Don’t be Mooned by the Lunar Sabbath
From SVM – Winter 2010
By E. J. Malone, JD.
After centuries of beating back against anti-Sabbath excuses, theories, and arguments, both polite and otherwise, modern seventh-day Christendom is now faced with a challenge from within. It is coming from those who are abandoning the weekly Sabbath in favor of what they call the lunar Sabbath.
The scribe hopes the readership of Shepherd’s Voice never has to deal with it, but just in case our readers do encounter lunar Sabbatarians along their path, this article aims to prepare the readership against arguments lunar Sabbatarians may propagate.
Lunar Sabbath Defined
A lunar Sabbath is a Sabbath calculated not by adopting a seven-day week with a particular day of that week as one’s rest day (e.g., the seventh day of the week). Rather, a lunar Sabbath is observed according to the cycles of the moon’s 29.5 day rotation around the earth. With the new moon as the beginning of the month, lunar Sabbaths fall on the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd days of the month. Under this configuration, the Sabbath could fall on any day of the week, not just on the day commonly called Saturday. (There is a minority within the lunar Sabbath keeping community that observes the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th days of the month as the Sabbath, but for simplicity’s sake we shall focus upon the lunar Sabbath theory endorsed by the majority.) Because a lunar month is either of 29 or 30 days duration, a lunar Sabbath does not always occur every seven days.
One might ask, “What about the 29th and 30th days of the months?” Lunar Sabbatarians are split on that issue. Some observe the 29th and 30th days as Sabbaths while others consider them as leap days with the next Sabbath occurring on the 1st day of the next month.
Supporters of a lunar Sabbath use Genesis 1:14-19 and Psalm 104:19 as proof texts showing that God intended for humankind to observe its weeks according to the cycles of the moon. In Genesis 1:14 God commanded that there be lights in the sky to separate the day from the night and that these lights would be “for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” In Psalm 104:19, the psalmist states that Yahweh appointed the moons for seasons.
Because the Hebrew word moedim “seasons” in many English Bible translations, also can refer to appointed holy times of God, lunar Sabbath proponents argue that all appointed times of God (Sabbaths and annual holy days) must be determined using astronomical observation (new moons, full moons, equinoxes, etc.)
Lunar Sabbath Refuted
When sun-tested against scripture, history, and common sense, the lunar Sabbath theory fails miserably. Absolutely nowhere in scripture does God command his people to observe certain days of the month, namely the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd days, as weekly Sabbaths. Moreover, there is no historical evidence pointing toward any ancient Hebrew or Christian lunar Sabbath observance, any official change from lunar Sabbath observance to “Saturday” observance, or any persecuted, hold-out lunar Sabbatarian population clinging to “the faith once delivered.”
Proponents of the lunar Sabbath claim that God placed the lights in the heavens to determine the seasons. However, they are reading too much into Genesis 1 and Psalm 104. The narrator in Genesis 1 and the psalmist in Psalm 104 both describe how God placed the sun and moon in the heavens and how these lights would aid humankind in determining day from night, winter from spring, and summer from fall. These lights in no way give us license to disobey direct instructions from God on when to observe his appointed times.
In the same Psalm 104, which states that Yahweh made the moon to mark the seasons, the psalmist says that the high mountains are for the wild goats (verse 18). Does this mean that God Almighty has decreed that all goats must inhabit high mountains?
Our Savior Jesus Christ clearly stated that man shall not live by bread alone but by “every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Therefore, a direct dictate from God Almighty trumps any conjectural implications drawn from verses taken out of context from the creation narrative or from a song of praise.
