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The Morrow After the Sabbath

A Controversy Between the Pharisees and the Sadducees

During the time of Christ

By Clovis Miller

During the Temple time in which Jesus was upon the earth, a controversy erupted between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, concerning which day of the Passover week firstfruits (Lev. 23:11) should be held on. The Pharisees held that the word, "sabbath", in that verse, referred to the first day of "unleavered bread" (Passover - 15 Nissan), and not the weekly sabbath which would fall during the Passover week. This was based on the idea that the first and last days of the seven days of unleavened bread were set aside as days of rest: though they were not specifically called, "sabbaths" in the Old Testament. Following this belief, the "morrow after the sabbath" would always fall on the 16th of Nissan. This was of utmost importance because the next feast day, "Shavout" (Pentecost) was determined by counting fifty days from the "morrow after the sabbath".

The word used for "sabbath" in verse 11, is "shabbawth", in Hebrew (Strongs #7676). This is the same word which is always used to denote the weekly sabbath. However, when the Pharisees came to interpreting Lev. 23:15-16, concerning the counting of fifty days from the "morrow after the sabbath" to Pentecost; they interpreted the same word, "shabbawth", found in these verses, to mean "weeks". Pentecost is from the Greek, meaning "fiftieth". As stated, the Hebrew word for that festival is "shavout", which means, "a period of seven", or "weeks". So, according to the Pharisees, the word "sabbath", in verse 11, meant the specific day (the 15th of Nissan), but in verses 15-16 it meant "weeks". In following this line of reasoning, an obvious conflict is created. On what basis can one conclude that the word "sabbath" in verse 11; and the same word, in verses 15 and 16 have different meanings? It appears that the word, "shavout" (weeks), which is not found in this scriptural passage, is given precedence over the word, shabbawth, which is found; in determining the "proper" interpretation to be observed here.

The day of rest designated for Nissan 15 (the first day of Unleavened Bread, also called Passover), was established in Ex. 12:15-17; while the children of Israel were yet in Egypt. As stated, that day was not specifically called a "sabbath" day in Scripture: although the people were instructed that no work was to be done on that day. There was however, one exception found in this commandment: the people were allowed to prepare the food they were to eat on that day.

Normally, such activity would have been a violation of the weekly sabbath, except for one thing: the sabbath (day of rest), instituted by God at the end of the creation week, was not established as a law for the people to keep, until we reach Ex. 16:23-30. That's the first mention in Scripture of the word "sabbath". Unlike the 15th of Nissan, where the people were permitted to prepare food; the "shabbawth" instituted in Ex. 16, forbade all work, including the preparation of food. We might say, that preparing the food on the day of rest (Nissan 15) was "on the books" before the prohibition of such work by the law of the weekly sabbath: the institution of which, did not repeal, modify or nullify, the law established for the 15th of Nissan.

With the Feast of Unleavened Bread comprising seven days, the Sadducees, took the position that the "sabbath" day referred to in Lev. 23:11, was actually the weekly sabbath, which would occur during that week. Their position, required that firstfruits always be celebrated on the first day of the week (Sunday). Therefore, when they looked at Lev. 23:15-16, they reckoned the counting of the fifty days from the "morrow after the sabbath" unto Shavout (Pentecost) to include "seven Sabbaths" (weekly sabbaths). By this, not only did firstfruits fall on the first day of the week, but Pentecost, 50 days later, also fell on a Sunday: thus giving these two festival days a fixed time of occurance. The Pharisees, on the other hand, by declaring that firstfruits must occur on 16 Nissan, was giving Shavout a variable day. Both firstfruits and Shavout therefore, could fall on a Monday, or any other day of the week, depending on which day of the week the 16th of Nissan fell on. Modern day Karaite Jews, follow the Sadducees thinking on this issue; while Rabbinic Judaism continues to adhere to the Pharisees understanding.

So, were the Pharisees right in stating that since the word, shavout means, "a period of seven", or "weeks", then the word "shabbath" in verses 15 and 16 should be interpreted to mean "weeks"? Not necessarily, since there was a period of fifty days involved, there would have been seven weeks, as well as sabbaths, as counted by the Sadducees. The use of the word, "shavout" for the feast of weeks, could be used by either group in defense of their stand in this matter.

