The New Testament Calendar
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1996
The calendar used by the writers of the New Testament is important for all biblical students to know and to utilize. The reason for this is clear. If one does not understand the fundamental astronomical and social factors associated with the calendar used by Christ and the apostles, much of the historical teaching they provide within the text of the New Testament will not make sense. Indeed, some doctrines (and particularly prophetic themes) will be completely incomprehensible if one does not apply the calendar applications accepted by the New Testament writers. And though the apostles did not explain what the calendar rules were with astronomical details that all Christians could comprehend, this was not necessary to do because all apostles unanimously accepted the general calendar regulations that governed the Jewish people who lived in the first century. The authority for this was stated in no uncertain terms by both Christ and the apostle Paul. It is easy to recognize what calendar God considers His own. In this Doctrinal Report we will look at the scriptural evidences that reveal what the apostles accepted as "The New Testament Calendar."
The calendar which governs the world today in all matters of commerce, science and government is the Gregorian Calendar that was promoted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. It is an accurate calendar based solely on the motions of the sun with no attention to the moon. Today, everywhere in the world (when it comes to commerce, science and governmental affairs), you will find that July the Fourth (to cite just one date) will always be the same day. That goes for every other day in the year of 365 days, or 366 days in each Leap Year. Now various nations in the world may have different national or religious days that they determine to be celebrated on the Gregorian Calendar, and they may vary from nation to nation, but the days of the calendar on which those days occur always remain the same. This means that methods for determining the length of the days on the Gregorian Calendar (when they begin and end) are all in harmony throughout the world. Even in Muslim countries where the Muhammadan Lunar Calendar is in effect for their religious ceremonies, the civil days involving commerce, etc. are still those of the Gregorian Calendar. The same is true with any other nation on earth no matter what type of local calendar they may follow in a traditional sense. One of the great blessings for expressing harmony in the world of business and commerce, etc. is the fact that the whole world now accepts this single calendar which we call the Gregorian.
The benefit of having a single calendar of universal application to govern the official determining of the days of the year was understood by Julius Caesar in the middle of the first century B.C. The emperor established a solar based calendar very similar to our present Gregorian to govern all governmental, commercial and agricultural affairs within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The various peoples in the Empire were still permitted to use their own religious or traditional calendars for sacred and local affairs, but for international trade, commerce and matters of law, all areas of the Roman Empire were expected to observe the single calendar which came to be called the Julian Calendar. This allowed all transactions to be standardized as far as time indications were concerned. The acceptance of this calendar was a great boon to civilization in matters of trade.
In spite of the benefits of the Julian Calendar in civil affairs, the apostles in all of their time indications within the text of the New Testament never used the Julian calendar indications. They consistently applied the normal Jewish means of time reckoning, and I have shown in my book "The Star that Astonished the World," that this also applied to Luke’s chronological reference in his Gospel (3:1). This was also the case even in letters intended exclusively for Gentiles. Luke was the assistant to the apostle Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, and he randomly mentioned the celebration of the Day of Pentecost without defining when it was to occur as based on Roman time. All of Luke’s readers knew when Pentecost was (Acts 2:1; 20:16). The apostle Paul did the same thing (I Corinthians 16:8). Indeed, in Acts 27:9 Luke even mentioned the Day of Atonement (known by the Jews as Yom Kippur which always took place on the 10th day of the Jewish month Tishri) by the simple term "the Fast." So understood was the term that Luke could mention this calendar reference without defining when "the Fast" was. As a matter of fact, recall that the apostle John shows that Christ Jesus was born at a time that the sun was mid-bodied to the sign of a woman in heaven while the moon was under the woman’s feet (Revelation 12:1). Since that "woman" was the sign of Virgo. the Virgin (see my book "The Star that Astonished the World"), it means that Christ was born in the early evening of the Day of Trumpets (or, as the Jews call it, Rosh Ha-Shanah, which was the first day of the seventh month on the Jewish calendar). The apostle John late in the first century mentions this date of the Day of Trumpets without any details on how to figure the day. This was because John, and the other apostles, knew it was the Jewish authorities who had the confirmation from God to set the calendar dates (Romans 3:1,2).
