Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees in Christ's Time
The major problem with studying Judaism of 1st century Palestine is sources. Our most accurate source, the New Testament, is primarily concerned with teaching Christianity, not describing Judaism or Jewish sects. Josephus gives two conflicting accounts of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The rabbinic literature derives mainly from after the destruction of the temple in 70 A. D., much of it centuries later, and is written by descendents of the Pharisees. It is thus biased in favor of the Pharisees and prejudiced against the Sadducees.
This means any attempt to know the exact practice on any point of religion, such as Pentecost, runs into complex difficulties.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss some of the problems as they relate to the question of Pentecost. It seems to me that the contemporary counting of Pentecost in the time of Christ is very important. If there is no New Testament evidence of disagreement with the current practice, that is a fairly strong argument for how we ought to keep it. If he did disagree with the Jews, it is essential to know what he disagreed with.
The scribes (Greek grammateus) are mentioned quite frequently in the Gospels and Acts. They are often mentioned along with the priests (about 21 times). At other times we read of the scribes and Pharisees together (about 18 times). It is evident from the New Testament and other sources that the scribes were those trained professionally in the law, regardless of their adherence to a particular sect. So there were Pharisaic scribes and Sadducean scribes and many scribes who did not belong to any particular party. They were the teachers, the scholars, the rabbis. (A major summary study of the scribes can be found in J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, pp. 233-45.)
There was, of course, no unanimous point of view on many subjects (and probably not on any) among the scribes. A Sadducean scribe would undoubtedly have a different point of view on Pentecost than a Pharisaic. Even though Christ taught differently from his contemporaries and had not gone through the normal scribal "school, It he was addressed as "Master" and "Rabbi" just as any other scribe would be. This seems to say he was generally considered having the office of scribe (even though some of the scribes might not have agreed).
Pharisees Versus Sadduccees in the New Testament
The New Testament shows the Pharisees had considerable power among the people. They evidently had power to exclude people from the synagogues (John 9, especially vv. 22 and 34; 12:42). Some of them were on the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:35; 23:6). They were in league with the chief priests in arresting Jesus (Matt 27:62; John 18:3; 11:45-53).
On the other hand, they had no official function in either the temple or the judicial system. Their power was through influence rather than direct office. At least, if it were otherwise, the New Testament does not fill us in on this. Whether they were in charge of the synagogues — as is often claimed — is not clear from the New Testament so far as I can see. The rulers of the synagogue (Mark 5:22ff; Luke 8:49ff; 13:14; Acts 18:8, 17) are not labeled Pharisees, or members of any other sect, for that matter. if not actual authority, over synagogues even outside Palestine. This high priest himself was probably a Sadducee (see next paragraph). But Acts 9:l-2 shows the high priest had some influence.
Acts 4:l-3 tells us "the priests, the officer of the temple, and the Sadducees" were those who arrested the apostles for teaching the resurrection of Jesus. Acts 5:17 goes on to show "high priest and all those with him, that is, the sect of the Sadducees," became jealous of the preaching of the apostles. (This was apparently the same high priest who wrote letters for Paul to the Damascus synagogues.) Acts 23:6ff says the Sanhedrin was split between the Pharisees and Sadducees.
A reading of these passages from Acts in their context suggest the following picture: The Sadducees were most influential among the priests and those in charge of the temple. Gamaliel, a Pharisee, was also on the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:34). But nothing is said of a dominant Pharisaic element there. Many years later, in the late 501s, the Sanhedrin seems to be about equally split between the Pharisees and Sadducees. Yet the Sadducees still seem to have the upper hand since Paul was kept in prison even though the Pharisees wanted to free him (Acts 23:9).
We would gather there was a steadily growing power in the religious rulership of the temple and the nation by the Pharisees. But even as late as the last decade before the Jewish War, the Sadducees still seem to have the edge of power and leadership. Regardless of the power the Pharisees may have had over the masses, they do not appear to dominate the Sanhedrin or the temple itself as late as the end of Acts.
Power of the Pharisees — According — to Josephus
In his description of the Pharisees in Antiquities Josephus states: "The Pharisees... are, as a matter of fact, extremely influential. among the townsfolk; and all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their exposition... The Sadducees ...accomplish practically nothing, however. For whenever they assume some office, though they submit unwillingly and perforce, yet submit they do to the formulas of the Pharisees, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them" (Ant. XVIII, i, 3-4, s11-17).
