Bill and Karen Bishop’s book The Biblical Calendar Then and Now is bound to stir up controversy.
However, the same could be said of most literary works that challenge preconceptions and personal prejudices. If you’re like me, you are reluctant to dismiss a topic simply because it may make others feel uncomfortable. The goal is not to upset or to trigger others, but to motivate all of us to dig a little deeper and pray a bit harder in the pursuit of Scriptural truths. The late Walter Martin understood that, in the pursuit of truth, many would be labeled controversial.
This brings us to the topic of the Biblical calendar. Never has one word — calendar — stirred up so many passions amongst followers of Yeshua and worshippers of the Almighty. Mention the calendar and mayhem and confusion will inevitably follow.
The Great Calendar Divide
The only calendar most believers were exposed to in church included seasonal observances that were never a part of Torah-observant ancient Hebraic culture. These traditional religious expressions of faith may have involved participating in family Christmas or Easter gatherings.
As believers, we look for ways to express and fight for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints.
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all time handed down to the saints.
Jude 1:3 NASB
Those who are new to the Torah inevitably find themselves torn between sincerely desiring to observe Yahuah’s feast days and appointed times and maintaining healthy family relationships. Confusion over how to express this faith in a post-temple priesthood era only adds to the frustration.
There are other challenges believers face when trying to find “the correct” calendar to follow:
A lack of a clear Biblical calendar methodology
Ignorance of historical events that impacted calendar methodology
Rejection of extra-biblical writings that may shed light on calendar construction methodology
Silence from the pulpit regarding Yah’s calendar and its required Sabbaths, Feasts, and appointed times
Lack of understanding of how the calendar we follow is tied to our Covenant duties and responsibilities
Enter Bill and Karen Bishop and their book The Biblical Calendar Then and Now.
The authors humbly submit that their work is a way for the reader to challenge personal assumptions and stretch their understanding concerning how the calendar is divinely constructed. While not intended to be a theological dissertation on the calendar, the authors’ intention is clear — “to provide a practicable body of evidence that will spur further revelation through constructive dialogue, study, and debate on this topic among sincere believers of the Torah.”
The tone of the book is respectful and substantive. The chapters are designed to answer most of the questions they have encountered over the years. The writing is very straightforward, and the reader is encouraged to invest the time necessary to do their own research. The approach is not that of calendar “evangelists” whose motive is to sway you to their way of thinking. Their conversational writing style draws you in and logically walks you through the justifications given for various calendar-keeping methodologies.
The Biblical Calendar Book Review Synopsis
The book begins by helping the reader understand four main categories of Torah-based calendars and the methodology behind their determinations:
The Sighting Method
The Hillel Method
The GWDF community will notice I did not mention the Zadokite calendar in this list. Hold on, it’s coming.
Chapter 1 of the book helps the reader understand how these different calendars are formulated. In the second chapter, the authors present a calendar “consideration” that has been hiding in plain sight for years. They point out in appropriate detail how the sun and harvest seasons (working together) help determine the timing of the feasts.
The Luminaries and Their Cycles
Most English-speaking followers of Yeshua lack a functional knowledge of Hebrew. When we read through the Psalms and Old Testament literature, words like “new moons” or “seasons” distort our understanding of what is written. Etymology matters.
In chapter 3, the authors delve into the Hebraic intent of certain words; even examining aspects of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet. Words and definitions play a key role in understanding calendar formulations that involve the luminaries that were created on Day 4. The four seasonal transitions (spring, summer, autumn, winter) are explained in connection with the annual equinoxes and solstices.
Since all calendars require periodic adjustments, the need for intercalation is also explained and discussed in detail.
Historical Context + Ancient Writings
According to the writers, the Babylonian exile and the corruption of the Levitical priesthood are also factors in how the Biblical calendar was corrupted. They encourage readers to do a deep dive into the history surrounding the Sadducees, Pharisees, the Hasmonean Dynasty, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. According to the authors:
Though the Sadducees and the Pharisees did not agree in many respects, these two groups managed to cooperate with one another to run the Temple in their day…The calendar decisions they made then would have been based on lunar criteria, and loosely hinged to the evolving calendar we know as the Jewish Hillel calendar today. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls and encyclopedic research confirm that some sectarian groups observed a calendar other than the one sanctioned by the Sanhedrin.
The Zadokite Calendar
In Chapter 10, sufficient attention is paid to the Zadokite solar calendar. The authors confess that they initially tried to find reasons to disqualify this version of the Biblical calendar but couldn’t. Biblical Scripture is the filter through which they base their conclusions.
