phase of the Reformation – one which restores the teachings of Paul and of Jesus to their first century Jewish context.

Understanding that ‘justification’ and the ‘righteousness of God’ describe status recognition of either being “in the covenant” or “not in the covenant” does not distinguish whether the one “in the covenant” came from the “great nation” through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Jews),  or as a result of God fulfilling His promise to “all the nations of the earth” (the Gentiles).

New Perspective theologians understand that the ‘righteousness of God‘ was God’s reckoning of covenant membership to Gentiles in addition to Jews, which leaves room for a correct reading of Romans 1:16-17; “to the Jew first and also to the Gentile“.

Furthermore, God fulfilling His promises in the “all-nations clause” of the Abrahamic Covenant necessitates that God will also  fulfill the promises He made to the “great nation” (the Jews), the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob under the same “everlasting covenant, including the “eternal possession” of the land (Genesis 17:1-8).

Final thoughts…

The ‘New Perspective on Paul’ is a much a restoration of the Scriptures to the Church as the Reformation of 1517, and may be rightfully viewed as the beginning of the second phase of Reformation.

What is surely needed next is for Gentile Christian theologians to situate the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, in their first century Jewish context — a so-called ‘New Perspective on Jesus‘.

If the esteemed theologians of the Church would work together the well credentialed theologians of Messianic Judaism, perhaps this second phase of the Reformation might take place in our day – a first century Jewish understanding of the Scriptures restored to the Church.

cover photo: "Sola Scriptura" - Scripture alone, "Sola Gratia" - grace alone, "Sola Christus" - through Christ alone, which represents the heart of Martin Luther's teachings

Biblical Pentecost and the Church’s Pentecost

Someone told us last night that today is Pentecost Sunday; “a time to remember when the Holy Spirit was given to us“.

My first reaction was “no, its only day 21, there’s another 29 days to Pentecost“!

We looked at each other blankly.

You see, the date the Church celebrates as Pentecost is not the anniversary of the date that it occurred in Scripture. The Church’s Pentecost is on a different date than Biblical Pentecost.

Based on God’s command to us in Leviticus 23, Jews actually count 50 days from Passover to arrive at the timing of Pentecost. The commencement of this 50-day period was marked in Temple times by the bringing of the Omer offering and ended on the 50th day with the festival of Shavuot, as described in the Book of Leviticus:

“And you shall count from the morrow of the Sabbath from the day you bring the Omer [sheaf] of waving; seven complete Sabbaths shall you count… until the morrow of the seventh Sabbath shall you count fifty days… and you shall proclaim on this very day, it shall be a holy convocation for you.”

Leviticus 23:15-16,21

During the Second Temple period there was a well-known debate between the three different Jewish factions (Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes) about the meaning of the Hebrew phrase “morrow of the Sabbath” . All three groups agreed that the “morrow of the Sabbath” was associated with the Passover / Feast of Unleavened Bread, but the different interpretations resulted in it being observed on different days by each of the sects.  The highly contested issue was “which Sabbath” do we start counting from? 

The Sadducees who made up the Temple Priesthood, believed the 50-day count to Pentecost began on the weekly Sabbath that falls during the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. According to their reckoning, the counting could begin anywhere from the 15th to the 21st day of the first month of Nisan — depending on what day of the week the Feast of Unleavened Bread began.Taking a plain reading of the text as the Sadducees used to [and as the Karaite Jews still do today], count from the day after the Sabbath of Passover [a Sunday], which was the day that the wave offering was brought in Temple times (also called the Feast of Firstfruits), until the day after the seventh Sabbath.  Based on this way of determining the date, Pentecost (Shavuot) always fell on a Sunday.

The Pharisees (who wrote the Mishnah and the Talmud and from whom today’s Orthodox rabbis descended) argued that Pentecost is to be counted from the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is designated as a “Sabbath” (where no work is done). There is a problem with the Pharisees way of counting, however. The 1st day day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread could theoretically be called “Sabbath,” (which is what the Pharisees do) but the 49th day of the Pharisee’s way of counting is does not usually fall on the weekly (7th day) Sabbath. As a result, the Pharisee’s Shavuot was rarely the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath” as required by Leviticus 23:16. Only about once every seven years, did the Pharisee’s Shavuot fall on a Sunday, i.e. the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath”.

We know from Josephus that the Pharisees interpretation was the one that prevailed as he writes that “all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their [the Pharisees’] exposition” (Antiquities 18:15), and that the Sadducees “submit to the formulas of the Pharisees, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them” (Antiquities 18:17).

[Note: as Messianic believers, we have reason to be able to say that the Saduccees had it right — because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday! More on that below]

Pentecost got its name because there are 7 “weeks of weeks” (7 x 7 = 49 days) from after the wave offering — so when one day is added to the 7 “weeks of weeks” it totals 50 days (49 + 1 = 50 days). Pentecost (50 = Pente). The name of this feast day in Hebrew is Shavuot, meaning “weeks”.

As you may recall from an earlier article,  the date that Passover fell each year wasn’t known until the “new moon” appears that month. Once the “new moon” was sighted, the date of Passover was set for 14 days later.

Biblically, and based on the sighting of the New Moon which occurred this year in Israel on April 9th, Passover fell 14 days later], and today is Day 22 of that “counting”.

Coincidentally, based on the fixed Jewish Calendar adopted by Rabbinic Jews in the 4th century — long after the destruction of the Second Temple and the scattering of Jews throughout the known world, today is also Day 22 of that “counting”.

Crucifixion of Jesus – the ‘same day’ as “the Last Supper”

We have often been asked how it is if Jesus was crucified on a Friday, how He rose from the dead “on the third day”, given that was a Sunday.  In the explanation of how Pentecost was determined the year Jesus died, the “3 days” will become clear.

The night of Jesus’ “Last Supper” (more accurately, Last Seder) with His disciples, the Feast of Passover fell on the evening of the fifth day of the week.

[Note: Sunday is the first day of the week (see Mark 16:9, Matthew 28:1), the Sabbath is the 7th day of the week]

Therefore, the evening of the fifth day was what non-Jews would have called Thursday night.

[Note: By the Jewish reckoning of days, Thursday night is the beginning of Friday, as days begins at sunset, the night before – based on Genesis “evening and morning were the first day”].

Biblically, by the Jewish reckoning of days, Jesus was crucified later the same day as He shared the Passover meal with His disciples. That is, after sundown on the fifth day (Thursday night), the sixth day (Friday) began.  By a Jewish reckoning of days, Jesus was crucified later on the 6th day, a “Friday” to Gentiles. This is what the Church has come to call “Good Friday“.

Now here is where it gets very interesting…

Jews started counting the days to Pentecost (Shavuot) from the day after the “Sabbath of Passover” — so the year Jesus went to the cross, the “Sabbath of Passover” was the Saturday between Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection. 