This statement of Josephus has been widely used to show the Pharisees dominated the procedure of the temple ritual (including the offering of the wave-sheaf) during the time of Christ. But more recent studies by such men as Morton Smith and Jacob Neusner indicate Josephus may be less than trustworthy in his statement. The main reason is that his description of the Pharisees in the Wars, written 20 years before the Antiquities, makes no such claim for the Pharisees. Furthermore, "Jusephus was in. fact part of the pro-Roman priestly aristocracy before the war of 66-73. But nothing in his account suggests he was a Pharisee, as he later claimed (Neusner, From Politics to Piety, p. 55).
Professor Smith contrasts the Pharisees of the War and the Antiquities: "In the War, written shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem... he gives most space to the Essenes.... As for the others, he merely tags brief notices of the Phariseesand Sadducees onto the end of his survey. We says nothing of the Pharisees' having any influence with the people, and the only time he represents them as attempting to exert any influence... they fail, In the Antiquities, however, written 20 years later, the picture is quite different. Here, whenever Josephus discusses the Jewish sects, the Pharhees take first place and every time he mentions them he emphasizes their popularity.... It is almost impossible not to see in such a rewriting of history a bid to the Roman government" ("Palestinian Judaiom in the First Century," Israel: Its Role in Civilization, pp. 75-6).
But why would Josephus want to rewrite history to favor the Pharisees? Smith goes on to say why: "Josephus' discovery of these important political facts (which he ignored when writing the Jewish War) may have been due partly to a change in his personal relationship with Pharisees.... The more probable explanation is that in the meanwhile the Pharisees had become the leading candidates for Roman support in Palestine and were already negotiating for it" (ibid., p. 76-7).
In other words, Josephus is playing politics. In the 90's A. D. the Pharisees were the dominant force in Palestine. They were asking the Romans for official recognition as the leaders of the people and the country. Josephus finds it a feather in his cap to appeal to the Roman government to recognize them. Not only that, Josephus suddenly finds he had become a Pharisee even as a young man, a fact hithertofore totally overlooked in his writings! He can say flattering but untrue things about the Pharisees because few if any of the opposition are around to contest them.
Professor Neusner summarizes: "What is entirely new is the allegation that the townspeople follow only the Pharisees, and that the Temple is conducted according to their law. Of this we have formerly heard nothing. With the Temple in ruins for a quarter of a century and the old priesthood decimated and scattered, it was now possible to place the Pharisees in a position of power of which, in Temple times, they had scarcely dreamed. The Sadducees, moreover, are forced to do whatever the Pharisees tell them, for otherwise the people would ignore them — an even more extreme allegation.... The allegation of Josephus is... incredible" (From Politics, p. 57).
Rabbinic Writings About the Pharisees
Jacob Neusner has blazed new trails in the study of 1st century Judaism with his 3-volume work, The Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees before 70. He shows how many of the classic works on early Pharisaism have been too credulous of the rabbinic writings, most of which are much later and written by descendents of the Pharisees. He goes to great pains to show how we must examine the sources critically and carefully analyze their form and content to determine their real authenticity. This section is a summary of his work. (A more popular, condensed treatment of the subject can be found in From Politics to Piety.)
After the fall of Jerusalem, the survivers of the Pharisees gathered in Yavneh and began to salvage some of their traditional teachings. This process went on for many years, with new teachings or interpretations being added. A second phase of the process came in Usha after the destruction of the Jewish nation in the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132-5). Many of the leading rabbis were killed by the Romans during that time. Traditions were reassembled, re-edited, and added to. Finally, about the year 200 A. D. the Mishnah was written down in the form we have it today.
But what can we say about any particular point of the Mishnah? Does it go back to the time of Christ? Or is it a later teaching which arose long afterward? Even if one of the 1st century sages (such as Hillel or Sharnmai) supposedly taught a certain point, how much has the original teaching been changed in the years of editing and rewriting this material (which, by the way, was transmitted orally for the most part until 200 A.D.)?
Yet much of rabbinic writings which are supposed to tell US what happened before the fall of the Temple are not in the Mishah (or other early collections like the Mishnah such as the Tosephta and the Tannaic Midrashim). Much of this material is actually found in the Germara, a commentary to the Mishnah which arose between 200 and 500 A.D. How much trust can we place in the word of a 4th century rabbi when he talks about what happened during the time of Christ? Notice some of Neusner's conclusions in this regard.
