Counting to Pentecost 2021

Many Churches of God will keep Pentecost on 16 May in 2021, but some will be keeping it on 23 May.  Why the difference?  Which date is correct? 

Pentecost is the one Feast day that does not occur on a fixed date.  It has to be counted from the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls within the seven Days of Unleavened Bread. 

When the first day of Unleavened Bread falls on a Sunday it means the weekly Sabbath falls on the last day so the count to Pentecost begins the next day which is outside the seven days.   

Many have an issue with this because the day the count begins is also the day the Wave Sheaf is offered and because the Wave Sheaf symbolises the resurrection of Christ they believe it should not fall outside the seven days of Unleavened Bread.

They believe that the count to Pentecost should begin on the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls just before the first day of Unleavened Bread resulting in a 16 May observance of Pentecost.  Whereas those who believe the count should begin from the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls on the last day of Unleavened Bread will arrive at a 23 May observance of Pentecost.

It is understood that the first day of Unleavened Bread fall on a Sunday on average about once every nine (some say eleven) years.  So far this century the first day of Unleavened Bread fell on a Sunday in 2001, 2005, 2008 and it occurs again this year.

Perhaps now as we are in the process of counting down to Pentecost, it is a good time to address this issue. 

Feast of Unleavened Bread

The instructions given in the Bible to the Israelites concerning the Days of Unleavened Bread and the counting for Pentecost are quite straight forward. 

The Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be kept for seven days, “The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.” (Exodus 34:18). 

It was to be kept from 15 to 21 Abib, the first and last days were to be Holy Convocations “And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread.  In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.  But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.” (Leviticus 23:6-8).

Wave Sheaf

When the Israelites first entered the promised-land they were given specific instructions about the Wave Sheaf to be offered from the local crops they would find, “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest:  And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.” (Leviticus 23:10-11). 

They were required to offer the Wave Sheaf before eating any of the produce from the land, “And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.  (Leviticus 23:14).

It was to be offered on the day after the weekly Sabbath during the feast of Unleavened Bread and it was also the day from which they were to begin counting to the Feast of Weeks which we also know as Pentecost, or the Feast of First-fruits, “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete:  Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD.  Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the LORD.” (Leviticus 23:15-17). 

Pentecost – Feast of Weeks

On the fiftieth day was the Feast of Weeks when two first-fruit loaves were to be waved, “And ye shall offer with the bread seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering unto the LORD, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet savour unto the LORD. Then ye shall sacrifice one kid of the goats for a sin offering, and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offerings.  And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits for a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to the LORD for the priest.  And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.(Leviticus 23:18-21). 

Statutes

It is important to note that in Leviticus 23:14 and 21 (both quoted above) these instructions are more than suggestions, they are statutes!  As legal statutes enshrined in Israel’s constitutional law they to be binding throughout their generations

God’s statutes provide consistency in how His laws are to be applied in given situations.  They stipulated, among other things, the method for counting the days to Pentecost especially once they had entered the promised-land and for the future, “When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.  Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law:  And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 31:11-13). 

God ordained that these statutes were not to be tampered with by adding to, or subtracting from them, “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you.  Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:1-2 see also 12:32).

Clearly the statutes stipulated that there are seven days of Unleavened Bread and that the counting of Pentecost is to begin from the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls within those seven days.   

It is a simple straight forward instruction that can be applied to any year because there will always be a weekly Sabbath within the seven days.

Exception to the Rules 

On years like 2021 when the first day of Unleavened Bread falls on a Sunday and weekly Sabbath coincides with the last day of Unleavened Bread the count to Pentecost should begin following day.

However, many believe that the Wave Sheaf should always be offered within the days of Unleavened Bread.  They maintain that on these occasions the Wave Sheaf offering should occur on the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls prior to the first day of Unleavened Bread.  Although that weekly Sabbath is outside the days of Unleavened Bread does mean that the Wave Sheaf will be offered within the days of Unleavened Bread.

As the day the Wave Sheaf is offered is also the day from which the count to Pentecost it begins it means that Pentecost will also be celebrated one week earlier in those years. 

