"The Resurrection Was Not on Sunday"
A Look at Herbert W. Armstrong's Booklet
Is HWA's booklet compatible with the record given in Scripture? Does it make any difference which day Christ was resurrected on? This article will attempt to answer those questions.
In 19521 Herbert W. Armstrong wrote a booklet, "The Resurrection Was Not On Sunday." In TRWNOS, HWA made the claim that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ occurred on a Wednesday, and that His resurrection occurred on a Saturday (in the evening, before sunset). HWA propounded a Wednesday-crucifixion / Saturday resurrection.
In contrast, mainline Christianity has always taught that the crucifixion occurred on a Friday (Good Friday), and that the resurrection occurred on a Sunday morning. Thus mainline Christianity has always propounded a Friday crucifixion / Sunday-resurrection.
Who is, or was, right on this question? Does the Bible support a Wednesday crucifixion / Saturday-resurrection or a Friday-crucifixion / Sunday-resurrection? No one actually saw--was an eyewitness of--the resurrection of Jesus Christ from a dead human body to a live spirit being.2 Therefore we are going to have to examine the Bible record. Today, in 1995, HWA has been dead for 9-1/2 years. This examination will enable us to evaluate the Biblical scholarship of HWA It was HWA who challenged mainline Christianity on this question. We will examine TRWNOS--HWA's work--and the Bible to learn what is true on this subject.
HWA's Wednesday-crucifixion / Saturday-resurrection claim is laid out in the 12-page booklet, TRWNOS. However, we can summarize HWA's explanation. HWA's claim was based on three assumptions.
First, HWA assumed that the physical body of Jesus Christ was in the garden tomb for three full 24-hour days, or 72 hours. HWA said that his 72-hour period assumption is based on Matthew 12:40:
"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."
Second, HWA then reasoned the assumed time of Christ's resurrection:
- The physical body of Jesus Christ was placed in the garden tomb just before sunset of the day He died.
- A 72-hour internment meant that the time of the day when the resurrection occurred would have had to have been just before sunset.
- Since Jesus Christ was a resurrected spirit being2 on a Sunday morning, the resurrection must have occurred on Saturday just before sunset.
- Counting back three days and three nights (72 hours), the burial of the physical body of Jesus Christ must have occurred on Wednesday, just before sunset.
Third, HWA assumed that the calendar week during which Jesus Christ was crucified contained two Sabbaths: The normal weekly Sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, and a special annual Sabbath or holyday from Wednesday sunset to Thursday sunset. We can call this third assumption the Thursday-was-a-holyday assumption. This assumption was necessary to explain the Scriptures referring to events before and after the Sabbath.
HOW LONG WAS JESUS IN THE TOMB?
What does the Bible Say?
Let's carefully examine HWA's first assumption. HWA claimed that the Bible says that Christ would be in the garden tomb for 72 hours.
If you read the four Gospel books carefully, you will find that 21 Scriptures define the time period of Christ's burial. If you examine a Gospel harmony such as A. T. Robertson's A Harmony of the Gospels, you will see that these 21 Scriptures occur at 12 different occasions in the life of Christ.
The Gospels Speak
Here are all 21 Scriptures (from the KJV3) as they occurred chronologically at 12 occasions in the life of Christ. (The occasion titles are from A. T. Robertson's A Harmony of the Gospels.)
|1st Occasion: The cleansing of the Temple at Passover.|
Jesus answered and said unto them,
Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
|2nd Occasion: Scribes and Pharisees demand a sign.|
| Matt. 12:40:
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.
|4th Occasion: Returning privately through Galilee, he again foretells his death and resurrection.|
And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.
And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again
|5th Occasion: Teaching in Perea, on a journey toward Jerusalem. Warned against Herod Antipas.|
And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.
|6th Occasion: Jesus again foretells to the disciples his death and resurrection, and rebukes the selfish ambition of James and John.|
And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.
And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.
