COUNTING TO PENTECOST
WHEN THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD
BEGINS ON SUNDAY
with added comments by
This year, with Passover falling on the weekly Sabbath, we
have a relatively infrequent occurrence. The holy days of
Unleavened Bread are the nest day, Sunday, and the following
weekly Sabbath. The question then arises, from which Sabbath do
we begin the count? Is it legitimate to consider Passover, the
14th and a weekly Sabbath, as the day preceding the wavesheaf
day? This entails making the offering on the First Day of
Unleavened Bread. If we do this, the wavesheaf rule of offering
the wavesheaf on the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls
within the Days of Unleavened Bread is broken. Or should one wait
until the following Sunday, the day after the weekly Sabbath that
is definitely within the Days of Unleavened Bread (the Last Day
of Unleavened Bread)?
We must first ascertain if Passover can legitimately be
considered one of the Days of Unleavened Bread or within them. If
it can, this makes a difference of one full week as to when
Pentecost is observed. But to do so confuses the teaching about
God made it very clear in Leviticus 23:5-6 that Passover is
the 14th, Unleavened Bread begins the 15th. On the 14th the
firstborn were killed, on the 15th Israel left Egypt (Numbers
33:3). In Exodus 12:15,19 God says that the Days of Unleavened
Bread are seven days long, not eight. Although unleavened bread
is required for the Passover meal, there is no reference to the
whole day as unleavened. No sacrifice at any time was ever to
Hidden in the Greek of Matthew 26:17 is a reference to
Passover as, "the first of the unleaveneds." A comparison with
the Old Testament, however. discloses this to be only the popular
usage of some during New Testament times. In the Old Testament
something akin to this is found in Deuteronomy 16 where the First
Day of Unleavened Bread is called "Passover," while the context
clearly describes the Days of Unleavened Bread. People popularly
used Passover and Unleavened Bread interchangeably, and the Bible
notes this practice, though "Passover" was the term most
generally used for the whole period.
Passover and Unleavened Bread are separate festivals, each
with a different focus related to the other. To blend them to the
point of making them one festival, though, stretches the
Scriptures and introduces confusion into the instruction. The
Pharisees did this and proved that the mixture produces weakness,
not strength. Thus Passover, even when it occurs on a weekly
Sabbath, is never part of the Days of Unleavened Bread and cannot
be used for determining wavesheaf day.
If we do not accept the fact that the Sabbath mentioned in
Leviticus 23:11,15 is the weekly Sabbath within the Days of
Unleavened Bread, we are left without any real defining point
from which to begin the count. Only these two verses in the Bible
show when to wave the sheaf. Why not any other Sabbath, either
holy day or weekly? John 20:1 and 17 confirm that Jesus was
"waved" on the Sunday following the weekly Sabbath within the
Days of Unleavened Bread. When Passover falls on the weekly
Sabbath, the only Sabbath within the Days of Unleavened Bread is
also the Last Day of Unleavened Bread. When Passover falls on the
weekly Sabbath, should the rule used to calculate Pentecost for
all other years be thrown out? Pentecost is always calculated
from the Sabbath within the Days of Unleavened Bread. Nowhere
does God I say to change that rule during a year like this one.
THE WCG's ARGUMENT
In their only written material on the matter, the WCG
contends that having the wavesheaf offering following the Days of
Unleavened Bread destroys the chronological sequence of death,
acceptance and putting sin completely out of one's life. But
consider this. In every case, except when Passover falls on the
weekly Sabbath, Unleavened Bread (putting sin out) begins before
the wavesheaf (acceptance) occurs. Is not the sequence already
broken even in a normal year? Do we not repent of sin BEFORE we
are accepted by God?
When Passover falls on a weekly Sabbath and the wavesheaf is
done the next day, it 1) follows a Sabbath not within the Days
of Unleavened Bread, 2) causes the wavesheaf to be performed on
an annual Sabbath and 3) presents us with the peculiar symbolic
picture of Christ being resurrected just minutes after He was put
in the grave. Scripture shows He was put into the grave on
Passover near sunset and rose seventy-two hours later on a
Sabbath near sunset (actually the Gospel chronology, Greek of the
NT, and the use of the word "evening" in the NT, shows that Jesus
was put in the grave AFTER 6 pm, and raised three days and three
nights later, AFTER the weekly Sabbath, on the FIRST day of the
week, or what today we call Saturday evening. See my Website
other studies for this truth, as well as the last chapters of the
Gospels New Testament Bible Story - Keith Hunt).
