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Pentecost, Feast of

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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1. In the OT . The offering of a barley-sheaf during the Feast of Unleavened Bread opened the reaping season, which lasted officially for 49 days, a week of weeks. On the 50th day took place the Feast of Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks ( Exodus 34:22 , Deuteronomy 16:10 ), the Feast of Harvest ( Exodus 23:16 ), and the Day of First-fruits ( Numbers 28:26 ). It thus took place at the end of the reaping season, when all the wheat and barley had been cut and gathered, and marked especially the termination of the wheat harvest (wheat being the last of the cereals to ripen in Palestine). The festival was held at the central sanctuary ( Deuteronomy 16:11 ), whither the people were expected to repair for the celebration; it cannot, therefore, have existed before the settlement in Canaan.

The proper method by which to compute the date of Pentecost was a matter of controversy. In Leviticus 23:11 the terminus a quo is given as the day after the Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In Christ’s time the Jews understood this to mean 16th Nisan, treating the first day of Unleavened Bread as a Sabbath, since it was a day of holy convocation. On this computation Pentecost would fall on 6th Sivan (June). But some theorists maintained that the Sabbath referred to was the ordinary Sabbath during the days of Unleavened Bread, whenever it chanced to fall. The objection to this view was that if 14th or 21st Nisan was a Sabbath, the sheaf-waving would occur outside the Unleavened Bread festival, of which it certainly appears to form a part. Anyhow, whatever be the correct interpretation of the disputed passage in Lev., the Jews usually celebrated the sheaf-waving on 16th Nisan and Pentecost on 6th Sivan.

The feast was probably originally a nature-festival, fixed in later times at a specified date. It always retained its agricultural character in Biblical ages, but some later Rabbinical writers treated it also as a commemoration of the delivery of the Law on Sinai an event which was supposed to have taken place 50 days after the Exodus (Exodus 19:1 ), though this idea is not found in Philo or Josephus; and the fact that the reading of the Law in the Sabbatical year took place at the Feast of Tabernacles and not at Pentecost, points to the late origin of this tradition.

The festival lasted for one day (though the later Jews allowed two days for it, because in the Dispersion it was difficult to determine accurately the Palestinian month); it was a day of holy convocation, and no servile work might be done. Two leavened loaves of wheaten flour were waved before the Lord; two yearling lambs were also waved as a peace-offering; seven lambs, one bullock, and two rams were offered as a burnt-offering, and one kid of the goats as a sin-offering (Leviticus 23:17-21 ). In Numbers 28:27 the burnt-offerings are given as two bullocks, one ram, and seven lambs. These, perhaps, were supplementary to the offerings prescribed in Leviticus 23:1-44 , where possibly only the sacrifices connected with the loaves are specified. Leviticus 23:22 also prescribes freewill offerings for the poor and the stranger, whilst Deuteronomy 16:10-11 ordains a freewill offering for the sanctuary, and states that the festal joy is to be shared by all classes. It is probable that this latter offering is referred to in Deuteronomy 26:2-11 , and the form of confession and thanksgiving there dictated was so used at this period.

2. In the Christian Church Pentecost was the occasion on which the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred ( Acts 2:1-47 ). The presence of multitudes at Jerusalem shows the generality of the observance which the Jews paid to this feast. It became one of the Church’s great festivals, as the anniversary of the spiritual first-fruits procured through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. By the close of the 2nd cent. it was established as an occasion of Christian rejoicing. No fasting or kneeling in prayer was allowed during its duration, and it was especially used as a season for baptisms. Under the old dispensation Pentecost had been distinctly connected with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. So in Christian times its dependence on the Passover sacrifice of Christ, which led to the gift of the Holy Ghost, is unmistakable.

A. W. F. Blunt.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Pentecost, Feast of'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​p/pentecost-feast-of.html. 1909.