This article does not
represent exhaustive research on this aspect of Pentecost. We have not even
read all of the papers that we have received. Nevertheless, we believe it does
bring up many valid points in determining how to count Pentecost this year.
— Norman Edwards
By Sanford Beattie
Nearly all Christian groups—Sabbatarian or not—recognize the day of Pentecost. However, there has long been a debate as to when it should be. The name means “fiftieth”, meaning the fiftieth day from the Wave Sheaf (or omer) offering. But when was the Wave Sheaf to be offered? Some believe it is the day after the First Day of Unleavened Bread, others the day after the Last Day and others the day after a weekly Sabbath at the time of Unleavened Bread. Still others believe the Wave Sheaf should be offered whenever the grain is ripe. Then too, depending upon one’s understanding of Hebrew expressions, some will number the Wave Sheaf day as “day 1” and others will start counting the day after.
Finally, there are many different opinions as to when the Holy Days should occur as some people use the fixed Hebrew Calendar and others attempt to determine the rules of the calendar from the scriptures.
This article will not attempt to clear up any of the above problems, but will assume that the counting is to begin on a Sunday (the day after a weekly Sabbath), using the fixed Hebrew Calendar. This year, 2001, is particularly difficult because the weekly Sabbath falls on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread. (This also occurred in 1994, 1981, 1977, 1974, 1954, 1950, 1930, 1927 and other previous years, and will occur again in 2005 and 2008.) Usually, the weekly Sabbath, and the day of the Wave Sheaf which follows it, both occur during the days of Unleavened Bread. But with this calendar arrangement, if one begins counting after the Sabbath that is in the days of Unleavened Bread, then the “day after” (Sunday) will not be in the Days of Unleavened Bread. Or, if one counts from the Sunday that is within the Days of Unleavened Bread (the first day of Unleavened Bread), then one is counting after a Sabbath that is before the Days of Unleavened Bread (the Passover).
What does the Bible indicate that we should do?
To make our article clear, we will use the following terms:
early method: counting from the Sunday that is the First Day of Unleavened Bread
late method: counting from the Sunday after the Last Day of Unleavened Bread.
Many have put forth explanations for both the early and the late methods, but this article will answer those arguments for the late method put forth by a Bible study given by John Ritenbaugh on August 26, 2000 (similar material was covered in his article in the December 2000 Forerunner magazine, published by the Church of the Great God, PO Box 471846; 800-878-8220 / 803-802-7075; www.cgg.org). In this study he explained his belief that in 2001 the majority of the Church of God will be keeping Pentecost one week too early.
Mr Ritenbaugh referred to the changes that the Worldwide Church of God made
in 1974 on the counting of Pentecost. While he agrees with the WCG change from
Monday to Sunday, he feels that the change from the late to the
early method of counting Pentecost in these unusual years was
He even speculates that this later change was made without Herbert Armstrong’s knowledge and approval. Whether or not he was aware of the change, Herbert Armstrong and the WCG (including Mr Ritenbaugh) kept Pentecost using the early method in 1974, 1977 and 1981. Mr Ritenbaugh changed back to the late method in 1994.
This places Mr Ritenbaugh in sync with the Roman Catholics for counting Pentecost, and at odds with the majority of Church of God groups which use the early method. I will be the first to state that the majority is not always right, and majority opinion constitutes no proof whatsoever. But in this case, I will say that the weight of Scriptural evidence shows that the early method is correct.
The question at hand involves an interpretation of Leviticus 23:
“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord. Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the Lord, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin. 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.
And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord’” (Lev 23:10–16).
