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How and Why Herbert Armstrong changed from a Monday Pentecost
Herbert Armstrong, for the majority of his ministry, held to a unique doctrine – a Monday Pentecost.
He declared that God would not allow any of His holy days to fall on Sunday, the day of pagan worship. (He also taught that the resurrection was not on Sunday, to negate any reason for keeping Easter Sunday.)
Secondly, he argued that Pentecost must be on a Monday, because:
“In ENGLISH, 50 days FROM a Sunday can be counted NO OTHER WAY than that ONE day FROM Sunday is Monday, and 50 days FROM Sunday always falls on a Monday.”
He held firmly to this view, despite many protests:
“Time after time, Mr. Armstrong refused to give up a Monday Pentecost. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the protests of half the Eugene church – over the counting of Pentecost – resulted in Emil Heibel’s leading off the dissidents, who formed a separate church believing in a Sunday Pentecost. There were many attacks, from all across the nation, leveled against a Monday Pentecost.” (The Doctrine of Pentecost, How and Why it was Changed, p.2)
So why in 1974 did he suddenly change to observing Pentecost on a Sunday?
Herbert Armstrong’s way of counting is known as cardinal (exclusive) counting, i.e. 0, 1, 2, 3. 4 etc. The 1st Sunday is ‘0’ and Monday is day 1 of the count – so day 50 is also a Monday.
Mainstream Christianity uses ordinal (inclusive) counting, i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc. (no zero), when counting biblically, so the 1st day of the count to Pentecost in Leviticus 23:15-16 is Sunday, and the 50th day is a Sunday.
Herbert Armstrong’s first argument, that the annual holy days of the Hebrew Calendar cannot be on a Sunday, holds true for the 7th month. One of the postponement rules does not allow Rosh Hashanah (Day of Trumpets) to fall on either a Sunday or Friday.
The 1st day of Unleavened Bread can, however, fall on a Sunday – although this had not happened since 1954, so those who joined the Radio/Worldwide Church of God after then (the vast majority) came to accept that none of the holy days would be on a Sunday.
It is surely no coincidence that plans to persuade Herbert Armstrong to change to a Sunday Pentecost should be laid when it was realized that the 1st day of Unleavened Bread in 1974 would fall on a Sunday. One of his two great proofs for a Monday Pentecost was about to be shot down!
Richard Nickels records: “When I was employed in the Church Administration Department at Pasadena in 1973 as Raymond Cole’s assistant, I became aware of the undercover plan of several ministers to change the date of the Church’s observance of Pentecost. There were a few Pentecost papers being secretly circulated at that time, which advocated switching from a Monday, to a Sunday, Pentecost. I had the opportunity to carefully study the issue for a number of months before the doctrinal change occurred in early 1974. It appeared few in the church questioned the change in Pentecost. Mr. Cole and I were excommunicated in 1975, largely because of our objections to the change in Pentecost.”
How were the members of the doctrinal committee to go about persuading Herbert Armstrong that his way of counting to Pentecost was wrong? They didn’t. They agreed with him that his way was correct – in English – but not in Hebrew. They explained that the unanimous opinion of Hebrew scholars was that the Hebrew word ‘min’, used in conjunction with the element of time, is always used inclusively. The English translations were perhaps poor and had misled him.
The Pentecost Study Material was sent only to the field ministry, and it was for them to explain the change to any brethren who might require clarification. Herbert Armstrong surmised, correctly, that most of them would accept his decision with little or no discussion. He assured the field ministers in his introductory note to the Study Material that, although the Pentecost question could be made very complex and complicated, they could make it simple enough for the brethren to understand!
“The Pentecost question is one that can be made very complex and complicated. Also it can, and I feel should (especially before brethren), be made quite simple. To simplify it, I do NOT like to say the issue is WHETHER we count 50 days from a Sunday inclusively or exclusively. In ENGLISH, 50 days FROM a Sunday can be counted NO OTHER WAY than that ONE day FROM Sunday is Monday, and 50 days FROM Sunday always falls on a Monday.
The crux of the matter is in the statement … when it [the Hebrew ‘mi’ or ‘min’] is translated as ‘from’ [instead of on] and is used in conjunction with the element of time, it is always used inclusively, and never exclusively.”
Richard Nickels responded to the change from Monday to Sunday in his article, Why I Believe in a Monday Pentecost:
“Jesus was not mathematically illiterate. He said repeatedly that he would rise ‘the third day’, i.e. ‘after three days’, Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, 27:63; Mark 9:31, 10:34; Luke 9:22, 13:32, 18:33, 24:7, 46. See also Acts 10:40, 1 Corinthians 15:4.
The Church of God has contended that this means after 72 hours, after three full days. Those who keep a Sunday Pentecost have a tough hurdle to cross with these statements. For them, ‘the fiftieth day’ is the day when seven weeks (49 days) have been counted.
If this is so, then ‘the third day’ is the day when two days have been counted. So then Jesus couldn’t have been in the grave for a full three days and three nights, as He said He would, in Matthew 12:40.”
After being excommunicated from the WCG, Raymond Cole founded the Church of God the Eternal, which continues to keep a Monday Pentecost.
The reader might wish to wade through the 84 page Pentecost Study Material – but the plain truth is much simpler. Herbert Armstrong’s way of counting the days in Leviticus 23:15-16 is impossible, because the number zero did not exist in biblical times!
In 525AD Dionysius Exiguus devised the Anno Domini (AD) method of counting years. In 731AD the Venerable Bede published his ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’. The events in his history were generally referred to as happening in BC years – Before Christ. (Bede did not coin the term BC – he, like Dionysius, would have used a Latin phrase.)
1AD was preceded by 1BC – no year zero.
In 1202 the Italian mathematician Fibonacci published Liber Abaci, which introduced to Europe the ‘Arabic’ numerals 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Although this offered a superior and easier method of calculation, it did not become popular until the advent of the Industrial Revolution.
There are many examples of inclusive counting in the bible. Two are detailed below – one from the Hebrew text and one from the Greek text.
In Samuel 20 there are references to ‘three days’ and ‘the third day’, and there is a count of the days, demonstrating that the 1st day was included in the count.
Day 1 v.5 And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even. v.12 And Jonathan said unto David … when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third day … v.18-19 Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty. And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself …
Day 2 (evening) v.24 … when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat.
v.25 David’s place was empty. v.26 Nevertheless Saul spake not any thing that day: for he thought, Something hath befallen him.
Day 3 (evening) v.27 And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David’s place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day? v.34 So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month …
Day 3 (morning) v.35 And it came to pass in the morning, that Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed with David.
When was “the time appointed”? – on the third day, when David had “stayed three days” (v.19).
Acts 10 shows that the Romans and the Jews were counting inclusively in the 1st century AD:
Day 1 v.1 Now there was a certain man in Caesarea, Cornelius by name, a centurion … v.3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him … v.4 … And he said unto him … v.5 … send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter.
Day 2 v.9 And on the morrow, as these are proceeding on the way, and are drawing nigh to the city, Peter went up upon the house-top to pray … v.17 Now while Peter was much perplexed in himself what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate.
Day 3 v.23 Having called them in, therefore, he lodged them, and on the morrow Peter went forth with them, and certain of the brethren from Joppa went with him,
Day 4 v.24 and on the morrow they did enter into Cesarea; and Cornelius was waiting for them, having called together his kindred and near friends …
v.30 And Cornelius said, Four days ago till this hour, I was fasting, and [at] the ninth hour praying in my house, and, lo, a man stood before me in bright clothing.
“Four days ago” – Cornelius included Day 4 in his count back to Day 1.