It was the day after that Sabbath — the “Sabbath of Passover” from which the Sadducees would have begun “counting of the Omer“.  Of course, the “morrow after the Sabbath [a Saturday] of Passover“, is a Sunday (as it is required to be according to Leviticus 23:16)

On the year that Jesus was crucified, it was that Sunday, that the “counting of the Omer” began. Jesus rose from the dead on the Sunday (“Resurrection Sunday”) – which was the “morrow after the Sabbath” of Passover — the day of the wave offering, which is called the “Feast of Firstfruits” and the Scriptures say that Messiah (Jesus) is the “first fruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:23).

Counting the 50 days of the Omer from the day that Jesus rose from the dead [a Sunday, following the Sabbath of Passover] brings us to another Sunday… Pentecost Sunday! 

The Holy Spirit fell on Shavuot (Pentecost), 7 weeks after the Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead!

The Church’s Pentecost

“Christian Pentecost” does not fall on the same date as “Biblical Pentecost”, which is why to the Church, Pentecost is tomorrow and by Biblical reckoning, it is 29 days from now.

As we developed at length in an earlier blog on Passover, and its celebration by the Early Church on the 14 day of Nisan (including Church Father, Polycarp), this was changed by the Church leaders of the First Ecumenical Council (4th century CE). At that time, they adopted the secular Roman solar calendar (Julian Calendar) and “fixed” the date of “Pascha” (forerunner to Easter) to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on, or after the vernal equinox (set as March 21st).  Therefore, Christian Pentecost falls 50 days after Pascha (or Easter).

Biblical Pentecost is tied to Passover based on a lunar calendar, and which falls 14 days after the sighting of the New Moon in the first month (called Aviv before the Babylonian captivity and Nisan, afterwards).

In the 4th century, the Church abandoned the date of Passover established by God in Scripture [which was based on the sighting of the New Moon on a lunar calendar (354 days)] – in favour of a fixed solar calendar of 365 days. Their reasons for doing so were much the same as the reasons for the Jew’s adoption of the ‘fixed’ Jewish Calendar— so that the dates of all the holidays were known in advance.  With a fixed solar calendar, Christians throughout the known world could celebrate the holidays, especially Pascha (Easter) on the same date.

Which Pentecost, then?

As Messianic believers, we continue to celebrate the Passover, and commemorate Messiah’s Last Seder with His disciples and going to the cross on the 14th of Nisan, as the early Church did and as the Church father Polycarp, did (as the Apostle John taught him, see earlier blog).

Since the timing of Pentecost is tied to Passover, Pentecost (Shavuot) for us, falls on the same date as it did in Scripture; 50 days after the “morrow of the Sabbath of Passover” — which is always a Sunday and which is the actual anniversary of the giving of the Holy Spirit.

That being said, we don’t for a moment think that the Church changing the dates of Passover and Pentecost has any importance to Gentile believers. The matter of Gentiles not being required to keep  the Law of Moses was resolved in Acts 15:5. Halacha (“the way to walk”) for Gentiles is simple;

“(1) abstain from things polluted by idols, (2) from sexual immorality, (3) from eating anything that has been strangled and (4) from blood”

Acts 15:20

We don’t believe that it is somehow ‘wrong’ for the Church to celebrate “Easter” on a date other than on the date of Passover, or for the Church’s Pentecost to be on a different date than the Biblical Pentecost.

We trust you will understand, that for us as Jews, we continue to do as we always have, and see no reason to adopt a different date.

Final Thoughts

We think that the important thing is what Paul said in Romans 14 — if the Church commemorates Pentecost tomorrow, then observe the day — for the honour of the Lord;

“One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, yet he thanks God. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Romans 14:5-8

So, Happy Pentecost to our Christian brothers and sisters!

Meanwhile we’ll keep counting. . .until June 12th.

Sunday May 15, 2016:
Today is the 1st day of the 4th week of seven weeks. Today is the 22nd day of the counting of fifty days from the day of the waving of the Omer on the morrow after the Sabbath.
שבוע 415 מאי 2016:
הַיּוֹם יוֹם רִאשׁוֹן‏ לַשָּׁבוּעַ רְבִיעִי מִשִׁבְעָה שָׁבֻעוֹת. הַיּוֹם עֶשְׂרִים וּשְׁנַיִם יוֹם מִסְפִירַת חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם מֵהֲנָפַת הָעֹמֶר מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת.


INTRO – Passover, Pentecost and Booths – significance to the Church


God set apart 3 specific times of commemoration for the Jewish people that were occasions that all the men were required to appear before Him in Jerusalem.  These 3 days also coincide to significant days to the Church — namely (1) the day of the “Last Supper” of Jesus and His disciples, where He instituted the New Covenant, (2) the day the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost and (3) the date that many Biblical scholars believe to be the date of Jesus’ birth.

Jewish ‘holidays’ are not simply nice traditions that we celebrate as part of our cultural identity — but dates of commemoration set by God Himself for a specific purpose. Of the holidays set apart by Him as His “appointed times” — three were occasions that all the men were required to appear before Him in Jerusalem.  These are often called the “pilgrim festivals”. These three are of significance to the Jewish people of course, but also have a great deal of importance to the Church.

Before getting into what these three occasions are and what they signify to both to the Jews and the Church, we need to provide some background on the calendar, itself. The Jewish calendar is based on lunar cycles (not solar cycles, like the Western calendar); specifically, on the timing of the “new moon“.

new moon over Jerusalem April 9 2016
new moon over Jerusalem April 9 2016 7:16 PM – courtesy of Nehemiah Gordon

At the beginning of the moon’s cycle, it appears as a thin crescent shape. This is the “new moon” and signals the beginning of a new Jewish month. The first day of the month is called Rosh Chodesh (gutteral “ch” sound) — the “Head of the Month”.  During the remainder of the lunar cycle, the moon grows until it is a “full moon” (of no special significance in Judaism) in the middle of the month, and then it begins to wane, until it cannot be seen at all. It remains invisible for approximately two days until the “new moon” reappears, and the cycle begins again. The entire cycle takes approximately 29½ days and since a month needs to consist of complete days, some months are twenty-nine days and some thirty days. Knowing exactly when the month begins is very important to the Jewish people, as God set the dates of Jewish observances according to the phases of the month.

Before God delivered the Jews from slavery in Egypt, God told Moses and Aaron that this month shall be to you the “beginning of months” — that “it shall be the head of months” for you.

“And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: ‘This “chodesh” (new moon) shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the head of months (first of the months) for you.'”

Exodus 12:1-2

God tells Moses that the year will begin on that month — for the purpose of counting months…but not for the purpose of counting years. “New Years” is a different time, see below.

The “first month” referred to above is the first month of the Biblical Calendar. 

Months in the Hebrew/Jewish calendar are numbered, with the first month being the one with the commemoration of God’s delivery of the Jews from bondage (Passover). This month is called Nisan by Jews today, and used to be called “Aviv” before the Babylonian exile. It is the start of the Biblical Calendar.

Years are counted from Rosh Hashanah — the Civil New Year, which occurs in the seventh month of the Biblical calendar and which according to Rabbinic tradition commemorates when Adam and Eve were created.  Rosh Hashanah is the “head of the year” — in contrast to the first month which is the “head of months“.

