How do you calculate the timing of Shavuot or Pentecost?


Email Received:

The Jewish Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, is in the Spring. It coincides with Pentecost for Christians. However, orthodox Jews and Christians calculate the timing differently. How do you determine when this day should fall?


Ted's Response:

Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-22), is the fourth Spring Hebrew feast/festival. This day commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai. Seven weeks after Jesus' resurrection, many who were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot were filled, supernaturally, by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). This was Pentecost, which is celebrated by Christians.

Celebration of the Feast of Weeks was decreed by God in the Torah:

15From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. 16Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. 17From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. 18Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the LORD, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. 19Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering. 20The priest is to wave the two lambs before the LORD as a wave offering, together with the bread of the firstfruits. They are a sacred offering to the LORD for the priest. 21On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. 22When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 23:15-22)
Even with the information above, though, the timing of this special day often is miscalculated. This mainly is due to the following verse:
He is to wave the sheaf before the LORD so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath. (Leviticus 23:11)
The word "Sabbath" in this verse is assumed, by some, to be the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which has been deemed to be a "special Sabbath." Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to assume that the first instance of "Sabbath" in Leviticus 23:15 indicates the special Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Aviv (or Nisan) 15—that is, the day after the Passover, Aviv 14. In thinking this way, their count of the Feast of Weeks would begin on the day after the 15th, which is the 16th. Many, if not most, Jewish rabbis begin the count here.

However, in Leviticus 23:16, it says, "Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath...." There are not special Sabbaths during each of the seven weeks during which the count is made. However, there are seven regular weekly Sabbaths. Therefore, the fifty-day count ends on Sunday, the day after the seventh weekly Sabbath (which is Saturday). That makes the first day of the fifty-day count to be a Sunday as well. So Shavuot = the Feast of Weeks = Pentecost always falls on a Sunday, although some believe that it can be on any day of the week, depending on the year.

In fact, day #1 of the fifty-day count is the Feast of Firstfruits, which is the day that Jesus rose from the dead, three days following Passover (see Good Thursday). It is the day (Sunday) after the regular weekly Sabbath (Saturday) following the day of Passover (which, incidentally, always falls on a full moon).

Thus, with the Feast of Firstfruits = Sunday being day #1, then day #50 (which is seven full weeks after the Feast of Firstfruits) is Shavuot = the Feast of Weeks = Pentecost, which always is a Sunday. Most of the companies that make calendars have no clue about any of the Hebrew/Jewish feast and festival days, so they get their information from Jewish sources. Most of these seem to begin the count of the fifty-day Feast of Weeks with the day after the special Sabbath (the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread) rather than with the day after the weekly Sabbath of that week.

Now, look at the definition of the regular weekly Sabbath:

There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:3)
This specifically defines "Sabbath" as the seventh day (of the week), as well as a day of rest and sacred assembly. Next, look at how the Feast of Unleavened Bread is defined, including the first day of this feast:
On the fifteenth day of that month [of Aviv or Nisan], the LORD's Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. (Leviticus 23:6,7)
Since the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is said to be a day of sacred assembly, as well as a day when no regular work is to be done (Leviticus 23:7), an inference has been made, and has become commonly accepted, that this is a "special" or "high" Sabbath—even though it does not fully meet the test of the absolute definition of "Sabbath" in 23:3, which states that it is the seventh day of the week. I do not have a problem with calling this day a special or high Sabbath, to distinguish it from the weekly Sabbath, even though nowhere in Leviticus 23 does the text specifically and explicitly call the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread a "Sabbath."

Thus, when interpreting Leviticus 23:11 and 23:15, I believe it is incorrect to assume that "Sabbath" refers to the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is more logical, as well as consistent with 23:3, to see "Sabbath" as meaning the regular Sabbath: the final day of the week.

Incidentally, Easter Sunday for Christians does not always occur during the Hebrew Feast of Unleavened Bread. The timing of Easter each year is based on a complex set of variables, and it even can vary between the Eastern and Western Churches. Thus, Easter Sunday on a calendar does not always fall on the Hebrew Feast of Firstfruits during the Feast of Unleavened Bread although, in my opinion, it always should. This is one example of how Christianity has distanced itself from Judaism, which I feel is both flawed and unfortunate.


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