"The rabbinical traditions of the Pharisees may be characterized as self-centered. They are the internal records of a sect concerning its own life, sectarian laws, and partisan conflicts. Curiously, stories of what happened outside of the party are omitted. Almost nothing in Josephus's picture of the Pharisees seems closely related to the rabbis' portrait of them.... The rabbis' Pharisaic conflict stories, moreover, do not tell of Pharisees opposing Essenes and Christians, but chiefly of Hillelites opposing Shammaites. Pharisaic laws deal not with the governance of the country, but with the party's rules for table — fellowship....
"If we were confined to only the rabbinical traditions about the Pharisees, we could not have reconstructed a single significant public event of the period before 70....Nor should we gain a picture of the Pharisees." philosophy of history or theology of politics. We should not even know how Palestine was governed, for the Pharisees' traditions according to the rabbis do not refer to how the Pharisees ran pre-70 Palestine.... Neither do they tell us how the Romans ran it. Furthermore, sectarian issues are barely mentioned, and other sects (apart from the Sadducees) not at all (From Politics, pp. 90-1).
Neusner concludes as follows: "The historical Pharisees of the period before 70 A.D. have eluded us. Our inquiry time and again brings us to problems of the history of ancient Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem.... The rabbinical traditions about the Pharisees prove most complex of all, The legal materials, attested shortly after 70 A.D. have all been reworked in the forms used at Yavneh" (ibid., p. 143).
In other words, any traditions which came down from before the destruction of the temple were reshaped and reinterpreted by the later rabbis. To try to sort out the editorial work and the later additions is a monumental task. That's why Neusner says the "historical Pharisees of the period before 70 A.D. have eluded us"!! In the end, we are brought back to the New Testament as our major — and only trustworthy — source of information.
On pp. 3-4, I concluded that the Pharisees seem not to have been in charge of the temple and the Sanhedrin. But Matt. 23:2 seems to go against this: "The scribes and the Pharisees sat down upon Moses' seat. Then everything which they say to you, you do and keep it but do not do according to their works."
Christ here definitely acknowledges the authority of the scribes and Pharisees. I do not want to detract from this. But this statement must be tempered by such other statements as, "Watch and be careful of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees... the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 16:6, 12). Even in ch. 23 Christ goes on to condemn some of the things which the scribes and Pharisees "say" (such as vv. 16-22). One commentary thinks Matt. 23:2 means the scribes and Pharisees are to be listened to only when they read and expound the Scriptures. I think that may be an exaggeration. But it does appear to be somewhat near the truth.
We also have to keep in mind that only part of the scribes were Pharisees. Others were not. And they often disagreed over specific points of the law. They had a certain position of authority as teachers and spiritual leaders. The people must respect this. But scribes and Pharisees had not taken the place of the priests. Again, Acts seems to show the priests (and Sadducees) were still in control of the temple and even the Sanhedrin until fairly late.
On pp. 37-9 of his paper another researcher has assured us the Sadducees (Boethusians) were firmly in control of the temple and the ritual until shortly before the 66 — 70 war, and that the wave sheaf was always offered on Sunday and Pentecost counted from then. This conclusion would appear to be correct in the light of the book of Acts. Acts 5:17ff shows the Sadducees in charge of the temple. About a quarter of a century later, the Sanhedrin is divided between the Pharisees and Sadducees (Acts 23:6ff). But even then the Sadducees have their way in keeping Paul in prison although the Pharisees wanted to release him (23:9).
We have shown the statements of the rabbinic literature and even of Josephus are untrustworthy. Though they would like to picture the Pharisees controlling the temple and public worship, the New Testament goes against this. Whatever the Pharisees thought about Pentecost, it was undoubtedly kept whenever designated by the temple hierarchy, since the waving of the sheaf determined when to keep it. They may have argued with the Sadducees but were not able to have their way as late as the end of A.cts (later 50's A.D.).
It is interesting that — despite the argument over Pentecost between the Sadducees and Pharisees and later Jewish groups — the New Testament gives no hint the Christians kept it differently from those around them. Christ still regarded the temple as his Father's house. He nowhere condemns the priests for their carrying out of the temple functions (even though many of them conspired against him). Is this good grounds for assuming he had no quarrel with the way — or the time — they kept Pentecost?
