Well, friends, every party needs a party-pooper, and I've been drafted by the Lord for this one. You're skeptical!
Shavuot and Pentecost are different names for the same day: Shavuot being Hebrew, Pentecost Greek. It is popularly assumed that the giving of the Law at Sinai occurred on Shavuot just as the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the believers in Acts 2 occurred on Shavuot or the Day of Pentecost - but is that the case?
Notable Parallels between the Two
Indeed, there are notable parallels between the two, the most significant of which is that each of these occasions brought about an earth-shaking paradigm shift for the people of God: the first for Israel under Moses (Exodus 19-20), and the second for the believers in Yeshua (Acts 2:1-4, 41). There were also notable, similar, profound supernatural phenomena. At Sinai, there was thunder and a very loud trumpet (Hebrew: shofar) sound (Exodus 19:16); on the Day of Pentecost, there was a noise like a violent rushing wind (Acts 2:2). At Sinai, there were lightning flashes (Exodus 19:16); on the Day of Pentecost, there were what appeared to them tongues as of fire (Acts 2:3). At Sinai, the Shekinah Glory, the visible manifestation of the presence of God, covered the mountain in the form of smoke and fire: Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire (Exodus 19:18); on the Day of Pentecost, the Shekinah Glory fell in the form of tongues as of fire (Acts 2:2-3).
On each of the occasions, the phenomena evoked strong emotional reactions from the crowds, as well. At Sinai, All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance (Exodus 20:18); on the Day of Pentecost, the crowd was bewildered . . . amazed and astonished at the sound and at hearing the proclaimed message in their own native languages (Acts 2:6-8).
Another argument in favor of believing that the Law was given on Shavuot is that there is a typological connection between the Shavuot observance and the pouring out of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Under Moses, the Israelites were instructed, You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of a fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:17)
Throughout Scripture leaven is a symbol of sin. Also throughout Scripture, it may be seen that, in the Lord's eyes, the world's population is viewed as two major people groups: the Jews and the Gentiles, all of whom are under sin (Romans 3:9). We can now begin to see the connection: two leavened loaves, two people groups under sin.
What did the Lord begin on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2? He poured out His Spirit on believers from among these two sinful people groups to unify them into the one body of Messiah.
14. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,15
by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing
peace, 16. and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
Connection by Contrast
Another connection between the giving of the Law and the pouring out of the Spirit is by way of contrast. In Deuteronomy 16:12, the Lord commanded Israel that, on the Day of Shavuot, You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes. In the New Testament, slavery is symbolic of the yoke of the Law which, according to Galatians 4:21-31, we are to reject in favor of the liberty we have in the Spirit of Messiah.
Surely, the giving of the Law and the falling of the Spirit occurred on the same Hebrew feast day of Shavuot or Pentecost, though some fourteen hundred years apart. That is what I believed as I had heard it so often. It only made sense, and it made for great preaching. One day, however, I read something that upset my apple cart. The writer said that, though the Spirit fell on the Day of Pentecost or Shavuot, the Law was not given on that day. So I exclaimed, "What's the scoop?" as we are wont to say in Hawaii; and being an incurable Scripture addict, I hit the Books. I also hit the books.
So what did I find? I'm glad you asked.
No Connection in the Feasts Passages or Other Passages
In Leviticus 23, the central passage on the Feasts of Israel, in verses 15-22, the Shavuot section, no mention is made of Sinai or the giving of the Law. In Deuteronomy 16:9-12, a section on Shavuot where God exhorted the Israelites to remember that they were slaves in Egypt, no mention is made of Sinai or the giving of the Law although the latter was a momentous, epochal event that followed closely on the heels of the Exodus. Search as I did, I found no passage in either Testament that dates the giving of the Law to the Day of Shavuot. What I did discover was that it was called the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) (Exodus 34:22; Numbers 28:26; Deuteronomy 16:10), the Feast of the Harvest of the Firstfruits (Exodus 23:16), and the First Fruits of the Wheat Harvest (Exodus 34:22); but in no passage was it called anything like the Feast of the Giving of the Law - an amazing omission if the Law were given on that day!
Did I miss something? I searched further.
First Connected by Maimonides 2600 Years Later
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia writes the following under Pentecost:
The Old Testament does not give it [Pentecost] the historical significance which later Jewish writers have ascribed to it. The Israelites were admonished to remember their bondage on that day and to reconsecrate themselves to the Lord (Deu_16:12), but it does not yet commemorate the giving of the Law at Sinai or the birth of the national existence, in the Old Testament conception (Ex 19). Philo, Josephus, and the earlier Talmud are all ignorant of this new meaning which was given to the day in later Jewish history. It originated with the great Jewish rabbi Maimonides and has been copied by Christian writers. And thus a view of the Jewish Pentecost has been originated, which is wholly foreign to the scope of the ancient institution. (1)
According to the quote, the belief that the annual Feast of Shavuot "commemorated the giving of the Law at Sinai" originated with Maimonides, who lived in the twelfth century - 2600 years after Moses received the Law.
Hitchhiking on what Wikipedia said, I did a little research into what Philo and Josephus wrote on the matter.
Philo, a Jewish philosopher contemporary with Yeshua, and Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, each wrote of Shavuot (Josephus wrote of it on five occasions
); and neither one of them connected Shavuot with the giving of the Law. This is corroborated by Talmidim Yeshua Fellowship (3): "Abraham Bloch tells us, 'The connection of Shabuot with the
Revelation at Mount Sinai is of later origin and is not mentioned either by Josephus or Philo. (4)'"
I checked even further. I wrote to Mottel Baleston, Secretary of The Association of Messianic Congregations and a regular teacher at Ariel Ministries. Here is Mottel's response:
I also checked out Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum's take on the matter in his Messianic Bible Study 062: The Feasts of Israel. (5) Though the good doctor is noted for his thoroughness and meticulousness, he nowhere mentions a passage that connects Shavuot with the giving of the Law. However, on page 14, he does write, "The rabbis taught that the Law was given on this occasion." So Dr. Fruchtenbaum corroborates what the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Mottel and the above footnoted sources say - not to mention, of course, my own biblical research, which I won't mention.
