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Assessing the “Lunar Sabbath” Theory

A quick search using Accordance Bible software shows that in the original Hebrew, the words “Sabbath” (shabbat) and “day” (yom) occur within 10 words of each other well over 100 times in the Tanakh. The same search, replacing “day” with “moon” (yareach), yields a big fat goose-egg (for the uninitiated that means zero). Yet there are those out there trying to defend something called the “lunar sabbath,” as if these words were intrinsically linked, and as if it was a plain teaching of the Bible. But the fact is that Biblical Hebrew does not even have an adjective meaning “lunar,” and in actuality, this doctrine subordinates the remembrance and celebration of two monumental, world-shaping events – namely, the Holy One’s blessed rest after the six days of creation and His mighty deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery – to the cycles of “the lesser light.”

Why would anyone think this way? The basic rationale for looking to the moon for determining the week runs along these lines: there is nothing in creation that marks the perpetual seven-day week as we have it today. Since all of creation testifies to the glory of the Creator, then the seven-day weekmust be found in the heavenly lights. The repeated cycles of seven are seen to be an invention of man, since they are not observable in nature. But… when we look at the moon, we see that the phases are roughly seven days! Therefore, this is how we are to mark the Sabbath!

What this argument fails to address is that the two events memorialized in the weekly Shabbat are also not found in the heavens: how do we know that God made the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh, simply by looking at the creation? How do we know that God, according to His promise to Abraham and by His own might, delivered Israel from harsh slavery into freedom, simply by looking at creation? These events are revealed to us only in Scripture, and we accept them on faith (Hebrews 11:3Hebrews 11:3
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3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.  

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). The Sabbath is about these key events. And the moon, an object of worship by many ancient peoples, has nothing to do with it.

But even a cursory survey will show that the evidence of Scripture and of history is completely contrary to this doctrine, which is not actually so new. The “lunar sabbath” theory first appeared in the 1800s, when unbelieving scholars of the ancient Near East were trying to reconcile Biblical texts with the ancient Mesopotamian religion (Babylon and Assyria) described in (then) newly-deciphered Akkadian documents. It turns out that the Babylonians divided their months by the phases of the moon. Since their humanist agenda could not fathom that Scripture was indeed divinely-inspired revelation, it was proposed that Israel adopted seven-day phase units from the Babylonian moon-worship calendar and made a few modifications. They too did not see the biblical Sabbath as a memorial to the works of the One Who inhabits eternity: six-day creation and the election/redemption of a special people for Himself. Rather, they thought, the “seven” had to come from the “natural” calendar, just as the Babylonians had reasoned all on their own.

So this general idea has been around for over 100 years. But only since the late 1990s have I been aware that there were actually a few teachers pushing its observance, claiming that the whole Bible-believing world’s sense of time got bumped like a record, with no one thinking the wiser of it. Why someone would want to believe this I’m not sure. But needless to say, this doctrine is not based upon Scripture; though the “lunar sabbatarians” would like to convince us otherwise.

The Bible teaches from Genesis 1, Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5, and elsewhere that we are to reckon an every-seventh-day Shabbat. Six days of work, and a seventh day resting in His holiness and shalom. This is a wonderful approach to accounting time, a heavenly gift for mankind (cf: Mark 2:27Mark 2:27
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:  

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), and over the last 2,000st 2,000
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Štetje svetopisemskih vrstic se za?ne z 1! Vrstica 0 ne obstaja!

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years it has permeated most of the world’s calendars. Embedded within it is the remembrance that the Creator of heaven and earth is Sovereign over all His works, and that His people belong to Him and not to the superstitious rulers of the world. The sun worship and moon worship of the ancient world was (and is!) to be rejected outright. Therefore we can see how the observance of the every-seventh-day Shabbat is, at its core, a statement of allegiance to the God of Israel, Creator of all, to His economy, as well as a testimony against man’s innate but idolatrous fear of natural forces and heavenly cycles.

Nowhere in Scripture is Shabbat reckoned, and nowhere are we commanded to reckon it, by looking at the moon. We are only taught to reckon time in continuing cycles of seven.

Some teach that a key verse proving the “lunar sabbath” calendar is to be found in Psalm 104. Now this is a most beautiful song, full of imagery and parallelism. But to take the verse “He made yareachfor mo’adim, sun knows his setting” out of the larger poetic context, and then insist it means “He made the moon for marking all of the Feasts, including Shabbat” is an abuse of Scripture, plain and simple.

Keep in mind that the “consecutive cycles of seven” principle is true not only for the weekly Sabbath, but also for counting the omer and for counting the shemitah years (“sabbaths of years”) in the Bible. The recurring cycle of sevens is securely anchored in the text. Even the Gospel of Matthew would have us envision Yeshua’s genealogy from Abraham through David as six complete, consecutive sevens, with the seventh of course marking Yeshua’s birth (Matt. 1:1-17Matt. 1:1-17
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

The Gospel According to St. Matthew 1 1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; 3 And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; 4 And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; 5 And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; 6 And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; 7 And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; 8 And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; 9 And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; 10 And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; 11 And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: Josias...: some read, Josias begat Jakim, and Jakim begat Jechonias 12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; 13 And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; 14 And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; 15 And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; 16 And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.  