Rosh Hashanah is what Jews celebrate as “New Years” and is set out in Scripture in Exodus 34 where it is referred to as “the turn of the year“;

“Observe the feast of Pentecost with the first-gathered produce of the wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the turn of the year.”

Exodus 34:22

The feast “at the turn of the year” is after Pentecost, and is the “feast of Ingathering” — also called Feast of Booths (Sukkot) or Feast of Tabernacles and is one of the three pilgrim festivals. The other two are Passover (Pesach) and Pentecost (Shavuot) and coincide with very important dates to the Church, as well as to the Jews.

It is important to keep in mind that it is the sighting of the “new moon” that signals the beginning of a new Jewish month (Rosh Chodesh) and the sighting of the “new moon” on the first month which begins a new calendar of months. The timing of Passover is set as being on the 14th day of this month. 

There are several challenges to setting the beginning of any new month relative to the timing of the “new moon”.  Firstly — what if it isn’t visible?  What if it is overcast? It does happen in Israel; what then?

Multiply those challenges with the need to confirm the sighting of the “new moon” before a new year can begin – by which the date of Passover is set. Remember, Passover is one of the three times a year all the men of Israel had to go to Jerusalem. There was no way to know when Passover would be — until the sighting of the “new moon” occurred, and then all the men and their families had 14 days to get packed and to arrive in Jerusalem.  Quite the “road trip”!

To put this in context, that means that none of the disciples knew in advance when the “Last Supper” would take place until 14 days earlier, when the “new moon” was sighted.

The Pilgrim Festivals

None of the Jewish ‘holidays’, including the pilgrim festivals of Feast of Booths (Sukkot), Passover (Pesach) and Pentecost (Shavuot) are “holidays” in the same way commonly thought of by non-Jews. These are times of commemoration that God Himself set apart in Leviticus 23, along with Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), Firstfuits (which we touch on below) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  He calls these “My designated (or “appointed” times)”

“Tell the people of Israel: ‘The designated times of the LORD which you are to proclaim as holy convocations are My designated times.’ “

Leviticus 23:2



Christmas and the Coming of Messiah

Christmas. Such a special time for so many! A time of celebrating Jesus’ humble birth. Nativity scenes with people and animals crowded around a trough and the three wise men that followed the star; looking for Him. There was Herod too looking for Him; looking for the One born King of the Jews.

Growing up, Christmas wasn’t “our” holiday but belonged to Gentiles. As kids we didn’t feel left out as many think and didn’t miss getting gifts. It was a day like any other statutory holiday without observance – in fact, New Year’s Day was similar, because “New Year’s” as well wasn’t “our” New Year’s.  “Ours” was in September (different dates each year on the Western calendar) and since it always fell just after the start of the school year when most extracurricular activities started up, it felt as though the start of everything coincided with Rosh Hashanah. Even for Gentiles, everything begins in September. January 1st to us seemed like a time where people went to eat too much and drink too much just after they ate too much and drank too much at Christmas.  We would hear neighbours shouting “happy New Year’s” at midnight and banging pots and it seemed as relevant to our family as Christmas. For us, a new day begins at sundown the night before, not at midnight — so the whole idea of people making all sorts of noise and shouting to welcome in the New Year in the middle of the night, long after the sun went down, seemed so weird. It was like a delayed celebration. Our New Year, like other times and dates set for Jewish observances,is set out by God in Scripture and reckoned according to the Jewish calendar.

[This brings up the whole “December 25th” thing.  If the time of Jesus’ birth would have been mentioned in Scripture, it would have been in reference to the Jewish calendar, and not the Roman one. As we covered in an earlier post, the dates for observing holidays are established by God and always in reference to the Jewish (lunar) months.  In the New Testament, the observance of Passover and the Feast of Booths and even the coming of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, was based on the date in the Jewish calendar, not the Roman one.]

Even after coming to faith in Messiah in 1982, Christmas was still not “our” holiday and I think I am beginning to understand why that was.

As Jews, the “coming of Messiah” had a specific frame of reference; a Jewish frame of reference. While liberal Jews rarely spoke about a Messiah, living in an area of Montreal with a significant and visible Orthodox Jewish population, “We want Moshiach [Messiah] now!” was something we saw on billboards, signs and in local stores. The sect of Orthodox Jews that coined this phrase owned many of the stores in our area – stores we shopped at. They spoke of the day “when Messiah would come” longingly – of what the world would be like. They believed He would be a direct descendant of King David, and that the third Temple would be build when He came. He would gather the exiles from the four corners of the world and they would return to Israel where the worship of God would once again center in Jerusalem. They believed that it would not only be the Jews that would recognize Him as Messiah, but all the nations of the world. He would be thoroughly knowledgeable of all the commands of God in Torah and observant of them and He would call Jews back to a proper observance of the Law of God. He would be heralded as the true King of the Jews. Most striking, was their conviction that the coming of Messiah was imminent; that Messiah would come soon and redeem His people. His coming would be associated with miracles and He would usher in the Messianic Age – a time where war would cease, and there would be no more hatred between people and nations. First and foremost for all people would be the pursuit of the knowledge of God. However, before the coming of Messiah, would be a time of great turmoil and a great war, called the war of God and Magog. Just before Messiah appeared, Elijah the prophet would come and announce His imminent arrival. There was also the belief that after His arrival, all the dead would be raised to life and live again in the Land of Israel, and worship God with Messiah from the Temple in Jerusalem. The main concept of Messiah that I had before coming to faith was this one.

There was one other…

“A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

Seriously! I’m not kidding. I watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” every year around Christmastime  since it came out in the mid-1960’s.  I could relate to Charlie Brown’s dismay about the over-commercialization of Christmas and his reaction seeing all that was going on in his neighbourhood before Christmas.  Even his dog Snoopy was decorating his doghouse!  I think I related to it because that’s what is was like for us as Jews, with people around us preparing for Christmas.

The part of A Charlie Brown Christmas that always got my attention was where Charlie Brown asks if anyone really knows what Christmas is all about?  Linus, all alone on stage tells Charlie Brown that he can tell him what Christmas is all about and proceeds to recite what seemed like a poem to me.  I realize now that it was from Luke 2:8-14 from the old King James version;

“And there were in the same country

shepherds abiding in the field,

keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,

and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:

and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not:

for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

What a nice story”, I would think each year! So this is the “real” meaning of Christmas! But it was the “real” meaning of a Gentile holiday.  Linus’ words had no connection to me. They sounded like a narration describing the “nativity scenes” I would see displayed all around at Christmas, so I would imagine people and animals and a baby in a trough.

I know now that Luke was writing to a largely Gentile audience in the format of an Epic: a story of a hero which was common in the Roman era and the Greek era so not surprising, I didn’t relate to it at all.

Many years later I first read the account of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1:1-6;

“Jesus, son of David, son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob,

and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…

and Jesse fathered King David.

Wow!! Jesus was a Jew!  He was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a direct descendant of King David.  He was like “super Jew”!

Matthew 2 begins:

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea

in the days of Herod the king

behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem

saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?

For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;

and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem Ephratah, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

I could not get over how Jewish this was!

Jesus was born in Judea, which was where the tribe of Judah came from!

The wise men came from the East to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel.  Jerusalem is the centre of Judaism!

In this account, Herod asks the chief priests of the Jewish Temple and Jewish scribes where the Messiah was to be born, because surely they would know, right? And they did! Of course they did!! They were the priests in the Jewish Temple!! And the Messiah is the hope of Judaism!!

They told him that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea because the prophet Micah spoke of it…and then it quotes the Jewish Scriptures – Micah Chapter 5, verse 2;

וְאַתָּה בֵּית-לֶחֶם אֶפְרָתָה, צָעִיר לִהְיוֹת בְּאַלְפֵי יְהוּדָה–מִמְּךָ לִי יֵצֵא, לִהְיוֹת מוֹשֵׁל  בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל

But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah,

out of thee shall one come forth one who is to be ruler in Israel”

Everything about THIS Jesus is Jewish!

…which led me to wonder, “If this is the Messiah we have been waiting for, why do the Gentiles keep calling Him “Jesus Christ (as if “Jesus” was His first name and “Christ” is His second). “Christ” isn’t a Jewish family name, but a title. It is like saying “Messiah Jesus”.

When Jews hear “Jesus Christ” they think “that is a Gentile diety“. We were commanded by God not to pay attention or follow after the “gods of the Nations” and the way He is portrayed to a Jew, He is just another deity. This is heartbreaking, He has been made unrecognizable to His own people according to the flesh.

Blond-hair blue eyed Jesus?

When Gentile Christians speak with Jews, the reaction should be “these Gentiles are following our Messiah!“.  There is nothing about the “nativity scene” or Jesus Himself as conventionally portrayed that invokes this at all.

…but the Jesus Matthew writes about is a Jew!  In fact, the Jewishness of Jesus is evident throughout Scripture.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea (Matthew 2:1) to Jewish parents named “Mary” and Joseph [I later found out His mother’s real name was Miriam, just like the sister of Moses and that Mary was a Greek version of her name. Why didn’t they just call her by her real name?].

Miriam and Joseph came from the city of Nazareth (Luke 2:39), also in Judea.

While Scripture says nothing about the day Jesus was born (what Gentiles call “Christmas Day”) it does say that in accordance with Jewish Law, He was circumcised on the 8th day (Luke 2:21) and as the first born son of His mother, was presented to the Jewish Temple by His parents according to the Mosaic law (Luke 2:21-40). This is as Jewish as you can get!!

Miriam and Joseph, Jesus’ parents were obviously Torah-observant Jews who kept the Law of Moses as evidence by them having Him circumcised the 8th day and them going up to Jerusalem every year for the Passover (Luke 2:41).  They commemorated Passover every year just like we did!  In fact, Scripture says they went up to Jerusalem for the Passover every year right up until the time Jesus was 12 years old (Luke 2:42). When Jesus reached the age of Bar Mitzvah, He began to sit with the teachers in the Temple, listening and asking them questions (Luke 2:46).

As an adult, Jesus affirmed the authority of the Law and the Prophets and upheld the teachings of the Law of Moses in all He taught and all He did.  That is what the Jewish Messiah is supposed to do!!

In Matthew 4 Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them!! That is what Jews expect the Messiah to do!!

He said that until heaven and earth pass away, not even the tiniest part of the smallest letter will pass from the Law until all things are accomplished.  That is what the Jewish Messiah was supposed to come to do. He was to bring us back to proper observance of the Law and even the Orthodox Jews said that the Gentiles would be brought back to the Noahic laws.  That is the basis for the 4 commands the Gentiles were to follow (Acts 15).  Entirely as the Jews have anticipated!! He is the goal (telios) of the Law, not the “end” of it, as commonly understood.

Jesus said to Jews that the Law was something they should practice and teach to other Jews and if they did they would be called “great in the kingdom” and if they did not, they would be called “least in the kingdom”. 

To the Jews that followed Him from the surrounding area He said:

anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:17-19

The Jesus of Scripture was a Jew from Judea, He died a Jew just outside the Jewish capital of Jerusalem — and shocking as it may be to some, He is returning to the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14)… as a Jew.  His feet will touch the Mount of Olives and He will return in the same manner, to the same place from where He ascended.

Christmas is a time many celebrate the coming of Jesus and where Christians sing about “born is the King of Israel”.  So why is He portrayed in such a foreign way?  In fact, why is He portrayed at all? Jews do not make graven images of God because it violates the second Commandment.

May you come to understand, in all its fullness how the One whose birth you celebrate at Christmas is the long awaited Messiah of Israel.

Merry Christmas.

This little town of Bethlehem Christmas motion background is an excellent background for your Christmas service. The Bethlehem Christmas "Star of Wonder" makes a elegant backdrop for your Christmas Eve services.

Why did the “three Wise Men” come to Bethlehem to find the Messiah?

First of all, the Scripture doesn’t say their were three wise men but Magi bearing 3 gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh. It also says nothing about them riding camels.

The Magi were astrologers  that would have known about the coming of the Messiah from the time that the Jews were captive in Babylon. Daniel 2 says that he became the “master of the magicians, astrologers [i.e. Magi], Chaldeans, and soothsayers.” because of his ability to understand and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  Since the Magi [astrologers] had contact with Daniel when he was captive in Babylon but was elevated to the position of overseeing them by Nebuchadnezzar, they came when they did when they saw the star of Bethlehem because they knew of Daniel’s prophesy about  the coming of the Messiah.  Daniel prophesied (as recorded in Daniel 9) about the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonians destroyed it in the 6th century BCE which said 490 years [70 weeks of years] would pass from the command to rebuild Jerusalem until the coming of Messiah the Prince (Daniel 9:24-25).  While the rest of this passage is understood by many to have yet-future fulfillment, it explains why the Magi came Bethlehem at the time that they did, when they saw the star.




Jewish Holy Days – with Scriptural references

In this article, we will tell you a little bit about the main Jewish holidays, where in Scripture they’re mentioned and briefly how all by one has been fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah.


Passover (also called Pesach) was established by God (Ex 13:4, Ex 34:18) and is a time we are to remember the going forth of our forefathers from Egypt and  when the Angel of the Lord “passed over” the houses of the children of Israel.  We remember that when He saw the blood of the sacrificed lamb that was put on the doorposts and lintel of their houses, He spared their firstborn from death.  We commemorate this feast yearly in a meal called a “seder” (for “order”). It is at the Passover seder that Jesus ate His last meal with His disciples.  It was not “the Last Supper”, but “the Last Seder”.

