COUNTING TO PENTECOST
WHEN THE FIRST DAY OF THE UNLEAVENED BREAD FEAST
BEGINS ON A SUNDAY
with added comments by
Once wavesheaf day has been determined, the countdown to
Pentecost can begin. An interesting contrast exists between the
Jews of the first century and those of us counting in the
twentieth century. Whereas they all counted the same way from
different starting points, we have tended to count different ways
from the same starting point.
Dr.J.Van Goudoever in his book, "Biblical Calendars" (pp.
18-29), cites four different ways Pentecost was counted in the
first century: 1) The Sadducees observed Pentecost on a Sunday
fifty days from the Sunday after the Sabbath that fell during the
Days of Unleavened Bread. 2) The Pharisees observed Pentecost on
Sivan 6, fifty days from the day after the First Day of
Unleavened Bread. 3) The Essenes observed Pentecost on a Sunday
fifty days from the first Sunday following the Days of Unleavened
Bread. 4) A still smaller unnamed group (probably the Falashas)
observed Pentecost on Sivan 13, fifty days from the day after the
Last Day of Unleavened Bread.
Only the first two methods survived the first century. What
is so interesting from our vantage point is that they agreed
totally as to the intention of how to count according to
Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16. Apparently, it was not at all
unclear to them.
Other sources confirm the above:
The Sadducees celebrated it on the 50th day (inclusive
reckoning) from the first Sunday after Passover (taking the
'sabbath' of Lv. 23:15 to be the weekly sabbath); their
reckoning regulated the public observance so
long as the Temple stood, and the church is therefore
justified in commemorating the first Christian Pentecost on
a Sunday (Whit-Sunday). The Pharisees, however, interpreted
the 'sabbath' of Lv. 23:15 as the Festival of Unleavened
Bread (cf. Lv.23:7), and their reckoning became normative in
Judaism after AD 70." (New Bible Dictionary, "Pentecost," p.
In general, the Jewish calendar in NT times (at least before
AD 70) followed the Sadducean reckoning, since it was by that
reckoning that the Temple services were regulated. Thus the Day
of Pentecost was reckoned as the fiftieth day after the
presentation of the first harvested sheaf of barley, i.e. the
fiftieth day (inclusive) from the first Sunday after Passover
(cf. Lv. 23:15f.); hence it always fell on a Sunday, as it does
in the Christian calendar. The Pharisaic reckoning, which became
standard after AD 70... (Ibid., "Calendar," p.160.)
(Well, this is not technically true, in the sense that the
Pharisees had MOST of the "religious" people on their side, and
so the Priesthood of the Sadducees STILL complied with the
Pharisees wishes. As I said in the last study, this complying,
did not mean the Sadducee priests did not have their time to cut
the wavesheaf and their time to wave it, or present it before the
Lord. They did, but so did the Pharisees. There was in Jesus' and
the Apostles day, TWO days on which MOST of the religious people
would observe Pentecost - the Pharisees Sivan 6th and the
Sadducees Sunday counting. The Sadducees counting would just
about always come a few days or so after the Pharisees Sivan 6th
Pentecost observance. Again, a possible reason why Luke said in
Acts 2:1, "When Pentecost was FULLY come..." - Keith Hunt).
These quotations show that the Sadducean method was in force
in Jesus day. Since there is no biblical dispute between Jesus or
the disciples and the Sadducees over keeping Pentecost, it
confirms that they kept Pentecost at the same time as the Jews.
(As Jesus knew the truth of the matter on counting to Pentecost,
then yes, in this particular case, the Sadducees were CORRECT and
thew Pharisees in-correct. Hence of course Jesus' disciples would
have observed the "Sadducees Pentecost" if we wish to call it by
that name - Keith Hunt).
"The Feast of Weeks, Heb. 'hag sabu'ot.' It is also called
the 'feast of harvest' and the 'day of first fruits' (Ex.23:16:
34:22; Nu.28:26). Later it was known as Pentecost, because it was
celebrated on the fiftieth day from the Sabbath beginning the
Passover [by Pharisaic reckoning]. (Ibid., "Feasts," p.374.)
The date of the feast came to be firmly fixed only in later
Judaism. It was now dated on the 50th day after the Passover.
(Once more, this "fixing" per se is only because most religious
Jews today are "spiritual descendants" of the Pharisee religion.
The fact is in the first century in Judea, there was TWO
celebrations of Pentecost, one the day the Pharisees fixed and
the other the day the Sadducees fixed - Keith Hunt).