Please note in the above verses that there is no overt statement about which Sabbath is meant. We are all assuming it is related somehow to the days of Unleavened Bread. It is a conclusion which can only be reached by inference, context, symbolism or other Scriptures. These scriptures do not define which weekly Sabbath is meant, except in the indication that it was to be at the beginning of the harvest, before any of the new crop was consumed, and in the connection with their entry into the land. The scriptures in question occur immediately following a description of the days of Unleavened Bread, so there could be a relationship. But they nowhere state that the weekly Sabbath must occur during the Feast. John Ritenbaugh states that it must be the Sabbath during the Feast as though that is clearly given in the Scriptures. It becomes for him an inviolable rule, which he cites repeatedly. Yet he offers no proof, other than to state that this is clearly given in Leviticus 23:11,15.
What he fails to take into account—in fact, what he dismisses as irrelevant—is the symbolism involved. The focus in Leviticus 23:9–14 is on the day of the wave offering, not the day which precedes it. The wave offering is to be offered on the first day of the week (a Sunday). Which Sunday? It is apparent that this wave offering pictures the resurrected Jesus Christ, the first of the firstfruits. We know that Jesus was resurrected at sundown at the end of the Sabbath, three days following His crucifixion. Christ was symbolically accepted as the firstfruits offering on the first day of the week, in fulfillment of the Wave Sheaf. The Feast not only pictures our need to live a sinless life, it also pictures Christ, the unleavened bread, living His life in us. Nearly all offerings represent some form of Christ’s sacrifice, and the Wave Sheaf was no exception. The only real connection we can make between the Wave Sheaf offering and the days of Unleavened Bread is the symbolism of this unleavened first of the firstfruits being offered during the Feast. The seven days also carry with them a reference to the seven thousand year plan of God, and Christ, the unleavened Wave Sheaf, was offered during that seven thousand years, not after.
Leviticus 23:11,15 are not describing anything which occurs on a Sabbath. They are describing what is to occur on “the day after the Sabbath”, on the first day of the week, the day we call Sunday. That is the day of the Wave Sheaf. That is the day we begin the count. That is the day when Christ fulfilled the Wave Sheaf’s symbolism. That is the day which carries a relationship to the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
Using the late counting method, the Wave Sheaf would in these years be offered after the days of Unleavened Bread, not during Unleavened Bread. Leviticus does not say it is the Sabbath day that must occur during the Feast. Technically, it doesn’t say that the Wave Sheaf day must occur during the Feast either. But because of the command to do this “when they entered the land”, and because of the symbolism of that day, we more appropriately arrive at the early method: the Wave Sheaf was to be offered on the day after the Sabbath (on the Sunday) that occurs during the days of Unleavened Bread. The “day after the Sabbath” is a coherent phrase intended to describe the day of the Wave Sheaf—the offering of which did occur in its ultimate fulfillment on the Sunday during the days of Unleavened Bread. Hence we begin the count, and the offering was made, on the first day of the Feast when the Feast begins on the first day of the week—the day after the weekly Sabbath. It is the day of the wave offering, not the Sabbath day, we are concerned with here.
There is a passage in the book of Joshua which helps to clarify this further. Whether conclusive or not, it seems to point to a Wave Sheaf being offered on the first day of the Feast. The Scriptures in question are these:
“So 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. 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. Now 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 (Josh 5:10–12).
These Scriptures state that the Israelites kept the Passover on the 14th. The following day they ate of the produce of the land, including “parched grain”. Leviticus 23:14 states that when they entered the Promised Land (v. 10) they were forbidden to eat “parched grain” until they had brought the wave offering. Finally, the day after they ate “parched grain” and “the produce of the land”, the Israelites received no manna. They ate of the produce of Canaan from then on. This would indicate, then, that the Wave Sheaf was offered on the first day of Unleavened Bread (the 15th) that year and that the 14th was a Sabbath day. This would establish the day after the weekly Sabbath (rather than the day after the annual Sabbath) as the day for starting the Pentecost count. It also makes this a year when the first day of the Feast occurred on a Sunday, since any other day would have delayed the Wave Sheaf until later in the Feast. And, interestingly enough, it puts an extremely literal fulfillment to the instructions in Leviticus 23:10–11, which says that when they entered the Promised Land and wanted to harvest its produce, they were to offer a sheaf of the firstfruits on the day after the Sabbath. The 15th that year would have been the day after the first Sabbath following their entry into the land on the 10th day of the month (Josh 4:19).
In his defense of the late method of counting John Ritenbaugh claims that the Wave Sheaf could not possibly have been offered when Joshua entered the promised land and that the Bible mention of the first eating of the produce of the land is of little value for counting Pentecost. He claims to have given seven reasons why no Wave Sheaf could have been offered. It was not clear exactly which points his count included, but here are the seven that I think he meant along with the reasons why I believe each one of them is invalid:
1. Ritenbaugh: Joshua 5:11,12 should say that they ate of the old grain, not the new produce. That is how the KJV and many older translations render it. Strong’s lexicon claims that the word used (abuwr, #5669), only refers to stored grain.
Beattie: Strong frequently derived his definitions from the way the King James Version translated the Hebrew and Greek words. He did not always attempt to find the words in other Hebrew writings to help derive their meaning. Other lexicons (eg. Gesenius), do not make the claim that stored grain is meant. And most modern translations use a phrase such as “produce of the land” indicating that the concept of “old grain” may be erroneous. Without further exhaustive research, I find this argument inconclusive. In any case, verse 11 still carries with it the statement that they ate “parched grain” (#7033 or #7039), and Leviticus 23:14 specifically forbade them from eating “parched grain” before the sheaf was waved. The fields around Gilgal would have contained ripening grain. It is doubtful that the remnant of the previous year’s crops would have been left in storage bins outside of the cities when the inhabitants were faced with what looked like an imminent siege. Verse 12 says they ate of that year’s produce, and there is no reason to imagine they would wait any longer than necessary to do so. They were tired of eating manna (Num 11:5-6; Deut 8:3-4).
Leviticus 23:10 said that when they came into the land and wanted to reap its harvest, they were to bring a sheaf of the firstfruits to the priest before they ate any of it (v.14). There is no indication that they ate any of the local crop the first five days in the land, and the manna was still being provided. It appears they were waiting for something. If it was not the offering of the Wave Sheaf on the day after the very first Sabbath following their entry into the land, then what were they waiting for?
2. Ritenbaugh: The Israelites were not able to do any harvesting because of healing circumcisions. There may have been over a million men who required circumcision. It would have taken several days to do it and they would have been too sore to harvest grain from the fields.
Beattie: This argument seems more like an invention than a proof in that it is erroneous in several ways. First, we are not talking about bringing in and preserving the entire crop, but simply enough to eat on one particular day. Second, the men from 40 to 60 years of age (about half of the adult men) had already been circumcised before leaving Egypt (Josh 5:5). They could have gathered grain. So could the women. Third, circumcision need not take a long time. Many men could have been circumcised at once. I don’t think anyone seriously thinks Joshua did it all by himself. At one point Mr Ritenbaugh infers that the Levites had to do it, but that is not required in the Scriptures. Perhaps the 300,000 or so circumcised men over the age of 40 did it. That would be only 3 or 4 per person by his count. The entire nation could have been circumcised in less than an hour this way. Consider Genesis 17:23–27 where Abraham circumcised his entire household (consisting of hundreds of men as stated in Genesis 14:14) in one day. At Gilgal, if each household leader took responsibility for his own household, the circumcision could easily have been completed in one day. Fourth, the manna was still coming daily (Joshua 5:12), so if Israel had nobody able to go out and gather some grain, who was going out each day to gather the manna?