Seder plate - April 14 2014

The 7 days following Passover is the Feast of Unleavened Bread where we eat matzoh or unleavened bread  instead of bread made with yeast, or leavening and was established by God in the same passages of Scripture as the Passover.  We eat unleavened bread to remember “the great haste in which we left Egypt that we had no time to let our bread rise, but formed it into matzoh cakes”.

passover cup and echad

God commanded us in Leviticus 23:15-16 to count seven full weeks starting from the day after the first Sabbath after Passover (i.e. 49 days) and then to present offerings of new grain to the Him. We “count 7 weeks of days plus 1 day” from the first Shabbat (Sabbath) after Passover to arrive at the date of Shavuot (Pentecost), the “Feast of Weeks”.  It is also called Pentecost ” because we count 50 days from the first Sabbath after Passover (“penta” meaning 50). We call this counting of days the “counting of the omer” (which is a reference to when the barley would be ripe in the fields) and we do this from Nisan 16-Sivan 5. During this feast, we commemorate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai on Shavuot. It is also the same feast on which the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) was given to the early Jewish believers who were gathered in the Upper Room.


The Feast of Firstfruits occurs 3 days after the beginning of Passover.  It is also the day that Jesus rose from the dead — Him being the “firstfruits from the dead”.


The “High Holy Days” of Rosh Hashanah (head of the Year – civil New Year) which takes place on the 1st day of the month of Tishri, which is also called the “Feast of Trumpets” was also established by
God (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1-6).  It is also the one Jewish feast which has not yet found its fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah (more on that below).  Like the wise bridesmaids, we wonder if this will be the year He returns to the “sound of the trumpet” – when the dead in Him will be raised.  No one knows “the day or the hour” but many believe that quite possibly, it will be one of these Rosh Hashanahs.

The most somber day of our calendar — Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement occurs 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, on the 10th of Tishrei and is set out by God in Leviticus 16:8-34 and 23:27-32.  It is a day of corporate repentance; repentance for the sins of the whole nation — and not simply for us, as individuals.


Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles (also called the Feast of Booths) begins five days after Yom Kippur, and is commemorated from the 15-21 day of the Hebrew month of Tishri.  It is set out by God in Exodus 23:16, 34:22; Leviticus 23:34-43; Numbers 29:12-40; Deuteronomy 16:13-15; Ezra 3:4 and Nehemiah 8:13-18. On this feast we remember when we were wanderers in the desert, before God led us into the Land He promised beforehand to our Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As Messianic believers, it is at Sukkot that were remember His incarnation – His coming to “dwell” (literally ‘tabernacle’) amongst us — however remembering His incarnation, is quite different than celebrating “His birthday”.  More on that, below.

The Last Day of the Great Feast (of Sukkot) is called Shiminei Atzaret and was the day that the Water Drawing ceremony (Water Libation ceremony) that would take place during the time of the Second Temple.  It was during that ceremony, that Jesus stood up and declared with a loud voice “If any many thirst, let him come to Me and drink for out of his belly will flow rivers of living water”).

Then there is Purim, the Feast of Lots which commemorates how God spared the Jewish people through the brave actions of Queen Esther Book of Esther 9:24).

Purim 1998 001

Finally, there is the 8 day holiday that we celebrate around the time of Christmas, either just before or during it, depending on the Jewish (lunar) calendar. Chanukah (the Feast of Dedication) is not mentioned in the Old Testament because it took place during intertestamental times (after the Old Testament but before the New). Chanukah commemorates the cleansing and rededication of the Temple that had been defiled by King Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greco-Syrian king who sacrificed a pig on the altar and spilled its blood on the holy scrolls of Scripture (Torah). The story is recorded in the Apocryphal book of First Maccabees and is mentioned in the New Testament in the book of John Chapter 10 verse 22.  While commemorating it is not established by God in Scripture because it occurred after the writing of the Tanakh, the New Testament mentions that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication, and so we also commemorate it .

Chanukiah Day 5 mostly poofed Dec 1 2013

We light a special candelabra called a “chanukiah” on this holiday, to commemorate the miracle of just a little bit of oil that was found by the Maccabee brothers burning for eight days, until a new batch could be made to re-institute Jewish worship in the Temple. We also eat fried foods such as doughnuts and felafel during the 8 day celebration.

Feasts of Israel – their fullness in Messiah

At the beginning of this article, we described the different feasts that God instituted and where in Scripture He did so and we think you may find it interesting to see how all but one of those feasts has been fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah.

Be sure, someday, that one too, will be fulfilled.

  1. Shiminei Atzaret – as we covered above, this was fulfilled in John 10:22 when Jesus declared if any one thirst, they should come to Him to drink – that out of their bellies would flow rivers of living water.
  1. Purim (the Feast of Lots) – the soldiers cast lots for His clothes. He is the one that saves us from a far worse fate than the (first) death Haman had planned for the Jews.
  1. Rosh Hashanah / “Feast of Trumpets” – the yet, unfulfilled feast when “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

What else do we know about that day? Read Zechariah 14!

After the nations of the world come against Jerusalem, it says

“Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle.  On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east”

Zechariah 14:3-4

“On that day there will be no light; the sunlight and moonlight will diminish. It will be a day known only to Yahweh, without day or night, but there will be light at evening”

Zechariah 14:6-7

Sounds like Acts 2:20 (Joel 2:31) doesn’t it?

“The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.”

Acts 2:20

  1. Passover – He is the Lamb of God and it is His shed blood that spares us from death, just as the blood of the Passover lamb spared the firstborn sons of the children of Israel when the Angel of the Lord, passed over.
  1. Feast of Unleavened Bread – yeast, in Scripture signifies ‘sin’ (Gal 5:9) and He was without sin and like the unleavened bread (matzoh), He was bruised, pierced and striped (Isaiah 53).

6. Shavuot (Pentecost), the “Feast of Weeks” – Many theologians say it was the pre-incarnate Son that gave the Law to Moses .

Say what?

Read Exodus 24:1-18;

“and they [Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and 70 of Israel’s elders] saw the God of Israel. Beneath His feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire stone, as clear as the sky itself. God did not harm these leaders of the Israelites; they saw Him, and they ate and drank.”

~Exodus 24:10

What did these 74 men see? Well, we know that they saw God.

We also know that the God they saw the feet of God (cf. v. 10) and the sapphire-like clear blue pavement under them (reflective of both Ezekiel 1:28 and Revelation 1:17).

Who but the Son, has feet?

  1. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – He was our atonement – “not by means of the blood of goats and bulls, but He used his own blood, for the sacrifice. He went into the most holy place and offered this sacrifice once and for all to free us” (Hebrews 9:12). “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).

Finally, this brings us to Sukkot, the feast that is likely the one Jesus was born on.

8. Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles (also called the Feast of Booths) – is when the Son came and dwelt (tabernacled) amongst us (John 1:14). 2 Corinthians refers to our bodies as “earthly tents” or “tabernacles” (literally “sukkahs”). Jesus came and tabernacled amongst us — laying aside the privileges of His deity and came and

“…made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

He humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death –

even death on a cross!”

Philippians 2:6-8

Given the evidence that He was born at Sukkot as we outlined at length in the previous article – do you see how different commemorating His incarnation in association with Sukkot is from celebrating His birthday?

It is not the celebration of the anniversary of His birth that we focus on — but the fact that He came!

It is God having come in the form of a man — taking on the same frail “tabernacle” (sukkah) as we have!  It is His coming, in fulfillment of hundreds of Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that we commemorate.

And we wait…

…wait for His return.  Wait for the fulfillment of Rosh Hashanah — when “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel and with the sound of the trumpet of God”

1 Thessalonians 4:16

Even so, come.

Jesus born at Sukkot / Festival of Booths / Feasts of Tabernacles

Sukkah from inside with sun streaming - Oct 7 14

People have asked us why we believe that Jesus was born at Sukkot (the Festival of Booths / the Feast of Tabernacles) and this article is about how theologians have arrived at this conclusion. It is also about how Sukkot has already been set apart by God to be the only Feast of Israel that all the nations of the world will one day celebrate.

Let’s start with how we arrive at Sukkot being the time of Jesus’ birth?

  1. Firstly, are able to determine that Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist was conceived in mid Sivan on the Jewish Calendar (which is in May/June) and born 40 weeks later on the Passover, which is on the 15 Nisan:

a. We know that John’s father (Zacharias) was a Levite who was assigned to serve in the Temple during the course of “Abia” in the 8th course of the year  (Luke 1:5, 1 Chr 24:10).

b. Since the cycle of service in the Temple began on the first Shabbat of Nisan (i.e. we know that the ecclesiastic calendar starts at the new moon before Passover — which is the 1st of Nisan).  We also know that  both Passover and Shavu’ot required all priestly courses to serve.  We can  calculate that the actual time of the 8th course where Zacharias served in the Temple was during the 10th week of the year, this would be at the beginning on the second Sabbath of the month of Sivan (May/June).

c. It is written that John the Baptist was conceived shortly after Zacharias’ service in the Temple (Luke 1:23-4) — which would be somewhere around the third Sabbath of the month of Sivan (i.e., late Sivan).

d. Assuming a full-term pregnancy (and the Scripture does not indicate otherwise), John the Baptist was born around Passover (Nisan 15).

e ) The Jews have always expected Elijah to come at Passover and herald the coming of the Messiah. and even today it is customary for Jews to set out a special cup of wine during the Passover Seder meal in anticipation of the arrival of Elijah for the festival. Jesus said that John the Baptist was a type of Elijah the prophet  (Matt 17:10-13, cp. Luke 1:17), therefore it is no surprise that John the Baptist (a type of Elijah) was born at Passover.

2. Jesus was conceived in late Kislev (Nov/Dec) and born 40 weeks later during Sukkot.

a. We know that Jesus was conceived six months after John the Baptist was conceived (Luke 1:24-27, 36) and that John the Baptist was conceived in late Sivan.  So, six months after late Sivan is late Kislev.

It is important to note here that the “sixth” month refers to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy,  not the 6th Jewish month of Elul (cp. Luke 1:36).

b. Placing the time of the conception of Jesus in late Kislev also makes sense of the fact that He is called the Light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5, 12:46), as the first day of the Jewish festival of Chanukah (the Festival of Lights / Feast of Dedication) is the 25th day of Kislev. Based on the above, we can place the time of Jesus’ conception during the Jewish Festival of Chanukah.

c. Adding six months from the 15th day of Nisan (John the Baptist’s birthday), we arrive at the 15th day of the 7th month, Tishri – the first day of the festival of Sukkot.

d. In accordance with the Law of Moses, Jesus would have been circumcised the “eight day” after birth. Given He was born on the first day of Sukkot, the eighth day falls on a significant day on the Jewish calendar called Shemini Atzeret / Sinchat Torah, which, like the first day, is a day of sacred assembly (Leviticus 23:39).  On this day, the Jews complete their annual cycle of Torah readings and start again from Bereshit (Genesis), therefore Simchat Torah is considered by the Jews to be a time of “fulfillment” of the Torah. The circumcision of Jesus at this time indicates how He had come to fulfill the Law (Torah) and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17-18).

3.  Circumstantial Evidence: 

a. John 1:14 states that the “Word became flesh and “dwelt” with us. The Greek word “dwelt” [skeinao] comes from the word skeinos, which the LXX (Septuagint) uses for the mishkan (tabernacle). The name given for the feast of Tabernacles itself is called Herotei Skeinon in the LXX.

b. King Herod most likely would used the opportunity of the Festival of Sukkot (in Jerusalem) to perform the census. It would not have been on Chanukah (which falls around December 25th on the Gregorian calendar) since he detested and feared the Hasmoneans.

c. Shepherds would not be out with their sheep in the dead of winter in Israel.  The angel who appeared to the shepherds said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Since Sukkot was known as both a festival of joy and also as the “Festival of the Nations,” the angel was actually giving them a greeting for the Festival of Sukkot.

d. We know that Jesus was 30 years old when He started His ministry (Luke 3:23) and assuming (as many Bible scholars do) that He ministered for 3 1/2 years, we can count backward from when He was crucified (month of Nisan) to arrive at His birthday falling in the month of Tishri, when Sukkot falls.

e. The Catholic church in 336 AD declared December 25th on the Julian calendar to be Jesus’ birthday in order to replace a pagan Roman holiday, Saturnalia. Ironically, December 25th was a celebration of the birthday of the sun god. The early church, in an attempt to get rid of the pagan holiday, declared December 25th to be the birthday of the Son of God.

f. The Scriptures teach that someday, when the Lord returns, that the nations of the world will all celebrate Sukkot — in fact, will be required to celebrate?

4. Sukkot – a Festival for all the Nations of the Earth

Sukkot (Festival of Booths / Feast of Tabernacles) has already been set apart by God in Scripture to be the only Feast of Israel that all the nations of the world will one day celebrate — and not just by the Jews, but by all the nations of the earth (i.e. Gentiles), required if those nations are to receive rain.

It says in Zechariah Chapter 14 that at  the end of days, God Himself will gather the nations of the world to come against Jerusalem and that He will go out and fight against them;

“A day of the Lord is coming when your plunder will be divided in your presence.  I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle. The city will be captured, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be removed from the city. Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle.

Zechariah 14: 1-3

Then it says that the Lord Himself will return and set His feet on the Mount of Olives.  Just after the battle where the nations of the world come against Jerusalem — the Lord’s feet will stand on the Mount of Olives…now remember, this is an Old Testament passage. The Lord’s feet?

“On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east.”

Zechariah 14:4

What does the New Testament teach?

Luke 24:50 indicates that the Jesus ascended into heaven in the vicinity of Bethany — which is on the east slope of the Mount of Olives.

Acts 1:1 0-11 says that two angels said that He would return the same way as He left;

“And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:10-11

Yes, Jesus will come in the same way as He was seen go into heaven — to the Mount of Olives.

This is the Lord’s return — when none else than God Himself will become King over all the earth and only His Name will be exalted.

“On that day Yahweh will become King over all the earth—Yahweh alone, and His name alone”

Zechariah 14:8

But then it says something very interesting…

It says that the survivors from the nations that came against Jerusalem will be then be required to go up to Jerusalem year after year to “worship the King” and “to celebrate the Festival of Booths” and if they don’t, they won’t get rain.

