Bible Calendar Part 1

Table of Contents

No complex calculations necessary

Calendar image,  communicated to the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, March 20, 1877. Public domain.
Laplander Runic Calendar based on the 19 year long Metonic cycle of the Moon

The Bible seems to say little about the calendar that we are expected to use to determine when to observe the 19 annual holy days. The reason that it says little is that there is little to say. The calendar shown in the Bible follows only three simple rules. It doesn’t need complex calculations. It doesn’t even need 19-year cycles. It doesn’t use postponements. It doesn’t require us to travel to Israel to study barley. It needs no specially trained experts to make difficult decisions, or authorities to issue rulings. It was not developed over centuries, with modifications to adapt to changing requirements and evolving beliefs.

Thousands of years of accumulated tradition has obscured the simplicity of it. But it does not take years of study to understand the simple truth. We can use the very same calendar today that Noah used on the ark. We can use the same calendar that Moses used in the wilderness, the same calendar that Daniel used in Babylon, the same calendar referred to repeatedly by other Old Testament prophets, such as Ezekiel. We can use the same calendar used for centuries by early Christians who still observed the annual holy days.

The purpose of a calendar is to answer only three questions: Which day of the week is this? Which day of the month is this? Which month of the year is this? A calendar does not need to satisfy our convenience by doing these three things years in advance.

The importance of light to the calendar

In the first chapter of Genesis, verse 14 (KJV), we are told that God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.”

Verse 16: “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: (he made*) the stars (to rule the night*) also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness.”
(*Psalm 136:9 shows that this meaning is implied in Gen. 1:16)

The word light, repeated so often in this passage, does not just refer to light in the abstract, but “light upon the earth.” The light of the sun, moon, and stars as seen from the earth by human beings. As we study this passage point by point, we can see that days, months, and years are all determined on this basis alone, without the need for any other factor.

Signs determine seasons, days, years

The Hebrew word translated “signs” is “oth”, Strong’s #226. It is used to refer to the mark set on Cain to protect his life (Gen. 4:15). It refers to the miracles that God performed through Moses in Egypt (Ex.4:8,9). It means evidence or a reminder, as in Ex. 31:13 and 13:9. In this sense it is translated “token” in Gen. 9:11-17, for the sign of the rainbow. In this passage the rainbow is called “a token of a covenant.” The sun, moon, and stars have been set in their places in the heaven to give evidence visible to all, so that there need be no doubt about seasons, days, and years. It is the light of the sun, moon, and stars which is given for signs (tokens, evidence, reminders).

It is the light which determines “seasons.” It is light that divides one day from another, and one year from another. This principle is made clearer when we know the real meaning of the Hebrew word translated seasons in Gen.1:14. That word is Strong’s #4150. The word is “moed” (plural, “moedim”). It means “set time” or “appointed time”, and is translated that way in Genesis 18:14, I Sam. 13:8,11, Daniel 8:19, and many other places. When Gen. 1:14 refers to “seasons” it means that the lights are for signs to be used to determine the time for “appointed” feasts, or festivals.

God’s annual holy days are called “appointed feasts” in many places, using the word moedim. But this has been obscured in the KJV because the translators used the phrase “solemn feasts” instead. The single word translated “solemn feasts” in Num 15:3, Lam 1:4 and Ezek 46:9 is moedim, the same word translated “seasons” in Gen.1:14. The annual holy days are “set” feasts, or “appointed” feasts. They are to be kept on certain set days of certain months. The Bible gives the number of the day in the month on which each holy day occurs. Leviticus 23 has the complete list. This chapter uses the word moedim five times in referring to the feasts. It tells us to count the days in the first and seventh months. But first we need the signs to know which day is the first day of each month, and which month is the first month of the year.

The Hebrew word for “month” refers to the moon. So the light of the moon is the sign needed to determine the start of each month The principle established in Genesis 1:14 is basic and fundamental. It shows that the light of the moon is the sign that is to be used to determine the moedim, the festivals, by determining the first day of the month. This fact is stated even more explicitly in Psalm 104:19. “He appointed the moon for seasons” (moedim). Now, since the moon is to be used for this purpose, it is evident that nothing else is needed. The days of the week, therefore, are not to be used for this purpose! The start of each month is to be determined by the moon, so postponements based on the 7-day weekly cycle are not permitted.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines “token” with such phrases as “an outward indication”, “a visible sign”, “sensible evidence”, “proof” and “a divine or miraculous sign.” The English word “token” has all the meanings of the Hebrew word “oth”, as shown in the Old Testament. God is telling us in Genesis 1:14-17 that he has set in their places the sun, moon, and stars, and intends that their light be used as “tokens” (evidence, proof) to determine each day, month, and year. These visible “tokens” prove to us that we are keeping his festivals at the time he has appointed. No other evidence is needed, just as a token of a covenant is the only evidence needed.

Answering three questions

Since the first chapter of Genesis states explicitly that the light of the sun, moon, and stars can be relied on as sufficient evidence, the only evidence needed for determining days, months, and years, we can be sure that the Bible itself can explain how to use the signs, the tokens, to do this. As stated earlier, a calendar needs only to answer three questions: Which day of the week is this? Which day of the month is this? Which month of the year is this? Now that we know that the signs provided by the light of the sun, moon, and stars are enough to determine days, months, and years, we can redefine the three questions:

  1. How do the signs determine the start and end of each day?
  2. How do the signs determine the first day of each month?
  3. How do the signs determine the first month of the year?

Let’s take these three questions in order, and see how the Bible answers each one.