True, there was a controversy among the Jews in the first century over the time the Passover lambs should be killed and eaten. Was it to be "between the evenings" on Nisan 14 (meaning between sundown and the end of dusk — which Christ accepted for His last meal with His disciples, John 13:1) or did the phrase "between the evenings" mean from noontime to sundown on Nisan 14 (some eighteen hours later) which many of the Pharisees accepted? The argument among the Jews was NOT when the day of the year called Nisan 14 began or ended, but they squabbled about WHEN on the day of Nisan 14 should one kill the lamb or goat and eat the Passover. There was no argument whatever between Christ and the Pharisees over when Nisan 14 itself was to be reckoned. This proves that the calendar that Christ accepted as proper (and the one that was standard for observance by those in Judaism and Christianity) was the normal one maintained by the official authorities of the Jews at Jerusalem who sat in Moses’ Seat (who were members of The Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of the Jews into whose hands Moses placed the calendar rules —Deuteronomy 31:9-11; Matthew 23:1-3).
Everything in the Jewish Calendar centered around the Sabbath days — the seventh day of the week — and the apostles acknowledged this fact in various parts of the New Testament. Do you know that everyone of the days of the week in Jewish terminology had the word "Sabbath" or "Sabbaths" associated with it and the apostles used these week-day terms in the New Testament? For example, in the original Greek the day on which Christ arose from the dead was not simply "Sunday" (or, what we call the first day of the week). The apostles actually wrote: "One [cardinal number] of the Sabbaths" and once in Mark 16:9 we read "First [ordinal number] of the Sabbath." That’s right. In both cases, the apostles mean that day was "one day" away from the Sabbaths or the "first day" away from the Sabbath.
Now note this. In the first century, Jews often used plural and/or singular Sabbaths to refer to a single Sabbath in the same fashion that they used the word Elohim [plural] to refer either to a plurality of gods as well as to the single God Family. This usage of using the plural for the singular in many instances is a peculiarity of the Hebrew language that is even found in the Greek when Jews translated the Hebrew into Greek. Thus, in the account of Christ and his disciples going through the grain fields on the Sabbath, Matthew uses the plural [Sabbaths] in 12:1, and the singular [Sabbath] in verse 2. Mark uses the plural in both instances in chapter 2:23,24, and Luke uses the singular in the first instance and the plural in the second in chapter 6:1,2 which is exactly the reverse of Matthew, and each account records information about the same incident Hence the use of the plural "Sabbaths" does not necessarily require a plural translation to make sense in the Hebrew/Greek manner in which the apostles used the word.
The days of the week were rendered with the Sabbath day found in every day of the week. For example: The first day of the week was written as "One (or First) day of (or from) the Sabbath." Note the other days of the week. The "Two (or Second) day from the Sabbath; the Three (or Third) day from the Sabbath; the Four (or Fourth) day from the Sabbath; the Five (or Fifth) day from the Sabbath; and the sixth day of the week was always called "the Day before the Sabbath." Often (but not always) the word "Sabbath" in the above phrases is also plural, "Sabbaths." There was a variant to this normal usage as recorded in the Talmud. We read: "The first day of the week and the second and third are called ‘after the Sabbath’; the fourth and fifth days and the eve of the Sabbath are called ‘before the Sabbath" (Gitten 77a). In the Greek translation of the Psalms (the Septuagint Version or the LXX), you will find these titles in certain Psalms (Psalm 23 in the LXX is our 24); Psalm 47 (our 48); Psalm 92 (our 93); Psalm 93 (our 94). The apostles in the New Testament simply adopted these common Jewish titles for the seven days of the week. This means that the word "Sabbath" (the seventh day of the week) was found in every day of the week in Jewish nomenclature, and the apostles followed this custom of the Jews consistently. As a matter of fact. our phrase "the first day of the week" is not even found in Scripture. The apostles actually said either "One day from the Sabbath" or "the First day from the Sabbath."
Christ made it clear to his apostles that in matters dealing with the laws and commandments which were given by God through the hand of Moses (which included the determination of the calendar and the days on the calendar on which the festival days would be observed), that authority was in the hands of those who sat on Moses’ Seat (Matthew 23:2). This was also confirmed by the apostle Paul when he told the Roman Gentiles that the Jewish community had an advantage over the Gentiles in every way: "chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Romans 3:1,2). Paul went on to say that it made no difference whether some of those Jewish authorities were unbelievers or not, because it was the belief pattern of God directing them in calendar matters (and other factors of the Law of Moses) that was important in the issue. For Christians who wished to observe the Sabbaths and the Holy Days ordained in the time of Moses, it was the Jewish Sanhedrin that had authority to determine when those calendar dates were.