At many points the New Testament has left us a clear record of where Christians should differ from Jewish practice. Why was this not done with Pentecost? Is it because Christ kept Pentecost as it was kept in the temple — according to Sadducean practice?
Sadducees Kept Pentecost on Sunday
The Encyclopedia Judaica has this significant comment to make: "The Sadducees (and later the Karaites) understood the term 'Sabbath' in these verses literally, hence, for them Shavuot [Pentecost] always falls on a Sunday" (Ency. Judaica, 1971 ed., Vol. 14).
The Universal Jewish Encylopedia says: "The Torah provides that the seven weeks up to Shabuoth be counted 'from the morrow after the day of rest' (mimohorath hashabbath) of the Passover festival (Lev. 23:l5). The interpretation of this passage became one of the outstanding points at issue between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. According to the Pharisaic point of view, supported by the Septuagint and later universally accepted in the Talmud, the shabbath in question was the first day of Passover; hence Shabuoth [Pentecost] would always fall fifty days later, on the 6th of Sivan. The Sadducees, however, and later the Karaites, supported by the Samaritans, took the word to mean literally the Sabbath after the beginning of the Passover festival: thus Shabuoth [Pentecost] would always fall on a Sunday and might vary in date from the 7th to the 13th of Sivan..." (The Universal Jewish Ency., 1943 ed., Vol, 9).
Notice that the Sadducees' way of reckoning Pentecost is referred to as "the old Biblical view." "They [Sadducees] contended that the seven weeks from the first barley-sheaf-offering ('omer') to Pentecost should, according to Lev. xxiii. 15-16, be counted from 'the day after Sabbath,' and, consequently, that Pentecost should always be celebrated on the first day of the week (Meg, Ta'an l.;Men. 65a). In this they obviously followed the old Biblical view..." (The Jewish Ency., 1907 ed., Vol. X).
These three Jewish encyclopedias make it abundantly clear that the three Jewish religious sects of Christ's day (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes) all kept Pentecost on a different day — but, remember, they all reckoned inclusively.
"The Boethuseans (a sect of the Sadducees), interpreting the Sabbath as the ordinary Sabbath that fell during the week of the massot between the 15th and 21st day of Nisan, kept Pentecost on the Sunday following the 7th Sabbath" (New Cath. Ency., 1966 ed., Vol. XI).
Notice Dr. James Hastings' comment: "AS to the Feasts, the two parties [Sadducees and Pharisees] differed in the manner of fixing the date of Pentecost, According to Lv. 23:11, 15 seven full weeks had to be counted from 'the morrow after the sabbath' upon which the priest waved the sheaf of firstfruits before the Lord. The Pharisees followed the traditional interpretation (e.g. in the LXX, ad loc.; cf, Ant. III,x,5), that the 'sabbath' meant the first day of the feast, and that consequently Pentecost might fall on any day of the week, The Sadducees (or rather, according to Shurer, l.c.413, the Boethusians, a principal family of the Sadducees) held that the 'sabbath' meant the weekly sabbath, and that therefore Pentecost always fell on the first day of the week..." (Dict. of the Bible, by James Hastings, 1906 ed., Vol. IV).
Dr. Unger mentions that, from time immemorial, there have been disputes regarding the proper date for celebrating Pentecost: "The precise meaning of the word Sabbath in this connection, which determines the date for celebrating this festival, has been from time immemorial a matter of dispute. The Boethusians and the Sadducees in the time of the second temple, and the Karaites since the 8th century of the Christian era, have taken 'Sabbath' in the sense of the seventh day of the week and have maintained that the omer was offered on the day following that weekly sabbath which might happen to fall within the seven days of the Passover. This would make Pentecost always come on the first day of the week" (Unqer's Bible Dict., "Festivals," pp. 356-7).
The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah, written by Alfred Edersheim, says: "Thus, the Sadducees would have interpreted Lev. xxiii.11,15,16 as meaning that the wavesheaf (or rather, the Omer) was to be offered on 'the morrow after the weekly Sabbath' — that is, on the Sunday in Easter-week — which would have brought the Feast of Pentecost always on a Sunday: while the Pharisees understood the term 'Sabbath' of the festive Paschal day" (The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah, 8th ed., 1904, Vol. I, by Alfred Edersheim).
Notice what the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica has to say regarding how the Jews reckoned time: "After this 'morrow after the Sabbath' seven weeks are to be reckoned, and when we reach the morrow after the seventh Sabbath fifty days have been enumerated. Here we must bear in mind that Hebrew numeration always includes the day which is the terminus a quo [the beginning point) as well as that which is terminus ad quem [the ending point]" (Ency. Brit., 11th ed., 1910).
How do the Jews today reckon time when arriving at the 6th of Sivan? They always reckon it inclusively. Modern Jews, following ancient Pharisaic tradition, observe Pentecost on the 6th of Sivan (the third month of the sacred calendar). But that they count their fifty days from (inclusively) the 16th of Abib or Nisan is manifest. Using inclusive reckoning, they arrive at the 5th of Sivan as the terminus ad quem, the last day of the seven weeks. The next day, the fiftieth, they observe as Pentecost.
But even though the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes all used a different terminus a quo (starting point), they all counted inclusively. Not one of them ever reckoned Pentecost in an exclusive manner, for they knew that when counting time, the Hebrew always reckoned inclusively.
Sadducees in Control of Temple
There is much historical evidence showing that the Sadducees were in control of the Temple and the Temple rituals (including Pentecost) during the days of Christ; and they continued to exercise control over the Temple until the 50s or 60s. This would mean that they set the date for Pentecost and offered the elaborate sacrifices for Pentecost on their date: and the Pharisees, Essenes, and any others would have had to go along with their Pentecost.
New Testament critics generally concede that the High Priests during the time of Christ and the apostles were of the Sadducean party — at least until the very last few years before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
The following two scriptural references appear to substantiate such a view:
"Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation..." (Acts 5:17).
"And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them..." (Acts 4:l).
Notice how, according to history, the Sadducees were in control of the Temple until well beyond 31 A.D. They, therefore, controlled the religious ceremonies and ritual, rather than the Pharisees.
"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, and the [Christian] Church is therefore justified in commemorating the first Christian Pentecost on a Sunday ( Whit Sunday). The Pharisees, however, interpreted the 'sabbath' of Lv. xxiii.15 as the Festival of Unleavened Bread (cf. Lv. xxiii. 7), and their reckoning became normative in Judaism after AD 70, so that in the Jewish calendar Pentecost now falls on various days of the week" (The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., by J.C. Douglas).
Here, we are plainly told that the Sadducees' "reckoning regulated the public observance long as the Temple Stood," which, if true, would have been down to 70 A.D. Furthermore, we were informed that the Pharisees' "reckoning became normative in Judaism AFTER A,D 70."
How much plainer could this be! But it would appear that the Sadducees may have lost control of the Temple and the Temple ritual (including the setting of the Pentecost date) about 65 A.D. — a few years before the fall of Jerusalem.
The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia makes this interesting comment: "It is clear that power, privilege and vested interests play a much larger part in the life of the Sadducees than in any other section of the nation. In one way or another they held control of the Temple; and, unless in the last few years of its existence, the services [this would have included the day on which the wave sheaf was offered, thereby determining Pentecost] conducted there were performed in accordance with their views. So closely were they associated, with the Temple that after its destruction in 70 C.E. the Sadducees, as a group or party, are no more heard of" (The. Universal Jewish Ency., 1943 ed., Vol. IX).
Now notice a very significant quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica: "Further, the Sadducees, holding to the older doctrines and cherishing the highest regard for the sacrificial cult were strongly opposed to any reform in the Temple....
"The Sadducean hierarchy had its stronghold in the Temple, and it was not until, the last two decades of the Temple's existence that the Pharisees finally gained control, Since the whole power and raison d'etre of the Sadducees were bound up with the Temple cult, the group ceased to exist after its destruction" (Ency, Brit., 1973 ed., "Jewish Sects").
Again, we are informed that the Pharisees did not wrest control from the Sadducees "until the last two decades of the Temple's existence" — which would have been either in the 50s 60s — at least twenty years after the Pentecost of 31 A.D.
The overwhelming preponderance of historical evidence clearly shows that the Sadducees (not the Pharisees) were in control of the Temple and Temple rituals in the days of Christ and the apostles, and they retained firm control of the Temple for severa1 decades after 31 A.D.
When Was Pentecost Changed?
When did the Sadducean way of reckoning the fifty days from the Sunday of Unleavened Bread give way to the Pharisaic way of counting from the first annual Sabbath, the 16th of Nisan?
