Controversy over the correct date for Pentecost has been around for a long time. The first-century historian Josephus records disagreements between the Pharisees and Sadducees of his day.
This year there is an additional controversy concerning the date for Pentecost. Some have suggested that the United Church of God will be keeping the festival a week too early by beginning the count on the wrong day.
Passover for this year falls on the Sabbath, April 23, and is observed Friday evening, April 22. The First Day of Unleavened Bread will be observed on Sunday, April 24. Pentecost will be observed 50 days later on Sunday, June 12.
In order to arrive at the date of June 12, you must begin the 50-day count on the first Sunday after Passover, which will also be the First Day of Unleavened Bread. Some question whether this is the proper method for counting the 50 days. It has been suggested by some that we should wait until the following Sunday to begin the count. This would place the wave sheaf completely outside the Days of Unleavened Bread, and it would produce a June 19 Pentecost instead of the June 12 date. Which is correct and why?
We must begin with a very basic principle regarding sacrifices as they relate to the Sabbath and the Holy Days. We know from the biblical and historical record that whenever Passover fell on the Sabbath, there was no prohibition against offering the required Passover sacrifices on that day. Under the Old Covenant, in fact, sacrifices were offered every Sabbath. There were special sacrifices offered on each of the Holy Days. Also, Jews circumcised their sons on the eighth day after they were born, even if the eighth day fell on a Sabbath or a Holy Day. Considering these facts, there is no biblical or practical prohibition against the waving of the wave sheaf on an annual Holy Day.
In years when the Passover falls on the weekly Sabbath and Unleavened Bread begins on Sunday, members remove the leavening from their homes before sunset on the 14th. In reality, during such years there would be eight days without leavening instead of the normal seven. We begin the count for Pentecost on the First Holy Day (a Sunday), because we believe this is the correct day for the wave sheaf.
It is recorded in history that the Pharisees considered Nisan 16 as the correct day for the wave sheaf no matter what day of the week they observed the Passover. The Jewish community today follows the Pharisaic count and always arrives at the set date of Sivan 6 for the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost).
The Sadducees argued that the "morrow" after the Sabbath in Leviticus 23:11 (KJV) meant that the wave sheaf occurred on Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread, which would produce a floating date for Pentecost. In the years when the First Day of Unleavened Bread fell on Sunday, some believe the Sadducees delayed the count for a whole week until the first Sunday after the Days of Unleavened Bread. Others believe the Sadducees always used the Sunday that fell during the Feast even if that Sunday was the first Holy Day. Here are a couple of sources that support this latter understanding:
• "The Sadducees celebrated it [Pentecost] on the fiftieth day (inclusive reckoning) from the first Sunday after Passover (taking the 'sabbath' of Lv. xxiii.15 to be the weekly sabbath); their reckoning regulated the public observance so long as the Temple stood..." (New Bible Dictionary, article "Pentecost).
• "The Sadducees offered the Sheaf on the Sunday inside the Passover week... And, while [the Book of] Jubilees held that the offering of the Sheaf was celebrated on the first Sunday outside the Passover week, the Sadducees celebrated it on the Sunday inside the Passover week" (J.B. Segal, The Hebrew Passover, 1963, pages 248-249).
This approach assures that the wave sheaf is always offered on Sunday and that it is always offered within the Days of Unleavened Bread. This requires that if the First Day of Unleavened Bread is a Sunday, it will also be the day of the wave-sheaf offering. We believe this is the correct understanding for counting the days to Pentecost.
Joshua 5 and the Wave Sheaf
Leviticus 23:14 prohibits eating any of the spring harvest until the offering of the wave sheaf. "You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings."
In Joshua 5:11-12 we find that the Israelites did eat of the spring harvest when they entered the land of Canaan on the day after the Passover.
"And they ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day. Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year."
The King James translation adds the word old before the word corn. "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" (KJV).
The word old is not in the original Hebrew. The ASV (American Standard Version), RSV (Revised Standard Version), BBE (Bible in Basic English), WEB (World English Bible) and the NKJV (New King James Version) use the phrase "produce of the land."
The addition of the word old implies that the produce of the land was not involved, but rather grain from a previous harvest. Yet this word is not in the original Hebrew text. Therefore, we have no compelling evidence to reject the most logical answer—that the Israelites were eating of the current harvest of the land on the day after the Passover. By accepting this understanding, we see that the wave sheaf and the first day of the count for Pentecost would take place on the same day—Sunday, the First Day of Unleavened Bread.
The wording of Leviticus 23:14 and Joshua 5:11 is also significant. Notice the identical wording in these two sections of Scripture: "...eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain" (Leviticus 23:14) and they ate "unleavened bread and parched grain" (Joshua 5:11). This would appear to be a clear reference to the same event—in one case a command not to eat bread or parched grain until after the wave sheaf, and in the other case a verification that they had eaten bread and parched grain on the day after the Passover upon entering the land of Canaan.
The Pharisees interpret the eating of the produce in Joshua 5:11-12 as taking place on the 16th of Abib (the day after the First Holy Day). To arrive at this conclusion they must interpret the word Passover in verse 11 to be referring to the First Holy Day, otherwise they are missing a day in between Passover (the 14th) and eating the produce of the land on the 16th (by their interpretation). Of course there is evidence that the Pharisees considered the 15th to be both the Passover (held in the evening) and the First Day of Unleavened Bread. Therefore they could reason that the day after the Passover would also be the 16th. Yet Scripture clearly states that the Israelites ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, which according to Numbers 33:3 would be the 15th day of the first month and not the 16th.
In Joshua 5:10 we read, "Now the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho."