Days – The light of the sun

The first chapter of Genesis says that God created the seven-day week and made every seventh day different from the other six. The weekly sabbath is one of the feasts (moedim) listed in Leviticus 23. But unlike the 19 annual moedim, which are counted from the first day of the month, the weekly sabbath is counted from the first day of “creation week.” The sabbath day had to be counted and remembered continually, from generation to generation. And it has been. Exodus 20 says we are to “remember” the sabbath day. To continue to count it properly, what we need to know is, “When does one day change into another?” Is it at sunrise, noon, sunset, or midnight?

The Bible shows that a day ends when the sun has set where you are. It is observed locally, by anyone. The day ends, and a new day begins, when the direct light of the sun has gone, when the sun itself has actually gone down below the true horizon. Leviticus 22:6-7 defines “even” as “when the sun is down.” These two verses are a good example of a biblical definition. The Hebrew word translated “even” is “ereb”, Strong’s #6153. It refers specifically to the period of dusk, or twilight, that begins at sunset, when the sun is down. In this sense the word is often translated as “evening.” The word ereb can also refer to the exact point in time when the sun has completely set, when a day ends and evening begins (Leviticus 23:27, 32). And in a larger sense it can be used to refer to the entire 12-hour period that begins at that point in time. In Genesis 1:5, 8, etc., the words “evening” and “morning” are used to refer to the 12-hour periods that begin at sunset and sunrise.

Modern Jewish tradition is that the evening does not begin, and the day does not end, until three stars of the second magnitude become visible. This would be regarded as when the rule of the sun ends and the rule of the stars begins. But in the first century, the people of Galilee still used the same standard described in the Old Testament. They had no doubt about when a day comes to an end. Mark 1:29-33 shows that the people of Galilee regarded the setting of the sun as the end of that sabbath day. Not knowing that Jesus might heal people even on the sabbath (Luke 13:10-17), they waited, and “at even, when the sun did set” (KJV) they brought the sick to be healed.

The day ends, and a new day begins, when the sun sets where you are. So the first of the three calendar rules given in the Bible is simply this: “The day ends when the sun falls below the true horizon.”

Months – The moon is renewed

It is the light of the sun that determines when a day ends, because we can watch its light disappear below the horizon. If that day was the last day of the month, then we soon see the light of the new moon to show that this new day begins a new month. We know this because the Hebrew word for month, used over 200 times in the Old Testament, is “chodesh” (Strong’s #2320). A form of the word “chadash,” in Hebrew characters it is spelled the same way. Chadash, as a noun, means a new thing, something fresh (#2319). As a verb, to be new, to repair, renew, rebuild (#2318).

The moon is not new until it has been renewed. While the moon is close to the sun in the sky, the sun’s light falls only on the far side. The side of the moon facing the earth is dark. A dark moon, invisible to us, has not yet been renewed. A new month cannot start until the moon itself has been renewed, and begins to rule the night. It is the light of the new moon which shows us that a new month has begun, and that light is first seen when the first day of that month begins, at sunset.

On the first night of the month the moon is usually seen for less than an hour after sunset. It becomes visible as the sky darkens. In some months, it can be seen for only a few minutes that first night, before it follows the sun below the horizon. But each night the moon grows brighter and is seen longer. Soon it has become bright enough to be seen even in the daytime.

Centuries ago, people were familiar with how the appearance of the moon changes through the month. But today many do not pay it any attention. When you actually start looking at it, you can learn things that most people in our day have never noticed. In any calendar based on the phases of the moon, every month is either 29 or 30 days long. If the new moon cannot be seen when the 29th day of the month ends, then that month is 30 days long, and the new moon will be visible the next night. The Bible does not need to tell us that every month is either 29 or 30 days long. Observation tells us that.

A new month begins when the moon is renewed. So the second of the three rules that define the calendar is this: Start each month with the day on which the new moon is first seen after sunset.

Difficult questions

The traditional calculated calendar in use today is based on the belief that no calendar can be found in the Bible, but that knowledge of a calendar was instead given secretly to religious leaders, who were also given the authority to control the calendar and amend it.

But we can see that the Bible itself, in the very first chapter of Genesis, claims that everything needed for a calendar – how to determine days, months, and years – is freely available to everyone who can see the light of the sun, moon, and stars.

We have seen already how clearly the Bible explains how to determine when to start days and months: the emphasis placed on the word “light” by multiple repetition, the instruction to depend on that light as evidence, plain statements which declare that the light of the new moon determines the start of each month, etc.

Another example is how the Hebrew word “ereb” is given a meaning so precise that it can be used to refer to a point in time – the instant that the sun sets and the evening begins. Leviticus 23, verse 27, states that the day of atonement is the tenth day of the seventh month. Verse 32 then defines the tenth day of the month. It says that the tenth day of the month begins “at even” on the ninth day of the month and lasts from that “even” until the next “even.” In this verse, the Hebrew word ereb can only be referring to the point in time when one day becomes another. We only have to turn back one chapter to learn the Bible’s own explanation of when that point in time is. Lev. 22:6-7 states that it is “when the sun is down.”

It is the Bible’s exact definition of words, and careful use of those words, that can be relied on to answer seemingly difficult questions – questions that have been argued about for centuries. Even books of the Bible written more than thirty centuries ago, in a language that has altered so much that the meaning of many passages is now clouded by the passage of time, contain important statements that define themselves.

The first two questions have now been answered. The third question, “How do the signs determine the first month of the year?” is answered in Bible Calendar Part 2. It is based on the same premise that the Bible does clearly show how days, months, and years are determined by visual observation of the light of the sun, moon, and stars alone. Because the question of when to start the year has so many possible answers, each one defended vigorously by its supporters, Part II offers not only biblical, but also historical and astronomical evidence in support of using the vernal equinox to determine the start of the year.

This article is based on a longer article written by Derek G. Davies, dated Sept. 22, 2002, based on a paper written in early 1990’s. Rewritten June, 2005.