Herbert Armstrong and the Crucifixion–3 Days + 3 Nights = 1 False Doctrine

After Three Days

What about other scriptures that mention the time Jesus would be in the grave? By far, the majority of references to Jesus’ resurrection refer to it as occurring on “the third day.” Besides Luke’s use of “the third day,” Matthew (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:64) and Paul (I Corinthians 15:4) also use it. The King James Version also uses “the third day” in Mark 9:31 and 10:34. Other versions do not contain “the third day” in these verses of Mark. Instead, they use “after three days,” “three days later,” “three days after,” etc., depending on the version.

“After three days” is also found in Mark 8:31. But how can “after three days” mean the same time period as “the third day”? “After three days” in English means after 72 hours—that is, at least the fourth day. But now read what the Pharisees tell Pilot in Matthew 27:63-64: “Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.”

Notice that although the Pharisees told Pilot that Jesus said He would rise again “after three days,” they asked Pilot to secure the tomb only until “the third day.” If “after three days” was to be understood literally, the securing of the tomb would have ended too soon. But, as with “three days and three nights,” “after three days” is not to be taken literally. The Pharisees considered “after three days” as ending on “the third day.”

Nevertheless, the Armstrong position appeals to verses 5 and 12 of 2 Chronicles 10 as supposed evidence that “after three days” means after 72 hours. Verses 5 and 12 read: “And he [king Rehoboam] said unto them [Jeroboam and the people], Come again unto me after three days. And the people departed…. So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king bade, saying, Come again to me on the third day.” It should be evident that since the king told the people to come “after three days” and the people came “on the third day” according to the king’s command (“Come again to me on the third day”) that “after three days” and “on the third day” amount to the same thing. But this is not evident to the followers of Herbert Armstrong.

Herman Hoeh, in The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday, gives this explanation:

Let us suppose they had first met the king sometime on Friday. As they were ordered to return at the end of three days, they would not have returned before the same time of day the following Monday. Now was Monday ’the third day’ from the day they had originally met with the king? The first day from Friday was Saturday, the second day from the Friday was Sunday and the third day was Monday—exactly the time the king expected them to return. Monday, not Sunday, was the third day from Friday.[14]

The above explanation has somehow made Monday seem to be both 72 hours after Friday—thus, “after three days”—and “the third day.” But how? By switching methods used for counting! A careful analysis will reveal the conjuring.

This booklet assumes the people “would not have returned before the same time of day the following Monday.” If so, they would have to wait until after 72 hours had passed. For example, suppose they met with Rehoboam at noon on Friday. Noon Friday to noon Saturday is one day. Noon Saturday to noon Sunday is two days and noon Sunday to noon Monday is three days. The 72 hours are completed at noon on Monday. Continuing to assume that the people had to wait until after 72 hours, they could have met with Rehoboam at 1 pm on Monday. This would literally be after three days from the time they first met with Rehoboam. After three days (literally) is the fourth day. So 1 pm on Monday would be the fourth day. But Dr. Hoeh says it is the third day. He does this by ignoring all of Friday from the time the people met with Rehoboam until the end of the day. In our example, this would be from noon until evening. Notice this booklet says, “the first day from that Friday.” It counts Saturday as the first day, Sunday as the second day and Monday as the third day. By counting the days two different ways—one that includes Friday and one that counts from Friday—Dr. Hoeh has made Monday at 1 pm (in our example) both “after three days” and “the third day.” Such equivocal methods for counting are completely unacceptable.

The only reason the people were able to meet with the king “after three days” but “on the third day” is because “after three days” is an idiom that points to “the third day.” By the way, most modern-language versions of the Bible have replaced “after three days” in this Scripture with “in three days.” In English, “in three days” is more easily understood as terminating on “the third day.”

“In three days” is found in a scripture that refers to Jesus’ resurrection. In John 2:19, Jesus answers the Jews’ request for a miraculous sign by saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” “In three days” does not mean a full 72 hours must be completed, especially in light of so many other scriptures that point to Jesus’ resurrection on “the third day.”

The argument of those who follow Herbert Armstrong is fatally flawed because they insist on counting the time between Jesus’ death and His resurrection with a stopwatch. None of the evidence Armstrong presents to prove the length of a day (for example, his appeals to John 11:9-10 and Genesis 1:4-13[15]) is relevant because the words the Gospel writers and Jesus Himself used to refer to the time between Jesus’ death and His resurrection were casual and idiomatic. But what about the Scriptures that describe the sequence of events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection? Do they require Jesus to have been in the tomb for 72 hours?


In refuting the sequence of events taught by Armstrong, I will present an alternative sequence of events. I realize that this is not the only possible alternative, but I believe it to be a very credible one.

Herbert Armstrong taught, and his followers still teach, that Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples on the evening that began the 14th of Abib (also called Nisan), that this was a Tuesday evening, and that this was 24 hours earlier than the Jews normally ate the Passover. As I proceed, it will help you to know that the terms “Passover” and “Feast of Unleavened Bread” were, by New Testament times, often used interchangeably for certain aspects of these feasts.[16] Armstrong appears to agree with this.[17]

There are scriptures, however, that show Armstrong’s position on when Jesus ate His last Passover to be in error. Mark 14:12 reads: “And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?” On the day that the Passover lambs were killed, Jesus had not yet eaten the Passover with His disciples. Exodus 12:6 clearly says this day is the 14th of Abib and that day is called “the passover” in Numbers 28:16. It is also called the “first day of unleavened bread” in Mark 14:12 because Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread had come to be somewhat synonymous.

K. J. Stavrinides, in two articles he wrote for the Worldwide Church of God, asserts that Jesus’ disciples asked Him about preparations for the Passover on the night that began the 14th and that they later ate the Passover that same night.[18] This is completely unacceptable because this does not give the disciples enough time to prepare the Passover before they were to eat it (on the night beginning the 14th according Armstrong tradition). One does not ask about preparations at the same time the event is to take place.

Stavrinides’ explanation is forced and unnatural. The natural explanation of Mark 14:12 is that, on the day the Passover lambs were killed—the 14th—the disciples understandably asked about preparing for the Passover which would occur that coming night—the beginning of the 15th, the night when they as Jews would naturally have expected to eat the Passover meal. Jesus did not tell His disciples to prepare for a Passover that they were to celebrate one day early—something that would have been so extraordinary we would expect the disciples to have questioned it. Jesus’ disciples were to prepare for a Passover meal that was to be eaten on the night that began the 15th.

Luke 22:7-8 contains an even clearer account: “Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat.” On the day the Passover lambs were being killed, Jesus’ disciples were preparing for the Passover meal. That meal was eaten on the night of the 15th of Abib. As I will show from additional evidence, this was a Thursday night.

Go to Part 3 >


14. Ibid. Return15. Armstrong, The Resurrection Was Not on Sunday, pp. 3-4. Return

16. “The Passover was expanded to mean the entire feast that followed, and vice versa.” A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christ (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1950), p. 280. Return

17. Herbert W. Armstrong, Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days—Which? (Pasadena, CA: Worldwide Church of God, Chapters 1-4 1986; Chapter 5 1982; Chapter 6 1974), version 1.0, August 1989 printing. [Herbert W. Armstrong wrote chapters 1-4 and 6, L. Leroy Neff wrote chapter 5.] p. 9. Return

18. K. J. Stavrinides, “The Passover of the Exodus,” p 2. Stavrinides, “Christ and the Passover,” p. 5. Reviews You Can Use, May-June 1990. Return

Copyright © 1993-2009 Peter Ditzel