Nevertheless, being a glutton for punishment, I unraveled a few more convolutions in my already sore brain and discovered some other points worth considering.
Chronologically, the Law could not have been given on Shavuot. Let's take it point by point:
1. How many days was it from the Exodus until Shavuot?
Exodus 12:17 informs us that Israel was brought out of Egypt on the Feast of Unleavened Bread: So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Leviticus 23:6 informs us that Unleavened Bread begins on the 15th of Aviv (Nisan): on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. From these two passages we can determine that Israel left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the month of Aviv. Also, according to Leviticus 23:15-16, Shavuot is fifty days after the first day of Unleavened Bread (the second day of Passover); therefore, fifty days after the Exodus from Egypt. It was fifty days from the Exodus to Shavuot.
2. How many days was it from the Exodus until Israel's arrival at Mt. Sinai?
Exodus 19:1 states, In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. According to Exodus 12:17, on that very day refers to the day that Israel left Egypt, the fifteenth of Aviv. The use of the Hebrew phrase for on that very day, ha-YOM ha-ZEH, as it is used in various forms in Exodus 12:41, 12:51 and 13:3-4, affirms the reference to that day.
According to the Israelite way of counting in Scripture, the first month was not the month after they left Egypt, but the very month they left. Therefore, according to the modern Western way of counting, it was two months after they left Egypt that they came into the wilderness of Sinai - and on that very day, the fifteenth of the month. They left Egypt on the 15th of Aviv, and arrived in the wilderness of Sinai on the 15th of Sivan, fifty-nine days later (6) - nine days after Shavuot, which takes place on the 6th of Sivan. Therefore, the giving of the Law could not have taken place on the first Shavuot after the Exodus.
3. Could it have taken place on any subsequent Shavuot?
Exodus 19 informs us that Moses ascended the mountain very shortly after Israel's arrival at Sinai. He was up there for forty days (Exodus 24:18), came down, broke the tablets (Exodus 32:19), and then, in rapid succession, dealt with the people and returned up the mountain for another forty days to receive the second set of tablets (Exodus 32-34). All of this occurred within three or four months of their arrival at Sinai - not during the second year after the Exodus, but within months.
Moses could not have received the tablets on the Shavuot of the second year. He arrived at Sinai nine days after Shavuot, and then easily within three or four months, received both sets of the tablets of the Law.
Conclusion: Moses could NOT have received the Law on any Shavuot.
By the way, being the unlearned Galilean that I am, I felt that I needed to have these calculations vetted by one many times more capable than I in such matters. Therefore, at my request, over a nice dinner at Sam Choy's in Kona, Dr. Fruchtenbaum graciously inspected a printout of this section (which I inserted between his fork and his mouth) according to the strictest laws of hermeneutical and exegetical kashrut. (7) The result? He declared it to be Glatt Kosher, (8) and gave it his Good Kosher Housekeeping Seal of Approval. I almost fell off my chair!
Preliminarily, it must be observed that neither the parallels between the giving of the Law and the pouring out of the Spirit, nor the typological connection between the two, nor the connection by contrast, constitutes proof that the giving of the Law took place on Shavuot. On the other hand, considering that there is no biblical command in the Tanach (9) to commemorate the giving of the Law on Shavuot, nor any Old or New Testament passage naming Shavuot as the day that the Law was given, and that neither Josephus nor Philo connected the event and the day, and most conclusively, because it is chronologically impossible for the giving of the Law to have occurred on any Shavuot, one must conclude that the giving of the Law did not occur on any Shavuot. The claim that the giving of the Law occurred on Shavuot is a rabbinic development begun by Maimonides some 2600 years later.
So is everybody still happy?
Scriptures chosen by the author are in the New American Standard version unless otherwise noted. Scriptures in quotes by others may be in different translations.
Names, titles and other terms within quoted scriptures and elsewhere
may have been changed from the English to the Hebrew form for the sake of cultural sensitivity.
1. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Pentecost. e-Sword, 1915, 1939.
2. Goldberg, G.J. "Pentecost / Shavuos in the Works of Josephus." Thematic Concordance to the Works of Josephus. N.p., n.d. Web. 8Mar.2015. <http://josephus.org/Pentecost.htm>.
3. "Was the Law Given on Mount Sinai at Shavuot." talmidimyeshua.org. Talmidim Yeshua Fellowship, n.d. Web. 82015. <http://talmidimyeshua.org/lawgiven.htm>.
4. Bloch, Abraham P. The Biblical and Historical Background of the Jewish Holy Days, KTAV Publishing House, 1978, p.229.
5. Fruchtenbaum, Dr. Arnold G. Messianic Bible Study 062: The Feasts of Israel. San Antonio: Ariel Ministries, 1984, 2005.
6. In succession, the months are Aviv (Nisan), Iyar and Sivan. Aviv has 30 days, and Iyar 29. Thus, from the 15th of Aviv to the 15th of Sivan is fifty-nine days.
7. Kashrut: the body of Jewish dietary laws.
8. Glatt Kosher: A high standard of kashrut.
9. Tanach: Old Testament.
Was the Law Given on Shavuot?
A Tale of Two Occasions
© Norman Manzon, 2015
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