And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.
|7th Occasion: Jesus hurriedly tried and condemned by Cataphas and the Sanhedrin, who mock and buffet him.|
And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.
|8th Occasion: The first three hours on the cross.|
And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,
|9th Occasion: The watch of the women by the tomb of Jesus.|
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.
|10th Occasion: The visit of the women to the tomb of Jesus about sunrise Sunday morning and the message of the angels about the empty tomb.|
| Luke 24:27:
Saying, the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
|11th Occasion: The appearance to two disciples (Cleopas and another) on the way to Emmaus.|
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.
|12th Occasion: The appearance to the disciples with another commission.|
And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
Peter and Paul Speak
In addition to the 21 Scriptures in the four Gospel books which define the time period of Christ's burial, Peter and Paul spoke about this as well. Peter spoke about it in Acts 10:40:
Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly;
Paul spoke about it in I Cor. 15:4:
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
Summarizing What the Bible Says
Our goal here is to see what the Bible says was the same period of Christ's burial. Let's summarize what we have learned. Twenty-three Bible verses4 (all in the NT) define the time period of Christ's burial:
|Rendering in the KJV:||No. of times in N.T.|
|"the third day"||14|
|"in three days"||4|
|"after three days"||2|
|"within three days"||1|
|"three days and three nights"||1|
Note that only one rendering of the 23 can even imply a 72-hour period. The other 22 renderings are totally compatible with parts of three days. From what the bible says parts-of-three-days is the definition of Christ's burial time.5
HWA's Bible Scholarship
Note carefully what HWA did. He focused in on only one of the 23 verses: the one seemingly compatible with his assumed 72-hour burial time. Is this valid Biblical research?
Also note that HWA's careful selection of Bible verses in TRWNOS. Look at the 3rd Occasion above. Three Gospel writers record the same conversation. On page 5 of TRWNOS, HWA cited Mark's passage, but carefully omitted Matthew's and Luke's. Did HWA omit them because Mark's rendering, "after three days," seemed closer to HWA's assumed 72-hour burial period than Matthew's and Luke's "the third day"?
On page 4 of TRWNOS, HWA tried to explain away most Bible commentators' comments that parts of three days is completely compatible with "on the third day" or "in three days." Parts of three days is the best Bible explanation of the time period of Christ's burial. HWA's 72-hour burial period is inconsistent with the Bible! HWA's assumption of a 72-hour burial period is just plain wrong!
On pages 4-5 of TRWNOS, HWA tried to show the "Bible definition" of a day. However, all of his Scripture references are from the OT. The original OT language was Hebrew (Daniel was written in Chaldee). However, all 23 Bible verses which definite Christ's burial time are in the NT, 21 in the four Gospels. The original language of the four Gospel is Aramaic. Therefore, HWA's OT discussion on the "Bible definition" of a day is totally irrelevant!
HWA'S THURSDAY-WAS-A-HOLYDAY ASSUMPTION
Hebrew Calendar Knowledge Required
We have carefully examined HWA's first assumption—a 72-hour burial period—and discovered that we could not square this with the Bible. HWA's second assumption is human reasoning and not Biblical. Now let's look at HWA's third assumption—that Thursday was a holyday or special annual Sabbath.
HWA's third assumption rests upon a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew calendar. Jews are the custodians of the Hebrew calendar. HWA was not a Hebrew calendar expert. In fact, HWA and the WCG have a poor record of understanding the Hebrew calendar. For example, even HWA admitted in January 1974, that he and the WCG had observed the wrong day for Pentecost for 40 years (1934-1974). In TRWNOS and in all other WCG publications, HWA presents no proof whatever that his third assumption is true. HWA's third assumption cannot be proven. It may be valid or invalid. Since HWA makes the assumption, the burden of proof is on him.
HWA Quotes Ferrar Fenton
Let's look at HWA's scholarship in discussing his third assumption. On page 11 of TRWNOS, HWA gave his "final proof" that Thursday-was-a-holyday. It is the rendering of Matthew 28:1 in the Ferrar Fenton translation. HWA reports that Ferrar Fenton renders Matthew 28:1:
After the Sabbaths,...
This quotation is correct. HWA then includes part of Ferrar Fenton's footnote:
The Greek original is in the plural, "Sabbaths"
This partial quote is supposed to support the idea of a Sabbath on Thursday (as well as on Saturday). However, let me present to you the entire footnote of this verse by Ferrar Fenton:
The Greek original is in the plural, "Sabbaths," which is retained. Readers should remember that all the seven days of the Paschal week were "Sabbaths" in the old Hebrew Kalendar: —F. F.
Did you understand that? Ferrar Fenton says that all seven of the Hebrew "days of unleavened bread" were "Sabbaths." Ferrar Fenton says that Sunday was a Sabbath, Saturday was a Sabbath, Friday was a Sabbath, etc. Therefore, Ferrar Fenton's Bible translation (text and footnote) has nothing to do with supporting HWA's Thursday-was-a-holyday assumption! Furthermore, HWA's quote of Ferrar Fenton shows that HWA was intellectually dishonest and/or theologically incompetent!
