How Armstrong got it wrong!


Douglas Becker

    Herbert Armstrong declared many times:

    The Sabbath stands or falls with the Feasts.

    It’s strange, because the Church of God Seventh Day just doesn’t seem to think so. Here is what they say:

    The Church of God (Seventh Day) teaches that Christians are not obligated to observe the feast days, the annual Hebrew holy days of Leviticus 23. Here are seven reasons for this position:

    • The annual holy days were part of the Levitical law of the old covenant and were intimately linked to its system of animal sacrifices.
      The annual holy days were neither Creation ordinances nor included among the Ten Commandments, but they belong to a portion of law that may be called ceremonial.
    • The annual holy days were commanded to the nation of Israel when it departed from Egypt and were to be observed where the Lord placed His name: Jerusalem.
    • The annual holy days have an agricultural framework, inextricably tied to the land, crops, and climate of ancient Palestine.
    • The annual holy days were observed according to an ancient (Hebrew) calendar that is impossible to decipher from Scripture.
    • The purpose of the annual holy days was for the Hebrew nation to celebrate its own history and to anticipate the greater salvation that would come through Messiah.
    • Observance of the annual holy days often casts a shadow on the final work of redemption and grace that was accomplished by Christ on the cross.

    Apparently, keeping the Feasts is a point of view.

    Some of you know Alan Knight, either personally, through his interview in The Journal or from his book, Primitive Christianity in Crisis. The last time we had lunch, we discussed the current controversy surrounding Robert Thiel, since Mr. Knight had several exchanges with him and after lunch, I asked him the question of what he thought of the Feasts, given that he is something of a scholar on early Christianity. His response was that “Scriptural support for keeping the Feasts is weak”.

    One’s skepticism is certainly piqued with Chapter 17, “The Most Important Holy Day” in Showdown At Big Sandy: Youthful Creativity Confronts Bureaucratic Inertia at an Unconventional Bible College in East Texas by Greg Doudna, now available at Barnes and Noble on Nook (apparently, Dr. Doudna took my advice to put it in an ebook). While the WCG nattered on about the other Feasts, the Wave Sheaf Offering, picturing the acceptance of Jesus Christ by God the Father, would, one would think, be the most relevant to Christians, if we were to keep the Feasts, but sadly, no, no there is no observance. Just keep the Lord’s Supper on the wrong day, keep the “Passover” as the Night to Be Much Observed and totally miss that the Days of Unleavened Bread start on the evening of the Passover.

    Now one would suppose that keeping the Feasts could be a blessing… but certainly not to hear sermons about Doomsday and the lie of British Israelism.

    But perhaps the biggest problem of all is that Armstrongists don’t actually know when to keep the Feasts. If you are going to keep them when they don’t need to be kept at all, you should, by all means, get the dates right. But with the nine variants that the Armstrongist churches of God use now are every one of them wrong — objectively, observably, technically wrong. It is time for them to admit that the Church of God Seventh Day is right and the calendar is impossible to decipher from Scripture.

    Having failed to understand the Hebrew Calendar at all, Herbert Armstrong did the really stupid thing and went to the Jews as THE “authority” on the topic. This is a totally wrong move. Think about it: The Apostles went to the Pharisees in the First Century to ask them to tell them when the Feasts were? There’s nothing like stupidly making yourself a martyr. Besides, who would they ask after 70 A.D., do pray tell? The Old Covenant (if people believe the Bible) ended at the Death of Jesus: The veil to the Holy of Holies was ripped apart — there was no more authority of the Sanhedrin. The Christians just don’t go to the Jews for spiritual knowledge, because in the view of the New Testament, they don’t have any. Nevertheless, Herbert Armstrong went to the Jews for their calendar because he made the very wrong assumption that they were the keepers of the oracles and were the experts in such things in perpetuity.

