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May 26, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

Last evening began the feast of Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, for both Judaism and Christianity.  There is no date given in Scripture for this feast.  It is reckoned as the fiftieth day following the Feast of Firstfruits.  This raises a problem since Firstfruits is to be held (Leviticus 23:11) “on the day after the Sabbath” following Passover.  Is this to be the day following the first regular Sabbath following Passover, or is it to be the day following Passover itself, which is considered as a Sabbath?  This was not a problem this year since Passover fell on a Sabbath, on April 7.  In the time of Jesus the Sadducees held the first view.  The Pharisees held the second, and their view prevailed.

What is interesting, though not very important, is that if the Sadducees were correct, Pentecost, or Shavuot (weeks) would always fall on a Sunday.  This year it would not matter, since Passover fell on Shabbat.  Today (Saturday) is celebrated as Shavuot within Judaism and tomorrow will be remembered as Pentecost Sunday within Christianity.

Shavuot has two primary meanings.  The first is agricultural.  It is the day which celebrates the beginning of the wheat harvest in Israel.  In Numbers 28:26 it is called “the Day of Firstfruits” since it is the day that the offering of the first fruits of the wheat harvest is brought to the Temple.

The second meaning of Shavuot is connected to the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.  In Exodus 19:1 we are told this happened in the third month following Israel’s departure for Egypt.  Although this significance was not attached to the festival until after 140 AD, it does fit the biblical timeline.  It became the most important meaning of Shavuot following the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

From this background it is easy to see the transference of meaning from Judaism to Christianity in the founding of the Church on Shavuot, 30 AD.  Jerusalem was crowded for the feast.  Upon his Ascension Jesus had counseled the Apostles not to leave the city until the gift of the Holy Spirit was given.  On the morning of Shavuot, at the time for Morning Prayer in the Temple, the body of believers was gathered in one of the Temple porches.  In describing the event Luke speaks of the wind of God filling “the whole house.”  The “house” referred to in this instance is the “bet elohim,” or the “house of God,” the Temple.  Wind and fire are symbols of the power of God.  These fell upon the believing community and enabled them to bear witness to the multinational assembly gathered at the Temple for Pentecost.  The wind and fire of Sinai are reflected in this new revelation.

The message of the Messianic Covenant is delivered by Peter to the crowd that gathered at this strange occurrence.  Luke, with his penchant for precision, tells us that some three thousand believers were added to the Church at that time, fulfilling the expectation of “first fruits.”  These were all Jewish believers.  However, they were not all residents of Israel, much less Jerusalem.  They were, as Luke tells us, “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.”  In one miraculous act of God the Good News of salvation was delivered to “all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Tomorrow this birthday of the Church will be celebrated around the world.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at