Then all the survivors from the nations that came against Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the Festival of Booths.     Should any of the families of the earth not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, rain will not fall on them.  And if the people of Egypt will not go up and enter, then rain will not fall on them; this will be the plague the Lord inflicts on the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Booths.

Zechariah 14:16-19

Why would God require the Festival of Booths to be celebrated by the nations — by the Gentiles and not only the Jews?  Why not Passover, when He gave His life?  Why not FirstFruits when He rose from the dead?  Why not Shavuoth / Pentecost when both the Law and the Holy Spirit were given? Why Sukkot?

Could it be that this will be when the nations of the world will celebrate His birthday on His birthday — and not as they do now, on December 25th?

We outlined above that Jesus will return to the Mount of Olives, but when? Understand we are NOT taking about the day and the hour of His return — which Scripture says that only the Father knows (Matt 24:36, Mark 13:32) but the time of year, the season.

Many theologians believe that Jesus will return on a Rosh Hashanah, which is also called the Feast of Trumpets and whose name in Scripture is Yom Teruah (literally “day of shouting”) — the only Feast of Israel not yet fulfilled in Jesus;

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17

The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, therefore each year, the day that Rosh Hashanah falls is different.  Assuming that He will return on one of these Feasts of Trumpets does not indicate what day that is; as that depends on the year.  It could be a Tuesday, a Monday, any day, even a Shabbat.

But could it be that with all the other Feasts of Israel fulfilled in Jesus, that this last one could be when He returns?

Just a thought….

Shavuot / Pentecost and Jesus being the Firstfruits from the Dead


Many people seem surprised when they find out that Pentecost (Shavuot) is actually tied to the  Passover on the Jewish calendar.  Jesus being the firstfruits from the dead can be understood when one understands this feast.

Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) is a holiday which marks the completion of a seven-week counting period that began at Passover and is one of the three annual Pilgrim festivals (along with Passover / Pesach and Sukkot / Feast of Booths) on which every male Israelite was commanded in the Law to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Shavuot is also referred to in the Torah as the Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16).

Shavuot has come to be associated with the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai although this is not explicit in the Biblical text.  Shavuot (Pentecost) is also the day in which the Holy Spirit was given, as recorded in the New Testament book of Acts.

Since the Jewish calendar is lunar (354 days instead of 365 days as in a solar calendar) and a new month begins with the new moon, the timing of all Jewish holidays varies each year on the Western  (Gregorian) solar calendar. Shavuot does not even fall on the same day on the Jewish calendar because it is timed relative to the Feast of Unleavened Bread rather than on a specific day of the Jewish month, as do all other Jewish holidays.

Shavuot is celebrated at the end of a 50-day period known today as the Counting of the Omer. The start of this 50-day period (hence ‘Pentecost” meaning “50”) was marked during Temple times by the bringing of the Omer offering (also called “Firstfruits“) and ended on the 50th day with the festival of Shavuot.

The timing of these events are of consequence to the Church;  Jesus was crucified on what is called “Good Friday” (which fell on the first day of the Passover that year) and rose from the dead on what is called “Easter Sunday”; and the first Sunday after the Sabbath that fell during Passover / the Feast of Unleavened Bread that year.  The Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead was when the Omer offering (also called the “Firstfruit offering”) was brought to the Temple to be offered to the LORD.  This gives understanding to Paul referring to Jesus as the firstfruits from the dead (1 Cor 15:20-23).

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

The date of when Shavuot / Pentecost fell was the focus of one of the fiercest of debates between the Pharisees and the Sadducees during the end of the Second Temple period, around the time of Jesus. Not only was there debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees as to when this holiday was to begin, the Essenes (the sect known for the Dead Sea Scrolls) had a third interpretation. Difference of opinion centered around the interpretation of the phrase “morrow of the Sabbath” i.e. the “day after the Sabbath”, in Leviticus 23:

“And you shall count from the morrow of the Sabbath from the day you bring the Omer [sheaf] of waving; seven complete Sabbaths shall you count… until the morrow of the seventh Sabbath shall you count fifty days… and you shall proclaim on this very day, it shall be a holy convocation for you.” (Leviticus 23:15-16,21).

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes each arrived at a different understanding as to what the Hebrew phrase “morrow of the Sabbath” meant

טז  עַד מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת הַשְּׁבִיעִת, תִּסְפְּרוּ חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם; וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה, לַיהוָה

and as a result, there was disagreement amongst these three groups as to when Shavuot fell.  This is no small matter, since this is one of the three festivals in which Jewish males were commanded to come to Jerusalem.

The Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes  each agreed that the “morrow of the Sabbath” was associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread and that Shavuot is counted as being “seven complete Sabbaths” (i.e. 49 days) plus “the morrow of the Sabbath”  but what is meant by the “morrow of the Sabbath” was what was in dispute among these three groups. Each arrived at a different conclusion and thus each arrived at a different date for when Shavuot was to be celebrated.

(1) The Pharisees (who wrote the Mishnah and the Talmud and from whom today’s Orthodox rabbis descended) argued that Shavuot is to be counted from the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which they designated a “Sabbath.” According to the Pharisees, “morrow of the Sabbath” means the “morrow of the 1st day of Unleavened Bread.” The ancient Pharisees and their modern day successor the Orthodox rabbis begin the 50-day count to Shavuot on the second day of Unleavened Bread, which is always the 16th day of Nisan (on the Hebrew lunar calendar).  As a result, the Pharisee Shavuot always fell from the 5th to the 7th day of the third Hebrew month of Sivan.  After the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE, the Pharisees became the predominant surviving faction among the Jewish leadership and their interpretation is followed by most Jews until this very day. In 359 CE, the Pharisee leader Hillel II established a pre-calculated calendar and ever since the Pharisee Shavuot has always been observed on the 6th of Sivan.

(2) The Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls began the 50-day count to Shavuot on a different Sabbath from the Pharisees. Unlike the Pharisees (and today’s Orthodox Jews who follow a lunar calendar), the Essenes had a 364-day solar calendar which began every year on a Wednesday and had fixed lengths for each month.  Based on the Essene calendar, Shavuot always fell out on the 15th day of the third Hebrew month.  In their reckoning, the Omer offering was to be brought on the ‘morrow of the weekly Sabbath‘.  Since Sabbath is always on Saturday (beginning on Friday night at sundown), the morrow of the weekly Sabbath would be what we call Sunday.  The Essenes began their count as to when Shavuot started on the Sunday after the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, i.e. on the 26th day of the first Hebrew month. The Essenes are presumed to have been wiped out when the Romans invaded Judea in 66-74 CE and only their documents survive today.

(3) The Sadducees made up the Temple Priesthood.  The Sadducees agreed with the Essenes that Shavuot is to be counted from a weekly Sabbath, but disagreed as to which one. The Sadducees believed the 50-day count to Shavuot begins on the weekly Sabbath that falls during the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  According to their reckoning, the counting towards Shavuot could begin anywhere from the 15th to the 21st day of the month of Nisan, depending on what day of the week the Feast of Unleavened Bread began.  If Unleavened Bread began on a Sunday, the count would begin on the 15th day of the month. If Unleavened Bread began on a Saturday, the count would begin on the 16th day of the month, and so on. Based on this counting, Shavuot could fall from the 4th to the 12th of the third Hebrew month of Sivan.

