Herbert Armstrong and the Crucifixion

3 Days + 3 Nights = 1 False Doctrine part 5

Peter Ditzel

The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday also refers to a scholar who says that references in the Didascalia Apostolorum (a work written in northern Syria in the third century that falsely attributes its authorship to the 12 apostles[36]) and in the writings of Epiphanius of Constantia and Victorinus of Pettau support a Tuesday night Passover and the arrest of Jesus on Wednesday morning.[37] But, since Hoeh does not say what in these documents supports this position, there is no reason to give this serious consideration, especially in light of the biblical evidence I have presented that supports a Thursday night arrest and Friday crucifixion. Interestingly, a page on a Roman Catholic website (run by Eternal Word Television Network, Global Catholic Network) titled “The Obligation to Attend Mass on Sundays,” written by Manuel Garrido, O.S.B., after saying that the celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday stems from the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on that day, quotes the Didascalia Apostolorum as saying, “teach the faithful and exhort them to be present at Sunday Mass.” This hardly supports Hoeh’s or Armstrong’s position!

Hoeh also appeals to the Hebrew calendar to find the dates of the Passover during the years of Jesus’ ministry.[38] In doing so, it gives a list of the Passover dates for the years A.D. 27-33 "verified by works on the ’Jewish calendar’—actually God’s sacred calendar—correct according to computation preserved since the days of Moses!"[39] This claim is highly questionable. Scholars often debate over the dates for the Passover during those years showing that the only thing certain about them is that they are uncertain.

John L. McKenzie, writing on this topic, says it is an assumption "that the Jewish calendar was regulated with astronomical precision. It appears certain that it was not."[40] This being so, Hoeh’s argument on this point falls apart.

Hoeh also claims that John 9:14 falls on a weekly Sabbath that also happened to be the eighth day (Last Great Day) of Jesus’ last Feast of Tabernacles before His crucifixion. This, says Hoeh, pinpoints the year of Jesus’ crucifixion. But again, this conclusion depends on knowing for certain the Hebrew calendar for those years. Since we do not have that knowledge, this claim also holds no weight.[41]

The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday also attempts to prove that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, April 25, A.D. 31, by constructing an extremely shaky house of cards consisting of his personal understandings of the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-26, the use of "about thirty" in Luke 3:23, the year of Herod’s death, when the wise men arrived, the reign of Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor, and the length of Jesus’ ministry as determined by Daniel 9:27 and the number of Passovers in Jesus’ ministry.[42] Hoeh presents his conclusions concerning these points as absolute, indisputable fact. But this is far from the truth. Bible scholars have debated these points for centuries and the conclusions of most scholars differ from Hoeh’s. These scholars also use additional points in trying to determine the dates of Jesus’ birth and death, points that The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday does not even mention.[43]

Most importantly, it is extremely reckless and unwise for Hoeh and other followers of Armstrong to stake the legitimacy of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah on debatable historical dates and dubious interpretations of prophecy. God never intended that we must correctly interpret such evidence before we can believe for sure that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and our Savior!

The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

As I have shown, writers for the Armstrong-era Worldwide Church of God believed that the "sign of the prophet Jonah" was the precise amount of time Jesus was in the tomb—72 hours. But these writers apparently never stopped to think of one crucial fact. No one ever witnessed the precise time of Jesus’ resurrection. How could the precise time of Jesus’ resurrection be a sign to that generation of Jews if no one was there to record that time? The Jews of that generation would abide by Deuteronomy 19:15 which says, "A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." Without those witnesses, the precise time of Jesus’ resurrection could not be a sign to that generation of Jews.

Something else to consider is found in Luke 11:29-30: "And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation." Although Luke quotes Jesus as referring to the “sign of Jonas," or sign of Jonah, and as saying "for as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites," He never mentions the "three days and three nights." This omission is excellent evidence that the precise amount of time Jonah was in the fish is not essential to the sign of Jonah. As I will shortly explain, the precise time Jonah was in the fish could not possibly have been a sign to the Ninevites.

A sign requires witnesses. Although no one witnessed the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, there were witnesses to something else. After His resurrection, Jesus explained what these people were witnesses to: "Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:45-48). Numerous scriptures confirm that the apostles were witnesses that Jesus died and was resurrected. This is what is important, not some precise moment of time.

Notice also that part of what the apostles were witnesses to was that repentance and forgiveness of sins was to be preached in Jesus’ name to all nations—the Gentiles. They did not comprehend this when Jesus spoke to them in Luke 24. Jesus got them to understand it later. Read Acts 10 and see how central is the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles by those whom God chose to be witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.

