History and Science aren’t always favorite topics, but when it comes to the Bible, there is so much clarity and beauty and guidance we can learn and appreciate. Join AMBrewster as he teaches us to appreciate biblical dates and times.
The Year Long Celebration of God is a family resource from Truth.Love.Parent., a ministry dedicated to rooting families in God and maturing families for God so they can harvest blessings from God.
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Today we’re going to talk a little about science and history . . . and I know the moment I say that, I’ve lost half of my audience, but I want us to think about this maturely today.
The only reason we’re going to discuss these issues related to time and seasons is that they were created by God for us, they’re recorded in His Word, and they are extremely relevant to our conversation.
That means that we have to talk about this if we want to glorify God well.
But before we jump into that, if you are a parent or someone who works with parents — like a counselor or pastor — I want to let you know about Truth.Love.Parent. I am the president of TLP, and I’m the host of its podcast.
We’ve created and are continuing to create a bunch of free resources so that dads and moms can become the parents God called and created them to be.
In fact, The Celebration of God started out as a TLP resource. It’s perfect for a disciple-making family. I hope you’ll check out TruthLoveParent.com and connect with us so that we can serve your family better.
And while you’re there, you can click through to The Celebration of God website to access today’s free episode notes and transcript.
Alright, let’s dip our toes into a discussion about calendars and timekeeping so that we can become better worshippers of God.
Now, I say “dip our toes” because this is a huge discussion. It’s just too big to talk about in its totality, so it will be something that we revisit throughout the Celebration of God.
But even if we talked about it every single time, I don’t believe we’d ever completely unpack it — in part — because it’s a topic that is almost unknowable.
Without archeology and the men and women who not only discover, but also research ancient artifacts, it would be impossible to perfectly understand how the ancient Jews kept time.
We know a lot, but I think there’s probably far more that we don’t know.
Let me give you just one example of the breadth of this topic.
There’s a website called Judaism 101, and I’d like to quote a couple of the opening paragraphs.
"The Jewish calendar is based on three astronomical phenomena: the rotation of the Earth about its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon about the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth about the sun (a year). These three phenomena are independent of each other, so there is no direct correlation between them. On average, the moon revolves around the Earth in about 29½ days. The Earth revolves around the sun in about 365¼ days, that is, about 12.4 lunar months.
“The civil calendar used by most of the world has abandoned any correlation between the moon cycles and the month, arbitrarily setting the length of months to 28, 29, 30 or 31 days.
“The Jewish calendar, however, coordinates all three of these astronomical phenomena. Months are either 29 or 30 days, corresponding to the 29½-day lunar cycle. Years are either 12 or 13 months, corresponding to the 12.4 month solar cycle.”
Of course, this article is describing the modern Jewish calendar. There is evidence that there have been at least three main ways the Jewish people have approached the calculation of time: pre-flood, post-flood, and modern times.
So, all of this leads well into my first point for today:
1. The Complexity of Ancient Calendars
Again, people have been studying ancient calendars for a very long time. Some of you are old enough to remember all the fuss about the Mayan calendar that supposedly predicted the end of the world in 2012. If nothing else it gave us a couple interesting movies.
The reason there is are so many different ways to account for the passing of the seasons is that people had to figure it out for themselves, and there was no way to communicate their findings to other people in the world.
That meant that each community was basically on their own.
Just imagine this. Let’s assume that everyone starts by accepting that there are 24 hours in a day and that 12 pm occurs when the sun is directly above us. That’s the assumption, and even that assumption assumes quite a bit. But let’s simplify it and say that everyone orients their time by a sundial with the aforementioned markings.
Well, if that were the case, then 12pm is going to occur at multiple different times throughout the day depending on where you live. If the sun has to be directly over you, then people who live further around the western curve of the earth won’t experience 12pm until later in our day.
We understand this. It’s the foundation of the time zones.
But did you know the time zones weren’t even established until the 1800’s! Yeah, they were having problems with trains coming from different places running into each other because — according to their calculation of time — they were all arriving exactly when they thought they were supposed to. However, according to the engineer of the other train, the others were either running too early or too late, and the thing about trains is that two trains can’t occupy the same track at the same time without there being trouble.
That means that even our modern understanding of time is very new considering the age of the earth. Not only that, but different nations approach special days in different ways.