We know from Josephus that the Pharisees interpretation was the one that prevailed as he writes that “all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their [the Pharisees’] exposition” (Antiquities 18:15), and that the Sadducees “submit to the formulas of the Pharisees, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them” (Antiquities 18:17).

Orthodox Jews today also count the Omer starting on the second day of Passover, whereas Kairate Jews (a very small sect) that do not recognize the authority of the Talmud or Mishnah and follow only the Tenakh (Old Testament) count the Omer is accordance with the understanding of the Sadducees.

The Challenge of the Pharisee Reckoning of Shavuot

The Pharisees (and today’s Orthodox rabbis) believed the 50-day count must begin with an annual “Sabbath” rather than the weekly Sabbath.  The problem with this is while the 1st day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (and the 7th day of Unleavened Bread) is a day on which no work was to take place, it is never referred to in the Tenakh (Old Testament) as a “Sabbath”.  The only annual feast day to ever be referred to in the Tenakh (Old Testament) as a ‘Sabbath’ is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) which falls on the tenth day of the seventh Hebrew month. Work is forbidden on six other annual feast days, but the days are never referred to in the Tanakh as “Sabbaths”.

The bigger problem with the Pharisee interpretation of “Sabbath” is when it comes to the end of the 50-day count.

Leviticus 23:16 says,

“…until the morrow of the seventh Sabbath shall you count fifty days.”

The 1st day day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread could theoretically be called “Sabbath” even though the Hebrew Bible never uses this terminology, however, the 49th day of the Pharisee counting is not a Sabbath, unless it just happens to fall on a weekly Sabbath (i.e. on the 7th day of the week).   As a result, the Pharisee Shavuot rarely falls on the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath” as required by Leviticus 23:16. Only once every seven years, the Pharisee Shavuot falls on the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath.”  In most years, Shavuot according to the Pharisee reckoning is actually the morrow of seventh Monday, the morrow of seventh Tuesday, etc.

The only way for Shavuot to consistently be the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath” is for the counting to begin on the morrow of a weekly Sabbath (what we now call “Sunday”); which is how the Sadducees reckoned it.

The Best Reckoning of When Shavuot Falls

The Hebrew word for “morrow” is מִמָּחֳרַת (pronounced ‘mi-mocharat’) which refers to “the morning after”.  In the passage;

“And you shall count from the morrow of the Sabbath from the day you bring the Omer [sheaf] of waving; seven complete Sabbaths shall you count… until the morrow of the seventh Sabbath shall you count fifty days… and you shall proclaim on this very day, it shall be a holy convocation for you.” (Leviticus 23:15-16,21).

the most straight-forward understanding of the phrase “morrow of the Sabbath” describes Sunday, the morning after the 24-hour Sabbath.

Of the three interpretations of when Shavuot falls, the Sadducee reckoning for beginning the 50-day counting of the Omer to Shavuot of referring to the weekly Sabbath that falls during the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, is the most natural understanding.

Based on this understanding, Shavuot falls each year from the 4th to the 12th of the third Hebrew month of Sivan and always fall on the seventh Sunday after Passover.

This Year; Shavuot & Pentecost Sunday

This year (2015 / 5775) as it did the year Jesus was crucified, “Good Friday” on the Western calendar coincided with the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (“Passover”) on the Jewish lunar calendar and as a result, this year Shavuot falls on the same day as Pentecost Sunday.

Happy Shavuot / Pentecost!

How can Pentecost have been this past Wednesday…isn’t it this coming Sunday? Counting of the Omer.

shavuot_bannerSomeone asked me how it is that Pentecost (Shavuot) also known as the Feast of Weeks was this past Wednesday if the Church is celebrating it this Sunday. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai and to New Testament believers, it also celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Disciples in the Upper Room. Shavuot falls 50 days after the first sabbath after Passover (more on that below).

The year that Jesus celebrated “the Last Supper” with His Disciples, Passover fell on a Thursday night. It is important to remember that a new day (in the Jewish counting of days) starts at sundown the evening prior, so Thursday night after sundown is the beginning of Friday.  The day Jesus was crucified (“Good  Friday”) was the day of the Passover.

To know when Pentecost is, one needs to know when Passover is. Now here is where it gets a little tricky.  Each year, Passover falls on a different day on the Western or Gregorian calendar, because the  Jewish Calendar is a lunar calendar of 354 days and the Western calendar (Gregorian calendar) is a solar calendar of 365 days).  If you read my last note, you’ll recall that as a lunar calendar, the Jewish calendar has a “leap month” to make up the difference between the lunar calendar (~354 days) and the solar calendar (of 365 days).

Pentecost in Jesus day, this year and in the Western Church

1. In Jesus’ day, Shavuot (Pentecost) was calculated as it is now, by counting 49 days after the first Sabbath after Passover and adding a day(Leviticus 23:15). This is called “counting of the Omer”.  Passover was Thursday night, Jesus was crucified on Friday and He rose from the dead on Sunday (the Lord’s Day). The first Sabbath (Saturday) following Passover was the one between His crucifixion and Resurrection; so when you add one day to the 49 days (7 weeks) in accordance with Leviticus 23:15, Shavuot / Pentecost fell on a Sunday… Pentecost Sunday. Since the Jewish calendar is a lunar, the year following Jesus’ death, Shavuot would have fallen on some other day other than Sunday.  That is, the Disciples and Early Church would not have been celebrating “Pentecost Sunday” because it would not have fallen on a Sunday for several more years.

2. This year, Passover fell at sundown on April 14th (2014) so counting of the Omer (i.e. 49 + 1 days from the first Sabbath following Passover onthe Jewish calendar), Pentecost fell this past Tuesday night (June 3rd) at sundown, which as I mentioned above is the beginning of Wednesday.  That is how it is that Pentecost was this past Wednesday.

3. The Western Church however no longer uses the calendar that Jesus and the Disciples used (a lunar calendar of 354 days) but use the Gregorian(solar) calendar of 365 days. So the Western Church counts 49+1 days from when Good Friday falls on the Gregorian calendar, Pentecost always falls on a Sunday.

A Note about the Sabbath

Since the counting of the Omer necessitates knowing when the Sabbath is (as it is counted from the first Sabbath after Passover), I thought I’d say a few words about that.

As can be seen in Scripture, the Disciples and Early Church continued to celebrate the feasts according to the Jewish calendar.  The Sabbath was celebrated from Friday night until Saturday night and when the Church gathered on “the first day of the week” (also known as “The Lord’s Day”). The Lord’s day fell Saturday night after sundown; hence what we would call Sunday.

Since Jesus rose from the dead on that day, Sunday was referred to in Scripture as “the Lord’s Day” and the Sabbath remained as it had always been. As the Gentiles outnumbered the Jewish believers in the Church, the celebration of “the Lord’s Day” became known as the “Sabbath”; a concept that was foreign to the Disciples and early Church.