3. Ritenbaugh: The day in question was a Holy Day and no harvesting could be done on a Holy Day.
Beattie: The Scriptures do not say the Israelites engaged in a grain harvest. It says they ate some (Josh 5:11). So did Christ’s disciples in Mark 2:23–28 on the weekly Sabbath day. Exodus 12:16 speaks of the Feast of Unleavened Bread: “On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat; that only may be prepared by you.” Obtaining grain from the fields was permitted on this Holy Day if needed for food. So was gathering the manna, which they clearly did on the morning of that Holy Day, since the manna did not cease until the following day. It was only the weekly Sabbath on which no manna was provided, not annual Sabbaths, and only the weekly Sabbath which had restrictions on food preparation. And regarding the wave offering itself: the priests regularly worked on the weekly Sabbath (offering twice as much as on other days of the week), and were expected to do even more work on the annual Holy Days (cf. Matt 12:1–8; Num 28–29). Obtaining a small amount of grain on a holy day for a required offering was certainly not prohibited.
4. Ritenbaugh: The Israelites did not actually keep the Passover. This claim is based on a recognition that the phrase “on the fourteenth day of the month at even” (Josh 5:10, KJV) refers to the end of the day, not the beginning.
Beattie: Indeed, that phrase in Joshua 5:10 is identical in the Hebrew with the one in Exodus 12:18, which defines when the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins. I will not here discuss whether the Passover was kept that year. Suffice it to say the Scripture says they kept the Passover. I find Mr Ritenbaugh’s assertion that the original text of Joshua 5 was changed by Ezra or one of his accomplices to be disconcerting at best. The implication that God would allow this in His Word, and at the same time be forced to leave us clues so we would not be deceived, borders on blasphemy. I have addressed this subject in detail in another paper (“The Passover Controversy” at www.cgsf.org) and will not go into it further here. But regardless of whether or not Joshua 5:10 is referring to the “Passover” at the end of the 14th, the real question here is this: what is being referred to in Joshua 5:11 as “the morrow after the Passover” (KJV) (or whatever was observed at the end of the 14th)? Mr Ritenbaugh would like “the morrow” to be the 16th, or second day of the Feast. But the Hebrew word mochorath (“morrow” in the KJV), is consistently used elsewhere to refer to the next morning (cf. Gen 19:34; Jdg 6:38; Num 11:32; 1Sam 5:3; Jonah 4:7). The Hebrew words then permit, and even require, that “the morrow” on which they ate unleavened cakes and parched grain was the 15th.
5. Ritenbaugh: The Israelites were not permitted to use the grain of the Canaanites for the Wave Sheaf. It had to be from what they had labored and sown themselves. Exodus 23:16 says: “and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field.”
Beattie: Exodus 23:16 is talking about Pentecost and Tabernacles, not the Wave Sheaf. Leviticus 23 does not require that the Israelites sow the grain themselves. It says they were to offer a sheaf of the firstfruits when they came into the land and reaped its produce. Indeed, even the symbolism of Christ being given to us as an offering is contained in this concept—we did not “sow” Him with our hands—but we are involved in God’s later harvests.
Ritenbaugh: A foreigner’s grain was inherently profane due to Leviticus 22:25: “Nor from a foreigner’s hand shall you offer any of these as the bread of your God, because their corruption is in them, and defects are in them. They shall not be accepted on your behalf.”
Beattie: In context, the subject of this verse is animal sacrifices (not grain offerings), which were not to be anything less than perfect animals. Verse 18 specifically says that foreigners could offer sacrifices, but here in verse 25 it says the priests were not to make exceptions for foreigners—they could not accept any defective animal for sacrifice from either Israelites, or foreigners. “Bread” is a generic term for food, not necessarily grain (cf. Lev 3:11 where the same Hebrew word is used to refer to kidneys and fat). “Their corruption” is referring to the animals, not the foreigners. The NIV says, “and you must not accept such animals from the hand of a foreigner and offer them as the food of your God. They will not be accepted on your behalf, because they are deformed and have defects.”
Ritenbaugh: Leviticus 18:24–30 shows the entire land was defiled, so was everything growing there.