The first mention of the "Church" (the Ekklesia1 or the Congregation) that Christ Jesus said He was starting to build is recorded in Matthew 16:18. Christ said: "I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter [a small pebble], and upon this Rock [petra, a large stone, Himself] I will build my Church [Ekklesia]." True, Christ gave spiritual "keys" of authority to Peter (and this was later extended to include all the apostles and leaders of the Congregation in Matthew 18:18-20) in order to "bind and to loose" certain legal determinations upon members of that Ekklesia [Congregation of believers]. But how far did the authority of the "Church" actually extend?
Christ shows the extent of the apostolic jurisdiction in Matthew 18. Now, before looking at Matthew 18 to read of those powers of authority, one must remember that the "Church" of which Christ was speaking at the time was that which was found within the Judaic environment in Palestine. It was then governed in national and international affairs of the Jewish people by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (those who sat on Moses’ Seat). Christ at the time He made the statements above did NOT give His apostles authority to govern His "Church" in national and international matters —this would be, for example, in circumstances dealing with the calendar and the celebration of the Holy Days. This is made clear in Matthew 18:15-22. Christians should read this carefully.
Notice how Christ started out with the lowest authority in the government of the "Church." He spoke of two brothers in the "Church" who had a disagreement with one another (Matthew 18:15). In such a case, one brother was to go directly to the brother whom he had offended or who had offended him. If the appeal to law and order as understood by the members of the "Church" was not heeded by one of the brothers, then the offended party had the right to summon two or three other brothers who knew the rules of conduct that all in the "Church" accepted (verse 16). If the brother did not heed their testimonies regarding law and order, then Christ said to take it to the whole body of the "Church" (verse 17). If the brother refused to heed the testimony of the whole "Church" (in this case, it meant the local community of believers that would have known the two individuals who had the grievance), then let the man be excommunicated from the "Church" (that is, from the local Congregation of the town or village in which all were a part). Note that the authority did not extend further than the local congregation. Why? Because there was authority in other courts for national and international matters that the whole of the Jewish people were to obey.
In a word, Christ did not give His apostles who were then living within the Jewish society in Palestine special authority to deal with national and international matters involving the whole of the Jewish people. Only those Jewish authorities who sat in Moses’ Seat had that national and international power to deal with matters involving the Law of Moses (and this would have included calendar and Holy Day matters). And when Christ told the apostles in Matthew 18:18-20 that where two or three were in attendance in the "Church" to judge on matters involving other members of the Congregation, that authority went no further than the local Congregation, and it did not extend to national and international matters which only the Sanhedrin had authority to judge (Deuteronomy 31:9-11). The apostle Paul extended this same type of local authority to those individual "Churches" that he helped to raise up in the Gentile world. Paul said: "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law [civil law] before the unjust, and not before the saints?" (I Corinthians 6:1). Then the apostle Paul took the next seven verses to show that the local Congregation should be the final arbiter to matters of law dealing with the saints. But in matters dealing with the observance of Moses’ Law (which the calendar was a part), the authority to interpret such matters rested in the hands of those sitting in Moses’ Seat and Christ said: "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do" (Matthew 23:3).
For all people (including Christians) who wish to abide by the Laws and Commandments that were given by the angels through Moses to the Israelites, it is the Jewish authorities who are authorized to devise and to sustain the type of calendar that the Sabbaths and Holy Days of the Old Testament require in order to be properly celebrated. But for true and mature Christians who understand the final Christian teaching called "the Mystery," we are not to be judged by any body of men on earth regarding Sabbath days, New Moons (for figuring the Mosaic calendar) or Holy Days (Colossians 2:16). Our citizenship is now a heavenly one (Philippians 3:20 the word "conversation" is "citizenship"). We are no longer reckoned by God as being Israelites (either in the flesh or in a spiritual sense). We are now "the new man [person]" who is no longer considered by God and Christ as a citizen of this world — even of Israel. We are now reckoned as the children of God (I John 3:1,2) who legally sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Ephesians 2:6). Earthly calendars do not concern us any longer in any spiritual or religious sense.
Ernest L. Martin
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