    Just how wrong this is has been exposed scientifically: The calculated calendar by Hillel II, the last of the Sanhedrin, declared that the solar year is 365 days and 6 hours, based on the stellar advice of an astonomer friend. Unfortunately, the Universe is unforgiving in such things, and he had the year off by a surplus of 11 minutes and 14.4 seconds. That may not sound like much, but given the past 1,650 years+, the Hillel II calendar is 12 days, 21 hours 7 minutes and 12 seconds off, putting the calculated Spring Equinox around March 6th or March 7th (depending upon leap year). If this were to be continued about 21,000 more years or so, the Feast of Tabernacles would coincide with Christmas Vacation Week in December between December 25th and January 1st. This would mean that people would not have to ask for time off for their children to keep the Feast and Boeing Employees could go because they get the week off every year. So, in the scheme of things, it’s very convenient… maybe… some day.

    Hillel II was also off on what the moon transit time was by 6 millionths of a day every month being about .5184 seconds. This might not mean much month to month, but over the centuries until now, the Jewish Calendar is about 2.94 hours later in its expectation of the New Moon. This, under some circumstances can amount to one day.

    It gets worse, though.

    Hillel II set about to make sure that certain things didn’t happen in the Calendar, such as having the Day of Atonement on a Friday. However, documents from Jewish History show very clearly that the Day of Atonement did occasionally fall on a Friday during Christ’s time First Century A.D. and there were instructions on how to deal with it. This is important because no one can arbitrarily set the Passover in the First Century AD by a Calendar issued later in 359 A.D. by Hillel II. It is for this reason that the Armstrongists insist that Christ died in 31 A.D. to make their Festival timeline fit, when, in fact, they have it wrong and according to the self-correcting Hebrew Calendar at the time, would have made 30 A.D. the year that Jesus Christ would have been sacrificed to be put in the tomb in the evening of the Passover.

    Things really get dicey from here. For one thing, the prophecy of Daniel 9 is impacted. For another, the Armstrongists don’t keep all the Feasts any year, even though, sometimes they keep a few of them on the day set forth by correct calendar computations, meaning that they can’t claim to be keeping God’s Law of the Old Covenant Correctly, and since, according to Herbert Armstrong, the Sabbath stands or falls on the Holydays, they are technically breaking the 4th Commandment, and hence, cannot have salvation.

    Does your head hurt yet?

    It’s no wonder that Armstrongist leaders doesn’t want to open this particular bag of snakes and convinces their membership it’s too complicated to understand and we all have to leave it to the “Authority” of the Jews: They couldn’t get the people together to keep the Feasts, which would reduce the effectiveness of the control Armstrongism has over the people and most of all, they would lose out on the money. That is a lot of powerful incentive to keep the people in confusion and delusion.

    In actual fact, it isn’t that hard. After all, the ancient Israelites seem to have been able to calculate the Feasts, didn’t they?

    I first learned about postponements in 2003, when the beautiful full moon was out on Thursday and the Feast of Tabernacles started on Saturday and a member called the minister and asked why and the minister said he didn’t know. At the Feast in Redmond, Oregon, I asked a minister about postponements and he lied to me and brushed me off saying, “I studied that once but I don’t remember”. He knew. He just didn’t want the answer. It would foul up Armstrongism and threaten his job.

    In 2005 and 2006, my wife and I kept the “Passover” with Wayne Bedwell and his wife Carol in his home, along with the Edwards. Shirley Edwards was a delight and quite a woman. In the 1950s, when women weren’t supposed to do such things, she learned to fly, got her pilot’s license and flew to Cuba! My wife still has the picture of Shirley on the wall where she receives the silver prize in the Arizona Senior Olympics 50 yard swim at the age of 83 years old! Wayne Bedwell and I had an opportunity to discuss many things during our stay in the Tucson area, particularly his booklet, The Original Calendar for Our Day. He was an Engineer who once worked for NASA. I guess this calendar thing really is rocket science. He told me that he had travelled to New York to study in the very extensive Jewish section of the New York Public Library to learn how to calculate the calendar. He mentioned the fact that the First Century Jews did not use postponements and that the Day of Atonement could indeed fall on a Friday. He also noted that 30 A.D. was the only year where the Passover occurred on Wednesday night within years on either side: It could not be 31 A.D., 33 A.D., 29 A.D. or any other of the dates picked by others. It is also convenient, he explained, that from 30 A.D. to 70 A.D. there was a 40 year trial period for the Jews.