Authorising an exemption to statutes laid down by God is no small matter, especially when He has said we are not to add to, or take away from those statutes. 

So are those who make such an exemption justified in doing so?

Is an Exemption Justified 

There is absolutely no statutory requirement in any of the statutes given by God for the Wave Sheaf to be offered within the seven Days of Unleavened Bread.  

The only statutory requirement is that the weekly Sabbath falls within the Days of Unleavened Bread, “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest:  And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.” (Leviticus 23:10-11).

The proponents for an exemption to the rules point out that centuries later, Christ who is symbolised by the Wave Sheaf, was raised during the Days of Unleavened bread.  Therefore they conclude that the Wave Sheaf should always be offered during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 

Even though Christ fulfilled the symbolism of the Wave Sheaf offering He did not indicate in any way that His resurrection set a precedent concerning the timing of the Wave Sheaf.   

As part of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9) Christ does have authority to change, or introduce new commandments, statutes or judgments as was evident when He instigated a New Testament Passover ceremony for His followers that takes place in the evening at the beginning of 14 Abib.  But He did not at that time, or any other time alter the existing statutes relating to observing the Old Testament Passover, Unleavened Bread, the Wave Sheaf offering, or counting to Pentecost.

He told His follower to keep a New Testament Passover in remembrance of Him, “After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:25). 

His sacrifice was timed to precisely coincide with the sacrifice of the Passover lambs at 3pm in the late afternoon of 14 Abib because He was our Passover – He was the Passover lamb for the family of God.

He instructed His followers to formally remember His death but gave no formal instructions to celebrate His resurrection.   

Although the intentions of Church authorities may be sincere in insisting that the Wave Sheaf must be offered during the seven Days of Unleavened Bread, there is no requirement for it in any of the statutes that God ordained.

The Weekly Sabbath   

By placing emphasis on the Sunday when the Wave Sheaf is offered they take away focus from the weekly Sabbath which is the key factor for consistency in how we count the days to Pentecost.

In the pre-amble to the statute in Leviticus 23:10-12 the weekly Sabbath is clearly established as the subject of discussion, “Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.” (Leviticus 23:3). 

After establishing that the weekly Sabbath is the subject there follows a description of the context in which the weekly Sabbath is being discussed occurs, “These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons.  In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S passover.  And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread.  In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.  But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.  In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.  But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.” (Leviticus 23:4-8).

Having established the subject and context of the discussion a specific situation is introduced, “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest:” (Leviticus 23:9-10).

It is in this specific situation that the role of the weekly Sabbath within the context of the seven days of Unleavened Bread becomes a key factor, “And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow afer the sabbath the priest shall wave it.” (Leviticus 23:11).  And again, “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete” (Leviticus 23:15).

The emphasis throughout the passage is on the role of the weekly Sabbath within the context of the Feast not the day after.

The weekly Sabbath is the key to when the Wave Sheaf is offered and when the count to Pentecost begins and it is the weekly Sabbath that must fall within the days of Unleavened Bread.

There is no requirement for the Wave Sheaf to be offered within the days of Unleavened Bread.   

It is an example of an unnecessary requirement being added to God’s statutes by men, Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2). 

Eight Days

Many have justified an exemption to the statutes concerning the counting of Pentecost by suggesting that there are eight days of Unleavened Bread.

They claim that when the first day of Unleavened Bread (15 Abib) falls on a Sunday the previous day cannot be used for preparation because it is a weekly Sabbath (14 Abib). It is assumed that everyone has completed their de-leavening before sunset on the Friday and thus they suggest that there are in effect eight days of Unleavened Bread. 

Within these eight days there are two weekly Sabbaths.  So to ensure the Wave Sheaf is offered within the days of Unleavened Bread they reason it can by offered on the day after that first weekly Sabbath (14 Abib) which they now include as an extra day of Unleavened Bread.

It means that they also count Pentecost from the day after that first weekly Sabbath and arrive at a date one week earlier than it would if counted from the weekly Sabbath that actually does fall within the seven days of Unleavened Bread.