So, let’s consider. . . .
2. The Value of Using Your Own Calendar
Remember that freedom we discussed in episode 4? It’s okay if one of us values one day over another and another doesn’t value the day at all. As long as the Bible doesn’t prescribe it . . . all we have to do is make sure we’re observing or not observing the day in confident faith that we’re glorifying God.
That means that some of you may choose to observe the Crucifixion on a Wednesday, some on a Thursday, and some on a Friday. And some of you may choose to celebrate Easter on specific date every year instead of the changing Jewish reckoning.
And that’s fine.
By the way, if you’re curious why people might choose to observe those events on different days, you will thoroughly be blessed by our upcoming Easter episodes.
Either way, I would argue that a truly born again believer is definitely going to celebrate the resurrection of his Savior from the dead, but God didn’t demand that it take place on a certain day and time, so there’s freedom in when we observe it.
However, even though there’s value in using your own calendar . . .
3. The Value of Appreciating Other Calendars
I’m happy to say that — for the most part — the flow of The Celebration of God makes a lot of sense. For example, we’ve created a brand new celebration designed to be enjoyed for an entire week that we’ve decided to place at the beginning of September.
Now, I’m not going to tell you what the celebration is just yet, but I will tell you that there is very good ancient evidence to suggest that September is exactly when the event took place.
My family used to celebrate this event over the course of one day in April, but as we studied more, it made far more sense to observe it in September.
As we participate in The Celebration of God and learn together, you as well may find joy in appreciating different liturgical calendars.
But we also have to consider that The Celebration of God is not only for Americans. Any Christians from anywhere in the world can appreciate this resource. So — in an attempt to take full advantage of celebrating the gift of the family — should our calendars observe Children’s Day on Sunday, June 14th (which is the American observance), June 1st (according to the World Conference for the Well-being of Children in Geneva, Switzerland) or on November 20th (as established by the United Nations in 1954)?
You may find that you like how another country’s calendar schedules the day in relationship to other special days, or you may want to entirely avoid when the world celebrates something because you don’t want to participate in their secular version of the day, or you may prefer to observe an international celebration because there are better chances that you’re worshipping God on the same day that Christian’s all over the globe are thanking Him for the exact same gift.
The choice is yours, but there is value in appreciating other calendars.
But what about the unique dates and times recorded in the Scriptures? Isn’t that the focus of today’s episode? That’s right, we should be uniquely curious about the biblical reckoning of time because — as Christians — we want to be knowledgeable when we read our Bibles, and the Bible has a lot to say about time.
4. The Value of Understanding Biblical Calendars and Timetables
If God says it, it should be important to us. I believe the Old Testament is just as practical and applicable and relevant to modern Christians as it was the day it was written to its original audience.
God is never changing, and His character is exemplified from Genesis through Revelation.
So, if discipleship is us knowing and understanding God better in order that we can celebrate Him better, then we need to do our best to understand what we find in the Scriptures — and that includes how God speaks of time.
I believe studying this provides three benefits for the Christian: we benefit from clarity, beauty, and occasionally even guidance.
A. Let’s start with Clarity.
What does the Bible mean when — in Mark 15:25 — we read "It was the third hour when they crucified Him” and then in John 19:14 we read, “Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he *said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King! 15 So they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate *said to them, 'Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’”
Not only are they using time references that are foreign to us, the two different numbers appear contradictory.
First, let’s address the foreign understanding of time. The Jewish third hour is the same as 9am for the Romans, which is the time system we use today. Consequently, the 6th hour is 12pm.
But that’s a three hour difference between 9am and 12pm! Was Jesus crucified at 9 or 12? Now, the Scripture is very clear that He died at the ninth hour, which is 3pm. So, was Jesus on the cross for 3 hours or for 6?
Here’s the important thing to remember. The Jews didn’t have watches, sundials weren’t being commonly used during the 1st century, and there was no unit of time commonly used that was smaller than an hour.
Since the smallest movement of the sun was not easily distinguishable to anyone without a time-keeping device, the Jews broke the day into 3 clearly acknowledgeable segments: sunrise, noon, and sunset.
