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Reckoning Time

By John Koestler.

What is the date today? When did today begin? When does this week begin? When does next month begin? When does next year begin? Here in western civilization we have accepted definitions for these things that have stood for many centuries. It is hard for us to think in any other ways about reckoning time. However, if we are to understand time-keeping from a biblical perspective, we need to understand another way of reckoning time.

A Day

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To begin with, what is a day? These days we reckon a day to be that period of time between one midnight and the next midnight. On the other hand, according to the Bible a day begins at sundown, extends through the darkness of night, then through the sunlit period that follows and ends with the next sundown. Does it make any difference? Well, it can, when it comes to deciding on what day something happened. In our Western way of reckoning time Jesus celebrated the first Lord’s Supper on a Thursday evening, but according to biblical reckoning it was already Friday. Using our way of reckoning days we would say that, if the spring equinox occurred precisely at sundown on March 21 in 4001 B.C., it was still Tuesday – still the third day of Creation week. However, by biblical reckoning of time, this happened precisely at the beginning of the fourth day of Creation week!

A Week

OK, what is a week? The week begins when Sunday begins and ends when the next Saturday ends, we would say. In other words, a week is simply a seven-day cycle. Every seven days a new week begins. Bearing in mind that these days have a different beginning and ending time in the biblical way of reckoning time, weeks are otherwise the same in the Bible.

By the way, from where did this idea of defining a week come? Why don’t we have six-day weeks, or eight-day weeks? Why do we bother having weeks at all?! Why is it that every civilization throughout history has observed a seven-day week? Given the propensity of people to disagree, how in the world has it happened that basically everyone in the world has agreed on this? It would be interesting to hear how an evolutionist would explain this very improbable phenomenon from an evolutionary point of view! The Bible gives the only reasonable explanation: this was the pattern established in the beginning by God’s own example in Creation week. Adam and Eve followed the pattern and passed it on to their offspring, who observed the pattern of weeks before the great Flood. Then it was preserved by Noah and his descendants after the Flood.

To ensure that this practice would not be lost, this practice was also legislated for the children of Israel by God through Moses. Consider again the commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work. . . . For in six days the Lord God made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

Since everyone in the world has been keeping time in this way since the beginning, there is extremely little chance that the seven-day cycle has ever been disrupted or lost.

A Month

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Alright, how are months reckoned? Our Gregorian calendar divides the 365 days of the year up into twelve months of varying lengths (remember the little ditty, “Thirty days hath Septem-ber,…”). Because a solar year actually has roughly 365 ¼ days, we need to add an extra day every four years to the month of February. Otherwise, after many years those ¼ days would add up to a significant period of time and throw the calendar out of synchronization with the solar year. Because the solar year is more accurately 365.242199 days, on rare occasions we need to tweak the calendar a little. But the Gregorian calendar works well enough that we keep using it. So, months in our calendar are simply handy divisions of the solar year.

Is there another way to reckon months? Yes. According to the Bible a month is reckoned from the first appearance of a new moon to the next appearance of a new moon. That takes approximately 29 ½ days (29.530587 days to be more exact!). It is easy to determine when a new month begins with this reckoning of the month; you simply go outside in the evening and look. When you see the first little sliver of a new moon, you start counting the days of the next month. You keep counting days until the moon goes through its phases. When you see the next new moon, you stop counting in the old month and start counting a new month. It’s that easy! Also, as I will discuss later, it is relatively easy to reconstruct these months, because with computers we can quite easily determine all of the new moon dates in the past!

Of course, these months had different names. Here are the names given to these months according to the Jewish calendar and when they begin in the Gregorian calendar:

Name of Month # First Day Begins Between
Nisan (or Abib) 1 March 12 and April 11
Iyyar (or Ziv) 2 April 11 and May 10
Sivan 3 May 10 and June 9
Tammuz 4 June 9 and July 8
Ab 5 July 8 and August 7
Elul 6 August 7 and September 5
Tishri (or Ethanim) 7 September 5 and October 5
Bul (or Marchisvan) 8 October 5 and November 3
Kislev 9 November 3 and December 3
Tebet 10 December 3 and January 1
Shebat 11 January 1 and January 30
Adar 12 January 30 and March 2
Veadar (the leap month)(13) March 2 and March 31

Now a thinking person is going to start some figuring: if you have 29 ½ day months, at the end of 12 months you will only have 354 days (29.5 X 12 = 354). That’s eleven days short of a 365 day solar year. In a few years you’re going to be really short of a full year, and the months will start appearing in different seasons. Are lunar months really a good idea? No problem! Keep reading.

