Paganism and the Calendar
This is the third article of a four-part series which is intended to lay the foundation for a better understanding of the biblical observance of the Sabbath.
Reading through the first few pages of the Old Testament, one quickly discovers God’s design for a day – sunset to sunset, one rotation of the earth. Pursuing that study, it’s easy to see God intended man to work for six days followed by a day of rest – a span of time typically called a week. Further digging reveals that a little more than four of those weeks (29.53 days to be more precise), with each week having its own seventh day of rest, begets a month.
Scripture shows us each month starts with a day of rest unto the Lord, a day when no servile work is to be done, a day recognized by the new moon in the sky. The day the New Moon is sighted is known as a Sabbath day of rest unto the Lord, as are each of the seventh days which end each week. Further complications arise when additional days are added into the calendar which are considered holy, or set aside, unto the Lord, such as during the feasts the Lord has designated for Israel.
The whole biblical chronological system is based upon the lunar calendar. This calendar system has changed dramatically over the last two millennia and those changes directly affect any type of observance of the ancient biblical holy days and the biblical lunar calendar today.
In 45 B.C., Roman Emperor Julius Caesar instituted a “new and improved” secular calendar. This system was not based upon Earth’s rotations (which determined day and night) and lunar orbits around Earth (which determined months and seasons) but upon Earth’s rotations (day and night) and the Earth’s orbits around the Sun (precise secular years).
This Gentile solar dating system is known as the Julian calendar. The new calendar made major advances in correcting a hodge-podge of human errors, which themselves had created calendars of 304 days, 355 days, and 366.25 days, as well as calendars consisting of only 10 months, and months consisting of only an odd number of days (due to a superstition against using even numbers).
Before Julius Caesar could implement his new calendar, he had to correct for the massive error of the then-existing calendar. Hence, he added an additional 80 days to the year in 45 B.C. Understandably, this year became known as the “Year of Confusion.”
The Julian calendar modified previous calendars to make a year 365.25 days. While this was remarkably more accurate, the Julian calendar was still not entirely accurate. The Julian calendar did, however, consist of 12 months. Two months were added to the previously existing 10 months to make the complete Julian calendar. This, in itself, produced an error that continues on our calendar to this day. Pre-Julian calendars of 10 months assigned a number to each of their months. Eventually, when two additional months were added to the Julian calendar, the new months were added to the front of the prior lineup, which pushed the other 10 months to the back of the line. This accounts for why September (septem meaning seventh) is now the ninth month, October (octo meaning eighth) is now the tenth month, November (novem meaning ninth) is now the eleventh month, and December (decem meaning tenth) is now the twelfth month. Pagan names for the days of the week were added later in history. We will address these a little later in this article.
Many preeminent pagan religions and cultures throughout history have worshipped the Sun god. This Sun-god worship had its origin as far back as Genesis 10, with a ruler named Nimrod. Numerous ancient pagan cultures have believed that, at his death, Nimrod became the Sun god. This thought process would grow and eventually affect the Julian calendar.
It was several hundred years after Julius Caesar, during the reign of Constantine in A.D. 325, that the Council of Nicaea decided to separate the celebration of certain biblical holidays from the biblical lunar calendar, the calendar also used by the Jewish people.
Because those ancient biblical holidays were anchored to and determined by the lunar calendar, they floated from year to year on the Julian solar calendar. The Council wanted the resurrection of Christ to always fall on the first day of the week on the Julian solar calendar, which happens to be the day named by paganism as the “Day of the Sun”. Constantine concurred with the Council’s decision and decreed the celebration of Christ’s resurrection would always fall on the day of the Sun, now commonly known as Easter Sunday. Hence, in what is known as a Synodal Letter to the church at Alexandria, they stated:
We further proclaim to you the good news of the agreement concerning the holy Easter [Easter is a pagan term that crept into the Church, which has caused a lack of understanding of the Passover and its relationship to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection], that this particular also has through your prayers been rightly settled; so that all our brethren in the East [Christians in Asia Minor] who formerly followed the custom of the Jews [the lunar calendar timing and celebration of the Passover] are henceforth to celebrate the said most sacred feast of Easter at the same time with the Romans [Christians in Europe] and yourselves and all those who have observed Easter from the beginning.(1)
For those following the Julian solar calendar, this decree had the immediate effect of permanently disconnecting God’s Spring feasts – Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Pentecost – from Christ’s actual fulfillment of those events on God’s biblical lunar calendar, namely, the crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and arrival of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The order of those feasts, their timing in the biblical prophetic calendar, and the meaning of their fulfillment at Christ’s first coming have largely been lost in today’s church. Further, this then results in the meaning and fulfillment of the Fall feast of the Lord at Christ’s second coming also being lost in the church today.
