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Saturday, 19 April 2014

A Spanner in the Works!

Once a year, here in the UK, I believe the longest statutory weekend of the year comes round. It is Good Friday, with Easter Saturday to follow, then Easter Sunday, followed by a Bank Holiday Monday. It the time of year that we remember the Atonement made by Jesus Christ when he died on the cross, and the Resurrection three days later. The time of year children look forward to Easter eggs after the Sunday roast - so at least my brother and I did when we were both children. Although I wondered back then what a chocolate egg had to do with a man dying on a cross, nevertheless, I recall the anticipation of chocolate only after we cleaned our dinner plates.

To me, the Easter break meant the start of the Summer, and during my adult bachelor days, it was always a trip to the coast, normally for the whole weekend. And during adolescence, Easter always meant a break from the day-to-day grind at school, feeling constrained in a buttoned up shirt and tie of the uniform, sitting bored at the desk being rehashed over what I have already learnt at primary school. In all cases, Jesus always meant something to me, even if I believed at school, wrongly, that Jesus was aloof in his own goodness and was only interested in those who were as good as he was.

Back in the 1960s there was this unspoken feeling among us boys that there is something akin to being a cissy in believing in God. For example, if there were any at school who were in the church choir, then they kept this area of their lives a guarded secret, in fear of teasing and even rejection. The general feeling among us was that we kept separate from the girls - which, compared to the present rise in teenage pregnancies, abortions, and easy access to contraceptives - was not a bad thing altogether. A boy in Secondary Modern school of the mid sixties, if he wasn't academic, he would show his virtue in being good at team sports. It could be said that the average schoolboy was assessed by his physical prowess and the English Bulldog spirit out in the sports field. Belief in God did not fit into it.

And this was a sad fact, a terrible misrepresentation of God's character, which came across as punitive towards naughty children, but pleased with those who were good. He was also seen as extremely fickle on who would go to Heaven after death, which was based not on free grace, but on the boy's performance in life. It was natural, therefore that atheism was common among us schoolboys, and I felt myself sucked in, one reason was an attempt to make myself more popular, and to be seen as "tough". I guess at the time, that the character of God was fully reflective in the strict discipline in both our birth fathers and the schoolteachers. And the worst thing about all this, was if I wanted to be good and be pleasing to God in one way or another, then I would perceive him as being somewhat suspicious; that I wanted something for myself, but remained uninterested in his affairs.

But deep in my heart, I think, I always wanted to know Jesus Christ as a friend, and not as a disciplinarian. But I was always afraid to approach him, in anticipation of being told to "not to tell tales", "man up", or other dismissal methods, in reflection of the schoolmasters, with whom we shook with fear of some of them. So it was not surprising that even after I believed towards the end of 1972, it took me a very long time to unlearn what I built up throughout childhood.

Even to this day, I can be wary of the Lord's attitude towards me if there is sin in my life. Even after building a sound theological edifice on Justification by Faith, the eternal acquittal bestowed on the wicked through faith without works, it can be difficult to realise that such a person as myself can be seen by God the Father as the same as Jesus himself. Yet it's true. I have found that believing in eternal acquittal in my heart has made a big impact in my life, and the way I see the world, and the way I see and relate to other people. Of course, as with anyone young in the faith, I would have wanted the foundation to be solid, cut and dried. So when I was with a fellow believer in the South London district of Brixton in 1974, I was surprised to hear him tell me that he had problems with a Friday Crucifixion.

Although I poo-pooed the idea, I could see sense in what he was saying straight away, even if I didn't want to believe it. His idea ran counter to all the churches of all denominations which insist on a Friday crucifixion. Yet, although I didn't want to believe it, it did make sense to me, nevertheless. But after that incident in Brixton, I had put away the idea, conforming the general trend that Jesus died on a Friday. And a Friday crucifixion is taught with clarity at my present church, with all the elders believing in it. And rather than argue, which wouldn't have got us anywhere, when the leaders called to celebrate on Good Friday, I was there. My own ideas on when Jesus died, I had to keep to myself, to keep the peace.