A Year

What’s a year? Well, according to our Gregorian calendar a year begins in the winter on the first day of a month that we call January. It’s somewhat arbitrary, but we’ve done it that way for so long that it doesn’t matter whether it makes sense. It works for us. And it gives us an opportunity to get together with friends and celebrate the coming of a new year.

But according to the Bible a new year begins in the spring when the universe began and new life begins. In fact, the new year begins with the first new moon after the spring equinox (the day when the length of the day and night are the same). In 4001 B.C. the spring equinox occurred in the evening of what we would call Tuesday, March 21 (which the Bible would reckon as the beginning of Wednesday), and the first new moon appeared to our first parents the evening of the following Saturday (which the Bible would reckon as Sunday).

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The Hebrews used the barley harvest to determine whether or not to start a new year. If by the time of the new moon the barley harvest was ready to begin, they would start a new year. However, if the barley was not quite ready to harvest, they would wait to begin a new year until the next full moon. Since the barley harvest was always in synch with the solar year, this system worked quite nicely. This reckoning of months would require the addition of an additional month to some years. Of course, as the chart shows, they had a name for this additional month. So, most years would have twelve months; some years would have thirteen months. Did this difference bother them? No.

The neat thing about this way of reckoning months and years is that it was observable. That is to say, anyone could keep track of time by observing the barley harvest and the new moons. Furthermore, from our point of view it is great, because with computers we can reconstruct all of the Biblical calendars. We can know when the new moons occurred. We can know when the barley harvest would have been ready and when they needed to add another month.

Once all these calendars have been reconstructed, we can look at the dates given in the Bible to see if they match up with a scientifically verifiable astronomical calendar. For example, it appears that God was taking the children of Israel out of the Egyptian star calendar and putting them back in the original lunar calendar, when they left Egypt. That lunar calendar began in the spring with the month of Nisan. If, indeed, that is the case, we would expect that Adam and Eve’s new year, new month, and new week began on the same day. We already have seen that the spring equinox occurred on the fourth day (reckoned biblically) of the preceding week. The following Saturday evening (reckoned as Sunday biblically) was the evening of a new moon. So, did the first day of the first month of Adam and Eve’s first year occur on a Sunday in the year 4001 B.C.? Yes, it did!

An interesting thing about pattern of the biblical calendar is that it will not exactly repeat itself until 50 million years have passed! The reason is that none of the numbers involved are divisible by any of the other numbers. The solar year of 365.242199 days is not evenly divisible by the lunar month of 29.530587 nor by the 7 days of the week. This can be illustrated by imagining that these cycles of time are like wheels of different sizes with timing marks moving down a highway.

Once these wheels start rolling the timing marks will not all come down together again precisely at the same time for a very, very long time! As it is, just for the pattern of new year’s days to repeat takes 2,395 years! So, if the dates of the Bible line up with a real astronomical calendar in any given year, it is strong evidence that the Bible is recording an accurate date. It is highly unlikely that the dates given in the Bible could be correct only by chance. In fact, the odds against it are, literally, astronomically high!

Numbering the Years

What year is it? At the writing of this book, we would say that the year is 2007 A.D. The “A.D.” stands for “anno Domini,” a Latin phrase which means “in the year of our Lord.” In other words, supposedly two thousand and seven years have passed since the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Almost everyone now agrees that the actual birth of the Lord Jesus Christ did NOT occur exactly 2007 years ago; but, since we have used this system so long and it is so well established, it would be very difficult to change at this point. Just think of how many things are dated in this way!

In our Gregorian system of dating, the years before the birth of Christ are numbered “B.C.,” in other words, “Before Christ.” So, if the date of Creation was 4001 years before the numbering starts for A.D. years, we would say that the date of Creation was 4001 B.C. Eugene Faulstich suggests that Christ was actually born in 6 B.C. It sounds funny, doesn’t it, that Christ was actually born 6 years before the birth of Christ! Obviously, something went very wrong here. This matter will be discussed later.