"Like the offering of the first sheaves, this harvest festival (Pentecost), fifty days later, was to be held on the morrow after the Sabbath (Lev. xxiii. 11, 15-16), and consequently on the first day of the week. In Josephus' time, the offering of the first sheaves was fixed on the sixteenth day of Nisan" (Ency. of Religious Knowledge, 1910 ed., Vol. VIII). Josephus lived from about 37 to 38 A.D. to about the end of the century. This shows that the fixed Pentecost (6th Sivan) was "fixed" after 37 or 38 A.D. — at least several years after 31 A.D.!
Since the Sadducees were in control of the Temple ritual in 31 A.D., Pentecost must have been observed on a Sunday, and not on the sixth of Sivan as would have been the case had the Pharisees been in control. Apparently, all of the Jews acquiesced to the Sadducees' reckoning and kept the same day. Whoever controlled the Temple, its rituals and ceremonies, would have controlled the offering of the wave sheaf — thereby setting the date for Pentecost!
All in the Church of God agree that the New Testament apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ would not have been keeping Pentecost on the wrong day. Neither would they have been assembled on the same day as the Jews at the Temple — unless the day they were all keeping in 31 A.D. was the correct day.
We therefore know that neither the Pharisaic way of reckoning (using the first annual Sabbath from which to count Pentecost) nor the Essene way of reckoning (using the weekly sabbath follow — Unleavened Bread) could have been correct. Neither of these erroneous days were selected by God as a day on which to send the first fruits of the Holy Spirit.
This only leaves one other manner of reckoning Pentecost among the Jewish religious bodies of the Apostles' day — that of the Sadducees; and it so happened that they were in control of the Temple. They always figured inclusively from the Sunday of Unleavened Bread. Seven full, complete, whole, perfect weeks and seven sabbaths later, they arrived at the end of their seven-week period to Pentecost. The fiftieth day brought them to a Sunday, as we have seen demonstrated by history.
Was the First Pentecost on Sunday?
Very few people have realized that first Feast of 50 days is counted for us. Probably it passes unnoticed because all historic sources and all denominations assume it was Sunday, Monday Pentecost is unknown in history unless we can find one in the New Testament.
The proper day for Pentecost can be established if we can find a STARTING and ENDING point.
We could not conclude which day Pentecost was if we didn't know an ending point, a total number of days to be counted. But we do know the Greek word πεντηκοστή means "fiftieth (day)." The word Pentecost is a counting term (see Kittles TDNT, article "Sabbath").
Likewise if we only know that Pentecost is the fiftieth day, but do not know from what starting point, then Pentecost could be counted to either a Sunday or a Monday. (For purpose of discussion let us assume it should be counted from after the weekly Sabbath within Unleavened Bread.)
Interestingly, one New Testament writer, Luke, does give us two clues which reveal both the beginning and ending points of Pentecost, thus allowing us to know which day of the week Pentecost fell on.
Luke Tells It All
First Luke tells us in Acts 1:3 that Jesus was "seen of the apostles [and disciples] 40 DAYS."
When did these 40 days begin?
They must begin when Jesus is first "seen" by His chosen followers. LUKE'S GOSPEL (as well as Matthew, Mark and John) TELLS US "upon the first day of the week...that same day" that Jesus began a series of appearances (Luke 23:1, 13 ff). As further proof, John also says clearly, "Now the first day of the week comes Mary Magdalene early WHEN IT WAS YET DARK, unto the sepulchre and others with her (Luke 24:10)... and saw Jesus standing..." (John 20:1, 14). Finally John says, "Then the same day at even, BEING THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK... came Jesus and stood in the [their] midst." Here Jesus appeared to most of the eleven. This was still Sunday since John always uses biblical time, not Roman time. "At even" can be translated "late, "or" late afternoon."
Note please, It is Luke in Acts who tells what Jesus began to do, and who counts a full 40 day period of (occasional, according to the Greek) appearances for us. It is also Luke, in the same context, a few verses later and with no chapter divisions in his original who tells us what happened on "the day, the fiftieth" (Acts 2:1, literal Greek).
How do we know Luke begins the 40 days on Sunday? He tells us himself that Jesus was "seen on that day" (Luke 24).
Three appearances occur on Sunday so Sunday must count as number one of the forty days.