But it was on one social evening in the early to mid 1990s, while I was in a pub with some Christian friends (all young unmarried men, including myself) that I offered some unwanted books by one of them, written by the late Dave Hunt, for free. I decided to accept them. One was titled, A Cup of Trembling, and it was about God, his relationship with Israel and the Jews, and the history and theology of Islam, its Palestinian followers, and their claim to the land God had originally given to Abraham, and what, how, and why this famed Patriarch was living in Mecca with his son Ishmael, nearly a thousand miles from the border of the Promised Land and his final burial tomb at Hebron. I found the author to be a highly trained and informed scholar, and later discovered that he was the founder and director of the Berean Bible Society in the United States, taken from Acts 17:10-12, where Paul commended the citizens of Berea for checking his Gospel with the Scriptures to verify what he taught was Biblical. Another book I was given with the first was How Close Are We? and this was about our attitude towards the Second Coming of Christ. It was from this book that I finally became convinced that Jesus might have died on a Thursday rather than a Friday, with one of the most insisting verses - Matthew 12:40, which reads:
For as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man shall be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Checking on the prophet Jonah, he was thrown overboard a ship for being the cause of a violent storm, after fleeing from the Lord when he told him to preach in the city of Ninevah, which was a potential threat to Israel. After being thrown into the huge waves, a large fish swallowed him alive, and we are told that the prophet remained within the fish's stomach for three days and three nights. It was a miracle that he remained alive during that period without the digesting acids dissolving his flesh. But as the fish regurgitated the man alive on to the beach, so did the risen Jesus walked out of his tomb alive as well. Little wonder that the Lord compared his own duration of his burial with that of Jonah.

For a more deeper discussion on this subject, please click on the blog, Good Friday? I'm Confused, which should be among the top ten most popular blogs at the column on the right. It was posted April 2012. But just to say here, by reading Hunt's book, I recall the conversation which my young friend and I had together at Brixton. And I think I remember him quoting this very verse, and coming to the conclusion that holding on to tradition may not be at times a wise decision. For much of my life, I always believed in a Friday crucifixion, because that was what I was taught, first by the Catholic Church, then by the Anglican Church, and later by the two Baptist churches - Bracknell and now, Ascot. In one way I settled with this, but for much of my life, yes, even before I became a Christian, I had asked myself; Did Jesus Christ really die on a Friday? Even with just three days in the tomb, the idea gave the impression that God himself was somewhat mean, as there was only three hours left of Friday, all day Saturday, and practically no daytime of Sunday, as he was already risen by daybreak. And of course, I automatically assumed that he was just two nights in the tomb, Friday and Saturday nights, or as the Jews would have said - the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings. But whatever, there were just two, not three nights spent in the tomb.

Therefore, reading Matthew 12:40 really threw the spanner into the works. Three nights? With a statement like this, the traditional Friday Crucifixion simply did not make sense. Then to add to this, other than Jonah's biography, there is no duplicate verse in the entire Bible. Neither Mark, Luke, or John had recorded what Jesus himself has said on that occasion, and John even hinted that when Jesus appeared to Pilate, it was before the Passover was eaten (John 18:28) - while Matthew, for example, narrates Jesus instructing his disciples to prepare a place where they can eat the Passover (Matthew 26:17-19.) Then again, Paul refers Jesus as the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7)  - which indicates that John had got it right, since if Jesus was the Passover Lamb, then he must have died within the same hour as all the Passover lambs were slain across Israel, which was after his verdict and sentencing from Pilate, not before. Then again poor Matthew seemed to have gotten confused with the prophets. It was Zechariah, and not Jeremiah, who foretold about the thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 27:9-10 with Zechariah 11:12-13.) Then not to let Mark off the hook, he narrates that Jesus was already on the cross by nine in the morning (Mark 15:25 - the third hour)- while John has Jesus still standing before Pilate by midday (John 19:13-14 -the sixth hour.) With so many spanners thrown into what would have been a harmonious fourfold story, little wonder the atheists rub their hands with glee!

