A History of the Saturday Resurrection Doctrine Among Sabbath-Keepers

  The belief that Jesus Christ was crucified on Wednesday, and resurrected on Saturday, has found wide acceptance among most Sabbath-keeping churches and organizations over the past two hundred and more years. It has also been widely accepted by many Sunday-observing ministers and authors. The only Sabbath-keeping church that has officially rejected this belief is the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and it is presently receiving considerable support in many quarters of that church.

The first definite appearance of the Wednesday-Saturday belief in Sabbatarian sources occurred in 1724. In that year George Carlow, a British Seventh Day Baptist, published a book entitled Truth Defended in which he presented many arguments in favor of the seventh-day Sabbath. In Chapter XI Carlow teaches the Saturday resurrection. He mentions no one else who shared his opinion, but his presentation of the subject — while possibly his own personal opinion — is well done. It is a reasonably sure assumption that Carlow knew others who agreed with him although no one else is named, nor does he say it was a Seventh Day Baptist belief.

The Saturday resurrection continued to appear among early Seventh Day Baptist leaders, however. Francis Bampfield, an early leader in this group, is said to have believed it, but definite documentary evidence is lacking. Henry Clarke, Seventh Day Baptist leader and author in the very early Nineteenth Century, had this understanding.

Other late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century Seventh Day Baptist leaders accepted the Saturday resurrection. These include Abram Herbert Lewis, N. Wardner, and Loyal F. Hurley.

In the Mid-Nineteenth Century, there were those more or less associated with the Adventist movement who began to reject a number of the teachings developing among the followers of James and Ellen G. White, including the Friday crucifixion-Sunday resurrection. One Nineteenth Century Adventist writer even published a pamphlet in which he argued for a Friday crucifixion and Monday resurrection! Uriah Smith, in an effort to establish the Friday crucifixion-Sunday resurrection, carried on a one-sided debate in some of the early Adventist papers in favor of the idea. The Adventist Church made the Friday-Sunday tradition an official teaching, and numerous Adventist writers have published literature in its support. But, as was stated above, the Saturday resurrection is currently receiving increasing favor and acceptance among Adventists.

The Wednesday crucifixion-Saturday resurrection understanding appeared very early in what would become the Church of God, Seventh Day, as that group moved away from its Adventist affiliation. There was, quite naturally, a great deal of study and debate on many doctrinal issues. One of these was the question of what day Christ was crucified and resurrected. The first appearance of the Saturday resurrection understanding in Church of God, Seventh Day, literature was their magazine, The Hope of Israel in the September 21, 1864, issue. A man named Luther L. Tiffany of Lansing, Iowa, had a short study entitled "Christ’s Resurrection on the 7th Day." It is obvious from his language this was nothing new; Tiffany was simply explaining something many knew and understood.

Through the next thirty years a great many articles appeared in The Hope of Israel (later called The Bible Advocate) both for and against the Saturday resurrection. In 1893, the Saturday resurrection became the official position of the Church of God, Seventh Day, when Bible Advocate editor William C. Long published the Church's articles of belief and included the Saturday resurrection as one of their doctrines.

In the 1930s, there came on the scene a newly-ordained minister, former businessman Herbert W. Armstrong. Ordained within the Church of God, Seventh Day organization by the Oregon Conference of the Church of God in 1932, Herbert Armstrong would become a strong promoter of the Saturday resurrection doctrine, and his influence would help to spread this belief far and wide.

Armstrong states in his Autobiography (Vol. I, pp. 325-326) that he learned the Saturday resurrection in the summer of 1927, which was before his ordination, and wrote an article on the subject, "The Foundation for Sunday Sacredness Crumbles," at that time. Although never published under that title, this article appeared to have been the original of what became his frequently-published article and booklet, "The Resurrection Was Not on Sunday."

Armstrong’s Radio (later Worldwide) Church of God took a very strong stand for this doctrine. Church scholar, Herman L. Hoeh, in particular, did wide research into the subject. Since Herbert W. Armstrong’s death in 1986, the Worldwide Church of God has weakened its stand and no longer emphasizes the Saturday resurrection as they once did. However, all of the larger groups that have split off from the Worldwide Church in the last years, including Global, International, United, and Philadelphia, continue to hold to the Saturday resurrection, as do most of the smaller groups.

Whatever one may think of Herbert W. Armstrong, it cannot be denied that his influence was far-reaching in the history of Christianity in the Twentieth Century. It was because of his widespread work that many of the things he taught were accepted by other religious leaders and groups, including the second birth, the Israelite Identity, the Holy Days, and, of course, the Saturday resurrection. This understanding is generally accepted by most in the Sacred Name movement, and finds increasing acceptance among groups continuing to develop in these rather restless but exciting times.

This is a brief history of the Saturday resurrection doctrine among Sabbath-keepers. I have made no attempt to trace its acceptance among those who do not observe the seventh-day Sabbath. As in all areas, there is a lot we do not know, and much more research needs to be done. But suffice it to say that the Saturday resurrection doctrine has found favor, not merely with those who see it as undermining any claim Sunday-keeping has, but also as a logical, Scriptural understanding of the "three days and three nights" Jesus Christ was to be in the grave.

— written by George Dellinger. Mr. Dellinger may be reached through the Sabbath Research Center, P.O. Box 565, Westfield, Indiana 46074.

Why the Sabbath is Important, Part 1
When Does Your Sabbath Begin?
Keeping the Sabbath in a Non-Sabbath World
The Sabbath and Ecology
How to Keep the Sabbath Holy
The Sabbath and Service
The Truth About Sabbath and Sunday
The Good News of the Sabbath
Sabbath Facts
Jubilee and the Sabbath Year
The Sabbath: A Divisive Issue?
Chronology of the Crucifixion and Resurrection According to Ancient Texts
A Look at The Pope’s Pastoral Letter, "Dies Domini"
Review: The Sabbath Under Crossfire
Sabbath Quiz

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Written by: Richard C. Nickels
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