by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
March 26, 2014

Scott Ashley is a member of an offshoot of the late Herbert W. Armstrong’s Church of God. This church practices worship on the Sabbath and the keeping of Jewish feast days as well as certain other aberrations. A member of his church keeps sending me his material on the belief in Wednesday instead of Friday as the day of Christ’s crucifixion. But whoever sends it does not give his name or his return address. One wonders if he’s afraid of hearing my answer himself. Why else would he be afraid to give me his name and address?

It should be noted that no scholar before the late nineteenth century believed that Christ was crucified on Wednesday. There is no mention of a Wednesday crucifixion in any Baptist or Protestant literature before that time. It should also be noted that a Wednesday crucifixion is not mentioned by any of the early Christian, Jewish or pagan writers. The very first person who ever mentioned it lived in the late nineteenth century. This alone raises a question concerning the validity of such an important change in what all Christians have believed for two thousand years. How could such an important change have been made without any scholar noticing it? The theory put forth by this member of the Herbert W. Armstrong offshoot is based solely on a misunderstanding of Matthew 12:40, which says,

“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.”

Mr. Ashley says this verse is to be taken literally. He says that it means Jesus had to be in the tomb for three whole days and three whole nights before the Resurrection. He seeks to authenticate this with a twisting of a few verses in the four Gospels. If his interpretation is correct, how come no Bible commentator has noticed it in the last two thousand years? I know a few men believed this toward the end of the nineteenth century, but how is it that for over one thousand nine hundred years no one noticed it? It is a new teaching. Just as the teachings of Ruckmanism were never heard of before 1950, so the teaching of a Wednesday crucifixion was never heard of before 1875. One ought to be very careful about believing something that no one else thought of for all those centuries.

On the other hand, the great Bible scholars of the centuries have spoken on Matthew 12:40 as follows. Dr. Albert Barnes said,

“It will be seen in the account of the resurrection of Christ that He was in the grave but two nights and a part of three days. See Matt. xxviii. 6. This computation is, however, strictly in accordance with the Jewish mode of reckoning. If it had not been, the Jews would have understood it, and would have charged our Saviour as being a false prophet, for it was well known to them that He had spoken this prophecy, Mat. xxvii. 63. Such a charge, however, was never made; and it is plain, therefore, that what was meant by the prediction was accomplished. It was a maxim, also, among the Jews, in computing time, that a part of a day was to be received as the whole. Many instances of this kind occur in both sacred and profane history. See 2 Chr. x. 5, 12; Gen. xlii. 17, 18. Comp. Esth. iv. 16 with v. 1” (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, Matthew and Mark, 1983 reprint, Baker Book House, p. 134).

More recently, Dr. Gleason L. Archer of Trinity Evangelical Seminary in Deerfield, Illinois has said,

“Why then are three portions of day referred to in Matthew 12:40 as ‘three days and three nights’? The simple answer is that the only way ‘day’ in the sense of dawn-to-dusk sunlight could be distinguished from the full twenty-four-hour cycle sense of ‘day’ was to speak of the latter as ‘a night and a day’…According to ancient parlance, then, when you wished to refer to three separate twenty-four-hour days, you said, ‘Three days and three nights’ – even though only a portion of the first and third days might be involved (Gleason L. Archer, Ph.D., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan Publishing House, 1982 reprint).

Also, Dr. R. C. H. Lenski has said,

“How can Jesus say that his stay in the grave would be ‘for three days and three nights’ when he actually spent only two nights in the grave? The difficulty disappears when in Tobit 3:12 we read, ‘Ate not nor drank for three days and three nights,’ and yet in the very next verse, ‘Then on the third day,’ the fast being ended. Similarly Esther 4:16 compared with 5:1. ‘Three days and three nights’ is, therefore, not proverbial for ‘a brief time,’ nor can we say that Jesus is concerned only to obtain a parallel experience to that of Jonah as far as the number of days is concerned. The manner of numbering nights with the days is an idiomatic Jewish usage. As Jonah escaped on the third day, so Jesus arose on the third day. And since the Jewish day begins with the night (or evening), it is the night that forms part of the first day which seems to us to be overcounted, not the one that forms part of the third day – the Sunday of the resurrection began at dusk on Saturday” (R. C. H. Lenski, Ph.D., The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Augsburg Publishing House, 1964 reprint, p. 493).

Back in the 1970s I wrote to Dr. Wilbur M. Smith and asked him about the literature pertaining to UFOs for a little book I was writing. Dr. Smith wrote back to me saying, “It is strange how all this escapes camera work.” I would say the same thing about this theory of a Wednesday crucifixion. It is strange how this escaped everyone writing from the first century to the nineteenth century. A Wednesday crucifixion is not mentioned by the Church Fathers, or even by the heretics of the early centuries, not even by the Montanists, or the first real theologian, Tertullian. It seems to me he would have certainly mentioned this. None of the early Baptists taught a Wednesday crucifixion either, nor any of the Protestant Reformers. If it is true, it is strange how a Wednesday crucifixion escaped being written about by any scholar before the end of the nineteenth century!

The man who wrote this article has been a lifelong member of Herbert W. Armstrong’s church. He says that his great grandmother brought his whole family into the Worldwide Church of God back in the 1930s. Anyone how is even slightly aware of the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong knows how he made a “mountain out of a molehill” concerning things like a Wednesday crucifixion. My question is this – what practical difference does it make? Does anyone go to Hell because they believe in a Friday crucifixion, as millions of good Christians do? On the other hand, how does it hurt one’s spiritual life to believe in a Friday crucifixion?

Since every scholar across over nineteen hundred years taught a Friday crucifixion, and since it makes no difference to anyone’s spiritual life to believe in a Friday crucifixion, it seems to me to be clearly a “twiddle” – a triviality used by someone to make themselves seem brilliant to an untrained audience! I hope no one reading my sermons will fall for this confusing, unbiblical, and historically unknown doctrine. Not only is it unimportant, the idea of a Wednesday crucifixion of Christ is untrue. We cannot expect God to bless a teaching that is based on error.

By the way, Mr. Scott Ashley’s theological education came at Ambassador College in Big Sandy, Texas, which was run at the time of his graduation by Herbert W. Armstrong and his son Garner Ted Armstrong. I am not surprised that he “strains at gnats and swallows camels.” Let us continue to preach that Jesus Christ died for our sins on the Cross on Friday and rose from the dead on Sunday, as we have always believed, and as Christians across the ages in every denomination have always believed.

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