DOES THE BIBLE SUPPORT HWA'S CLAIM?
What Does the Bible Itself Say?
For the moment, let's ignore what we have discovered so far and assume that HWA was right. Let's assume that HWA's Wednesday-crucifixion / Saturday-resurrection claim is true. Does the Bible support this claim? The Bible, not man's claims, must be the final authority of the Christian. Let's look at the Bible.
Luke 24:21 Note that Luke 24:21 appears in the 11th Occasion above. To understand the context of this verse, read the entire passage, Luke 24:13-35. Two followers of Jesus are talking to a "stranger" (Jesus) on Sunday afternoon just before dinner (about 5-6 p.m.). These two men are telling the stranger about the recent crucifixion of Jesus. They said:
...and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.
Note, that at the time of 5-6 p.m. on Sunday, it "is the third day.
No matter how you count, whether you assume parts-of-days or 24-hour days, there is no way you can come up with a Wednesday crucifixion: If you count parts-of-days backward, the crucifixion occurred on Friday. If you count 24-hour days backward, the crucifixion would have occurred on Thursday at 5-6 p.m. I have checked the Greek on this verse, and the Greek totally supports the "third day" rendering. This verse blows a hole the size of a barn in HWA's claim and utterly destroys it.
On pages 10-11 of TRWNOS, HWA tries to explain away this verse by saying that "all this" includes the posting of the guards at the tomb, which did occur the day after the crucifixion. However, note that the events described by the disciples do not include the posting of the guards. HWA's attempt to explain away this verse failed!
Disproof #2: Matthew 28:2
Read carefully the context of this verse, Matt. 28:1-15. The Bible shows that a number of major events occurred on Sunday morning. Matt. 28:2 shows that the violent earthquake occurred on Sunday morning. HWA claims that Christ was resurrected 12 hours earlier, on Saturday, just before sunset. Why would God send a violent earthquake 12 hours after Christ was supposedly resurrected? Does that make any sense? What did Christ do during the 12 hours between the time when he was purportedly resurrected (Saturday, before sunset) and when He appeared to human beings (Sunday, at dawn)?
Disproof #3: Matthew 28:4
This verse shows that the guards were still on duty at the tomb on Sunday at dawn. Read carefully the background of the guards being assigned to the garden tomb, Matthew 27:62-66. Note that from Matt. 27:63-64 we see that the guards were to be on duty only through the third day. If, as HWA claimed, the crucifixion occurred on Wednesday, then the third day would have ended either Friday (counting parts-of-days), or Saturday at sunset (counting 24-hour days). In either case the guards would not have had to have been on duty on Sunday morning.
Remember that the Jewish leaders who requested the guards hated Jesus with a passion. These men would have been very careful to request the guards during the exact time period when Christ said he would arise. Once that time period was over, there would have been no need for the guards.
Disproof #4: Christ's Own Proof of Messiahship
On page 3 of TRWNOS, HWA made a big deal of is 72-hour-burial-period assumption. In fact, HWA claimed that Jesus Christ was not the Messiah unless he was in the tomb for 72 hours. We saw that the Bible does not support this assumption.
However, it is important to realize that Christ is the Messiah because He fulfilled all Biblical prophecies, including a crucifixion death and a resurrection. Christ is not the Messiah because He spent a specified number of hours in a tomb.
When it was Christ's job, after the resurrection, to prove to the eleven disciples that He was, in fact, the Messiah, note the approach He used. In Luke 24:25-27 Christ proved that He was the Messiah by showing that His life fulfilled all of the OT prophecies about Himself. Christ did not say, "Hey guys, I am the Messiah because I spent 72 hours in the tomb!" Borrowing a phrase from page 4 of TRWNOS, HWA'S attempt to tie Christ's Messiahship to a 72-hour burial period is "ludicrous in the extreme"!
Who Was Biblically Correct: Mainline Christianity or HWA?
HWA's claim was based on three assumptions. When we analyzed the three assumptions, we found that the first is not supported by the Bible, that the second is logical and not Biblical, and that the third is unprovable (either way). We then looked at the Bible to see if it supported HWA's claim. We found four disproofs of HWA's claim.