It is worth noting here, that both the Pharisees and the Sadducees of Jesus' day were essentially corrupt. His scathing rebuke of both groups is evident in the New Testament. In Matt. 3:7, John the Baptist called them, "a brood of vipers!" (NKJV). Jesus did likewise in Matt. 23:33. This is not to say that there were no good persons among the corrupt; for Jesus did find such (i.e. Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and others). While it is fairly well established that the Sadducees were held in great disregard by the people: the notion, that the majority of Jews in Jesus' day followed the Pharisees intrepretation, proves that it was the correct one, is a very unsound foundation to rest one's beliefs upon. The issue involved here is not one of party, but one of following the truth of what the Scriptures intended for us to understand.

So, is it possible to determine which viewpoint is correct?

We can, at least, discover some light on this subject by going back in history to the time of the Exodus from Egypt, and the children of Israel entering the land of Caanan.

Lev. 23:14

"And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings."

Verse 14 above states, that Israel shall not eat of the produce of the land which God had given them, until they had first brought an offering to Him. We find that the "omer" of firstfruits was first offered up to the Lord at Gilgal, near Jericho. On what day of that year did that occur?

In Joshua 5: 10-11 we find:

10)"And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho.
11) And they did eat the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day."

A direct translation from the Hebrew says:

"and they are eating from yield of the land from morrow of the passover unleavened breads. And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched [corn] in the selfsame day and one being toasted..." (Joshua 5:11).

So, the omer was brought on the "morrow after the passover" (15 Nissan) and offered up to the Lord (Lev. 23:10-11). Then they ate the "old corn of the land...and parched corn, in the selfsame day". The manna which they had eaten for forty years, ceased the day after they ate the "old corn" (Joshua 5:12). The produce (or "yield of the land") which was reaped that year was the "old corn of the land". We know this because the children of Israel didn't cross the Jordan River, into the promised land, until the 10th day of Nissan (Josh. 4:19), four days before the Passover of Josh. 5:11, was celebrated. There was no time, in that year, to plant a crop themselves, from which a sheaf of firstfruits of their crops could be offered up to God; therefore, they ate the old corn of the land in the year of their entrance. In future years, they would plant their seed so as to be able to offer up a sheaf of firstfruits at the appointed time from their own crops.

Was the "morrow after the passover", or "morrow of the passover" (in Hebrew), the 16th of Nissan, as the Pharisees later claimed? Let the Scriptures answer the question.

Ex. 12:30-39

30) "And Pharoah rose up in the night...
31) And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up and get you forth from among my people...
33) And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people that they might send them out of the land in haste;...
37) And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth...
39) And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared themselves any victual."

Numbers 33:1,3

"These are the journeys of the children of Israel, which went out of the land of Egypt with their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron...

"And they departed Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the month, on the morrow after the passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians."

According to this last passage, the "morrow after the passover" was actually the daytime portion of the 15th of Nissan: understanding that the Jewish day runs from evening to evening! This is validated by the passage in Ex. 12 where we are told that the people didn't have time to put leaven in the bread dough, because they were, "thrust out of Egypt". The passover [Pesach] lambs had been sacrificed at "twilight" (NKJV) on the 14th of Nissan (Ex.12:6-8). They ate the lamb, with unleavened bread, that evening (the beginning of the 15th of Nissan). Death came to the first born of Egypt at midnight, and the following morning, the children of Israel began their departure from Egypt, "in haste".

This passage, establishing the "morrow after the passover" (KJV) as occuring on 15 Nissan; in conjunction with the passage in Joshua chapter 5, showing that the omer was also offered up on "the morrow after the passover" (KJV), absolutely refutes the claim of the Pharisees, that the omer of firstfruits was always brought on the 16th day of Nissan. If the omer was offered up at Gilgal, on 15 Nissan, then the 14th of Nissan, that year, had to fall on a weekly sabbath; and 15 Nissan was not only the "morrow after the sabbath", but was also "the morrow after the passover", a Sunday (see chart below).

