Pentecost 2008

Today is the day of Pentecost, at least for a lot of Armstrongites. Most Jews celebrate it on another day.

Here’s the deal: Leviticus 23:11-16 tells the Israelites to present a wave sheaf offering to God on the day after the Sabbath. According to the passage, Pentecost occurs fifty days after that.

The debate within first century Judaism was, “Which Sabbath is Leviticus 23:11-16 talking about? Exactly when should we start counting to fifty?”

The Pharisees interpreted the Sabbath to be the first day of unleavened bread, which was a day of rest (Leviticus 23:7). Consequently, they placed Pentecost fifty days after Nisan 16, meaning it could fall on any day of the week, depending on the year. The Sadducees, by contrast, took the Sabbath to mean the weekly Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread, so their Pentecost fell fifty days after the following day, Sunday. For them, therefore, Pentecost always fell on a Sunday. And the Qumran community started counting the Sunday after the Days of Unleavened Bread.

And so most observant Jews today follow the Pharisaic method of counting Pentecost. Armstrongites do it the Sadduccean way. And I don’t know if anyone observes the Qumran approach. At Catholic mass this morning, I learned that Catholics consider today to be the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, meaning that their Pentecost was four weeks ago. But, to be honest, I don’t know on what basis their Pentecost occurs when it does.

I once learned about the Pharisaic method of counting Pentecost the hard way. I had to return all these books to the Hebrew Union College library, and I put them in a movable bag, the type you haul around at airports. I didn’t have a car, so I had to drag that heavy bag of library books up a hill. When I finally arrived at Hebrew Union College, I saw a sign that said the HUC library was closed for Shavuot (Pentecost). I was mad!

One advantage to observing the Sadduccean Pentecost is that I get to tie certain Old Testament rituals to Christ. According to Sadduccean reckoning, the wave sheaf offering occurred on the Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Well, guess when Christ rose from the dead? Christ was crucified on the Passover, and he rose on the Sunday during the festival (or, for Armstrongites, he ascended to the Father on that day, only to come back down and appear to his disciples). So Christ is not only the Passover lamb. He is the wave sheaf offering as well.

Personally, there’s a lot that I don’t understand about Pentecost. How is the wave sheaf offering thematically connected to the festival that occurs fifty days later? I always assumed that the wave sheaf offering was the first fruit of a harvest that would occur in fifty days. But that doesn’t exactly work. For one, the wave sheaf offering was of barley, whereas the offering fifty days later was of wheat (or so I’ve read). And so the barley harvest didn’t occur fifty days after the wave sheaf offering. And, second, the offering that occurred on Pentecost was also an offering of first fruits. That may be why there’s a connection between the day of the wave sheaf offering and Pentecost: both were days to offer the first fruits of a later harvest (barley and wheat, respectively).

In Old Testament Israel, offering the first fruits was a way to honor God as provider. In a Mishnah class, I learned that the rationale of the biblical author was that, if the Israelites presented God with their first fruits, God would then bless them with a bountiful harvest. That kind of sounds like the prosperity Gospel to me, but that very well may have been how they saw it.

Interestingly, I encountered the wave sheaf offering in my weekly quiet time on the Book of Judges. Yesterday, I read Judges 7, in which Gideon overhears the Midianites recounting a dream. In it, a barley cake rolls down a hill and strikes a tent, causing it to collapse. The dream means that Gideon will overthrow the Midianites, but why’s it have a barley cake? According to Rashi, the cake symbolizes “the merit of the Omer sacrificed on Passover.”

For Rashi, God blesses the Israelites because they offered the wave sheaf. In his mind, God may have done so because he was pleased that the idolatrous Israelites were finally making some effort to turn to him. But the ritual by itself related to Israel’s acceptance before God, for Leviticus 23:11 states, “He shall raise the sheaf before the LORD, that you may find acceptance.”

So what can I as a Christian learn from all this? I think that the New Testament tries to interpret the wave sheaf and the feast of Pentecost in a Christian sense. Paul calls Christ the first fruits because Jesus was the first to rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:20, 23). Because Jesus rose, those who believe in him will also rise and receive immortality. And Jesus as the wave sheaf offering has brought about our acceptance before God, for our justification depends not only on his death, but on his resurrection as well (Romans 4:25; I Corinthians 15:17). Our blessings and our spiritual victory as Christians depend on the merit of our wave sheaf offering, Jesus Christ.

But, fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, another batch of first fruits was offered to God. The church was born on Pentecost, as God baptized his disciples with the Holy Spirit and enabled his church to expand (Acts 2). And the New Testament is clear that Christians are first fruits (II Thessalonians 2:13; James 1:18; Revelation 14:4).

What’s this mean, exactly? Christians are the first fruits of what? Armstrongites will probably bring in their second chance doctrine, the belief that God will offer all people a chance to receive Christ after their resurrection (unless they’re hopelessly wicked). In that scenario, Christians are the first batch of believers, but there will be another batch in the second resurrection. I don’t see much explicit evidence for this in the Bible, but I won’t object if God does it this way.

How else could Christians be the first fruits? Maybe they’re first fruits in the sense that God will bring others to Christ on this side of the second coming. Or perhaps they are the first fruits of God’s new creation, which will one day entail the transformation of the entire cosmos (see Romans 8:19-23). Christians are the first stage of something remarkable that God is doing.

And so I wish you all a happy Pentecost, if you are celebrating today. I actually learned a lot from writing this post. I hope that you too are edified.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Church, Holidays, Judges, Leviticus, Religion, Resurrection, Weekly Quiet Time. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Pentecost 2008

  1. Southern David says:

    Hi James, I stumbled across your blog today. You have interesting stuff here. I am a third generation WCGer.