Eventually, more than 1,200 years after the Nicaean Council, due to the minor errors in the Julian calendar, which by then totaled 10 days of error, a new, even more accurate secular calendar was implemented in February of 1582 by a decree from Pope Gregory XIII. The revised system, known as the Gregorian calendar, is the one generally used by governments, business, and media across the globe today.
At this point, to complete this discussion of the calendar, the names of the days of the week should be mentioned. Today, each language group has its own set of names for each day of the week. Looking back, one can fairly clearly see from whence today’s names have come. One need only look at the roots of each respective language to figure out the origin of the names of the week.
For example, the names of the week we use in today’s English have their roots in Old English. This language was developed as the result of ancient invasions of Britain – which at the time spoke Celtic – by three Germanic groups, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in the fifth century A.D. The Angles named their territory Angleland (sic), which eventually became England.
Looking at today’s English names of the days of the week, we can clearly see the influence of these invading tribes, their pagan gods, and worship. Sunday: Sunnandæg means Sun’s day, maintaining the pagan relationship to, and worship of, the goddess Sunna. Monday: Mōnandæg means Moon’s day, personified in the goddess Máni. Tuesday: Tīwesdæg, named in honor of Tiw, the one-handed Norse god of war. Wednesday: Wōdnesdæg means Wodan’s day (also Odin’s day for the northern Germanic people). Wodan was considered to be a leader of souls. Thursday: Þunresdæg, Punor’s day, dedicated to the god of thunder, who has his personification in the ancient hammer-wielding Norse god known in modern English as Thor. Friday: Frīgedæg means Frige’s day. Frige was for the Norse who Venus was for the Romans, the goddess of beauty, love, and pleasure. The planet Venus was called Frige’s Star by the Norse. Saturday: Sæternesdæg means Saturn’s day. Interestingly, this is the only day of the week that retained its Roman roots in its English name.
Likewise, other languages tie the names of their days of the week to similar gods of the Greek and Roman cultures; days dedicated to the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn, just to name the primary ones.
One interesting point that must be made at this time, none of these names of the days of the week, nor anything remotely similar, appears in any of the Bible accounts. They are the invention of pagans.
OBSERVING THE LUNAR AND SOLAR CALENDARS CONCURRENTLY
Superimposing the relatively recent Gentile Gregorian, solar-based calendar over the original biblical, lunar-based calendar is like putting a square peg into a round hole. The two don’t properly fit together. Explaining this is a bit complex, but necessary. In the explanation that follows, it’s important to be aware of which calendar we are referring, the solar or lunar.
To demonstrate, let’s assume in our test case that the first day of the month on the solar calendar and the first day New Moon on the lunar calendar both fall on the same day (even this statement has its complications).
Looking at your favorite Gregorian solar calendar on your wall you would see the number “1” in the first block of the first row. At this point, we also have to mention that each day of the week on the secular solar calendar has been given a name. The first day of each week is known in English as Sunday, which began at midnight. The previous month – which, depending on the month, may have ended after the 28th, 29th, 30th or 31st day of the month – and the previous day (Saturday) both ended at midnight, at which time our current new month and new day (Sunday) began.
Meanwhile, on the biblical lunar calendar, the first day of the month actually started not at midnight but at sunset the previous day, at the sighting of the first sliver of the New Moon, which, when comparing our two calendars, is actually still within the end of the previous Gregorian solar month.
