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Ron Dart's calendar challenge deserves a short reply
By Frank W. Nelte

The writer is a former pastor in the Worldwide Church of God who operates a Church of God Internet ministry. He lives in South Africa and makes yearly visits to East Texas for family reasons. This article quotes and answers a brief paper from Ron Dart concerning the issue of the calendar. For a direct response to Mr. Nelte's response, see Mr. Dart's article on page 7.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa--Recently a friend sent me a copy of Ron Dart's "challenge" (which appeared on an Internet forum) regarding the calendar. My friend requested that I respond. So in this article is my short reply.

First, here is the challenge from Mr. Dart (founder of Christian Educational Ministries, Tyler, Texas), as sent to me.

"I am a fair-minded man," wrote Mr. Dart. "I am willing to be convinced. Don't bring me papers by [Herb] Solinsky or [Frank] Nelte. Don't send me off to Internet links. Do not give me human reasoning, nor draw inferences. Don't show me examples of what men did. They may have been following oral tradition.

"Here is my challenge. Show me from the written law:

"1. That a month begins with the lunar conjunction, or:

"2. That a month begins with the first observed new crescent.

"3. That, if the conjunction takes place just before sunset, which day is the first day of the new month.

"4. That, if the moon is occluded, how one is to decide the first day of the new month.

"5. What actually constitutes the end of a day, because the moment of observation of the crescent may happen while it is still light.

"6. That there are 12 months in the year.

"7. That there are 13 months some years.

"8. What determines which year is which?


"If these things are absent from the written law, then the next appeal is to the oral law. But the oral law is tradition, and tradition depends on the decisions made by authorities: judges.

"Every calendar has to have rules. Who gets to make the rules? If every man makes his own rules, confusion is the result, and God is not the author of confusion.

"It is my opinion that a calendar for the observance of the holy days requires some human authority to sanctify the calendar. Where am I wrong?"

The challenge was signed: "Ron."

Brief reply

Here is my brief reply to Mr. Dart.

Like you, Mr. Dart, I also believe I am a fair-minded man, and I have no ax to grind regarding the calendar. Nothing would please me more than to be able to adhere to the present Jewish calendar with a clear conscience before God.

But I also have strong convictions that will not be pushed around by personal preferences or by human traditions, and there is no way my conscience will now allow me to go along with the human traditions that the Jews accepted more than 200 years after the original apostles lived and died.

Shocking mess

Obviously none of the answers to your eight points is contained in the Bible. But then your logic falls short. You reason: If it is not in the written law, then the next appeal is to the oral law, which leads to human judges making decisions, meaning some human authority making decisions.

But there is no such thing as "the oral law." The only oral law the Jews have is a written record known as the Talmud.

I have the Talmud on my computer, and I have done numerous searches on various topics in the Talmud. The contrast between the Bible and the Talmud is almost unbelievable. They are like day and night, with the Bible representing day.

The Talmud is a shocking mess of confused and conflicting statements whose only value is not for teachings and instructions but only to take note of it as a historical record that shows what the Jews thought and did at a certain time in their history.

The Talmud does not contain any instructions regarding what we must do; it contains only a record of what they did do at a certain time.

Further, what the Jews call the oral law does not contain any information about the current Jewish calendar. So you have to go one step lower on the ladder before you come to any information about the present Jewish calendar.

Tacit acknowledgment

The correct logic, I believe, is as follows: Since the direct answers to your eight questions are not to be found in the Bible, before we look to any nonbiblical sources for instructions the next step is to look in the Bible for principles and statements that would assuredly have a bearing on the calendar.

Simply because there are no direct answers to your questions in the Bible does not justify throwing the Bible out regarding the calendar question. You are well acquainted with the Bible. Your approach to the calendar indicates that you believe you cannot defend the Jewish calendar by any appeals to the Bible--which others who also try to defend the Jewish calendar would do well to take note of.

Your approach is a tacit acknowledgment that attempts to justify using the Jewish calendar from the Bible are from the outset doomed to failure. Sanctifying pigs and horses

Your logic, it seems to me, also falls short when you say it requires some human authority to sanctify the calendar. But the only time human beings can sanctify something is when God gives a specific instruction to do so.

We have generally accepted Webster's definition of sanctify as "to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use," right? Before any human authority can set anything apart for a sacred purpose, we must see some indications somewhere in the Bible that God will actually approve of such setting apart.

For example, the only way we know that God would not approve of someone sanctifying a pig or a horse is because of what God has revealed in the Bible. So what biblical evidence is there that sanctifying the present Jewish calendar is in God's eyes any different from attempting to sanctify a pig or a horse?