Beattie: The Scriptures say that because of their wicked behavior, God was going to remove the people from the land. But claiming the ground and crops were polluted from this is a stretch. The Canaanites may have done the planting, but it was God who created the seed and gave the increase. Deuteronomy 20:19–20 discusses the trees which were growing in the land. They were not defiled. Deuteronomy 6:11 and Joshua 24:13 say that God gave them the land, and gave them what they did not plant themselves for food. Mr Ritenbaugh correctly points out that an individual was not to pay vows with money obtained through his own immoral behavior (cf. Deut 23:18).
But Joshua instructed that the gold and spoils of the wicked city of Jericho were holy to God, and placed them into the tabernacle treasury (Josh 6:19). Although there were times when God commanded destruction of all the animals (cf. 1Sam 15:3), normally the spoils of battle taken from the immoral people around them were kept by the Israelites, in accord with God’s instructions (cf. Josh 8:2, 27; 11:14–15), and freely given to God in offering. Numbers 31 discusses the division of spoils after one battle, and the portion of the animals that were required to be given to God. There are other examples of the Israelites offering sacrifices to God from the spoils of battle, for which they were not condemned. When Abraham returned from his battle with the four kings, he gave God’s portion—a tithe of all directly to Melchizedek. This apparently included the tithe of what had been recovered from the wicked city of Sodom (Gen 13:13; 14:11, 20–24). This concept of the produce and animals of the land being inherently corrupt, and not to be devoted to God, is an invention. There are no Scriptures making this claim, and several examples that show otherwise.
6. Ritenbaugh: The Wave Sheaf, and its other offerings, had to be offered in the place God chose. That was initially Shiloh, and they wouldn’t establish that for 7 years.
Beattie: The Israelites had been able to offer sacrifices at the tabernacle since the day it was erected at Mount Sinai. God gave instructions on how to move the camp, and the tabernacle and altar, and how to set them up again whenever they made camp (cf. Numbers 2–4). They stopped when the pillar of cloud or fire stopped. Every place that they stopped was a place that God chose! They set up the tabernacle in their midst when they made camp in Gilgal, as instructed by God. The altar was in its place; the daily, weekly and annual offerings were able to continue. It is even likely that Gilgal was where the tabernacle stayed until it was relocated to Shiloh, since the Israelites seemed to return to Gilgal regularly (cf. Josh 4:19; 9:6; 10:6, 15, 43; 14:6). In any case, the scripture never says that they could not do a Wave Sheaf offering at the tabernacle in Gilgal, so this is not a proof it could not be done.
7. Ritenbaugh: Because the tabernacle was not set up at Shiloh, no planting could take place. The people lived off of what grew of itself for seven years (including those tribes east of the Jordan, who were not allowed to plant either), until the first Wave Sheaf offering could be made from something they had planted.
Beattie: Try to find that in the Bible. Only 40,000 of the men who settled east of Jordan went with Joshua (Josh 4:12–13). Numbers 26 indicates there were perhaps three times that many men of war-age that could have gone, so most stayed with the women and children to protect them, take care of the flocks and herds, and undoubtedly to till the ground. God specifically told them that they were to gradually take over the land, so that the wild creatures would not overwhelm them (Ex 23:29–30). God did not have them spend seven years fighting battles, only to return to the now desolate and abandoned land to fight the wild beasts. They needed to hold the land, and work it, to keep these animals in check. Undoubtedly they also lived well off the Canaanite’s bounty as they conquered new areas (Josh 5:12; 8:2; 11:14; 22:8). But were they forced to do this for seven years because they hadn’t yet moved the tabernacle and altar to Shiloh? The Canaanites planted the crops, the Israelites reaped the harvest of a land that flowed with milk and honey (Deut 26:9; Lev 23:10; John 4:38; Deut 6:11; Josh 24:13). And as with all of the other spoils of war, they presented offerings to God from that harvest, including the first of the firstfruits.