These observations regarding this calendar are made in this chapter of the book :
The “festival nature” of the equinox and solstice seasonal markers
The Zadokite year always makes a complete circuit
The Biblical New Year always begins in Spring
The year will always begin on Day 4 (Wednesday) of creation
A year = 364 days/52 weeks of 7 days each
There is never a 13th month added (for intercalation)
Make Your Own Calendar
Chapter 21 ties everything together by revisiting reasons why a lunar-based reckoning did not make sense for a people (Hebrews) whose lifestyles were agrarian-centric. Again, the authors leave the final decision as to which calendar to follow up to the reader.
However, those who would like to “test” the Zadokite calendar are given the tools to do so in the appendices section of the book. They provide the formulae and templates, data, and schemata necessary to make your own Zadokite calendar.
Those who are serious about meeting with their Creator on the appointed days he ordained should consider purchasing this book. A link to the Bishop’s website — Returning to the Garden — is posted below.
Research — 5/5
Writing — 5/5
Support Materials — 5/5
The Biblical Calendar Then and Now is 96 pages long. It is very easy to read and comprehend. There is bonus material in the appendices section at the end of the book. Those who want to put into practice what they have learned about the Zadokite solar calendar can use the templates, data, and schemata to chart their own calendar year!
Yeshua’s sermon on the mount began with a list of blessings or beatitudes that would follow and characterize the people who belong to the Kingdom of Heaven. On their face, these unique characteristics seem peculiar when judged by the world’s standards. When you act like this, some people may call you weak or stupid.
And yet, our High Priest says when believers in him and his Father demonstrate the following lifestyle behaviors, they are blessed:
mournful over sins
gentle, kind & forgiving
thirsty for righteousness
persecuted for doing the morally right thing
You could say that this list is a great example of Kingdom ethos. Ethos is a Greek word that essentially means character. This word is often used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that epitomize a community, nation, ideology, or kingdom. Think of it as a mark of distinction from most carnal (fleshly) kingdoms of the world.
When we strive to adopt these character traits through much pain and suffering, we find ourselves in good company. Our Messiah, the Prophets, Apostles, and martyred believers throughout Biblical history also endured this.
Living As Salt and Light
As Yeshua continues his sermon on the mount, he focuses on the mission of those believers who display the ethos of the Kingdom. He compares them to salt — a preservative, and a lamp or menorah.
As salt and light, believers put Kingdom behavior on display. As ministers of the Gospel of the Kingdom, we are to be about the business of sowing the seed of the Word in the soil of receptive hearts.
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men. “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.
Historically salt has played a major role in the preservation of many societies. In ancient times, salt was used as a form of currency, a way to preserve foods, and a flavor enhancer. Salt as a commodity was deemed to be as precious and valuable as gold. Soldiers’ wages were once paid in salt and before going to war, many countries would ensure that their stockpiles of salt were in abundance so that food stores could be preserved.
The lampstand or menorah is symbolic of the priesthood1 which also ties to our commission to go and take the Gospel of the Kingdom to all four corners of the earth. As Dr. John Currid2 so elegantly put it, “The name menorah simply underscores the utilitarian purpose of the lampstand: it is to give light to the priests who work in the Holy Place of the tabernacle.”
Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.
For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching [of the law] is light, And reproofs (rebukes) for discipline are the way of life…
Your No one lights a lamp and puts it in the cellar or under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see its light.
According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament:3
Therefore, the symbolism of salt and light supports New Testament statements that Christians are indeed the light of the world whose lamps are always to burn and shine before men, leading the ungodly to Yahuah and basking in a state of blessed expectation of and preparation for Christ’s return.
It has been said that the problem with religion is that it is a system that tries to make the flesh behave. Religious people are good at suppressing their fleshly nature4; making it look good from the outside. However, the true self is hidden. There is a form of godliness but the person is rotten inside.
As those who desire to one day be deemed worthy to be called citizens of Yah’s Kingdom, we must die to self daily so we can become the salt that heals and light that instructs.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Kingdom Status is Tied to the Law
Yeshua is clear in his sermon on the mount. He did not come to abolish the Law (Torah). His life is an example of what we should emulate, walking in obedience to Yahuah’s standard of righteousness.
So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
Matthew 5: 17
You can’t get any clearer than this. The Greek word for destroy or abolish is kataluó. It means to overthrow or destroy (both literally and metaphorically). When referring to government laws or institutions, kataluó is also understood to mean to deprive of force, annul, abrogate, or discard. Yeshua walked in perfect obedience to the Father. If he had taken it upon himself to annul the Law he would have disqualified himself as Savior and High Priest.