    Plagiarism is a long, well-established practice with Armstrongists and the calendar presented by Wayne Bedwell was no exception. It is true that Ted Phillips of the Church of God Modesto used his calendar for the Feasts with full attribution. However, James Russell over at the Church of God In Truth did not acknowledge the source, particularly when he changed the assessment for the occurrence of the new moon: To wit, to change the beginning of a new moon from the time that the earth,  moon and sun were in conjunction, all nicely lined up, to the very first moment Jerusalem time, when the moon went down before the sun did. Another cult leader set the time differently by insisting that the Sabbath didn’t begin at sunset, but at nautical twilight. The differences could mean a full day’s difference. Nevertheless, this wasn’t anywhere near as bad as when the official Jewish Calendar was one full month off from the non postponed one. One should note that there are those who insist that the new moon really begins with the crescent of the moon, usually two days later than the real true lunar new moon. While it is completely silly in practice, there is a rationale to it because of yet another problem.

    In 2008, when I met Paul Woods at the Feast of Tabernacles in Fruitland, Washington, hosted by his church, the Seventh Day Church of God of Caldwell, Idaho, I discussed the calendar also, since he publishes the Hebrew Calendar through The Herald of Truth, of which he is editor and publisher. The Seventh Church of God is quite independent from Herbert Armstrong, and their particular group came from Gilbert G. Rupert and has been keeping the Feasts since 1919. In our discussion, he showed me from Exodus, that the Passover, beginning on the evening of the 14th day of the First Month is also the beginning of the Days of Unleavened Bread and that the Armstrongists have that all wrong as well — so at the very least, the Armstrongists always begin the Days of Unleavened Bread at least one day late. Paul Woods solves the inherent problem with the Feast of Tabernacles with one simple assumption: That, as he puts it, the moon rules the day. What that means that on the day of the new moon, the moon must have arisen either at sunrise or shortly before sunrise before that evening can be declared the beginning of the new moon. This means that there will be a very slight sliver of the moon visible, but not as great as those who, say, follow William Dankenbring’s assessment of the timing. This solves the very great problem that there is a full moon on the 15th of the month each time and every time, meaning that the Israelites would have had a full moon on the Night to Be Much Observed when they left Egypt and also the Feast of Tabernacles always, always, always begins in the light of the glorious full moon in the fall, with either the Harvest Moon or sometimes more rarely, the Hunter’s Moon.

    So just exactly how does one find the First Month in all this? Go out and look for sprigs of springing up barley in the hills in Israel like Carl O’Beirn does? In all of this, you have to remember that the ancient Israelites were not carrying iPods, having reflecting telescopes and certainly didn’t have orbiting satellites they could use for JavaScript programs to calculate new moon conjunctions at midnight, when they couldn’t even see the moon. It is a “keep it simple, stupid” scenario which could be understood by those not in tune with calculus and geometry: Remember, observations, pen and papyrus only. They did know when the Spring Equinox was (before it was fouled up by Hillel II in 358 A.D.). Here is a simple formula from Paul Woods for figuring the Holy days:

    1) Find the spring equinox;

    2) Find the new moon nearest the spring equinox (either before or after);

    3) Use Jerusalem time (The moon is new to the whole earth at one time);

    4) The first night the moon has completely ruled (had authority) over the is counted as number one (1). This day is the Biblical new Year Day;

    5) Count to the fourteenth (14th) day of that moon and you have the Passover Day. The Lord’s Supper Service is to be held the evening of the preceding day.

    Say what!!??!!!

    Yes, it’s true: If you are going to do it right, you need to read the New Testament (along with the Old) very, very carefully — the Lord’s Supper Service is to be held on the evening of the 13th Day of the First month and the Passover begins the Days of Unleavened Bread on the next evening.

    Here’s how it works in 30 A.D.:

    Tuesday evening, Jesus has his last supper with his disciples;

    Wednesday, during the day, Jesus is crucified, dies and at sunset is in the tomb and sealed in just as the evening of the 14th begins the Passover;

    Thursday, Christ is in the tomb;

    Friday, Christ in the tomb;

    Saturday, Christ is in the tomb, but at sunset, after three days in the tomb, he is resurrected and leaves the tomb; 50 days later he ascends into the heavens on Pentecost;

    Sunday morning, Jesus ascends as the Wave Sheaf Offering.