The End Point
If He was "seen of them 40 days" and if He was seen of them on SUNDAY, first (day) of the week, then Luke's "50th day" (Greek Pentecostes) seems to mean 50 days after His resurrection, or 50 days after His first ascension to be accepted of the Father. Then that 50th day as to be SUNDAY!
But if you are not convinced that Luke is counting, ask these questions: Why does Luke mention 40 days specifically? Why mention a number if we are not to celebrate the day of the Ascension? The Ascension is dated for us, but to no purpose if Luke is not counting. Also ask, why does Luke mention the "Pentecost (fiftieth) DAY?" Why not just say "fiftieth" as Paul does in I Corinthians 16? (Of course Paul's Greek-speaking readers would understand the implied word "day," but Paul does not use it and Luke does.)
Lastly, the most natural way to understand these chronological events in Acts is to apply them to the Feast. Thus you could properly observe Pentecost with just the New Testament and the knowledge of when Passover was!
As further proof, let it be remembered that the New Testament as well as the Old, and Christ's own words also (Luke 13:32-33) show CONSISTENT INCLUSIVE RECKONING. That means the New Testament Pentecost could not be on the 51st day. Neither could the 40th and 50th days of Luke leave out that first Sunday, with three full miraculous appearances, plus the appearances of angels, so that Pentecost would fall on a MONDAY.
Luke's Pentecost was literally the fiftieth day since Christ's resurrection!
This proves that the quote, "on the evening of that day, the first day of the week," refers to late Sunday afternoon, and not Sunday night (which would be the second day in Bible reckoning).
Pentecost in the New Testament
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that Jesus Christ and His apostles (and the New Testament Church of God) kept the Feast of Pentecost. But on which day did they keep it? Did they observe it on Monday? Did they keep it on Sunday, as did the Sadducees?
We know that Jesus Christ observed Pentecost with the Jews (Luke 4:16); and there is no hint of different days being observed for Pentecost either then or in 31 A.D. (Acts 2). All the Jews were apparently observing Pentecost on the same day!
The second chapter of Acts gives us the real clue: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they [the disciples] were all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2:1).
The disciples' meeting place must have been one of the many available rooms, halls, patios or "porches" (Greek: colonnade) within the Temple precinct (Acts 3:2, 11. See Jackson-Lake, Beginning of Christianity, Vol. V, Note XXXV, pp. 474-486), because when the Pentecost miracles were "noised abroad, the multitude came together..." (Acts 2:6). Tens of thousands of Jews must have been in Jerusalem (according to history) for "the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (v. 41). (See article: "Sadducees in Control of Temple").
Remember, it was at Pentecost that many Jews often chose to return to the land of Israel. Shavuot was the great home-coming feast of the Jews.
At the first Christian Pentecost, there were Jews from north Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East — from 16 nations (Acts 2:9-11).
God saw to it that this great out-pouring of the Holy Spirit upon His people occurred at a time when devout Jews from most of the civilized world would be there to witness it. They, then, could go back to their country and report what they had seen.
Again, on what day did Pentecost fall in 31 A.D.? Can we know?
The Sadducees were still in control of the Temple and the Temple rituals for several decades after 31 A.D. The Pharisees were forced to go along with the High Priest and the Sadducean way of reckoning Pentecost; and (as we have seen) they counted 50 days from the weekly sabbath of Unleavened Bread. We therefore know that Sadducees were in control, that they kept Pentecost on a Sunday and that there is no biblical evidence that Christ and the apostles ever disagreed.
Pharisees Kept Sixth of Sivan
How did the Pharisees count Pentecost? What day did they observe?
"The Pharisees... interpreted 'Sabbath' as the first day of Passover (which was a Sabbath, 'day of rest') so that, for them, Shavuot Pentecost always falls on the 51st day from the first day of Passover..." (Ency. Judaica, 1971 ed., Vol. 14).
The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia says: "The Torah provides that the seven weeks up to Shabuoth be counted 'from the morrow after the day of rest' (mimohorath hashabbath) of the Passover festival (Lev. 23:15). The interpretation of this passage became one of the outstanding points at issue between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. According to the Pharisaic point of view, supported by the Septuagint and later universally accepted in the Talmud, the shabbath in question was the first day of Passover; hence Shabuoth Pentecost would always fall fifty days later, on the 6th of Sivan. The Sadducees, however, and later the Karaites, supported by the Samaritans, took the word to mean literally the Sabbath after the beginning of the Passover festival; thus Shabuoth Pentecost would always fall on a Sunday and might vary in date from the 7th to the 13th of Sivan..." (The Universal Jewish Ency., 1943 ed., Vol. 9).
