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

Some Additional Scriptures

Herbert Armstrong also mentions Mark 16:9: “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” While Armstrong tries to make this verse sound like support for his argument, it is not.[25] It is either support for a Sunday resurrection or it is neutral. Does “early the first day of the week” refer to Jesus’ resurrection or to when he appeared to Mary Magdalene? This uncertainty makes this verse of little use in this discussion.

The next scripture Armstrong examines is Luke 24:21.[26] This occurred on the road to Emmaus on the “same day” (verse 13), Sunday. Two disciples were walking along the road when Jesus came up to them. Because of divine intervention, they were unable to recognize Him (verses 13-16). Jesus asked them what they were discussing (verse 17). One asked Him whether He was a stranger to Jerusalem who did not know about the things that had happened (verse 18). Jesus asked, “What things?” (verse 19).

And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre.
—verses 19-22

In Armstrong’s scenario, Sunday would be the fourth day since Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. But these disciples call Sunday the “third day since these things were done.” To get around this, Armstrong reasons that the “third day since these things were done” the disciples referred to included “the setting of the seal and the watch over the tomb the following day.”[27] This is a forced explanation. These disciples never mentioned “the setting of the seal and the watch over the tomb the following day.” They ended their relating of the events with their account of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Why would they even have said, “and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.”? “The third day” held some significance for them. Why? As The NIV Study Bible explains, this was, “A reference either to the Jewish belief that after the third day the soul left the body or to Jesus’ remark that he would be resurrected on the third day (9:22).”[28] I think the latter is the more likely, but either of these would mean that the disciples meant that Sunday was the third day since Jesus’ death on the cross.

Further Appeals

On page 6 of The Crucifixion Was Not on Friday we read, “It is the so-called apostolic fathers, steeped in traditions, who first began to teach that the crucifixion occurred on Friday. Yet they admitted that the ancient custom of fasting on Wednesday—the actual day of the crucifixion, as we have seen [i.e. as Hoeh and Armstrong have unsuccessfully tried to demonstrate]—was derived from ’the day on which Jesus was betrayed’ and ’on which the Sanhedrin decided to kill him’ (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ‘Fasting’)!” But is the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge referring to the day (evening to evening) on which Jesus was arrested and crucified? Absolutely not.

This is what the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge states in the article cited by Hoeh: “Fasting was based in principle upon the suffering of Christ. The commemoration of the death of Jesus on Friday seems to be very old, and it is possible that from the beginning (cf. Mark ii. 20), as the resurrection of Jesus was commemorated every Sunday, so was his death every Friday.”[29] So the crucifixion of Jesus was observed by a fast on Friday, not Wednesday.

Continuing where we left off with Schaff-Herzog: “For the observance of Wednesday it was not so easy to find such a motive; and the various artificial derivations of the usage from the history of the Passion, designating it as the day on which Jesus was betrayed, or on which the Sanhedrin decided to kill him, are obviously later justifications of the choice of a day.”[30]

The reference in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge to “the day on which Jesus was betrayed, or on which the Sanhedrin decided to kill him” cannot mean the day (24 hours from evening to evening) during which Jesus was arrested and crucified. That 24-hour period was commemorated with a fast on Friday. What, then, is meant by “the day on which Jesus was betrayed, or on which the Sanhedrin decided to kill him”?

Paul called the night on which Jesus was arrested “the night he was betrayed” (1 Corinthians 11:23). If we ignore the other evidence I have, “the day on which Jesus was betrayed, or on which the Sanhedrin decided to kill him” would seem to be the same day Paul referred to. But there is another explanation, one that perfectly fits with a Friday crucifixion.

All four Gospel writers make it clear that the Sanhedrin did not truly decide to kill Jesus after he was arrested. The decision in Matthew 27:1 was only a formalization of a decision they had already made. One decision was made over a week before Jesus was crucified. It is found in John 11:45-53. But another decision—a decision that involved Judas—was reached some days later. This decision was two days before Jesus’ arrest. Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16 reads:

And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples, Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people…. Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.

So on this day—two days before Jesus’ was arrested—we find a decision to kill Jesus and the beginnings of Judas’ betrayal. Notice that although John says Satan entered Judas on the night Jesus was arrested (“And after the sop Satan entered into him”—John 13:27), Luke says Satan first entered Judas on the day Judas first went to the Jewish leaders (“Then entered Satan into Judas”—Luke 22:3, see context). Matthew tells us this was two days before Jesus was arrested (see also Mark 14:1-2, 10-11).

Jesus was arrested late Thursday night or very early Friday morning, long before dawn. Two days before this was Tuesday night or very early Wednesday morning. There is no need to be extremely precise about this because, for Jews, the days were from evening to evening. The period between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning would be considered part of the same day. Sometime during the Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning portion of this day, the Jewish leaders met to discuss ways to arrest and kill Jesus, and Judas began his betrayal of Jesus by giving the Jews the means they needed to carry out their decision. Because the daylight portion of this day occurred on Wednesday, it would be natural for the church, decades and even centuries later, to observe this day by fasting on Wednesday. It was not the night of Jesus’ arrest that the church observed with its Wednesday fast, but the day of His original betrayal that occurred two days earlier.

In his attempt to convince his readers of his position, the Worldwide Church of God’s Herman Hoeh appeals to the bogus Gospel of Peter. He quotes this work as saying that after Jesus’ crucifixion “we [supposedly Peter and the other apostles] fasted and sat mourning night and day until the Sabbath.”[31] Of this, Hoeh comments, “Between the crucifixion and the Sabbath, the disciples and Peter are said to have fasted ’night and day until the Sabbath.’ This alone is a candid admission that the crucifixion was not on Good Friday! You can’t fit ’night and day’ between Friday afternoon and Friday sunset!”[32] But the Gospel of Peter cannot be taken as authoritative! Such a contradiction as this is typical of spurious works.

The Gospel of Peter was written in Syria in the middle to late second century and falsely attributed to Peter.[33] As early as 190,[34] Serapion of Antioch wrote a pamphlet called The So-called Gospel of Peter. “This he wrote,” records Eusebius, “to refute the lies in that document, which had induced some members of the Christian community at Rhossus to go astray into heterodox teachings.”[35] In the introduction to his 1924 translation of the Gospel of Peter, M. R. James writes, “It is not wholly orthodox: for it throws doubt on the reality of the Lord’s sufferings, and by consequence upon the reality of his human body. In other words it is, as Serapion of Antioch indicated, of a Docetic character.” The mention of “night and day until the Sabbath” in the Gospel of Peter can be dismissed as being part of a carelessly written fabrication.

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25. Ibid. Return26. Ibid. Return

27. Ibid. Return

28. The NIV Study Bible in a note on Luke 24:21, p. 1589. Return

29. Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. IV (Grand Rapis, MI: Baker Book House, 1967), s.v. “fasting.” Return

30. Ibid. Return

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

32. Ibid., p. 7. Return

33. New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. II (San Francisco: The Catholic University of America, 1967), s.v. “gospels of the apostles.” Return

34. Ibid. Return

35. Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, trans. G. A. Williamson (London: Penguin Books, 1988), pp. 251-252. Return

Copyright © 1993-2009 Peter Ditzel