The error in the Pharisees counting occurred because Passover (originally an eight day festival) was shortened to a seven day celebration; with the 14th of Nissan (the actual day the Passover lamb was killed) no longer being considered to be a part of the counted days. For what ever reason, the 14th came to be regarded as the "preparation" day for the "first sabbath" of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover (John 19:14), which fell on the 15th day of the month. The 14th of Nissan, ceased to be regarded as the seperate feast day, as established by Scripture, and was replaced by the 15th, as the beginning of the Passover season. The children of Israel departed Egypt on the 15th day of Nissan, and first offered up the wave offering on the 15th of Nissan at Gilgal (the morrow after the sabbath), exactly forty years later.

The True Eight Days of Passover - 14 thru 21 Nissan
(Lev. 23:5 ; Ex. 12:8 ; Lev.23:6)

14th Nissan 15th Nissan 16th Nissan 17th Nissan 18th Nissan 19th Nissan 20th Nissan 21st Nissan
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday
Wednesday Thursday1 Friday2 Saturday3 ( FF Sunday) Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
Friday Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday

The above table shows where the "morrow after the sabbath" (brown color) would fall within Passover; relative to which day of the week the 14th of Nissan fell on. The red color, of course denotes the weekly sabbath. To literally fulfill both, the 'three days and three nights" of Matt. 12:40, and the feast of firstfruits of Lev. 23:10-11: it would have been necessary for Jesus to have been crucified on Wednesday, the 14th; sealed in the tomb before sunset; and be resurrected before sunset on Saturday evening, the 17th; He would have came out of the tomb after sunset, just prior to the time the sheaf of firstfruits (FF) would have been cut by the temple priests.

We know from historical sources of the period, that the sheaf of barley for the wave offering, was cut between sundown and dark following the sabbath, and waved before the Lord the following morning , "the morrow after the sabbath" (Sunday). When the time came, priests from the temple went forth to cut the sheaf of firstfruits, carrying with them baskets and sickles. They were accompanied by a large contingent of people who followed them to the field. After their arrival, five questions were then put to the people, three times: (1) "Has the sun set?"; (2) "With this a sickle?"; (3) "Into this a basket? (4)"On this Sabbath?" (5)"Shall I reap it now?". Each time the people would reply with a resounding "Yes!!". The sheaf was then cut; taken back to the temple for preparation, and offered up early the next morning.

The resurrection therefore, is equated with the cutting and harvesting of the grain from the earth. The priests harvested the firstfruits of the natural grain; while God harvested the firstfruits of the true grain; planted three days before when the tomb was sealed (John 12:24). Though resurrected just prior to sunset, in the last moments of that sabbath day's light, Jesus did not appear to any of His followers until the next morning.

Deuteronomy 16:9 states, that the counting of the seven weeks was to begin, "...from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn." (after sundown, but before the three stars appeared, following the sabbath). That being the case, Firstfruits would have been the first day of the seven complete weeks, which were to be counted; each of those weeks likewise ending with a weekly sabbath.

The immediate significance of these findings is: that no matter how corrupt they were, the Sadducees correctly understood that the sabbath mentioned in Lev. 23:11, was the weekly sabbath, and not the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, as supposed by the Pharisees. Likewise, the "seven sabbaths" of Lev. 23:15-16 were weekly sabbaths, rather than representing the seven weeks which were being counted. Let the Scriptures, not tradition, teach us what is correct. Our emphasis shouldn't be on the fact that Jesus first appeared to the women on "Sunday morning" following His resurrection; but that His appearance was on the first day of the seven weeks to be counted towards the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), which also happens to fall fifty days later, on "a Sunday".

The ultimate significance of this is, that Jesus (the firsfruits, according to I Cor. 15:20-23) literally fulfilled this feast day (Matt. 28:1; Matt.28:6), on the first day of the seven weeks (a Sunday), by ascending to heaven and presenting Himself unto the Father (John 20:17); and possibly offering up the resurrected saints (Matt. 27:52-53) as the "sheaf" of firstfruits, at the approximate time the priest was offering up the omer in the temple in Jerusalem.