Solar calendar observers take it for granted that the first day of the month is the day following the last day of the previous month. That’s an obvious, simplistic statement. The first day of the new month just naturally succeeds or follows the day and month before it.
In our test case, the first day of the month happens to fall on the first day of the week (Sunday), but it could have fallen on any day of the week (Monday, Tuesday, etc.), whichever day naturally followed in sequence the last day of the previous month. For example, if the previous month ended on a Wednesday, the new month would begin on Thursday. The Gregorian solar month does not reset itself to a predetermined beginning day at each new month; it just proceeds from where the prior month left off.
For the biblical lunar calendar observer, however, the first day of the month always falls on the first day of the week. Why? Because the first day of the month is always determined by the sighting of the first sliver of the New Moon. The rest of the month is then based upon that one sighting. Whatever day the New Moon is sighted, it automatically becomes the first day of the new month, resetting the whole month to the same starting position each time.
In our test case, we just happen to have the biblical New Moon Sabbath and Gentile Sunday occurring on approximately the same day, keeping in mind the Sabbath started at sunset the day prior to the Gentile Sunday, which started at midnight. However, the New Moon resetting of the lunar month could have occurred on any day of the Gentile week.
All this to say, if the New Moon had been sighted on, let’s say, Thursday on the Gregorian solar calendar, the biblical lunar calendar would have reset itself to return to the first row and first block on the Gregorian solar calendar, which is Sunday, even though solar calendar keepers would have continued their week on Thursday followed by Friday.
Since the biblical lunar calendar does not assign names to the days of the month, nor a defined sequence to those names (Monday followed by Tuesday followed by Wednesday, etc.) – the days of the month only use their respective number in the month – this monthly resetting is not a problem. However, since the Gregorian calendar assigns names and numbers to the days, this monthly resetting would be a serious problem because we would have to jump at the end of the month from Monday or Tuesday back to Sunday again and start the month over, losing the natural sequence of days in the seven-day week.
In our test case, however, the first lunar day and first solar day begin on approximately the same day. According to the Bible, New Moon Sabbath observers do no work after sunset, which would have been sunset Saturday night on the solar calendar and continued to sunset on Sunday. Today, many Gentile businesses remain open on Sunday. The New Moon observer would not have been able to close the business the night before (Saturday night), nor would they have been able to open the business Sunday morning since they are not supposed to be working.
If you were a Gentile employer, the employee observing the biblical lunar calendar would be gone well before sunset Saturday night because they cannot do any kind of work once the New Moon Sabbath officially begins at sunset, therefore, they have to prepare ahead and arrive home before the Sabbath actually begins at sunset.
If you were a Gentile hoping to do business with a Jewish establishment on Saturday before their New Moon Sabbath began, you’d have to make sure you were there before two or three o’clock in the afternoon, otherwise you’d find the business closed.
Moving past the hurdle of the first day of the month, the conundrum raises its head again at the end of the sixth day of the month. Once again, on the biblical lunar calendar a Sabbath day of rest begins at sunset, the beginning of the seventh day of the week. On the Gregorian solar calendar, this is Friday evening. For Gentiles, it is a full day of work, but for the person observing the biblical lunar calendar, their day of work ends hours before the Gentile workday ends so they can be at home when sunset arrives.
For many Gentiles, Saturday may be a day of work while Sunday is considered a day of rest, and, for some, Sunday is also considered a day of worship. In this instance, the biblical lunar calendar observer is free to work on Sunday since his day of rest ended the day before (Saturday) at sunset. As a matter of fact, in Israel, many businesses open after sunset at the end of the Sabbath day (Saturday night) since there is still time to conduct several hours of business before the community shuts down for a night of sleep. Before sunset, the streets are like a ghost town. After sunset, it’s almost as if there is a renewed celebration of life as people fill the streets and stores in their communities.
This conflict between the biblical lunar and Gregorian solar calendars continues as each Friday night Sabbath and the Gentile work week collide at the end of each week. In our test case, collisions occur each Friday at sunset on the sixth, thirteenth, twentieth, and twenty-seventh days of the lunar month. This is because each seventh day, which starts at sunset, begins a new Sabbath.