There is no mention in the Bible that there are eight days of Unleavened Bread.  In fact the Bible consistently confirms that there are only seven days – see Exodus 12:15 and 19, 13:6-7, 23:15, 34:18, Leviticus 23:6 and 8, Numbers28:17, also Deuteronomy 16:3-4, II Chronicles 30:21, 35:17, Ezra 6:22, Ezekiel 45:21 and Acts 20:6.

Pentecost is to be counted from the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls within the seven days of Unleavened Bread even if it means beginning the count from the Sunday that is outside the seven days. 

Clearly the suggestion that there are eight days of Unleavened Bread is another example of men adding to God’s statutes through their own reasoning, Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2). 

The Joshua Precedent

An additional argument to support an exemption to the statutes is a passage in Joshua that many claim sets a precedent, “And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho.  And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day.  And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.” (Joshua 5:10-12).

The Israelites had been specifically instructed that when entering the promised-land they were not to eat any of the produce of the land until after the wave sheaf had been offered, “And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.  (Leviticus 23:14). 

The key to whether Joshua 5:10-11 creates a precedent to contravene the statutes is in how the Israelites ‘kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even’ (Joshua 5:10).

There are two different views concerning this:

One is the traditional Church of God view that the Old Testament Passover was observed with the lambs being sacrificed just after sunset and eaten at the beginning of 14 Abib.  And that the first day of Unleavened Bread (15 Abib) began at sunset 24 hours later when the Night to be Much Remembered is to be observed.

Another view comes to light through the Jewish tradition whereby the Passover lambs were sacrificed late afternoon on 14 Abib around 3pm and eaten after sunset in the early part of 15 Abib which is the night to be much observed in celebration of their exodus from Egypt.

Traditional Church of God View 

Proponents of the traditional Church of God view conclude that if the Israelites kept the Passover on 14 Abib and ate the produce of the land the next day (15 Abib) which is the first day of Unleavened Bread, then they must have offered the Wave Sheaf early on 15 Abib before eating the produce. 

That means that the day they kept Passover (14 Abib) must have been a weekly Sabbath and 15 Abib the first day of Unleavened Bread must have been a Sunday because the Wave Sheaf is always offered on the day after a weekly Sabbath which is a Sunday.   

It meant that although the weekly Sabbath after which the Wave Sheaf had been offered was prior to the seven days of Unleavened Bread the Wave Sheaf itself was offered within the seven day period.  Similarly it meant that the count to Pentecost also began within seven days.

                                            Figure 1 

As this scenario was contrary to what had previously been stipulated in the statute of Leviticus 23:10-12 they conclude that it did set a precedent to follow in any year when the first day of Unleavened Bread falls on a Sunday.  

So in accordance with the precedent that is set in Joshua 5:10-12, the count of 50 days to Pentecost from the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls before the first day of Unleavened Bread in this current year means that they arrive at a date of 16 May 2021 for Pentecost.

However, it does seem extraordinary that the Israelites had to act contrary to a statute that had a specific application to their situation when they entered the promised-land, “When ye be come into the land which I give unto you” (Leviticus 23:10).  

It was a statute that God had established in perpetuity, “…it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” (Leviticus 23:14).  One that they were not to alter in anyway, Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2). 

Yet the moment they enter the promised-land they obviously contravene the statute but there were no repercussions for their action. 

Either God allowed the exemption, or there was another explanation.

Jewish Tradition

When Joshua 5:10-12 is considered in the context of Jewish traditions pertaining to Passover and Unleavened Bread a different and more acceptable outcome is revealed.

According to Jewish tradition the Passover lambs were sacrificed late afternoon on 14 Abib around 3pm and eaten after sunset in the early part of 15 Abib which is the night to be much observed, “It is a night to be much observed unto the LORD for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is that night of the LORD to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations.” (Exodus 12:14).

When it said in Joshua 5:10 that the Israelites ‘kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even’ it means in accordance with Jewish tradition the ceremony of sacrificing the Passover lambs began on 14 Abib at a round 3pm in the afternoon and they were roasted so that after sunset on 15 Abib the Passover meal was eaten in celebration of their exodus from Egypt.   