In this instance, can the same calendar day represent both
the slain Christ and the resurrection of Christ?
The calendar for 1994 published by the Messianic Jews
(Lederer Messianic Publications, 6204 Park Heights, Baltimore, MD
21215) lists two days for the wavesheaf offering, March 28 (Nisan
16) for the Pharisaic tradition and April 3 (Nisan 22) for the
Sadducean tradition. These modem Jews recognize that the
Sadducees understood that the wavesheaf could fall after the Days
of Unleavened Bread.
Does waving the sheaf on a holy day present any problems?
First, the Bible says to wave it on the day after the
Sabbath. Can it legitimately be waved on a Sabbath, a day of
rest? Is it bending the Scripture to count any Sabbath as a work
day? The Jews traditionally held wavesheaf day to be a work day.
Though they did it on different days, the Sadducees,
Pharisees, Essenes and Falashas all waved the sheaf on a normal
work day. We can find no record of any of them offering the
wavesheaf on a holy day Sabbath.
Apparently, this is not because of the work involved in
making the offering, but because once the offering was made, the
people were free to begin the harvest in earnest. History shows
the people usually began working around noon on wavesheaf day
because the offering was normally scheduled to be made by a
priest between 9:00 A.M. and noon.
Add to this that the wavesheaf also symbolizes the beginning
of the harvest. A harvest entails work, labor. It is not the
priestly labor of making the offering that is of concern here
(Jesus declared them blameless for this), but the symbolic work
involved of all concerned to bring forth a harvest.
Apply this to the spiritual harvest. The wavesheaf
symbolizes the beginning of God's spiritual harvest of souls that
will culminate in the resurrection of the church (symbolized by
Pentecost). If a holy day can be the initial day of that work of
salvation, then rest equals work. Is it possible that the Sabbath
and any other holy time have no meaning with respect to the
Millennium, a time of rest from trials, privation and
difficulties which men have experienced throughout history?
Sabbath "work" in this case is not consistent with God's
commands nor the symbolic meaning of "rest." Since the wavesheaf
symbolizes the resurrected Christ accepted to begin His Work,
does this symbolically turn a day of rest into a day of work?
Does not this confuse the symbolism? Harvest = work: Sabbath =
rest. The two ideas exclude each other.
Does having the wavesheaf after the Days of Unleavened Bread
leave Christ symbolically hanging on the stake or buried during
the entire period (Days of Unleavened Bread) that represents His
Work as High Priest, cleansing us of sin and delivering us from
The prophecy of Daniel 9:26-27 says the Messiah is cut off
"in the middle of the week." Its fulfillment is a sign of the
Messiah. This means He had to be crucified in a year in which
Passover fell on a Wednesday, making it impossible for Him to be
killed in a year in which Passover fell on a weekly Sabbath.
Thus, one crucifixion could not possibly cover every possible day
on which a Passover could fall. God opted for one that would
cover the highest number of scenarios: that is, eight of nine
years the wavesheaf will fall within the Days of Unleavened
Bread. But by itself it is no reason to change the rule for
establishing Pentecost in the odd year. There is nothing to
support it in the Scriptures or history. It introduces confusion
to change the unambiguous rule established by Leviticus
The Scriptures also demand He lay in the grave three days
and three nights to fulfil the wavesheaf by being the authentic
Messiah (Matthew 12:38,40). In a year like this, following the
WCC's reasoning, He is symbolically crucified on the Passover
(weekly Sabbath), buried near sunset, immediately raised the same
day and accepted the next morning, having spent - at most - only
a few minutes in the grave. It virtually denies the necessity of
Christ having to be in the tomb three days and three nights to
fulfil the sign.