Any convictions?

You have carefully worded your challenge to keep from exposing any convictions of your own on the relevance of any scriptures or principles pertaining to this question. Thus:

o Do you have any convictions concerning when God wants us to start a day?

You ask: "What actually constitutes the end of a day?," implying uncertainty on your part.

o Do your have convictions regarding in which season of the year God wants us to start the year? Can the first month of the year start in the winter or in the autumn or in the summer?

You are obviously not of two minds about whether God would accept our sanctifying a pig. So why would you be of two minds about which season of the year God wants us to start the year in?

For Muslims the start of the year cycles through all the seasons. Would your accept their calendar if the Jewish authorities decided to accept that model? If not, why not?

o Do you have convictions concerning when a month should start--at the time of the conjunction or at the time of first visibility--or are you content if this criterion keeps changing every month, as it does in the present Jewish calendar?

Do you believe there should be some consistency in this matter, irrespective of which criterion is used, or do you believe God is in agreement with the constant vacillation between these two options by the Jewish calendar?

o You know that Jesus Christ rebuked the Pharisees (who decided the present calendar) in the severest terms for rejecting the commands of God in order to hold fast to their human traditions (Mark 7:7-9).

Do you have any concern that the "postponement rules," which the Pharisees invented to avoid the Day of Atonement falling on inconvenient days, are also one of those human traditions that violate God's intentions?

Consider some scriptures

Regarding some scriptures that surely must have an impact on how the calendar is structured, let's consider:

o Exodus 34:22 states that the Feast of Tabernacles is to be "at the tekufah of the year." The meaning of the Hebrew word is clearly known among Jews, even if many defenders of the Jewish calendar try to blow numerous smoke screens around it.

Do you have a conviction that this scripture requires Tabernacles to be in a certain season of the year?

We cannot get away from the fact that the present Jewish calendar has, since its inception by Hillel II in A.D. 358-359, consistently violated the intent of Exodus 34:22 several times in every 19-year period.

When we focus on arguments about whether the month should start with the conjunction or with the first visibility, aren't we sweeping under the carpet the whole violation of the principle of Exodus 34:22?

o Leviticus 23:10-11 required the priest to wave a sheaf of the firstfruits during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Do you have any convictions as to whether the year can start so early that no barley will be ripe for this ceremony?

I don't mean borderline by a day or two or three. I mean placing the date on which that wave-sheaf ceremony used to be performed a week or two before any barley would be available. Do you accept such early dates for Unleavened Bread? Do you say, in effect: Since we don't have to bring a wave sheaf, who cares if the dates are too early for any barley?

If you do, you are in effect saying: God may have wanted Unleavened Bread to be later in the season back in Old Testament times, but, since A.D. 358-359, God has accepted the Jews' decision to have Unleavened Bread much earlier in the year for some years in every 19-year period. Again, what about Leviticus 23:10-11?

o Consider this hypothetical question: If God wanted to tell us in this end-time period something like "I hate the Jewish calendar," how could He possibly say that in a language that does not have a word for "calendar"? If you had been in God's place in Old Testament times, and you wanted to record this as a prophetic statement for people more than 2,000 years later, how would you have worded an emphatic rejection of the present Jewish calendar?

If you had been limited to biblical Hebrew, the only way you could possibly have said this would be: "I hate and loathe and can't stand your new moons."

Is it just a coincidence that that is precisely what God says in Isaiah 1:14? This chapter is not talking about pagan customs; it speaks to the Jews (Isaiah 1:1). Can we out of hand reject that in this book of prophecy God is in fact speaking about the Jewish calendar, which makes a mockery of any real new moons (irrespective of whether we accept the conjunction or first visibility) and which is so obviously manipulative with its postponement rules?

"Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them" (Isaiah 1:14).

Two conclusions

If we reject any information that is nonbiblical, we conveniently eliminate any historical evidence that contradicts the present Jewish calendar. Thus I conclude:

o You are not interested in the historical fact that during the first century the Jews used a calendar in which Atonement did fall on Fridays and on Sundays.

o You are not interested that the present Jewish calendar came about only after the second Roman destruction of Jerusalem in the A.D. 130s. (Thus it was not used at any time during the lives of all the original apostles.)

Get a move on

We know that two wrongs never make a right. If it can be shown that there are indeed real problems with the present Jewish calendar, problems that involve conflicts with what God requires, then those problems can never be eliminated by focusing on other problems that do have potential solutions.