In recent months John Ritenbaugh has presented his views on how to count Pentecost in additional forums. His position, and attempted support, remains basically the same as what was addressed in the Bible Study mentioned above. He still believes in the late method—that the count to Pentecost must begin with the Sabbath that occurs during the days of Unleavened Bread. This is indeed what was carelessly assumed and taught in WCG until 1974, because the Sabbath in question did fall within Unleavened Bread for nearly two decades before that.
But to say that the Sabbath preceding the Wave Sheaf must always fall within Unleavened Bread is to add to the words of the Bible something that was never intended. What the Scriptures actually say is that the counting for Pentecost must begin, not with the Sabbath day, but rather with the actual cutting of the Wave Sheaf (Deut 16:9) which was done in the evening after the Sabbath day ended. Our count to Pentecost does not begin with any Sabbath day. Instead we count beginning with the day of the Wave Sheaf. Leviticus 23:10ff describes what the Israelites were to do when they entered the land. It is not unreasonable to assume that Joshua and the elders with him did what they were told. Joshua 5:10–12 seems to indicate that indeed they did, and that the Wave Sheaf was offered that year on the first day of the Feast.
Putting all of the Scriptural evidence together it becomes evident that the day of the Wave Sheaf always occurs during the days of Unleavened Bread. And that is the day from which we count to Pentecost.
Unlike certain doctrinal issues, this one is not strictly a matter of personal opinion. It directly affects what we do and when we assemble together. Hopefully the foregoing information will help to clarify this issue and stem the tide of disunity in the Church of God.
More on Joshua 5 and Pentecost
Other claims not covered in the accompanying article have also been put forth, attempting to prove that the Days of Unleavened Bread were not Sunday to Sabbath in Joshua 5. These arguments also appear to have little substance:
Claim #1: Israel ate produce of the land before they crossed the Jordan, so there was no need for a wave sheaf for them to begin eating it. Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, “Pass through the camp and command the people, saying, ‘Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you will cross over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess’” (Josh 1:10–11).
Answer: The Bible does not say enough about these provisions that they prepared to conclude that they would be a violation of the Lev 23 wave sheaf command. There are three reasons why: 1) They had not officially “entered the land” yet. They were given manna to eat regularly while wandering but were not generally forbidden to eat food which they may have found or bought from other lands. 2) These provisions could have been stored grain, which could be eaten before the wave sheaf. 3) The provisions could have been manna. While manna normally did not last more than one day (two on Friday/Sabbath), if God commanded them to use it He could change it.
Claim #2: The First Day of Unleavened Bread Could not be on a Sunday because the command to “prepare provisions” Joshua 1:11 would have come on a Sabbath.
Answer: If the First Day of Unleavened Bread (the 15th) were on Sunday, then the day they entered the land (10th) would be a Tuesday. Three days before, would be the 7th, which would be a Sabbath. However, Joshua 1:11 does not say “after three days” or “in three days”, but “within three days”. Even though Green’s interlinear does not assign a Strong’s number to the word, there is a word in the Hebrew which means “within” (b’ud). The exact same expression appears in Genesis 40:19–20: “‘Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head from you and hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh from you.’ Now it came to pass on the third day [literally ‘day three’], which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.” This is clearly an inclusive type of counting and the most likely day for Joshua 1:11 is Sunday (a good day to start working) with the third day being Tuesday, the day they crossed over.
Claim #3: The Last Day of Unleavened Bread could not be on a Sabbath because the Children of Israel would have had to march around Jericho seven times and fight the war on the Sabbath.
Answer: The Eternal has always permitted people to do His commanded work on the Sabbath (Matt 12:5, John 5:16–18, 7:22–23). If He commanded them to do this on the Sabbath, then they did it. The symbolism makes sense. The Eternal’s servants will warn about sin for 6,000 years (the first six Days of Unleavened Bread). Their trumpets can be heard, but the sinners are free to heed them or dismiss them. Then, on the Seventh Day of Unleavened Bread, The Eternal's servants celebrate victory over sin in the last thousand years—the world's millennial rest-pictured by the Sabbath.
— Norman Edwards