During that 12 hour period the Jews commonly only referred to Sunrise, the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour, and sunset. Why only the third, sixth, and ninth? Well, without the aid of time keeping device, anybody can tell when the sub was halfway between sunrise and noon, at noon, and halfway between noon and sunset.
Those were the easiest to distinguished. So, for common purposes, people didn’t plan to meet at the fourth or fifth hour.
The perfect example of this is from Matthew 20. Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who went out to hire people to work in his vineyard. He went out early in the morning, during the third hour, then again during the sixth and ninth hours — each time hiring more people.
So, though you may be able to glance at your watch or phone and know that it’s 10:45am, you may encounter one ancient Israelite who would have told you it was the third hour and another who would have said it was about the sixth hour. You also have to account for rounding up and down.
This means that Mark’s reference to the third hour likely had nothing to do with 9am, but — for our purposes — was an approximate reference that could have referred to a number of times — including right up to 12pm. And the reference to the sixth hour in John was another rough approximation depending on the sun’s position in that quadrant of the sky.
So, let’s say that Christ’s sentence was delivered at 11am and shortly thereafter began His march to Golgotha. Mark could honestly say He was crucified in the third hour. And if John — who was actually there — referred to Christ’s crucifixion occurring when He was nailed to the cross, John would have easily recorded that it took place at the sixth hour.
There is absolutely no legitimate contradiction. And that’s the clarity that comes from understanding how the ancient Jews looked at time.
But this study not only provides clarity, I believe it’s also beautiful.
There are some amazing realities to be appreciated about how God has interacted with His people within the Jewish month Nisan. The following 7 historical events occurred on the same day — Nisan 17.
Each of those events is God providentially and miraculously protecting and caring for His people. Noah represents all mankind, the Jews are God’s chosen people, and Christ’s death on the cross purchased protection for Jews and Gentiles alike. And the Lord chose the 17th of Nisan for each of those momentous occasions. It was His chosen day to celebrate new beginnings.
That is not coincidence . . . and that is beautiful.
I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to celebrate God’s awesomeness!
I hope you’re appreciating the clarity and beauty that comes from better understanding these biblical timetables and calendars. But there’s one more benefit.
The book of Acts is the history of the founding of the church. Luke wrote the book of Acts, specifically in order to help a man named Theophilus understand what took place after the Gospel of Luke.
Now, up until that point, the Jews would have gone to the synagogue to worship on Saturday. But after the resurrection of Christ on Sunday, we find that God’s people started a new tradition.
Acts 20 verse 7 reads, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”
In I Corinthians 16:2 Paul is instructing the people when to collect the gift he was planning to take to Jerusalem, and he said, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.”
Both of these passages as well as plenty of historical evidence teach us that the early church decided to hold their special assemblies on Sunday as opposed to the previous tradition of meeting on Saturday.
This is the reason the vast majority of Christians from protestant denominations meet on Sunday. This is an example of how some of the days and times can actually be prescriptive for us.
This study within The Celebration of God offers clarity, beauty, and occasionally even guidance.
So, the inevitable question is, how much of The Celebration of God is tied to the ancient Jewish calendar system.
Well, there are a few key observances that utilize it. In fact, that’s why Easter falls on different days from year to year. The great majority of Christians utilize the Jewish reckoning in order to celebrate the resurrection.
But there are many, many festivities within The Celebration of God that do not align to the ancient calendars. That’s where we get to utilize our own calendars and learn to appreciate other calendars. Because the whole point is that we do our best to celebrate God every day in every way possible. The more opportunities we have . . . the better.
Once again, I hope this time of Preparation and Anticipation is enjoyable for you. It won’t be long now before we jump right into the full-on Celebration and active discipleship.
So make sure you share this episode on your favorite social media outlets so that more and more of God’s people can join us for this Year Long Disciple-Making Celebration of God.
And join us next time as we walk through the Four Seasons and get just a glimpse of the awesome God we worship.
The Year Long Celebration of God is a dynamic, holistic resource that utilizes the Bible, our holiday calendars, and even the most average moments of the most normal days to equip Christians to worship God all year long
and disciple others to do the same.
AMBrewster is the creator and host of the Celebration of God. He originally designed the COG to be a discipleship tool for Christian parents to train their children to know and love God, but he quickly realized how valuable it is for all Christians. Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
Aaron is the President of Truth.Love.Parent. and host of its podcast.