I am in full agreement with you that the points you have formulated are real difficulties. I myself do not profess to have the perfect solution for all those difficulties.

But simply because the solution to a problem involves difficult decisions does not mean we refuse to face the problem we know is wrong before God. Isn't it like the truth about Pentecost? Herbert W. Armstrong started out with keeping Sivan 6, then recognized that Sivan 6 is wrong and switched to Pentecost "always on a Monday." He eventually came to understand that Pentecost is "always on a Sunday."

What if Mr. Armstrong had refused to move away from Sivan 6 simply because he wasn't sure of the correct day for Pentecost? Would he have ever come to a Sunday?

When I can see that something I am doing is wrong before God, then my conscience requires me to move away from what I know is wrong, even if I am not totally sure in which direction I should move.

Yes, maybe sometimes I move away from the wrong practice or concept in a direction that isn't yet fully right either. But at least I have made a move, and for that I believe God will open my eyes to greater understanding.

Nonnegotiable rules

As Kenneth Herrmann explained in his articles in The Good News (published by the Radio Church of God) in March 1953 and February and October 1957, the basic rules for a calendar are simple and straightforward:

o The day starts and ends at sunset.

o The week starts and ends with the sunset at the end of the Sabbath.

o The month starts with the new moon.

o The year starts with the first new moon in the spring of the northern hemisphere.

That's all the rules you need, and these rules may not be violated by any calendar model that is used by God's church. These rules are not in any way negotiable.

The sad part

Within the context of these rules, the genuine difficulties you raised need to be addressed and resolved. To resolve these matters you do indeed need some human authority to make binding decisions, yet we in the church today lack the spiritual maturity to face these matters squarely and to resolve them in ways that will meet God's approval.

That is the sad part of this whole calendar issue. We, all of us, are like a bunch of bickering little schoolboys concerned only about our standing and position. We lack the will or desire to make decisions that would be for the good of the greater Church of God beyond our own spheres of influence. We don't sigh and cry for the problems among God's people. The wrong attitudes many people have gotten into over the calendar issue (on both sides of the matter) are a far greater problem than ignorantly continuing with a flawed calendar.

To see or not to see

Yes, we do need some human authority to make decisions on certain issues, including:

o Do we accept the invisible conjunction, or do we accept first visibility, both of which can be calculated in advance.

o Do we accept a standard new moon time for one location on earth (for example, Jerusalem) and translate that into our own time zones, or do we go by local new-moon times for every place on earth?

o If we accept the invisible conjunction, do we accept the actual day of the conjunction as day one of the new month, or do we start day one with the sunset that follows the conjunction, irrespective of what time of day that conjunction occurred?

On the other hand, if we accept first visibility, then first visibility always occurs in the western sky immediately after sunset and thus at the very start of a new day.

Automatic sorter

The rule of always starting the year with the first new moon in the spring (on or after the vernal equinox) automatically sorts out which years will have 12 months and which will have 13, and that pattern will repeat itself every 19 years. No decision of any kind by anyone is needed in this regard; you need only the rule of never starting the year in the winter.

You are quite right: We do need some human authority to make these decisions. But the biblical example is not one of looking to the Jews for some kind of binding decision on the people of God. It is one thing to recognize that the text of the Bible was preserved by unconverted Jews and Greeks; it is another to look to the unconverted to make decisions that will be binding on the true people of God.

The biblical example for resolving such issues is the Jerusalem conference of Acts 15. Back then the issue of circumcision was just as divisive for the church as is the matter of the calendar today. But the leadership of the church back then at least had the concern for God's people as a whole to say: We need to get together and talk this whole matter through so we can resolve it and move forward unitedly in the customs we teach and practice.

We lack that kind of concern and maturity. We don't recognize anybody else's authority or ability to contribute to our understanding and practices of God's ways. We are not about to get together and have the leader of some other Church of God chairing some meeting that we would attend to give our input and to receive input from others. Even if we did go so far as to attend some kind of conference or other, we would still all walk away with our own opinions, right?

I will negotiate

I don't know what is the best option: first visibility or the invisible conjunction. I have my ideas, but they are far from cast in stone. I don't know what is the better option: always to take the day of the conjunction (if that's the way we would go) or always to take the sunset that immediately follows the conjunction.

In the absence of consensus of any kind, in my desire to move away from what I know is wrong, I have been forced to make some decisions that I believe are the best ones. But they are still negotiable. I am willing to learn and for the good of the greater Church of God would be willing to change on any of the negotiable problem areas you raised. But sticking with a flawed Jewish calendar that openly violates clear principles is not an option for me.

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