Notice how the Pharisees came to identify "sabbath" with the first day of Unleavened Bread: "Later, the Pharisees identified the Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread with the feast-day itself on the 15th of the 1st month (Nisan) and, computing the 50-day period from the 16th inclusive reckoning, they celebrated Pentecost of sic the 6th day of the 3d month..." (New Cath. Ency., 1966 ed., Vol. XI).
"The passage in I Corinthians (xvi, 8) probably refers to the Jewish feast of Pentecost. This is not surprising, for the feast, originally of only one day's duration, fell on a Sunday" (Cath. Ency., 1911 ed., Vol. XV).
And there can be no doubt as to which feast I Cor. 16:8 refers to: "But I," said Paul, " will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost."
The Dictionary of the Bible by Dr. James Hastings has this interesting comment: "As to the Feasts, the two parties Sadducees and Pharisees differed in the manner of fixing the date of Pentecost. According to Lv 23:11, 15 seven full weeks had to be counted from 'the morrow after the sabbath' upon which the priest waved the sheaf of firstfruits before the Lord. The Pharisees followed the traditional interpretation (e.g. in the LXX, ad loc.; cf. Ant. III.x.5), that the 'sabbath' meant the firstday of the feast, and that consequently Pentecost might fall on any day of the week" (Dict. of the Bible, by James Hastings, 1906 ed., Vol. IV).
Notice this significant statement from The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah by Alfred Edersheh: "This, the Sadducees would have interpreted Lev. xxiii. 11, 15, 16 as meaning that the wavesheaf (or, rather, the Omer) was to be offered on 'the morrow after the weekly Sabbath' — that is, on the Sunday in Easter-week — which would have brought the Feast of Pentecost always on a Sunday; while the Pharisees understood the term 'Sabbath' of the festive Paschal day" (The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah, 8th ed., 1904, Vol. I, by Alfred Edersheim).
The eleventh edition of the Encylopedia Britannica has this to say regarding how the Jews reckoned time: "Here we must bear in mind that Hebrew numeration always includes the day which is the terminus a quo [the beginning point] as well as that which is terminus ad quem [the ending point] (Ency. Brit., 11th ed., 1910).
How do the Jews today arrive at the 6th of Sivan for Pentecost? Modern Jews, following ancient Pharisaic tradition, observe Pentecost on the 6th of Sivan (the third month of the sacred calendar). But that they count their fifty days from (inclusively) the 16th of Abib or Nisan is manifest. Using inclusive reckoning, they arrive at the 5th of Sivan as the terminus ad quem, the last day of the seven weeks. The next day, the fiftieth, they observe as Pentecost.
Remember that even though the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes all used a different terminus a quo (starting point), they all counted inclusively. Not one of them ever reckoned Pentecost in an exclusive manner.
Jubilee and Pentecost Parallels
Many have drawn a parallel between Jubilee and Pentecost, Pentecost is the fiftieth day following seven weeks (49 days). Jubilee is the fiftieth year following seven weeks of years (49 years).
If in the Pentecost-Jubilee parallel you let the first year of the Jubilee represent the first day of this forty-nine day period which is a Sunday — Pentecost will fall on a Sunday.
But what has complicated the issue is that if (in the Pentecost-Jubilee parallel) the Jubilee parallels the 50th day in counting to Pentecost, then the next day after this Sunday Pentecost would be a Monday — which according to this reasoning would equal the first year of the counting of the new 49-year period to the next Jubilee. Hence, if you begin counting on Monday, and count seven weeks, the next 50th day (i.e., Pentecost) will fall on a Monday.
But using this same reasoning, the next cycle — counted in the same (exclusive) manner — would cause you to observe Pentecost on a Tuesday — then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and so on through the week, until a "new" Monday comes around.
The Jubilee cycle of 50 years is a constantly recurring unbroken cycle, with each new cycle starting from the end of the last Jubilee year. One Pentecost is not counted from the other, but is counted from the Sunday following the weekly sabbath of the Unleavened Bread season.
Each Jubilee is counted from the end of the preceding Jubilee; hence, the first year of the counting to the next Jubilee is like the 51st year of a two-cycle Jubilee period of 100 years.