    From there, you are on your own.

    That’s as close as I think we can get: You may have different ideas, but they probably don’t work. One thing is clear: Herbert Armstrong was wrong about the calendar and most of the 700+ spit-offs are wrong as well. There are all sorts of excuses, the main one being, “We need to keep the brethren together”. It’s a little late for that, don’t you think? Wrong in the first place and wrong ever since. If the Jews didn’t get it right, what chance do you think Armstrongists had, when they went to the Jews for faulty advice?

    Perhaps, and likely, this is all wasted effort: The question remains as to whether or not there is a requirement for Christians to keep the Feasts. The best evidence is that support for keeping the Feasts in the Bible is rather weak, if it exists at all. The Feasts, were, after all, a shadow of things to come, about half of which already have. As for keeping the Feast forever, it’s not going to happen, since, according to Revelation 22 there will be no sun or moon. So much for forever.

    Get Your Fill of the Spirit!

      Moreover, there is no good Christian way to fund the Feasts given in the Bible, even if there might be a blessing in keeping them. There is no such thing as second tithe to keep the Feast. In Greg Doudna’s book, he points out that in 1975, the WCG very nearly cancelled the Feast to have everyone stay home so the church could get the money. You don’t really believe that the Armstrongist leaders are in sincerity and truth when they claim that the way to salvation is to keep the Feasts, do you, when they can propose canceling them altogether? Besides, how much of a blessing is it to listen to sermons filled with false prophecies from false prophets about doomsday scenarios based on the ridiculous fully disproven British Israelism scrap?

    It’s no wonder the Church of God Seventh Day doesn’t keep them, even if we could figure out when they really are.

    There is a lot that the Armstrongists don’t volunteer. It isn’t just that Herbert Armstrong had a cup of coffee and a donut on the Day of Atonement “to keep his strength up” before he gave the sermon; there is the matter of special dispensations that many members did not know: For example, those with health problems could skip fasting on the Day of Atonement — at first under doctor’s orders and approved by headquarters, and then later, anyone with diabetes had an automatic dispensation. There are all sorts of different various exceptions to the Sabbath and Feast Days, hidden away from the rank-and-file members, with special exceptions given, especially to those of the ministry (we are not forgetting that the ministers did not have to keep “second tithe” and “third tithe” because they were “spiritual Levites”. There’s nothing like corrupting a corrupt system adapted arbitrarily for whatever purpose someone wants and have it enforced by God and the Bible. It’s no wonder that the Prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 1:14-15,

    Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
    And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

    But then the record of Old Testament Scripture was that the Israelites didn’t keep the Feasts for centuries at a time and God didn’t seem to mind — it was the idolatry that got to Him: The same kind of idolatry the followers of Herbert Armstrong commit today. Some of those Armstrongist church history theorists insist that at least one era of the church had so many problems that they did not need to keep the Feasts — that God just looked the other way as yet another entitlement. The problem is that there is no such thing as church eras and what was that about Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever? Is that forever, as in thou shall keep the Feasts forever in your generations? If so, it never happened. Armstrongists paint God the Father as being so fickle, double minded and inconsistent that it’s hard to take anything they say seriously: There are explanations everywhere as to why they don’t do what is commanded in the Bible in the Old Covenant that after awhile, it becomes little more than confused mental mush. It’s no wonder they don’t understand the Calendar… not that it makes any difference, since they don’t really keep the Feasts anyway: Hey! It’s a church corporation type convention — HP, IBM, LINUX Expo, Promise Keepers. Go for it. If you can afford it. If not, don’t worry, since it apparently isn’t required anyway. And don’t forget to booze it up: Just remember that the word Symposium comes from the Greek word for “drinking party”. Maybe the Armstrongists should rename it to the Symposium of Tabernacles and be done with it.

    If you do attend the Feast of Tabernacles, do insure that you go someplace with good reception so you can be connected to the world through the Internet and your cell phone: You wouldn’t want to miss out on anything that is going on — after all, the world could come to an end and you wouldn’t know it..

    The Calendar is always an interesting exercise.

    Let it not be an exercise in futility.



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