Opinions varied as to the significance of the "day after the
Sabbath" mentioned in Lv.23:15. "The Boethuseans (Sadducees) took
this literally and counted from the first regular Sabbath
(Saturday) after the first day of the Passover, so that Pentecost
would always fall on a Sunday. The Pharisees, however, took the
Sabbath of Lv.23:15 to mean the first day of the Passover, the
15th of Nisan, and thus counted seven full weeks from the 16th
Nisan, so that Pentecost would fall exactly on the 50th day after
the 16th Nisan." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,
These quotations confirm that though they began counting
from different points, they all ended on the fiftieth day, and
they all counted inclusively to do so. The Sadducees interpreted
Leviticus literally as a weekly Sabbath. and since they regulated
the Temple services, they also controlled public observance until
around AD 70.
(Once more, this is not technically true. There is a false
impression given by putting in such words. More the truth is that
there was TWO Pentecost observances in the first century - if you
belonged to the Pharisees, you observed Sivan 6th, if you
followed the Sadducees, you observed Pentecost on the day the
Sadducees counted to Pentecost - Keith Hunt).
CUTTING THE SHEAF
Though there is general agreement as to the day the
Sadducees began counting toward Pentecost, almost no one has
written of the time of day the count began. Most assume the count
begins Sunday morning when the sheaf is waved. However, that is
not what the Scripture says and what history confirms.
Deuteronomy 16:9 clarifies any ambiguity in Leviticus 23:11,15
regarding this. "You shall count seven weeks for yourself; begin
to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the
sickle to the grain."
The sickle was not put to the grain just minutes before the
waving, but some twelve hours before. "The reaping and counting
must be on the previous evening, but the bringing [the sheaves to
the temple] on the following day (Talmud: Menahoth, Soncino ed.,
p.389). This refers to Temple ritual regulations at the time of
Christ and the apostles. The first of the firstfruits sheaves
were reaped beginning Saturday at dusk and continued over into
the beginning of Sunday. (If following the Sadducees
understanding of the cutting of the sheaf of grain and counting
towards Pentecost - Keith Hunt). Again, "The Boethusians
[Sadducees] reaped the firstfruit sheaves at the going out of the
Sabbath" (Biblical Calendars, p.18). McClintock and Strong show
that even when the Pharisees began determining Pentecost, they
continued the ritual of counting in the evening, though starting
on the evening of Nisan 16 (Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol.VII,
(This was always the practice of the Pharisees, not just after 70
AD. The Pharisees did it this way in Jesus' day, when they had
most of the religious Jews following them - Keith Hunt).
The Jews' reasoning for doing it this way was undoubtedly
based on a true scriptural understanding of Leviticus 23:11,15,
but it also provides us with an exact ritual demonstration of the
resurrection and acceptance of the Reality, Jesus Christ. Late
Sabbath evening, after three days and three nights in the earth
(Matthew 12:40), He was resurrected and presented to the Father
as the Sacrifice acceptable to Him for the forgiveness of our
sins Sunday morning (John 20:1,17).
(The writer understands and has quoted various Bible Dictionaries
to show the wave sheaf was cut AFTER a Sabbath by BOTH the
Pharisees and the Sadducees, yet does not bring out clearly that
Jesus was thus resurrected NOT late on the Sabbath, but actually
AFTER the Sabbath had ended. In true reality Jesus was
resurrected on the FIRST DAY of the week, but what we today would
call Saturday evening. But it was AFTER sunset, after the Sabbath
had ended, and it was a first day of the week resurrection, as
God starts to count the day. See the last chapters of the Gospels
Bible Story for in-depth study of the time of Jesus' resurrection
- Keith Hunt).
Why did the priest begin the cutting, and thus the counting,
in the evening of that Sunday? Because it was the only way they
could perfectly fulfil the scriptural requirements of
Deuteronomy 16:9 and Leviticus 23:11,15.
These verses complement and clarify each other. We would not
know which day to begin the cutting in Deuteronomy 16 without
Leviticus 23. But Deuteronomy 16 clarifies the elapsed time of
the count of Leviticus 23. They cannot disagree: the Scripture
cannot be broken (John 10:35). Both counts begin at the same
Leviticus 23:15 says. "Seven Sabbaths shall be completed."
Verse 16 says, "Count fifty days to the day after the seventh
Sabbath." Without getting technical, the understanding of this
verse lies in reconciling it to Deuteronomy 16:9 and the
implication of "seven Sabbaths shall be completed."