What does this have to do with the sign of the prophet Jonah? Let’s turn back to Matthew 12. The sign of the prophet Jonah needs to be seen in its full context. Verses 38-41 state:

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

Jesus goes on to make a similar comparison with the Queen of the South, but it is the men of Nineveh that I would like to focus on. Nineveh is the Gentile city to which God sent Jonah. He wanted Jonah to preach repentance to the Ninevites so they could be physically saved from destruction. This can be seen as typical of the spiritual salvation that would one day be offered to the Gentiles.

Jonah did not want to preach repentance to the Gentiles. He tried to flee from the responsibility God gave him. This brought God’s wrath, in the form of a storm, upon the ship in which he was traveling. Jonah offered himself to be sacrificed. As soon as he was thrown into his watery "grave," the storm ended. Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and was inside his "tomb" for a period of time idiomatically expressed as "three days and three nights." Under normal circumstances, Jonah would have died. But God delivered him alive from his "tomb." Jonah then preached a message of repentance to the Ninevites, the Ninevites repented, and they were saved alive.

What was the sign of the prophet Jonah? Being delivered from the grave after about three days was part of it. But there was more. The "sign of the prophet Jonah" included the preaching of salvation to the Gentiles. That is why Jesus said the men of Nineveh would judge His generation. The Gentiles of Nineveh repented, but on the whole the Jews of Jesus’ generation did not.

This is what the Encyclopaedia Judaica says: "Jonah is regarded in Christianity as the proof of the capacity of the gentiles for salvation and the design of God to make them partake of it. This is the ’sign of Jonas’."[44] While no one witnessed the precise time of Jesus’ resurrection, many witnessed the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. And—as the Book of Acts testifies—the preaching of salvation to the Gentiles was known to the Jewish leaders and was therefore a witness to them.

It is this point concerning the nature of the sign of the prophet Jonah that makes this subject so important. Of his and Armstrong’s belief that "the sign of the prophet Jonah" was Christ’s being in the tomb for a literal three days and three nights, Herman Hoeh writes, "If Jesus did not fulfill that sign [being in the tomb for 72 hours], then he was an impostor and you are without a Savior!"[45]

To this, I reply, Speak for yourself. Hoeh and other followers of Armstrong ought to be ashamed of themselves for such blasphemy, which has now been used by scoffers to try to debunk Christianity! Notice the following from an Islamic website:

The Armstrong family has debunked the whole Christian world. They seem to know their arithmetic! Mr. Robert Fahey of the "Plain Truth" magazine, delivered a lecture recently at the "Holiday Inn", Durban, where I was present. Mr. Fahey attempted to prove to his Christian audience that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Wednesday and not on Friday, as is supposed by Orthodox Christianity for the past two thousand years. According to him if one counts backwards from Sunday morning deducting 3 DAYS and 3 NIGHTS, one ought to get WEDNESDAY as the answer….

The question arises, who deceived the millions of Christians for the past TWO THOUSAND years. GOD or the DEVIL? Mr. Fahey categorically answered: "THE DEVIL!"

"If the devil", I said, "can succeed in confusing the Christians in the most elementary things of their Faith, whether to celebrate a Good Friday or a Good Wednesday, then how much easier for him to mislead Christians in other things concerning God?" Mr. Fahey blushed and walked away.

If this is the belief of the trend-setters of the Christian Faith in the world today, may we not then ask: is this not the mightiest hoax in history?[46]

But as we have now seen, it is the followers of Herbert Armstrong who are promoting a hoax. Instead of a miserly counting of days and hours to a specific time that no one even witnessed, the sign of the prophet Jonah was the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that has resulted in the repentance and salvation of millions of people—Jews and Gentiles alike. Now that is a miraculous sign! Jesus fulfilled it, He is our Savior, and, from their own words, you and I should know who the impostors are.


Notes

36. New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, s.v. "Didascalia Apostolorum." Return

37. Hoeh, The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday, p. 6. Return

38. Ibid., pp. 8-9. Return

39. Ibid., p. 9. Return

40. John L. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible (Milwaukee, WI: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1965), s.v. "passion." Return

41. Hoeh, The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday, p. 23. Return

42. Ibid., pp. 10-17. Return

43. Such as the building of the temple of Herod and the census of Augustus Caesar. Return

44. Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 10, (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd., 1972), s.v. "Book of Jonah," column 174. Return

45. Hoeh, The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday, p. 1. Return

46. Ahmed Deedat, “What Was the Sign of Jonah?”, http://www.islamworld.net/jonah.html . Deedat also makes the claim that because Jonah was alive in the belly of the great fish but Jesus was dead in the grave, Jesus failed to fulfill the sign of Jonah. But, of course, Jonah was merely a type of Jesus as Savior, and as a type, there was no need for Jonah to die. His being in the belly of the fish merely pictured Jesus’ death and burial. Jesus, on the other hand, had to die for the sins of His people. Return


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