Now we jump into another challenge, which really shows how the biblical lunar calendar and Gregorian solar calendar will never coexist.
Until this point in our test case, we have had a New Moon Sabbath, which ended at sunset of the first day of the month, and four “seventh day” Sabbaths, which bring us to sunset on the twenty-eighth day of the month. The lunar calendar calls this day the “twenty-eighth day” while the Gregorian calendar calls this day “Saturday.”
Keeping in mind that the lunar month is 29.53 days in length, by this time, we have been through nearly every phase of the moon in the sky. The New Moon begins as a “waxing crescent,” a thin crescent becoming ever larger in the sky. Eventually the moon is beyond half full, no longer a crescent, and is known to be “waxing gibbous.” Eventually the moon is seen as a full orb, or “full moon.” As the visible part of the moon becomes smaller, it reverses the pattern and is seen as “waning gibbous” and then “waning crescent.” On the twenty-eighth day the moon is mostly invisible.
Assuming the next New Moon is visible at sunset in approximately two days (29.53 days minus 28 days = 1.53 days remaining), the Gregorian solar calendar would sight that New Moon on Monday evening, the thirtieth day of the month.
At that time (Monday evening on the solar calendar), the biblical lunar calendar would revert back to the beginning of the month because the New Moon has just been spotted; the month would reset to the New Moon Sabbath and also to the first day of the month. Keep in mind, a Sabbath (the twenty-eighth day) was observed just two days ago!
The conflict now becomes very obvious in that the biblical lunar calendar observer takes a New Moon Sabbath day of rest on his new first day of the month, but this is Monday sunset on the Gregorian solar calendar. For Gregorian solar calendar observers, Monday is a day of work, as is Tuesday. In this case though, work is prohibited to biblical lunar calendar observers from sunset Monday until sunset Tuesday. The lunar calendar observer would be able to work until two or three o’clock on Monday. Then they would have to leave work early to get home before sunset and make any preparations for the upcoming New Moon Sabbath (purchase food, prepare it, etc. so they are not doing any servile work on the Sabbath). They would remain off work until sunset Tuesday night, at which time they could come back to work. So, they have missed work part of Monday and all of Tuesday.
Later that week, the Gregorian solar calendar observer would take Sunday off as a day of rest, returning to work Monday morning. In our test case, this would somewhat coincide with the seventh-day Sabbath of the lunar calendar observer. However, the conflict in schedules is still very apparent. The biblical lunar calendar observer would take their seventh-day Sabbath beginning Saturday at sunset (leaving work early Saturday afternoon), returning to work Sunday at sunset, or Monday morning along with the Gregorian calendar observer.
This process would continue each week for four weeks and then the whole New Moon Sabbath would occur again, which becomes progressively worse and more complicated with each new month as the Gregorian solar calendar continues the progression of weekdays but the biblical lunar calendar resets itself again and again.
If you look at your calendar on the wall, you may have little symbols identifying the various phases of the moon. You may notice that sometimes the new moon occurs in the middle of the week. Imagine now that you are an employer of a biblical lunar calendar observer. They would require their days off based upon those phases, in particular the phase of the New Moon. Obviously, since the biblical lunar calendar and the Gregorian solar calendar do not work in harmony, observing them concurrently in daily life is virtually impossible.
Certainly, God invented time. And God, being sovereign over all things, knew men would reject Him and, for that matter, His commandments. In particular, God foreknew men would invent a “new and improved” secular, solar calendar which would cause mankind to remove itself from the God-ordained biblical lunar calendar. God knew men would remove themselves from remembering the timing of His Spring and Fall feasts. He knew men would not remember their Sabbaths, which were designed to remind them of their Creator and what He has done for them. Thus, pagan influence has forced the question of how one is expected to observe the Sabbath in today’s society.
This will be our topic of discussion in the fourth article of this series in the next issue of Zion’s Fire magazine.
1) Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900 Translated by Henry Percival. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series.)
Published in Zion's Fire Magazine. July 2014.