Consider that Passover more frequently falls on Monday,
Wednesday or Friday. When it falls on Monday, Tuesday is the
First Day of Unleavened Bread, and the following Monday is the
Last Day of Unleavened Bread. In such a year, five full days
elapse before the wavesheaf is cut. What is the difference
whether the wavesheaf offering must wait one, three, five or
seven full days during Unleavened Bread? It still depicts Christ
having to spend time in the grave. He was truly dead and buried
and fulfilled the sign. The other sequence blurs this teaching
severely, besides having to arbitrarily alter the rule
established in Leviticus 21:11,15.
In the 1974 Pentecost Study Material given to the ministry,
the doctrinal committee based much of its teaching for keeping
the wavesheaf offering within the Days of Unleavened Bread on
Joshua 5. This is contrary to what Herbert W. Armstrong had
previously decided when the Passover fell on a weekly Sabbath.
But this decision is suspect because the paper directly
This year (as again in 1977 and 1981) the Passover falls on
the weekly Sabbath. The next day, the first annual Holy Day,
is Sunday and would normally be used to count "away from."
But we have thought it best to wait till the following
Saturday (which is the final High Sabbath as well), so that
the next day, Sunday, could be a work day, and thus start
the work of harvesting. Depending on which Sunday we count
from this year, Pentecost VARIES BY A WHOLE WEEK.
Some brethren are concerned over this alleged "arbitrary"
decision, especially since Joshua 5:10-11 seems to show the
Israelites counted that Pentecost from Sunday, the High Day
within Unleavened Bread. More study is needed and more is
being done. (p.74. Emphasis theirs.)
From pages 56-58, the decision to change was evidently made
primarily from a consideration of the symbolism and Joshua 5.
They conclude this section:
"Putting these points all together, it APPEARS that the
wavesheaf must always have been offered DURING the Days of
Unleavened Bread and not after that period" (p.58. Emphasis
However, there is much about Joshua 5 that they never
considered. First, no wavesheaf is mentioned in Joshua 5, and
second, it does not say Passover was on the 14th of the first
month. Any determination that this chapter shows the wavesheaf
must be offered during the Days of Unleavened Bread is therefore
based on an ASSUMPTION, unless these two factors can be clearly
established, even if only by inference.
God's instructions in Exodus 23:16 clearly state that the
firstfruits offering was to be made from the labor of the harvest
of the fields they had sown. In Joshua 5:11 the AV and the Hebrew
clearly say they ate the "old store" (carried over) of the land.
Joshua 1:11 instructs the people to prepare provisions for
crossing over Jordan. Those provisions must have come from the
land of Canaan. Add to this that David (2 Samuel 24:24)
understood that it was not in the spirit of an acceptable
offering to God to offer what was not a sacrifice to the offerer.
To make an offering from produce that they did not own by right
of sowing suggests that the requirements of the offering could
not be met, and more likely than not, was not offered.
Also, the WCG's paper virtually ignores the circumcision
mentioned in Joshua 5:2-8. They had to be circumcised because "no
uncircumcised person shall eat it [Passover]" (Exodus 12:48).
These circumcisions took place sometime shortly after entering
the land on the 10th. If the men were circumcised on the 11th
(which seems likely because Joshua would want to obey God's
command as quickly as possible), it sets up an interesting
scenario in relation to Passover.
Have you ever seriously considered the logistics of this
undertaking? It was a massive operation (no pun intended)! Verse
5 says "all ... who were born in the wilderness" needed
circumcision. How many was that? It could easily have been over a
million males! How long did it take? Allowing one minute per
circumcision performed by one person, if they were done one after
the other, it would take around eighteen hundred twenty-four-hour
work days! They were undoubtedly not done in that manner. Far
more likely, multiple circumcisions were done simultaneously. Who
did them? The priests? How many priests were there? Or did the
men circumcise each other? This major undertaking was not
finished in just a few minutes or even a few hours.
When Simeon and Levi attacked Shechem on the third day after
the men were circumcised, they knew the men would be in sore pain
(kaab, "great grief') and unable to fight effectively (Genesis
34:25). Feed that thought into the Passover scenario in Joshua 5.
If the circumcising was completed in one day, the third day
would have been Passover day, apparently the most painful day of
recuperation. When we asked a modern medical actor how long an
adult would take to recuperate from a circumcision, he answered,
"Ten days." Adam Clarke, from his nineteenth-century perspective,
says, "Three weeks"! Verse 8 says. "They stayed in their places
in the camp till they were healed"!