But I have read elsewhere that it was highly unlikely that Jesus was already at the cross by nine in the morning, if the trial before Pilate had also involved a trip across the city to be tried by Herod, then sent back to Pilate, which was recorded only by Luke. Unless nobody ever slept throughout the night during Roman times, the idea of him already on the cross that early in the morning looked very unlikely. Unless what Mark was trying to say was that the process which led to his crucifixion began about nine, which if true, would have coincided more with John's account.

So all these irregularities within the four Gospels, including a statement which would have made a Friday crucifixion impossible, are all somehow covered and made smooth by tradition, mainly from the Roman Catholic Church. This has made me wonder why the Catholic Church had never allowed the laity, or the non-clergy public, to read the Bible until after the Reformation. And in many Catholic countries to this day, the Bible is not available to the public as it is here in the UK, in America and other English-speaking countries. So to sum up, I have accepted a Thursday crucifixion, even if based on a short, one-off statement made by Jesus himself. But if Matthew had made a mistake in this quotation as well, then the Gospels would be so unreliable, that my own faith, with no proper rock to rest upon, would crumble. Then I wonder why all the secular academics are having such a field day.

But as I accept the idea of a Thursday crucifixion (even the present names of the seven days of the week were unknown by Jews at that time) if this was to make the Gospel narrative feasible. According to this theory, Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, which meant that Thursday late afternoon was counted as the first day, as there was no zero in ancient Jewish numeracy. Then Friday was the second day, with Saturday the third day. The three nights, as the Jews would have calculated, would have been the early hours of Friday morning, then Saturday morning, and finally Sunday morning, with Jesus coming back to life and the stone rolled back before daybreak on that Sunday, therefore ruling out the possibility of a fourth day in the tomb.

Tradition. There seems to be something incredibly powerful with tradition. Not only had it dominated the Roman Catholic Church for the last 1,600 years, but the whole of human history since the dawn of mankind, with Hinduism, Animism, and even Buddhism being good examples of long-term tradition. It can be so strong and binding that even modern day Evangelical believers would not question the current tradition, even if the Bible questions some aspects of it. Let's face it - the tradition of a Friday crucifixion was started by the Catholic Church in its early years of its inception. And the Good Friday tradition has endured the centuries, and passed unscathed through the Reformation, and believed on by the vast majority of churches to this day.

But I suppose none of us can live without one form of tradition or another. After all, who would deprive their children of the excitement of receiving presents for Christmas, or in this case, the treat of a chocolate egg one Sunday of the year.

Or more important, the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine to commemorate the breaking of the body and the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ for an atonement for our sins. After all, isn't this what's Easter all about?


  1. There's been a lot of discussion on this with other members of the church, Frank. Many are in agreement with you. Like you, I hold my own beliefs on this and, although I'm prepared to discuss it, I have no desire to create division over it.

  2. Frank, I agree with your position. In Deuteronomy 18:22, the Jews were told that if a prophecy were not fulfilled, it was not from god and the prophet's entire message was fraudulent. By insisting on a Friday crucifixion, the various groups have left, with only two nights in the grave, the various groups have cast doubt on the accuracy of the entire story, making it seem just a tradition rather than a historical event.

  3. So true, Frank, that when we base our beliefs on man's traditions rather than God's Word, we are headed down a slippery slope. There are no errors in His Word, and all His prophecies have been or will be fulfilled. Just had a similar discussion with a visiting pastor at our church, with similar conclusions about a Thursday crucifixion in keeping with Christ's words about Jonah. I hope that you and Alex had a blessed Easter!
    Great post as always.
    God bless,