What does God say about when to keep the Sabbath? In Exodus 20:9-11, He says, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. Six days thou shalt labor and do all thy work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God . . . for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”
Notice that Yahweh defines the Sabbath day as “the seventh day.” God says that “the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh.” There is nothing in this command about which day of the month the Sabbath occurs. If God wanted the Sabbath to be observed according to the lunar cycles; if the sun, moon, and stars determine everything, why not simply say that the first, eighth, fifteenth, and twenty-second days of the month are Sabbaths? Or better yet, why not command that “the new moon, half moon, and full moons of each month shall be your Sabbaths?” Notice also that God says the Sabbath days come after six days of work. If the sun and the moon are to determine everything, why even mention six days of work? And why would God have to illustrate the Sabbath principle by dropping manna for the first six of seven days? If a lunar Sabbath were in effect, it would have been sufficient simply to state, “Do not expect bread on the 1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd days of the month.” Or better still, “If you see a new moon, half-moon, or full moon in the sky, do not expect bread the next day.” Finally, if the Sabbaths were determined by the phases of the moon, why even set up a seven- day week in the first place?
Did God Observe a Lunar Sabbath at Creation?
Perhaps the biggest problem that lunar Sabbatarians have is the fact that God did not create the moon until the fourth day of creation. If the seven-day week is based upon the moon, why did God begin His creation week without it? And if the new moon were intended to be a signal for resetting the Sabbath, why did not God rest as soon as He created the moon? If the lunar moon people are correct then would not God have rested on the 4th rather than the 7th day?
The answer to these questions is simple. The lunar Sabbath is a fraud. The institution of the 7th day Sabbath is based upon the 6 previous days during which God created the earth and not upon the phases of the moon. God already had been counting days before the sun and the moon were created. If we read the scriptures for what they say, not adding anything to them, we could only arrive at understanding that Yahweh’s Sabbath falls on an uninterrupted seven-day weekly cycle. There really is no room for any other possibility. Work six days then rest. Work another six days then rest. Work another six days then rest. Work another six days then rest. Work another six days then rest. The cycle thus repeats endlessly.
Seven-Day Week Throughout History
Another lunacy of the lunar Sabbath is its lack of historical support. We Christians who keep the seventh-day Sabbath can prove that humans rather than God switched the regular weekly church meeting day from the seventh day of the week to the first. We can point to seventh-day Sabbath observance by the patriarchs, the ancient Israelites, Jesus Christ Himself, and the early followers of Christ. We can point to specific decrees, edicts, and laws commanding people to switch over to Sunday observance and ordering punishment for those who “Judaize” by observing a seventh-day Sabbath. And finally, we can cite examples of faithful Christians who held out over the centuries and were persecuted for keeping the seventh-day Sabbath in a Sunday-keeping world.
Lunar Sabbatarians cannot do the same. They claim that at some point in history, the Israelites abandoned lunar time reckoning in favor of a seven-day weekly cycle. They claim that Israel abandoned Sabbath keeping for “Saturday keeping.”
However, they can point to no specific time in which this change was made. They can point to no specific decree, edict, or law commanding Israelites to switch over from lunar time reckoning to “Saturday observance.” They can point to no sects, groups, or individuals who held out over the centuries or were persecuted for keeping the lunar Sabbath. In fact, there are at least four examples in the Bible in which men of God worked or traveled on the supposed lunar Sabbath. In Genesis 8:13, Noah spent a new moon day removing the covering of the ark after the flood. In Exodus 40:16-33, Moses, as commanded by God himself, “finished the work” of erecting a tabernacle on the first day of the first month. In Numbers 1:1, on the 1st day of the 2nd month, a census was taken for all of Israel. And in Ezra 7:9, the prophet Ezra journeyed on two new moons. The lack of evidence for lunar Sabbath observance over the centuries serves as strong proof that lunar Sabbath observance is a sham.
Seven-day Week at the Time of Christ and the Roman Empire
There is no doubt that during the time Jesus Christ walked the earth the Jewish people kept a seven-day Sabbath based upon a seven-day weekly cycle with the seventh day corresponding to the Roman “Saturday.” In their conquest of Jerusalem, both the Greek and Roman armies took advantage of the fact that religious Jews refused to take up arms and fight on the seventh day of the week.