The Apostles' Creed, a core document of mainline Christianity, states in part:
the third day he rose from the dead:
The rendering "the third day" is Biblically correct.
A Friday-crucifixion / Sunday-resurrection is totally consistent with the Bible record. HWA's Wednesday-crucifixion / Saturday-resurrection is not compatible with the Bible record. The score on this one: Mainline Christianity—1, HWA—0.
HWA's Totally Wrong Perspective
Looking analytically at HWA's booklet, TRWNOS, reveals more than just a fake claim, or fake Bible scholarship. This look reveals a man who was more interested in the time of Christ's resurrection than in the resurrection itself.
Note that the time of Christ's resurrection is not revealed in the Bible. We have no record in the Bible of any human being witnessing this event. In addition, the Bible does not provide enough information to determine exactly when it occurred.
If it was important for us to know the exact time of Christ's resurrection, then God would have revealed this information in the Bible. The point is that the knowledge of the exact time of Christ's resurrection is totally irrelevant to achieving salvation through Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The big picture is salvation through the blood of the Lamb.
Herbert W. Armstrong missed the big picture.
HWA focused people's attention on picky, physical, irrelevant matters,
and away from Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, and the New Covenant.
This is the big lesson from looking at HWA's TRWNOS.
By Robert M. Kelley (former WCG member)
© 1995, Robert M. Kelley. Reprinted by permission.
A note of thanks to Kelly Marshall, author of Mystery of the Ages (a critical review) for originally reformatting this article of Mr. Kelley's into charts and then snail-mailing it back to him.
It is interesting that the early church fathers spoke over and over about the resurrection being on the first day of the week but the three days/nights argument mattered very little.
HWA would acknowledge Christ's death by a Passover service, but then he skipped right on to the Days of Unleavened Bread, where members were to "put sin out of their lives." There was no special emphasis concerning Jesus' Resurrection.
The Wednesday-to-Saturday resurrection belief has always been prevalent in cultic groups; for instance, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, co-founded by false prophetess Ellen G. White. The Jehovah's Witnesses have also used it as an argument (see our critical review of Mystery of the Ages, chapter three, pt. 2 and chapter six, which shows that HWA copied/plagiarized from the JW's. Just search for the word "Watchtower.") The Way International, founded by V. P. Wierwille, also insists Jesus Christ died on a Wednesday.
-Comments by ESN updated April 3, 2013
Related Article: Did Herbert W. Armstrong Distort Historical Church Records? (includes the Passover / Easter controversy [The Quartodeciman Controversy and The Nicene Council Concerning Easter])
1 This booklet was first published by the Radio Church of God, Pasadena, CA. It was later republished in 1972 by the Worldwide Church of God, Pasadena, CA. [Update: In November 2004 the Worldwide Church of God moved its headquarters from Pasadena to Glendora, California and in April 2009 they changed their name in the United States to Grace Communion International. (Some local church areas and countries may still carry the former name or a different one.)]
2 HWA erroneously taught that Christ was a spirit in His resurrection and that it wasn't a bodily resurrection. (The Plain Truth, April 1963). The Scriptures show that Christ was resurrected bodily from the grave with a glorified spiritual body. Luke 24:39: "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." Also see John 10:24-29. For more information on "spiritual body vs. spirit being," read: The first heresy in the church was the denial of the bodily resurrection (from our review of Mystery of the Ages) and Bodily Resurrection or a Disembodied Spirit (Spiritual Body Versus Spirit Being?) (both are in our critical review of MOA, chapter six)
3 The verses in the original article were quoted from the copyrighted NIV. We have used the Authorized KJV throughout.
4 Since the Authorized KJV is being substituted here for the NIV, "on the third day" has 14 renderings instead of 10, etc. One will still find 23 scriptures altogether for these particular words whether they use the NIV or the KJV to look them up.
5 The Jews reckoned any part of a day as a full day. Also, J. Vernon McGee states that Jonah's experience in the fish was typical of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Thru the Bible With J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, p. 69) It is worthy to note that when one reads the verse immediately preceding Matthew 12:40, Jesus said that an evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign. These religious leaders had rejected the many miraculous signs Christ had already given them. Also, there is an offsite article which is an answer to a skeptic in regard to Matthew 12:40. Just do a search/find in the article for the words: "three days." This will bring you to the skeptic's question on this verse and the answer given which shows from the Jew's own literature how they reckoned a "day."