The date prescribed by Scripture for the Passover is the 14th day of the first month (Leviticus 23:5: "On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD's Passover"). Verses 11 and 12 of Joshua 5 are discussing the next day, which can only be the First Day of Unleavened Bread, the 15th day of the first month (Leviticus 23:6: "And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread").
When the scriptures are put together, we see the following series of events taking place:
Passover is observed at Gilgal, Abib 14—This would be a Sabbath day in Joshua 5 since the Israelites ate of the "produce of the land" on the "day after the Passover." Leviticus 23:14 requires that no produce be eaten until after the wave sheaf, and the wave sheaf is offered on the "morrow after the Sabbath," hence the conclusion that the Passover in Joshua 5 was on the weekly Sabbath.
Day after the Passover, Abib 15—Numbers 33:3 proves that the "day after the Passover" is the 15th day of the month ("...on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the Passover..."). The wave sheaf is offered on a Sunday. These two events must occur on the same day—the offering of the wave sheaf and the eating of the produce.
Therefore, the 15th day of the first month is both the First Day of Unleavened Bread and the Sunday of the wave sheaf in Joshua 5. This becomes the biblical precedent for starting the Pentecost count on the First Day of Unleavened Bread whenever the Passover falls on the Sabbath, rather than waiting until after the Days of Unleavened Bread.
New Testament Evidence
The New Testament offers little explicit information on how to count Pentecost. Luke 6:1 contains the obscure and controversial Greek term deuteroprotos. In Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament we read this definition of the word:
"1) second-first; 2) the second of the first Sabbaths after the feast of the Passover."
The term is translated in the New King James Version in this manner: "Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands."
Since this is the only place where this term can be found in the Scriptures, it is very difficult if not impossible to know conclusively how it should be translated. Some scholars consider this term as an indication of the counting of the Sabbaths between the Passover and the Feast of Pentecost. It is possible that this verse contains evidence of controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the first-century community on the counting of Pentecost when the First Day of Unleavened Bread fell on a Sunday. But one cannot know conclusively that this is the intent of the term. (See the United Church of God study paper "Pentecost and Its Observance" for the various possibilities in explaining this verse—www.ucg.org/papers.)
We do find in the New Testament that Jesus Christ ascended to the Father on the Sunday during Unleavened Bread and by that act became our wave sheaf.
When Mary first came into contact with the resurrected Christ on Sunday during Unleavened Bread we read: "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17, KJV).
Later that same day, they held Him by the feet and worshipped Him. Notice Matthew 28:9 (KJV): "And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him." All this took place on Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread.
The fact that Christ's ascension to the Father, which fulfilled the wave-sheaf offering, occurred on Sunday helps show that the Pharisees' position (that the wave sheaf should be offered on the day after the annual Sabbath) was incorrect. In the year of Christ's crucifixion, the First Day of Unleavened Bread would have been on Thursday and thus, according to the Pharisees' view, the wave sheaf should have been offered on the next day, Friday.
When all the scriptures are considered, we see that there is no evidence to prove that we must wait until after Unleavened Bread is past to begin the count for Pentecost in any year. We agree with the Sadducees that the term Sabbath in Leviticus 23:11 is a weekly Sabbath and not the annual Sabbath. We also agree that the count for Pentecost should always begin on a Sunday and that the Sunday should always fall during the Days of Unleavened Bread.
In addition, we reject the Pharisees' and the current Jewish insistence that the wave sheaf always occur on the 16th day of the month, since Leviticus 23:15 requires counting from the "morrow after the Sabbath."
Our conclusion is that in years when the Passover falls on the Sabbath, we should begin the count for Pentecost on the First Day of Unleavened Bread. The following is a summary of the most important facts:
1. Leviticus 23:14 requires that none of the spring barley harvest be eaten until after the wave sheaf has been waved. There is nothing in this statement that would exclude the produce eaten by the Israelites after entering Canaan in Joshua 5. Some believe that the wave sheaf should be on the Sunday after the Days of Unleavened Bread whenever Passover falls on the Sabbath. It is our view that the appropriate date for the wave sheaf is the Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread even when that date is the First Day of Unleavened Bread.
2. Joshua 5:10-12 describes the Israelites entering the land of Canaan. We are told that they ate of the "produce of the land" on the day after the Passover. The day after the Passover is the First Day of Unleavened Bread (Numbers 33:3), the 15th day of the first month.
3. When the only Sunday during Unleavened Bread is also the First Day of Unleavened Bread, there is no scriptural reason to conclude that the wave sheaf would be waved on another Sunday outside the festival. This would add an unnecessary delay to the beginning of the barley harvest. We know that the festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread are intimately connected to the spring harvest, both physically and spiritually. To postpone the beginning of the barley harvest until after these two festivals have ended makes little sense when we understand the spiritual significance of the spring harvest.
4. Jesus Christ was resurrected at the end of the Sabbath, three days and three nights after His burial. He ascended to the Father as the ultimate fulfillment of the wave sheaf on the Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread. This marked the beginning of the spiritual harvest of the firstfruits.
5. The Feast of Pentecost this year (2005) will be observed correctly on Sunday, June 12. The count is as follows:
Sunday, April 24, 2005 (First Day of Unleavened Bread)—Day 1
Sunday, May 1, 2005—Day 8
Sunday, May 8, 2005—Day 15
Sunday, May 15, 2005—Day 22
Sunday, May 22, 2005—Day 29
Sunday, May 29, 2005—Day 36
Sunday, June 5, 2005—Day 43
Sunday, June 12, 2005—Day 50
So Sunday, June 12, is the 50th day from the "morrow after the Sabbath" during the Days of Unleavened Bread. The key day here is the "morrow," which is always on Sunday and always during the Days of Unleavened Bread. This fits the biblical evidence and coincides with the example of Jesus Christ, the true Wave Sheaf. UN