So, how many years ago was the Creation? It might look like the obvious answer is to simply add the B.C. years to the A.D. years like this: 4001 + 2007 = 6008. The Creation was 6008 years ago, right? Wrong! Wrong? Why is that? It is because there is no year “0” (zero). In the transition between the two eras (B.C. and A.D.) you go directly from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D. with no “0” year in between. Consequently, when you want to know how many years ago a B.C. year was, you need to subtract one (1). Otherwise, you get too many years. So really, 4001 B.C. was 6007 years ago (4001 + 2007 – 1 = 6007). Does it still seem a little confusing? Just look at the following illustration and ask yourself how many years is it really from 2 B.C. to 2 A.D.

You can’t just add the numbers. You’ll get too many years. You must subtract 1 to get the right answer.


Our Gregorian system of numbering uses the supposed birth year of Christ as its reference point. The years before Christ were designated “B.C.” and the years after His birth are designated as “A.D.” However, our Gregorian system of numbering years is not the only way that years have been numbered in the past. Throughout history other ways of numbering the years have been used. Monarchies have numbered the years beginning with the reign of its first king. The numbering of years has also been tied to other important historical events, like the founding of Rome or the first official Olympic games.

In this book you will see another system for numbering years. It is very simple. Assuming that the first year of the earth’s existence was 4001 B.C., that year will be considered year 1 (one). After that the numbers just keep getting bigger with each passing year. If we are going to use an important historical event as a reference for counting years, what historical event could possibly be more important than the creation of the earth itself! I’ll used the initials A.M. to refer to this numbering system. Please do not confuse this abbreviation with the “A.M.” that refers to the morning hours of a day. This “A.M.” is an abbreviation for “anno mundi,” a Latin term which simply means, “year of the earth.”

So, Adam and Eve were created at the beginning of 1 A.M. We’ll see that the great Flood began in 1656 A.M., Jesus Christ was crucified in 4030 A.M., and the present year is 6007 A.M.

Sabbath Years

The Bible speaks about “Sabbath years.” We have nothing like it in our Gregorian system of reckoning time. Every seventh year is a Sabbath year. “Sabbath” means “rest.” The Sabbath year was a year of rest from certain activities.

When the children of Israel entered Canaan, every seventh year was to be observed as a Sabbath year. During this year the land was to rest, the fields were left unseeded, and the vineyards unpruned. God promised to provide an adequate harvest each sixth year so that there would be enough produce to carry them through the Sabbath year and into the next year, until the next harvest.

It was also a year of remission in which creditors were instructed to cancel the debts of the poor, and the slaves were to be released. In addition, the Law was to be read publicly throughout the land.

Therefore, when the Bible describes a situation in which the Law is being read, slaves are released, bills are paid or remitted, and the land lies idle, it is quite likely referring to a Sabbath year. This year will be a multiple of seven years from every other Sabbath year. (Cf. Exodus 23:10-11; Deuteronomy 15:1,2; 31:10-13).

Jubilee Years

We have nothing like this either!

God seems to love sevens. Seven days are in a week. Seven years are in a Sabbath year cycle. Now the multiple of sevens is bumped up one more degree. “And you shall count seven Sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven Sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord nor gather the grapes of your untended vine.” (Leviticus 25:8-ll)

So, Jubilee Years were the seventh Sabbath Year. In this year the children of Israel were commanded to do all of the other things of a Sabbath Year, PLUS every farm was to be returned to it original owner.

There is some confusion as to whether Jubilee years were every forty-nine years or every fifty years. Suffice it to say here that the Jubilee Years were separated by forty-nine years, but the forty-ninth year became the fiftieth year since the last Jubilee, counting the last Jubilee as year one.

Priestly Cycles

The children of Israel marked the passage of time in yet one more way. It had to do with the service of various groups – or sections – of priests in the Temple at Jerusalem. King David instituted the priestly cycles, although he may have simply perpetuated a practice that may have reached back as far as the death of Aaron.

The priests were divided up into twenty-four sections. Every Saturday a new section of priests took over the service of the Temple. This cycle took 168 days (7 days X 24 sections = 168 days). When it was completed, it started all over again, time after time.

Mark Opheim

Written by Mark Opheim

Mark is currently an on-the-road trucker, but he previously studied biblical chronology. He has shared several articles with us, written by him or others, on the topic.

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