Jewish historian Josephus records that Agatharchides, a 2nd century B.C. Greek historian, wrote that the Jewish practice of resting “on every seventh day” contributed to the defeat of Jerusalem by Alexander the Great’s general Ptolemy. Concerning the Romans, the first century Roman soldier, Frontinus, in his collection of books on military strategy called Strategemata, wrote in A.D. 84. that Emperor Augustus Vespasian ordered an attack of the Jews “on the day of Saturn, a day on which it is sinful for them to do any business” (2.1.17). Notice the use of the words “every seventh day” and “the day of Saturn.” If the Jews were keeping a lunar Sabbath at the time of Ptolemy, why would the Greeks take note of a rest “every seventh day?” Would not the historical records state that the Jews kept a Sabbath on the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd days of the month? And while Yahweh certainly does not recognize the seventh day of the week as Saturn’s day, it is still useful to note that the Romans–the enemies of the Jews– boasted that they were able to defeat the Jews because the Jews rested on that day, the seventh day of the week. Again, the Sabbath was based on a weekly cycle and not upon observation of the moon.
In his book Sunday historian Craig Harlin sums up the Hebrew Sabbath keeping practice and its theological underpinnings:
It can be said that the Jewish week, unlike many weeks around the world, was not meant to be shoehorned into nature’s cycles: in other words, the seven-day Jewish week did not multiply neatly into a 29-day lunar month or a 365-day solar year, but was an artificial number deliberately imposed by the Jewish God as a sign of his superiority to nature and its pagan gods. The Jewish week therefore stood outside of nature, on purpose, unlike the planetary week. That the Jewish total of seven days happened to equal nature’s total of seven planets mattered little to the Jews: except for the Sabbath and the day before the Sabbath, called the Day of Preparation, days of the Jewish week were numbered, not named, and had nothing to do with planets. Moreover, while days and gods of the planetary week were more or less equal, the Jewish week derived virtually all of its meaning from a single day devoted entirely to their single God. (Craig Harlin, Sunday, page 4-5)
Jesus Christ, Lord of the Sabbath
In response to proof that first century Jews observed a “Saturday” Sabbath, lunar Sabbatarians might argue that the Jews must have abandoned the lunar Sabbath sometime after the Law of Moses and before the time of Christ. If this had been the case, then certainly Yeshua the Messiah, Son of God and Lord of the Sabbath, would have set everyone straight. However there is no suggestion or evidence that Jesus kept a different Sabbath from the Jewish people of his time.
At his trial prior to his crucifixion, Jesus was accused of blasphemy, sedition, and breaking the existing Sabbath laws (John 19:7; Luke 23:2; Mark 14:57- 64; John 5:18). If He had been keeping a different Sabbath then certainly his accusers would not have left out that accusation. Moreover, Jesus never contested that it was the Sabbath on those several occasions when He was accused of breaking the Sabbath or permitting others to break it (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-6; John 5:1-18). If the Jews indeed observed an incorrect Sabbath day, all Jesus needed to say was, “Today is not really the Sabbath. Today is the Roman day of Saturn. I do not observe this day. I observe the lunar Sabbath.”
It is clear that Jesus Christ kept the seventh day Sabbath. Jesus Christ was not mooned by the lunar Sabbath, and neither should we be.
Time for Choosing
French philosopher Frederick Bastiat once said that when the law and a person’s individual morality clash, that person has the cruel alternative of either losing his or her individual morality or losing his or her respect for the law. Lunar Sabbatarians are faced with an analogous choice. They are either going to have to live by “every word that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh,” or they are going to cling to their theory of time reckoning based upon astronomical observation. The evidence is clear that these two things contradict. The word of God is clear that the Sabbath day comes after six days of work and repeats in a continuous cycle irrespective of the moon. Yet lunar Sabbatarians persist in reasoning within themselves that Sabbaths and weeks ought to be aligned with the moon.
The verdict of this scribe is as follows: Those who wish to keep a lunar Sabbath have the cruel alternative of either losing their individual time reckoning theories or losing their respect for God’s law.