The Law is eternal and good and will never be abolished. Those who teach otherwise will be considered the least in the Kingdom. Those who choose to obey to Torah will be called great.5
A Higher Standard of Righteousness
While the Law is a standard by which righteousness can be measured, works of the law can not make you righteous. Only Yeshua can do this through his authority as our mediator and High Priest.
Therefore no one will be justified in His sight by works of the law. For the law merely brings awareness of sin. But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, as attested by the Law and the Prophets. And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul was dealing with morality. Since we all fail in our obedience to moral laws, we cannot be justified by that Law. The problem is a lack of conformity of the heart in matters related to life.
This brings us to the scribes and Pharisees. From the outside, they looked as if they were walking in obedience to Torah but they weren’t. They had a form of godliness but their traditions and practices betrayed them. (Matthew 23:25-28) This is why Yeshua said that our righteousness must exceed theirs in order to gain admittance into the Kingdom.
For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
The expression “you have heard that it was said” was common during the time of Yeshua’s earthly ministry. However, theologically, it led to misapplications of the Torah and confusion among the people. These sayings (Matthew 5:21-48) distorted Biblical instruction concerning:
Respect for Life
Fidelity in Marriage
Response to Hatred
Case in point: The “eye for an eye” expression that is often quoted in contemporary society has been radically misconstrued. In Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:17-20 and Deuteronomy 19:17-21, the legal remedy for harm was intended to make people whole again. It is rooted in the concept of justice for all. American theologian, Albert Barnes offers this commentary:
It serves as a maxim for the magistrate in awarding the amount of compensation to be paid for the infliction of personal injury. The sum was to be as nearly as possible to the worth in money of the power lost by the injured person. Our Lord quotes Exodus 21:24 as representing the form of the law, in order to illustrate the distinction between the letter and the spirit. (Matthew 5:38)
Faith in Practice
In his sermon, Yeshua took time to unpack the deeper motivations behind our outward behaviors or actions. When we put our “goodness” on display for the world to see, the sin of pride is always at the root. It’s not just what we do it is why we do it.
This same application can be made concerning the act of fasting. Yeshua says it is hypocritical for us to put something that should be a private interaction with the Father on display. This is something that should be done in secret as an act of contrition or sorrow over sin. When done in this spirit, Yah will reward us appropriately. (Matthew 6:18)
Yeshua stresses the importance of prayer and how this too is a private matter between us and the Father. When we petition the Almighty we must be concise and to the point, speaking from the heart. We reverence His name and acknowledge His coming Kingdom on earth. We acknowledge our sin debt owed him and we release through forgiveness the debt of others who have personally harmed us. As we deconstruct our Messiah’s instructions on how to pray, four things should prompt us to do so:
It is expected
Sin in our lives that need to be confessed
The weakness of our flesh
The subtlety of the enemy
As we go through this mortal life, we must stay focused on the eternal life to come. Material things such as homes and cars will decay and rust. Gold and silver coins will be left behind for others after we die. Mammon6 is a spirit that will demand our service and attention. In Luke’s gospel, Yeshua teaches us that wealth does not really belong to men, but as stewards, we may use it to our eternal advantage. Instead of serving Yah and mammon both, we should serve the Most High with our money, and in doing so lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven.
As his sermon draws to a close, Yeshua’s focus turns to other aspects of a believer’s life: the temptation to worry, the danger of judging others, the importance of persistence, staying on the narrow path spiritually, and the importance of discernment. We should become fruit inspectors so as not to be led astray by false teachers. By being attentive to these things we develop an authentic relationship with our Messiah and High Priest – Yeshua. (Matthew 6:25-7:23)
A Sure Foundation
Yeshua ends his sermon on the mount by stressing the importance of obedience. Sermons that tickle the ears and stimulate emotions are worthless. Blessings will come only to those who hear, consider, understand, believe, and obey the doctrine our Messiah just preached. That person will be considered wise — someone who has built his house on the solid foundation of the Word. In doing so, the serious believer can anticipate the everlasting security, joy, and peace that will come as a citizen of the coming Kingdom.
And so it was, when Yeshua had ended these sayings, that the peple were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
1 Menorah (#H4501): Exodus 25:31-40
2 Dr. John D. Currid is Chancellor’s Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary.
3Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Volume 2, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, Moody Press, Chicago. 1980. Page 566
4 The ‘flesh’ is a metaphor for desires that are opposed to the way and will of the Ruach Ha’Kodesh – Yah’s set-apart Spirit.
5 Matthew 5:18,19
6 Mammon is an Chaldee or Syriac word for riches. It is a term used to denote wealth.
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