That is how the Jews kept Passover in Christ’s time as it was in ancient Israel. 

We have already addressed the subject of when and how the Israelites observed Passover in a more detailed article on this website entitled ‘The Truth about Passover’ which we suggest you read.    

It must be remembered that Passover is not a day - it is a ceremony that begins late on 14 Abib and carries on into 15 Abib.  Also it was no coincidence that the Lamb of God (John 1:36) was sacrificed at the same time the Passover lambs were sacrificed, around 3pm in the latter part of 14 Abib.  Christ the Passover lamb for the family of God.

The New Testament Passover, or Lord’s Supper established by Christ was a completely new service for His followers that was quite separate from the Old Testament Passover of the Jews.  He established it as memorial service to take place at the beginning of 14 Abib, “We And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:24). 

So if the Israelites when entering the promised-land began celebrating Passover with the sacrifice of the lambs in the late afternoon of 14 Abib and continued on into the first part of 15 Abib then the day after Passover would be 16 Abib.  And if they ate the produce of the land on 16 Abib then the Wave Sheaf must have been offered earlier on that same day which makes 16 Abib a Sunday because the Wave Sheaf is always offered on the day after a weekly Sabbath.  To summarise; 14 Abib was a Friday, 15 Abib a Saturday and 16 Abib a Sunday.

If 16 Abib was a Sunday then 15 Abib which is the first day of Unleavened Bread must have been the weekly Sabbath and not a Sunday after all.   

The Israelites did not contravene the statutes because the first Day of Unleavened Bread in the year they entered the promised-land was also the weekly Sabbath that falls within the days of Unleavened Bread.  

When they entered the promised-land under Joshua the Israelites obeyed the statutes God had given them, “And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho.  And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day.  And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.” (Joshua 5:10-12).

This was a generation who had agreed to obey God’s statutes to the point of death, “And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go.  According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the LORD thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses.  Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage.” (Joshua 1:16-18).

When Joshua 5:10-12 is considered in the context of Jewish traditions it does not set a precent for an exemption to the statutes, in fact it confirms that Joshua kept the statutes of Leviticus 23 to the letter. 

                                           Figure 2 Summary

The statutes ordained by God concerning the counting to Pentecost clearly stipulate that:

·       we are not to add to, or take away from the statutes ordained by God on these matters,

·       there are only seven days of Unleavened Bread,

·       the weekly Sabbath after which the Wave Sheaf is offered must fall within the days of Unleavened Bread,

·       the count to Pentecost is to begin on the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls within the days of Unleavened Bread.

 There is absolutely no requirement for the Wave Sheaf to be offered, or for the count to Pentecost to begin, within the seven Days of Unleavened Bread. 

There is no precedent in the Bible for the Wave Sheaf to be offered, or for Pentecost to be counted from, a Sabbath that is outside the seven days of Unleavened Bread. 

                                          Figure 3

When the first day of Unleavened Bread falls on a Sunday and Friday obviously becomes the preparation day it does not mean that leavened bread cannot be consumed on the Sabbath that falls between the Friday and the first day of Unleavened Bread.  We just have to be sure that no leavened products remain on the premises by sunset.

Conclusion

The Bible is very clear on the procedures concerning Unleavened Bread and the counting of Pentecost.  They were written into the constitutional law of Israel as binding statutes that we are not to add to or take away from. 

According to those statutes the count for Pentecost should begin on the morrow after the weekly Sabbath that falls within the Days of Unleavened bread even when the weekly Sabbath falls on the last Day of Unleavened Bread like it does in 2021.   

There is no precedent for Pentecost to be counted from a Sabbath that is outside those seven days as the majority of the Churches of God have done this year.   

In 2021 the count to Pentecost should begin from the morrow after the weekly Sabbath which this year falls on the last Day of Unleavened Bread.  The 50th day counted from the Sunday after the only weekly Sabbath that falls within the Days of Unleavened Bread this year places the observance of Pentecost on 23 May 2021.

END 

For further insight into the Passover season you should also read our Article 'The Truth About Passover’.

To understand the true significance of Pentecost you should read our article Last Trump.

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