Deuteronomy 16.9 shows seven weeks - forty-nine days of time
reckoned inclusively - which ends at sunset on the weekly Sabbath
as the fiftieth day begins. Sabbath in Leviticus 23:15 literally
means "Sabbath," but with the word "completed" and Deuteronomy
16:9, it implies something more.
Dr.Van Goudoever writes. "In Leviticus 23:15 the expression
occurs 'You shall count seven FULL weeks,' which supports the
counting of the 50 days from Sunday to Sunday, because in that
case it is possible to count seven FULL weeks, from Sunday to
Sabbath" (Biblical Calendars, p.19. Emphasis his).
In other words, these weeks must be perfect,
Sunday-through-Sabbath weeks, not defective (any seven-day period
that does not begin on Sunday). Therefore, to count accurately,
the cutting of the wavesheaf had to occur just as the day after
the weekly Sabbath was beginning.
This presented quite a hurdle for the Pharisees to overcome
to hold on to their Sivan 6 date. A debate between two rabbis
over this issue is recorded in the Talmud (Menahoth, Soncino ed.
p.386). One argued that the weeks must be "complete or full," the
other that they could be "defective." The Talmud shows that the
first party won. To justify continuing their "defective"
practice, however, the Pharisees claimed the verse only applied
when the First Day of Unleavened Bread falls on a Sunday!
Otherwise, they disregarded what the verse says!
The Jewish Encyclopedia (vol.12, p.481) discusses why
Leviticus 23:15 has "complete" weeks. They say it was because
some might want to determine the seven weeks defectively, thus
violating the injunction.
Complete in Leviticus 23:15 is plural and means "complete
ones." Davidson's Hebrew Lexicon defines it as "whole ones,
perfect ones, entire ones." Thus, though "Sabbath" is a correct
literal translation of the Hebrew Shabbat, the implication, when
tied to "complete" and Deuteronomy 16:9, is that Shabbat is to be
understood as "weeks."
Nowhere in the Old Testament is Pentecost called the "Feast
of Fifty Days." Rather, it is specifically called the "Feast of
Weeks." In fact, Moses calls it the "Feast of Weeks" in Exodus
34:22, written long before he wrote Deuteronomy 16:9. It
indicates he understood Leviticus 23:15 in the sense of "weeks."
There is no uncertainty about its usage: Deuteronomy 16:9
interprets Leviticus 23:15.
Did Moses, when he wrote Deuteronomy 16:9 in the last month
before he died, word it as such to clarify the ambiguity of
Leviticus 23:15? Also interesting in this light is his statement
in Deuteronomy 1:5 where "explain" means "to set forth plainly"
(cf. Habakkuk 2:2).
The Bible does not refer to the Feast of Weeks as
"Pentecost" until Acts 2:1, repeated in Acts 20:16 and
1 Corinthians 16:8. Pentecost means "fiftieth." Why did the
Christians not call it "forty-ninth" or "fifty-first"' Is it not
logical that they would have called it by another name if its
actual observance occurred on another day? Do we not call
Independence Day here in America by its more popular name, "the
Fourth"? Why call it that? Because that is when we celebrate it!
This is why it is so important to establish wavesheaf day
accurately and to understand that both Leviticus 23:15 and
Deuteronomy 16:9 counts begin on the same day, wavesheaf day, and
end on the same day, the fiftieth.
Much has been made of the translation of "sumpieroo" as
"fully come" in Acts 2:1. It appears only in Luke's writings and
only three times. In each usage it shows something in progress.
In Luke 8:23 a boat is "filling with water." Luke 9:51 says "the
time had come for Him to be received up," but He still had a year
and a half before His crucifixion. To be consistent. Acts 2:1
shows the fiftieth was "being accomplished." According to Acts
2:15, it was 9:00 A.M. The "fiftieth" was twelve to fifteen hours
old. (This is indeed another possible way as to why Luke wrote it
as "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come" or "being
accomplished" - Keith Hunt).
Furthermore, Luke was certainly counting! "Now on the first
day of the week, very early in the morning, they and certain
other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which
they had prepared" (Luke 24:1). On this day Jesus made His first
appearance after His resurrection. Did Luke include this day in
His count? He writes in Acts I:3, "To whom He also presented
Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs,
being seen by them during forty days." Then the "fiftieth" day
appears in Acts 2:1.