Chapters like Leviticus 15, covering bodily discharges, give
a very strong indication these men - including the priests -
would have not been ceremonially clean for taking Passover if it
occurred on the 14th of the first month. In 2 Chronicles 30. the
story of Hezekiah's restoration of temple worship under trying
circumstances, it was already the second month when they kept
both Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. The text clearly
says that many people were not properly cleansed for taking
Passover (verses 3,17-18). But in this highly unusual situation
(otherwise they could not have taken Passover until the next
year), Hezekiah asked God to provide atonement, (verses 19-20)
and He did. Hezekiah may have used Joshua 5 as his model for
holding Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread in the second
Additional evidence from John 11:55 confirms this further.
Joshua was faced with a similar unusual circumstance, but unlike
Hezekiah, he was not pressed for time. He could lawfully wait
until the second Passover (Numbers 9:1-14).
Joshua 5 cannot be used to establish a First Day of
Unleavened Bread waving of the sheaf based on: 1) the wavesheaf
is not mentioned; 2) they ate old produce and a wavesheaf would
not have been made from fields they had not sown; 3) the
circumstances of the circumcision strongly indicate the men,
including priests, would have been in no condition to take
Passover because of pain and ceremonial uncleanness. These
factors strongly indicate a second-month Passover.
(And as there is NO mention of "first month" or Nisan, or a
calendar month, in this account in Joshua 5, it may well have
been, as the overall evidence John Ritenbaugh has given, have
been the SECOND MONTH, when this Passover took place - Keith
Our overall conclusion for when the count should begin:
1) The Bible states a rule regarding when the sheaf should
be waved. It is clearly stated in Leviticus 23:11,15 that the
count begins on the day after the Sabbath. Every authority agrees
that one counts from a Sabbath, either weekly or holy day, within
the Days of Unleavened Bread.
2) That Sabbath must be a weekly Sabbath, as established by
its movable date from which counting to Pentecost is required.
Additionally, but less important, the definite article appearing
before "Sabbath" also strongly implies a weekly Sabbath. By
virtue of the context in Leviticus 23: 11,15, that Sabbath will
always be within the Days of Unleavened Bread.
3) No statement anywhere in the Bible says wavesheaf day
MUST be within the Days of Unleavened Bread. To put it within
them in a year in which Passover falls on a weekly Sabbath, we
must needlessly break the rule of Leviticus 23:11,15. We would be
counting from a Sabbath not within the DaYs of Unleavened Bread.
4) Although there is emphasis in Leviticus 23:11,15 on "the
morrow" we cannot locate that day unless we first locate which
Sabbath is in question. Every historical record ever found,
except the WCG after 1974, has acknowledged wavesheaf day as a
work day. To place it on a holy day Sabbath following a weekly
Sabbath Passover just to keep it within the Days of Unleavened
Bread violates the record of history. In addition, Leviticus
23:10,14 imply that as soon as the wavesheaf offering was made,
an Israelite was free to harvest, thresh, grind and bake bread
made of the grain of that harvest the same day. Wavesheaf day
must be a work day, not a holy day Sabbath.
5) Only symbolism ties the wavesheaf to Passover and
Unleavened Bread. Even so, the harvest symbolism ties wavesheaf
day directly to Pentecost, but less directly to Passover and far
less directly to Unleavened Bread (which does not depict a
harvest at all). We feel strongly that the rule should take
precedence over symbolism. Otherwise, why even have a rule?
6) The Bible and the record of history show no disagreement
between Jesus or the early church and the Sadducees who
controlled of the Temple and thus religious life during the time
of Christ. The Sadducees observed it as we advocate in this
7) Joshua 5, far from confirming a wavesheaf within the Days
of Unleavened Bread, actually does not support it at all, but
casts severe doubt upon it.
In summary, we feel the rule established in Leviticus 23:11,
15 should be followed faithfully whether the wavesheaf day falls
within or without the Days of Unleavened Bread because
insufficient Scriptural evidence exists to justify an exception.
TO BE CONTINUED
Written by John Ritenbaugh in 1994 and entered on this Website