Nazarene Space

Philo Against Lunar Sabbath
James Scott Trimm

The Lunar Sabbatarians have looked far and wide for ancient support for their theory. The problem is that there is none. However in their zealousness they have misappropriated certain quotations from Philo which they wrongly claim support a Lunar Sabbath. The fact is that not only does Philo not teach a Lunar Sabbath, but Philo makes statements that plainly conflict with the Lunar Sabbath Theory, and makes one of the oldest, clearest description of the  Sabbath as the seventh day of a continuous repeating seven day week.

The first quotation Lunar Sabbatarians appropriate from Philo is as follows:

"For it is said in the Scripture: On the tenth day of this month let each of them take a sheep according to his house; in order that from the tenth, there may be consecrated to the tenth, that is to God, the sacrifices which have been preserved in the soul, which is illuminated in two portions out of the three, until it is entirely changed in every part, and becomes a heavenly brilliancy like a full moon, at the height of its increase at the end of the second “week”…

The fact is that this passage simply refers to a fourteen day period as “two weeks” just as we do today. A fourteen day period may be called “two weeks” regardless of which day it begins and ends, even if it actually is made up of one complete week and parts of two other weeks.

The next quote often used is as follows:

“9. (Ex. xii. 6a) Why does He command (them) to keep the sacrifice until the fourteenth (day of the month)? (Consisting of) two Sabbaths, it has in its nature a (special) honour because in this time the moon is adorned. For when it has become full on the fourteenth (day), it becomes full of light in the perception of the people. And again through (another) fourteen (days) it recedes from its fullness of light to its conjunction, and it wanes as much in comparison with the preceding Sabbath as the second (waxes) in comparison with the first. For this reason the fourteenth (day) is pre-festive, as though (it were) a road leading to festive rejoicings, during which it is incumbent upon us to meditate”.
(On page 17 of Ralph Marcus' translation of Philo’s work entitled “Questions and Answers, Exodus, Book 1”)

This parallels Younge’s translation in The Decalogue:

"The fourth commandment has reference to the sacred seventh day, that it may be passed in a sacred and holy manner. Now some states keep the holy festival only once in the month, counting from the new moon, as a day sacred to God; but the nation of the Jews keep every seventh day regularly, after each interval of six days; and there is an account of events recorded in the history of the creation of the world, comprising a sufficient relation of the cause of this ordinance; for the sacred historian says, that the world was created in six days, and that on the seventh day God desisted from his works, and began to contemplate what he had so beautifully created; therefore, he commanded the beings also who were destined to live in this state, to imitate God in this particular also, as well as in all others, applying themselves to their works for six days, but desisting from them and philosophising on the seventh day,"
(The Decalogue ch. 26)

The wording here is obscure. Philo may referring to the fact that any fourteen day period will contain two Sabbaths, or he may be referring to the fact that the first and last days of Unleavened Bread are annual Sabbaths.

The final two passages Lunar Sabbatarians cite from Philo is as follows:

(161) But to the seventh day of the week he has assigned the greatest festivals, those of the longest duration, at the periods of the equinox both vernal and autumnal in each year; appointing two festivals for these two epochs, each lasting seven days; the one which takes place in the spring being for the perfection of what is being sown, and the one which falls in autumn being a feast of thanksgiving for the bringing home of all the fruits which the trees have produced. And seven days have very appropriately been appointed to the seventh month of each equinox, so that each month might receive an especial honour of one sacred day of festival, for the purpose of refreshing and cheering the mind with its holiday.
(Philo; Decalogue 30, 161)

And the next refers back to this one:

"Again the beginning of this feast is appointed for the fifteenth day of the month on account of the reason which has already been mentioned respecting the Spring season might receive special honor of one sacred day of festival."

Now while some have tried to use this to support the Lunar Sabbath, to the contrary this statement conflicts with the Lunar Sabbath Theory. Philo here says that the two longest Torah feasts (Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles) differ from all other festivals because, being seven days long, they always include a weekly sabbath (any seven day period will include a weekly Sabbath). However if one follows the Lunar Sabbath theory, virtually all annual Feasts coincide with Sabbaths, which would render Philo's statement meaningless.

Philo makes the nature of the Sabbath clear when he writes:

(56) But after this continued and uninterrupted festival which thus lasts through all time, there is another celebrated, namely, that of the sacred seventh day after each recurring interval of six days, which some have denominated the virgin, looking at its exceeding sanctity and purity…

(Special Laws 2, 56)

Philo clearly did not teach the so-called Lunar Sabbath Theory, but instead taught the repeating weekly Sabbath based on a continuous count of seven day “weeks” going back to the first Sabbath at creation.

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