    You wrote: “I learned that Catholics consider today to be the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, meaning that their Pentecost was four weeks ago. But, to be honest, I don’t know on what basis their Pentecost occurs when it does.”

    Pentecost for the Catholics and most Protestants occurs on the seventh Sunday after Easter. Wave Sheaf Sunday was the day on which Christ rose and made many of his first appearances. It is this same day that later became known as Easter. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Pentecost falls seven Sundays (50 days) from Easter. The date was set in 325 A.D. The Jews changed their calendar some fifty years later using a calculated calendar known as the Hillel II. This is what makes Easter and Passover fall at different times.

    I enjoy your blog and will be reading from now on.

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  2. James Pate says:

    Welcome, Southern David. Wow! Third generation! So are you still in the WCG?

    I don’t know as much as I should on calendar issues. Are you saying that the Catholics put Easter right during the Passover (meaning the broader festival)? My understanding of the Qaurtodeciman controversy was that such was not the case, since the debate was whether to keep Easter or the Jewish Passover.

    Thanks for the information–it looks like the Catholics put their Pentecost 50 days after Easter.

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  3. Southern David says:

    James wrote: “So are you still in the WCG?

    I was raised in the WCG then went to the CGI and then back to the New WCG in 2000. But I left the WCG about six years ago. I’m an independent Christian at the moment visiting Baptist, Methodist and local Community Churches. I still visit with Sabbath keeping groups every once in a while. I knew a family of Pates’ in the WCG. They lived in Georgia and Alabama. Are you related to them? Just have to ask since your last name is Pate.

    James wrote: “Are you saying that the Catholics put Easter right during the Passover (meaning the broader festival)? My understanding of the Qaurtodeciman controversy was that such was not the case, since the debate was whether to keep Easter or the Jewish Passover.

    The early Christian Church was composed mainly of Gentile converts. They were under no obligation to keep Jewish laws, Sabbaths and Holy Days. So they did not want to Judaize and keep Passover. The Resurrection of Christ was a different story. This is something they could sink their teeth into. So they began celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. The Resurrection of Christ happened on Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread.

    From the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, Article Easter:

    “Because the Sunday after 14 Nisan was the historical day of the Resurrection, at Rome this Sunday became the Christian feast of Easter.”

    So we see that it was the Sunday after Passover that became Easter. This Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread would be the Wave Sheaf Sunday of the festival. This was the day to start the 50 day count to Pentecost. So Pentecost is counted 50 days from Easter in the Christian world. However, those using a Jewish calendar will count from the Wave Sheaf during the Feast of Unleavens. The Jewish calendar in use today was not the same calendar used during the time of Christ. The Hillel II calendar came about in about 358 A.D. The timing for Easter was set in 325 A.D. So it was the Jews which changed their calendar which causes Passover and Easter to fall a month apart in some cases like this year.

    JMO but I think Easter is a far closer date to the original Passover, although not perfect. There are no records of the old Hebrew calendar used before the Hillel II. So there is no way to prove this.

    Herman Heoh, Pasadena Bible Study, June 9, 1978:

    “We might as well face it – that the resurrection occurred minutes following the close of the Sabbath – Saturday night, when the wave sheaf was cut. What we have is not the old saying that I used to have to use, that the wave sheaf represents the resurrected Christ – but it represents the resurrection!”

    “This is the prophesied resurrection that we have never seen in the ceremonies of the law, and was properly done in Jewish tradition (page 506-7 of the Mishnah). It was a rule that it should be reaped by night, at the very beginning minutes, so there would be no delay in preparing it, and then the next morning it was to be waved.”

    “The resurrection occurred when the wave sheaf was cut, [and the] ascension occurred when it was waved before the altar…”

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  4. James Pate says:

    Hey Southern David! Thanks for the information.

    I don’t think that I’m related to those Pates, because the deal was this: My Grandpa Pate joined the WCG, and no one else in his family did (as far as I know). Many of his relatives are Protestants–a lot of them are Oneness Pentecostals. He had two children, but my dad was the only one who stayed in the church. And that was pretty much true on both sides of my family: my Grandparents joined the WCG, and the rest of their family did not.

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  5. Southern David says:

    James wrote:> I don’t think that I’m related to those Pates, because the deal was this: My Grandpa Pate joined the WCG, and no one else in his family did (as far as I know). Many of his relatives are Protestants–a lot of them are Oneness Pentecostals. He had two children, but my dad was the only one who stayed in the church. And that was pretty much true on both sides of my family: my Grandparents joined the WCG, and the rest of their family did not.

    OK, thanks for the info.

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  6. rl says:

    One thing to consider is maybe none of the 3 groups of Judaism had it right or maybe it is the product of bad interpretation. All these verse have the same hebrew word translated “morrow”

    Exo 32:6
    So they got up early on the next day and offered up burnt offerings and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.
    Jdg 21:4
    The next morning the people got up early and built an altar there. They offered up burnt sacrifices and token of peace.
    1Sa 5:3
    When the residents of Ashdod got up early the next day, Dagon was lying on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and set him back in his place.
    Gen 19:34
    So in the morning the older daughter said to the younger, “Since I had sexual relations with my father last night, let’s make him drunk again tonight. Then you go and have sexual relations with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.”

    so the First Fruit(singular) was offered on the “morrow” of the Sabbath may just mean the next morning as it does in the verses above.

    Actually David is wrong, there were jews who understood the green barley heads not a calendar is what determines the first month of which the Karaites stilll use.
    plus it might help if you read these other comments
    https://jamesbradfordpate.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/sabbatarian-paul-would-have-arguments/#comment-7758

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