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).

Even Yeshua’s brother was confident that all Israel, even in the Diaspora, were in sync when it came to the Sabbath, as they had been all along.

“For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:21Acts 15:21
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.  

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)

All of our historical sources from the Second Temple Era concur: everyone knew when Shabbat was; even Israel’s enemies! (cf: 1 Maccabees 2:30-431 Maccabees 2:30-43
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30 Both they, and their children, and their wives; and their cattle; because afflictions increased sore upon them. 31 Now when it was told the king's servants, and the host that was at Jerusalem, in the city of David, that certain men, who had broken the king's commandment, were gone down into the secret places in the wilderness, 32 They pursued after them a great number, and having overtaken them, they camped against them, and made war against them on the sabbath day. 33 And they said unto them, Let that which ye have done hitherto suffice; come forth, and do according to the commandment of the king, and ye shall live. 34 But they said, We will not come forth, neither will we do the king's commandment, to profane the sabbath day. 35 So then they gave them the battle with all speed. 36 Howbeit they answered them not, neither cast they a stone at them, nor stopped the places where they lay hid; 37 But said, Let us die all in our innocency: heaven and earth will testify for us, that ye put us to death wrongfully. 38 So they rose up against them in battle on the sabbath, and they slew them, with their wives and children and their cattle, to the number of a thousand people. 39 Now when Mattathias and his friends understood hereof, they mourned for them right sore. 40 And one of them said to another, If we all do as our brethren have done, and fight not for our lives and laws against the heathen, they will now quickly root us out of the earth. 41 At that time therefore they decreed, saying, Whosoever shall come to make battle with us on the sabbath day, we will fight against him; neither will we die all, as our brethren that were murdered in the secret places. 42 Then came there unto him a company of Assideans who were mighty men of Israel, even all such as were voluntarily devoted unto the law. 43 Also all they that fled for persecution joined themselves unto them, and were a stay unto them.  

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) Disputes, even by groups that were to soon die out, are recorded for us in the ancient writings. A big debate at the time was how to properly observe the day, but never about “which day” to observe it. There was debate about when to start counting theomer, but even then, the various Jewish groups were in agreement on the perpetual seventh-day shabbat. Yeshua recognized the every-seventh-day Shabbat, completely independent of moon phases, as did the other Jews in His day. And then sometime after 70AD, we have Christians promoting Sunday as a day of worship, a tradition that has continued uninterrupted to our own day. Here too, even when there is a difference in the day of worship, there is no dispute about the perpetual seven-day week!

Contrary to what the “lunar sabbath” teachers are proposing, there was no collective amnesia whereby all Israel simultaneously ceased observing the Babylonian “lunar” moon phases and started keeping the “perpetual seven” cycle. From the book of Exodus, we know that when the LORD taught Israel the Sabbath (through the giving of the manna), they had trouble trusting Him. Again, the lesson for Israel was (as it always is) to learn to walk by faith. God did not point them to the moon, but to His regular, miraculous provision. Five days, an omer a day. On the sixth day, a double portion. On the seventh day, a Sabbath rest! Quite simple. It drew the community together to march in step with the bread from heaven. There is no reference to what the sky looked like, and no correlation with the calendars of idolaters.

In conclusion, I would like to highlight an important feature shared by the vast sea of ancient Jewish texts (books and collections as diverse as “the Apocrypha” to the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Apostolic Writings to the Mishnah and Talmud). They generally preserve, even if in exaggerated form, the voices of protesters or the opinions of opposing ideologies. This is because Jewish groups thoughtfully defined and clarified their doctrines and practices through comparison and polemic with other Jewish groups. The “We say this, whereas they say that…” method of communication can be found in all manner of Jewish documents from the Second Temple period and beyond. This approach has proven to be both helpful and efficient, shaping the processes of debate and peer-reviewed research used in the world today. Looking back to when Israel first learned the Sabbath, the Scripture tells us there were dissenters! The voice of those who did not accept the Sabbath was preserved for posterity, and nowhere do we find among these voices any debate regarding the perpetual counting of seven-day weeks.

But the “lunar sabbath” adherents want people to believe the outlandish: a radical, sweeping shift in time keeping methodology, uniformly affecting the entire Jewish world, was accomplished (by some unknown power) without a single protest. Israel went from marking “sabbaths” by reference to moon phases to a “perpetual seven” calendar unattested by creation. And not a single complaint was recorded. Either that, or else all dissenters were somehow silenced forever… that is, until now.

Quite the conspiracy! Some potential for a good movie I suppose, but that’s about it.

by Rob Vanhoff

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