Luke was surely counting! He had no reason to say, "He was
seen of them forty DAYS" unless He was counting them. This is
especially true since we are not told to observe the day Christ
ascended. Then in Acts 2:1 Luke says the fiftieth DAY was being
accomplished when the Holy Spirit was given to the church. Paul
simply called it "fiftieth" (1 Corinthians 16:8). Without a
doubt, Luke was counting inclusively, and the fiftieth day
arrived on a Sunday, the same day as the Sadducees and Jews were
keeping it. If He was seen of them on "the first day of the
week," and He was "seen of them forty days," then Luke's fiftieth
day means fifty days after His first appearances on wavesheaf
day. Both wavesheaf day and the fiftieth day were Sundays.
In fact, since Christ rose to heaven to be accepted of the
Father sometime after His first appearance, and since the Holy
Spirit was given just before the third hour on Pentecost, it is
possible that the Holy Spirit was given exactly 'fifty days'
after Christ's acceptance - perhaps to the minute! Just a
The counts of Leviticus 23:15-16 and Deuteronomy 16:9 then,
are to be understood as forty-nine days, or a block of seven
perfect weeks inclusively. This period begins with sundown as
wavesheaf day begins and ends as the fiftieth day begins, with
Pentecost observed on the fiftieth day.
This is not out of alignment with the way other counting is
done in Leviticus, although the wording is somewhat different.
Virtually everyone throughout history has interpreted it this
Twice in Leviticus 15 a statement like this is made: "Seven
days a person shall be unclean, and on the eighth he shall make
an offering." Leviticus 25:8-11 has the same sense regarding
counting for Jubilee: "Count seven Sabbaths of years ...
forty-nine years ... That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to
This subject knows almost no end. We could go into countless
ramifications of this or that scripture, chasing after
Pentecost should be observed on a Sunday because:
1) Without question, Jesus and the apostles kept Pentecost...
2) Every historical record shows everyone familiar with Hebrew
counting the same way. This is especially important regarding the
Sadducees, who were primarily made up of the priestly caste. The
official theological language was Hebrew, and the Sadducees
reckoned from wavesheaf Sunday to the Feast of Weeks Sunday as
3) Deuteronomy 16:9, combined with the practice of both Sadducees
and Pharisees of cutting the sheaf just as the Sabbath ended
(actually AFTER the Sabbath ended- Keith Hunt) shows both
understood that the instruction is to count a block of weeks.
4) Deuteronomy 16:9, combined with Leviticus 23:15-16, shows that
the latter implies a block of seven complete, perfect weeks,
inclusively counted. The Feast of Weeks is to be observed on the
day following the last day of that block, a weekly Sabbath. This
aligns with the way counting is done in Leviticus. Count a block
of days or years, and on the next day or year after that block is
complete one does something else.
5) Acts 2:1 confirms that Pentecost is the fiftieth day, as it
was in progress when the Holy Spirit arrived. Luke was clearly
counting. He marked the first day, the fortieth day and the
fiftieth day. The first day was wavesheaf day, the Fiftieth day
was Pentecost. He counted inclusively, and the Holy Spirit came
within the fiftieth day, not after it was completed.....
Brethren, the study into this subject is almost endless.
Apparently, countless technicalities can be brought up and argued
for or against. But it also seems to me that a Sunday Pentecost
has a simplicity to it that a Monday Pentecost lacks, and I am
pleased with that because I feel that is the way it should be.
I hope this is as clear to you as it is to me, and we can
move forward and not be distracted from overcoming and preparing
for the Kingdom of God. I do not regret having to make this
study. It has been reconfirming, and simultaneously, given me
greater tolerance for and understanding of those who hold another
view. It has far more subtle shadings to it than determining when
Passover should be observed.
One of God's wonderful characteristics is His patience with
us. I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 8:12 where Paul wrote, "For if
there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what
one has, and not according to what he does not have."
God does not wait around to swat us for every technicality
we disobey. Brethren, what we do not know far exceeds what we do!
God deals with us according to what we understand well and con-
tinually leads us to understand more and better.
If my understanding is correct. He is far more concerned
about our character - how we deal with one another, whether we
are overcoming and being shaped more in His image - than He is
about technicalities. Technicalities have their place, but in the
scale of priorities, they are far lower than serving with
generosity of spirit, kindness, goodness, meekness, patience and
self-control and the like.
I believe we have the right application regarding Pentecost.
We may not have every technicality absolutely correct, but
as time goes by God will reveal even these things to us. But for
now the important thing is to get on with what He has called us
In Christian love,
Ritenbaugh's study was done in 1994. I have presented it to this
Website in 2005 - Keith Hunt