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Why is today "Easter"?

Mar 27, 2016

The Jewish Passover falls on April 22 this year, and the wave-sheaf offering on Sunday, April 24.

However, the church's "Easter" is today, March 27.

Why is there is discrepancy?

The twelve lunar months of the previous year ended the evening of March 10, 2016 when the first crescent moon was sighted, signaling the next month. But because 12 lunar months are only 354 days long, a lunar year is about 11 days short of a full solar year every year. For this reason, in order to keep the feasts in season, they had to add a leap month every 2 or 3 years.

This year (2016) the Jewish calendar has added a leap month. The 12th month (Adar) is followed by a 13th month called the Second Adar, or Adar II. Hence, the Passover feast was pushed ahead to April 22 instead of celebrating it on March 24.

So why does the church celebrate Easter today instead of next month?

in ancient times, Passover was the first feast of the year, and it involved the first of the first fruits (barley). So it had to have ripe ears of barley to wave on the day after the sabbath after Passover. If they did not have ripe barley to wave, then they could not celebrate Passover that month. With the 11-day regression each year, as soon as the new year began too early in March, they were in danger of not having ripe barley. So every year at the time of the first crescent moon, a delegation of priests was sent to Jericho to inspect a barley field and see if it was ripe. if it was ripe, they proclaimed that this was the first month of the new year. If not, they proclaimed that this was the 13th month of the previous year, and that Passover would be put off for another month.

After the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., and after Judah was finally destroyed in 135 A.D., the Jewish leadership had to figure out a new way of calculating the new year. It was no longer practical to go to Jericho to inspect barley, because there was no way to get word out to all of the exiles that were scattered throughout the empire. So they worked out a formula that everyone could calculate wherever they lived.

The formula was this: If the first crescent moon came prior to the Spring Equinox, then they simply made the next month Adar II and kept Passover a month later. This is what happened in 2016, when the new moon was seen the night of March 10th. It fell before the equinox (March 21), so the Jews added a leap month to the previous year, and Passover is thus dated April 22, 2016.

The Church, however, calculates things a little differently. They celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the Passover (always a full moon) which falls after the equinox. Since the first day of the new year began the evening of March 10, the first day of the month was March 11. The 14th day of the month was March 25 (after the equinox), so Easter is being celebrated today--the first Sunday after Passover.

The difference is that the Jews determine Passover according to the first crescent moon, whether it occurs before or after the equinox, whereas the church looks to see if the full moon is before or after the equinox. (Passover always falls on a full moon, because it is the 14th and 15th of the lunar month.)

Most of the time, the two ways of calculating align, but every so often there is a discrepancy. Of course, next year the two systems will again align, because the church will add a 13th month in 2017.

It is important to note that neither system is strictly biblical. The Jewish system was unable to maintain its dependence upon ripe barley, due to the destruction of Jerusalem. So its equinox system was their best way of solving the problem. Who is to say that the church's system is better or worse? It is simply a different way of calculating the start of the new year.

In today's world, where the feasts are no longer determined by ripe barley in Jericho, some attempts to restore the biblical system have been tried and are being practiced today. The Karaite Jews have reverted back to barley inspection in Israel, abandoning the equinox-dependent system of the past 1700 years. I know of some Christian groups who inspect barley near Los Angeles, which is roughly the latitude of Jerusalem and Jericho.

The majority of people, however, simply accept what the Orthodox Jews determine, which is the equinox system.

Now that we have to think globally, with people everywhere in different time zones and on different sides of the International Date Line, the biblical commands regarding the date and time of day are necessarily flexible. In my view, the world is historically bigger than it was in biblical days, and rituals must give way to broader ways of keeping the feast. The New Covenant was actually designed to keep the feasts in a way that accommodates this major change. New Covenant mindsets are thus needed, in order to break free of the restraints of legalism.

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones