Y2K Bug Bites The Holy See

In 1994, Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter to The Bishops, Clergy and Lay Faithful On Preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000." In that letter, he wrote:

12. The words and deeds of Jesus thus represent the fulfilment of the whole tradition of Jubilees in the Old Testament. We know that the Jubilee was a time dedicated in a special way to God. It fell every seventh year, according to the Law of Moses: this was the "sabbatical year", during which the earth was left fallow and slaves were set free. The duty to free slaves was regulated by detailed prescriptions contained in the Books of Exodus (23:10-11), Leviticus (25:1-28) and Deuteronomy (15:1-6). . .--John Paul II, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, Promulgated from the Vatican on November 10, 1994

Is that really what the Bible says?

In my studies, I find several points in Scripture that do not agree with the words of the Vicar of Christ, who, one would think, should have known how to read his Bible:

1. The Year of Jubilee did NOT occur every seven years.

2. All slaves were NOT set free, either in Sabbatical years or the Year of Jubilee.

3. All debts were NOT forgiven in the Year of Jubilee (mentioned below).

4. There's another issue, but I don't plan to address that until the end.

What's going on? Did the Vicar of Christ find in Scripture things that God forgot to mention? To find out, let's first examine the scheduling of the Year of Jubilee. In a Catholic Bible, I find that the Year of Jubilee did not occur every SEVEN years, but every FIFTIETH year:

8 Thou shalt also number to thee seven weeks of years: that is to say, seven times seven, which together make forty-nine years.
9 And thou shalt sound the trumpet in the seventh month, the tenth day of the month, in the time of the expiation in all your land.
10 And thou shalt sanctify the fiftieth year, and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee. Every man shall return to his possession, and every one shall go back to his former family:
11 Because it is the jubilee and the fiftieth year. You shall not sow, nor reap the things that grow in the field of their own accord, neither shall you gather the firstfruits of the vines,
-- Leviticus 25:8-11, Douay-Rheims Bible

This note follows Verse 10: [Note Remission. . .That is, a general release and discharge from debts and bondage, and a reinstating of every man in his former possessions.]

You reckon the Catholic translation of the Bible is wrong and the pope had better information? Let's look at the passages the Pontifex Maximus cited in support of his statement:

1 In the seventh year thou shalt make a remission,
2 Which shall be celebrated in this order. He to whom any thing is owing from his friend or neighbour or brother, cannot demand it again, because it is the year of remission of the Lord.
3 Of the foreigner or stranger thou mayst exact it: of thy countryman and neighbour thou shalt not have power to demand it again.
4 And there shall be no poor nor beggar among you: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in the land which he will give thee in possession.
5 Yet so if thou hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and keep all things that he hath ordained, and which I command thee this day, he will bless thee, as he hath promised.
6 Thou shalt lend to many nations, and thou shalt borrow of no man. Thou shalt have dominion over very many nations, and no one shall have dominion over thee.
--Deuteronomy 15:1-6,

This note follows Verse 4: [Note There shall be no poor, etc. . .It is not to be understood as a promise, that there should be no poor in Israel, as appears from ver. 11, where we learn that God's people would never be at a loss to find objects for their charity: but it is an ordinance that all should do their best endeavours to prevent any of their brethren from suffering the hardships of poverty and want.]--Douay-Rheims Bible

I went over this passage several times and, though I do find the commandment to cancel debts owed by Isrealites to one another (but not the debts owed by Gentiles to Jews) each sabbatical year, I find nothing about the Year of Jubilee or freeing slaves. Just to be sure I was not overlooking anything, I checked to see what theologian John MacArthur had to say about this passage.

15:1 At the end of every seven years grant a release of debts. The sabbatical year was established and described in Ex. 23:10, 11 and Lev. 25:17. However, while these texts stated that in the seventh year the land was to lie fallow without any crops being planted, only here did Moses prescribe a cancellation of debts. On the basis of vv. 911, the debt was canceled completely and permanently, not just a cancellation of payment during that year.

15:3 Of a foreigner you may require it. The provision for sabbatical release of debts was not intended for one who stayed only temporarily in the Land. That foreigner was still responsible to pay his debts. -- John F. MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1997.

It would seem that MacArthur agrees with me that ALL debts were NOT to be cancelled in the Sabbatical year.

Moving right along:

10 Six years thou shalt sow thy ground, and shalt gather the corn thereof.
11 But the seventh year thou shalt let it alone, and suffer it to rest, that the poor of thy people may eat, and whatsoever shall be left, let the beasts of the field eat it: so shalt thou do with thy vineyard and thy oliveyard.
--Exodus 23:10-11, Douay-Rheims Bible

Hmmmm. Yep. Even this Catholic translation includes the commandment that the land lie fallow during that seventh year. But I don't see anything here about freeing the slaves and no mention of the Year of Jubilee. Perhaps that part will be covered in one of the other cited passages. Methodist Adam Clarke called upon the work of Catholic theologian Dom Augustin Calmet in his commentary on Verse 11:

Verse 11. The seventh year thou shalt let it rest- As, every seventh day was a Sabbath day, so every seventh year was to be a Sabbath year. The reasons for this ordinance Calmet gives thus:-

1. To maintain as far as possible an equality of condition among the people, in setting the slaves at liberty, and in permitting all, as children of one family, to have the free and indiscriminate use of whatever the earth produced.
2. To inspire the people with sentiments of humanity, by making it their duty to give rest, and proper and sufficient nourishment, to the poor, the slave, and the stranger, and even to the cattle.
3. To accustom the people to submit to and depend on the Divine providence, and expect their support from that in the seventh year, by an extraordinary provision on the sixth.
4. To detach their affections from earthly and perishable things, and to make them disinterested and heavenly-minded.
5. To show them God's dominion over the country, and that HE, not they, was lord of the soil and that they held it merely from his bounty." See this ordinance at length, Lev. xxv.
--Adam Clarke, Commentary

Most of what Calmet had to say concerning this the sabbatical year is sound, though neither commentator makes mention of the Year of Jubilee. Perhaps these guys confused hired servants with bondservants. If so, that would explain how Calmet, Clarke and the Magisterium came up with the idea that slaves were to be freed every seventh year. It COULD happen. Or maybe it is just a language thing. We'll examine that issue in a bit. Right now, let's try to clear up this Sabbatical Year/Year of Jubilee thing.

Perhaps the cited passage in Leviticus 25 will provide the answers to clear up this apparent confusion:

And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD. Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: [for] it is a year of rest unto the land. And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you; for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant, and for thy stranger that sojourneth with thee, And for thy cattle, and for the beast that [are] in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat. And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth [day] of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout [all] the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather [the grapes] in it of thy vine undressed. For it [is] the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field. In the year of this jubile ye shall return every man unto his possession. And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest [ought] of thy neighbour's hand, ye shall not oppress one another: According to the number of years after the jubile thou shalt buy of thy neighbour, [and] according unto the number of years of the fruits he shall sell unto thee: According to the multitude of years thou shalt increase the price thereof, and according to the fewness of years thou shalt diminish the price of it: for [according] to the number [of the years] of the fruits doth he sell unto thee. Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God: for I [am] the LORD your God. Wherefore ye shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety. And the land shall yield her fruit, and ye shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety. And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase: Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years. And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat [yet] of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in ye shall eat [of] the old [store]. The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land [is] mine; for ye [are] strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land. If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away [some] of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold."--Leviticus 25:1-25, KJV

Matthew Henry commented on the Year of Jubilee thusly:

The word "jubilee" signifies a peculiarly animated sound of the silver trumpets. This sound was to be made on the evening of the great day of atonement; for the proclamation of gospel liberty and salvation results from the sacrifice of the Redeemer. It was provided that the lands should not be sold away from their families. They could only be disposed of, as it were, by leases till the year of jubilee, and then returned to the owner or his heir. This tended to preserve their tribes and families distinct, till the coming of the Messiah. The liberty every man was born to, if sold or forfeited, should return at the year of jubilee. This was typical of redemption by Christ from the slavery of sin and Satan, and of being brought again to the liberty of the children of God. All bargains ought to be made by this rule, "Ye shall not oppress one another," not take advantage of one another's ignorance or necessity, "but thou shalt fear thy God." The fear of God reigning in the heart, would restrain from doing wrong to our neighbor in word or deed. Assurance was given that they should be great gainers, by observing these years of rest. If we are careful to do our duty, we may trust God with our comfort. They should not want food in that year in which they neither sowed or reaped. This was a miracle for an encouragement to all God's people, in all ages, to trust him in the way of duty. There is nothing lost by faith and self-denial in obedience. Some asked, What shall we eat the seventh year? Thus many Christians anticipate evils, questioning what they shall do, and fearing to proceed in the way of duty. But we have no right to anticipate evils, so as to distress ourselves about them. To carnal minds we may appear to act absurdly, but the path of duty is ever the path of safety.-- Leviticus 25:8-22:, KJV, Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Henry's commentary is spiritual, and attempts to explain God's motivation for establishing the Year of Jubilee, but it affords no support for the position that ALL debts are forgiven, ALL slaves are freed and EVERY Sabbatical year is a year of Jubilee. Maybe some other source will provide the answers.

25:9 Jubilee. This lit. means "ram's horn," which was blown on the tenth day of the seventh month to start the 50th year of universal redemption.--John F. MacArthur, Jr., Op. cit.

MacArthur votes for the 50th year Jubilee, as opposed to seventh year Jubilee.

A well-respected Bible Dictionary provides additional information about the Year of Jubilee:

JUBILEE, YEAR OF ("the year of the ram's horn ) The fiftieth year in a cycle of Sabbatical Years observed in ancient Israel, when land that had been leased by families to avert poverty reverted to it's original owners, and indentured Israelite servants were set free The sounding of the ram's horn throughout the land inaugurated the Year of Jubilee, which began on the Day of Atonement, the tenth day of the seventh month. Ethanim (Sept -Oct).

The Year of Jubilee bought to a close a cycle of seven Sabbatical Years (Lev. 25; cf Exod. 23:10-11). God decreed that after every six years of planting the land the seventh year should be a "Sabbath" in which the kind and all people and animals who worked it rested. Humans and animals then lived off the abundance of the sixth year's harvest (Lev. 25:20-21). . .--The Eerdman's Bible Dictionary, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, (c) 1987, p. 602

Support for the every-fiftieth-year Jubilee just keeps piling up. Here's another contribution:

THE SEVENTH AND FIFTIETH YEARS: SABBATH AND JUBILEE

The pattern of sevens reflected in the festivals (chapter 23) is now extended to the land. One year in seven it is to lie fallow: a year in which the people, freed from much of their ordinary work, are to be taught and trained in God's law (Deuteronomy 31:lOff.). The fiftieth year, following the seventh seven, is an extra fallow year for the land, which reverts to its original owner. It is a time when those who have fallen on bad times have their freedom and property restored. Jubilee, the year of restoration, serves a dual purpose. It reminds the people that the land belongs to God; and it prevents the wealthy from amassing land.--Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, (c) 1973, p. 181

W.E. Vine has this to offer:

The word jubilee in the Hebrew is yobel from yabal, to flow, and is rendered "trumpet" in Exodus 19:13 (see HORN). At the end of every forty-nine years, on the Day of Atonement, the trumpet of jubilee was to be sounded. The Lord commanded Israel that "thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land" (Leviticus 25:8, 9). Every fiftieth year was to be hallowed, and liberty proclaimed to all inhabitants; it was a time for remembering God's mercy and provision and for exercising compassion. . .

. . .The year of jubilee was the culmination of the sabbatical years, which occurred every seventh year, and which were to be observed as "a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD" (Leviticus 25:4). After working the land for six years, for one year it had to lie fallow and, as in the year of jubilee, there was to be no planting, pruning, or reaping. God would meet their need in the seventh year by His provision in the sixth (25:20, 21).--W.E. Vine, Vine's Expository Dictionary of New and Old Testament Words, World Bible Publishers, (c) 1981

You reckon the Roman Church never knew about the difference between the sabbatical year and the Year of Jubilee? Well, perhaps the Magisterium never got the word, but somebody at The Encyclopedia Press, Inc. sure did and sometime before 1913. Check it out:

According to the Pentateuchal legislation contained in Leviticus, a Jubilee year is the year that follows immediately seven successive Sabbatic years (the Sabbatic year being the seventh year of a seven-year cycle). Accordingly, the Jubilee year takes place at the end of seven times seven years, i.e. at the end of every forty-nine years, or the fiftieth. Hence, the institution of the Jubilee-year system is but an extension or the working out of the Sabbatic-year legislation, viz. that as at the end of every six years there succeeds a Sabbatic year, so at the end of each seven Sabbatic years there succeeds a Jubilee year. Arguing from the analogous Pentecostal system, it is evident that the actual year in which the Jubilee occurs is not the last of the seventh Sabbatic cycle (i.e. the forty-ninth year), but the year following, namely, the fiftieth . . ..

. . . The term jubilee year (Vulg. annus Jubilei, or Jubileus) is of Hebrew origin, the etymological meaning of which is, in all probability, "ram", which metonymically stands for "the horn of a ram". Thus the name "the year of the blowing of the ram's horn" exactly corresponds to "the day of the blowing of the horn", or the "feast of the new year", and it was, like the latter, announced to the people by the blowing of the horn. . .--Gabriel Oussani, Year of Jubille (Hebrew), Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright 1913 by the Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version copyright 2007 by New Advent, Inc.

Perhaps the pope and the others who make up the infallible Magisterium never read the Catholic Encyclopedia, though someone in the RCC hierarchy must have it DOES carry both the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur.

Here is where it gets a little confusing. In his letter, the pope comments:

In other words, these prescriptions are found in practically the whole of biblical legislation, which is thus marked by this very specific characteristic. In the sabbatical year, in addition to the freeing of slaves the Law also provided for the cancellation of all debts in accordance with precise regulations. And all this was to be done in honour of God. What was true for the sabbatical year was also true for the jubilee year, which fell every fifty years. In the jubilee year, however, the customs of the sabbatical year were broadened and celebrated with even greater solemnity. As we read in Leviticus: "You shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family" (25:10). One of the most significant consequences of the jubilee year was the general "emancipation" of all the dwellers on the land in need of being freed. On this occasion every Israelite regained possession of his ancestral land, if he happened to have sold it or lost it by falling into slavery. He could never be completely deprived of the land, because it belonged to God; nor could the Israelites remain for ever in a state of slavery, since God had "redeemed" them for himself as his exclusive possession by freeing them from slavery in Egypt.--John Paul II, Op. cit.

Let's just take a look at this sentence: "In the sabbatical year, in addition to the freeing of slaves the Law also provided for the cancellation of all debts in accordance with precise regulations" I have already established, using Scripture, that ALL debts were NOT cancelled at Jubilee. Let us now determine whether ALL the slaves freed at Jubilee?

Let's look at just who was to be freed in Sabbatical years and in Jubilee. Actually, there were several classes of servitude practiced in the Israeli economy.

Three types of servile status are identifiable in Israel's practice: an Israelite became a servant to a fellow Israelite voluntarily as security against poverty, or by birth or purchase (Exod. 21.32 sets the compensation for a slave's death at thirty shekels); Israelites took non-Israelites as slaves through capture in war or purchase; Israelites sold themselves to non-Israelites as security against debt. In the first category, servants were guaranteed both the seventh-year sabbatical and fiftieth year jubilee releases (Exod 21.2-6; Lev. 25.10, 38-41). In the second category, slaves, though circumcised and sworn into covenant membership (Gen. 17.9-14, 23; Deut. 29.10-15), did not receive the benefit of these releases (Lev 25.44-46), but were protected against oppression (Exod. 22.21; 23.9). In the third category, slaves were eligible for redemption by a relative at any time, and were mandatorily freed in the jubilee year (Lev. 25.47-55). Slaves in all categories enjoyed Sabbath rest and participated in Israel's religious festivals.--The Oxford Companion to the Bible (c) 1993 Oxford University Press, p. 700 (Emphasis not in the original)

Did you catch that? Non-Israelites captured in war or purchased did not qualify for release, either in Sabbatical years or Jubilee. Others, such as Israelites who elected not to receive their freedom also were not released and, having once made that election, never again were eligible to be freed.

. . . The third enactment (contained in Leviticus, xxv, 39-54) enjoins that all those Israelites who through poverty have sold themselves as slaves to their fellow-Israelites or to foreigners resident among them, and who, up to the time of the Jubilee year, have neither completed their six years of servitude, nor redeemed themselves, nor been redeemed by their relatives, are to be set free in the Jubilee year to return with their children to their family and to the patrimony of their fathers. Exception, of course, is made in the case of those slaves who refuse to become free at the expiration of the appointed six years' servitude. In this case they are allowed to become slaves forever and, in order to indicate their consent to this, they are required to submit to the boring of their ears (Ex., xxi, 6). . --Gabriel Oussani, Op. cit.

From the foregoing, it is clearly established that every seventh year is NOT a Year of Jubilee; that in neither Sabbatical nor Jubilee years were ALL the slaves to be freed or ALL debts forgiven. Now, let's look briefly at that fourth issue I mentioned.

Both Sabbatical and Jubilee Years, and the rules and procedures to be observed, were established in Torah, the Law given by God to the Israelites. As such, they were binding on the Hebrew nation. Every Christian should clearly understand, as a consequence of Christ's perfect sacrifice and God's grace, we no longer are under the Law, though it remains valid to this day for those who seek to save themselves by never violating it's quite rigid standards. In other words, the Year of Jubilee has only historical meaning for Christians. Christ is, as John Paul II stated, the fulfillment of the whole tradition of Jubilees and not just Jubilee, I hasten to add.

So why all this concern about Jubilee? Had the Holy See been bitten by the Y2K bug? Was the year 2000 a Year of Jubilee? If it was, when did that Year start on the 10th day of the seventh month, as Scripture commands? Are the 50-year cycles now being calculated on the basis of the Western calendar rather than the Jewish one? Is it a coincidence that the Year of Jubilee just happens to occur in both calendars in the year 2000 C.E.? If that is the case, I would love to see the formula used to have worked that out.

That is foolishness. The first day of the Jewish Hebrew calendar fell on One Nissan 2448, (1312 B.C.) when God told Moses in Egypt, "This month (Nissan) is the first month for you..." That is good to know, but it does not make it very easy to calculate when the Years of Jubilee occurred. Like other peoples who use a lunar calendar, the Jews had to come up with a way to accommodate the "leftover month." Back when Israel had a supreme court, the first day of each month would be determined by the testimony of two witnesses. To conform to Torah's requirement that the month of Pesach (Nissan) occurred in Spring, the Court would add a month at the end of the year as necessary. In 358 A.D., things were looking bad for the courts, and the court of Hillel II came up with a calendar that provided a way of ensuring that Pesach always occurs in the Spring. That calendar is still in use.

When calculating Jubilee on the Jewish calendar, one must take into account the changes in the calendar used in the West. To me, it seems unlikely that the year 2000 could be the Year of Jubilee as established in Scripture.

There is another, much more convincing argument against considering 2000 to be the biblical Year of Jubilee. Let's look again at Leviticus 25:10:

And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout [all] the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.

Literally, "for the land and all who live on it." In the Mishnas, we learn that Jubilee was only in force as long as the majority of tribes owned their hereditary lands; thus, it ceased to be in force after the ten tribes were exiled (Arukhin 32b; Yad, Shemitah 10:8). And it was the same for the laws that applied to slaves and houses in walled cities they also were in force only as long as the jubilee (Arukhin 29a; Yad, Shemitah 10:9).

In other words, whether you take your guidance from Paul:

For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. --Romans 6:14-15, KJV

Or from Torah, there is no longer a Year of Jubilee and hasn't been one since the Dispersion. Given all this, it would appear that identifying the year 2000 as a Year of Jubilee may be nothing more than just another example of Rome's willingness to open her doors to whatever seems important to the prevailing culture.

The leader of the all-powerful and all-knowing Magisterium surely cannot be in error here. RCC doctrine is clear that God Himself trusted that august and infallible (at least sometimes) body with doing what we of the common herd never could do properly interpret Holy Scripture.

100 The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.--Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., (C) 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

Think about it!

What's the big deal? Whether the year 2000 was the biblical Year of Jubilee, or if there still is a Year of Jubilee to be concerned with, certainly is not a foundational issue. It is not likely anyone will be cast into Hell for holding to either side on the matter. It's something else. Something which should be of vital concern to every person who looks to Rome for truth and guidance. If the ruler of the Roman Catholic Church, the self-proclaimed Vicar of Christ, the Pontifex Maximus and leader of the mighty Magisterium cannot or does not correctly read, much less teach from, a clear passage of Scripture, how can anyone trust in any of the declarations of Rome? If you can't trust such people to read what is clearly written, are you willing to trust them concerning eternity?

Open your Bibles. Read and study the Word of God. The Magisterium and hierarchy of the Roman Church, despite their claims to the contrary, are nothing more than fallible men apparently more concerned with consolidating and expanding their own power than accurately teaching Scripture and building up the saints.

Home | Odds & Ends | Catholic Stuff | PTG Forum