Christians say Jesus was dead and buried for three days. But Friday night to Sunday morning is only a day and two nights. A tour operator trying to sell that package as ‘three days’ would be prosecuted. So what’s up with the Christians?
A case can be made for the Roman practice of inclusive numbering. They would have said our week was eight days, running from Sunday to Sunday. They based their own week on the public market day which was held every eighth day throughout the Roman Empire, and they therefore said the week was nine days. They were brilliant engineers, but not strong in pure mathematics.
However Roman numbering doesn’t deal with the issue of Biblical prophecy. Christians are at pains to say that Jesus was correct in all his prophecies. Here is the prophecy by Jesus that causes them to say he was buried for three days:
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)
Christians will wriggle and wriggle to claim that late Friday plus Saturday plus early Sunday equals three days, but there is no way they can find the necessary three nights.
Clearly, if Jesus was prophesying about himself, a Sunday morning resurrection fails to meet the criteria. He failed to stay under long enough.
Sorry, but the claim of accurate prophecy must be disallowed.
There are a couple possible explanations. One is the fact that “three days and three nights” was an idiomatic expression that meant in or on the third day according to the Jewish Talmud.
It is used in Scripture this way in other places. For example, Esther told Mordecai not eat or drink “for three days, night or day” and after that she would go to the king (Esther 4:16); and yet she went to the king on the third day (5:1).
Evidence for this is that the expression only occurs this way in the Gospel of Matthew, which was geared towards Hebrews. Every other instance in the Gospels, some even in Matthew, use the phrase “on the third day” (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22; Acts 10:40; 27:19), “in three days” (John 2:19,20), or simply “the third day” (Luke 18:33; 24:7,21,46).
Two instances record the phrase as “after three days” (Matt. 27:63; Mark 8:31), which doesn’t fit at all. However, the Greek word meta can also be understood to mean “within” as opposed to “after.” Had the rulers of the Jews understood Jesus to mean “after three days,” then they would have asked for a guard at the tomb until the fourth day. But the text clearly indicates their request was limited “until the third day” (Matt. 27:62-64).
Therefore, if the resurrection occurred on the third day, and part of Friday daylight is considered as the first day, Friday evening and Saturday is considered the second day, as the Hebrew reckoning of a day begins and ends at sunset, and then Sunday morning would be the third day.
However, not everyone believes this is necessary. This appears to be an unsatisfactory explanation that doesn’t answer other biblical problems.
In addition, the Scriptures don’t actually state that Jesus was buried on Friday; rather on the preparation day. “Friday” only comes from tradition, approximately a hundred years later. The day before any Sabbath, including midweek feast Sabbaths is a preparation day (Mark 15:42). If Thursday was the Passover, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread would have been on a Friday, making it a high holy day, or a midweek Sabbath (Exod. 12:15-16; see also Lev. 16:29-31 and 23:26-32 where the Day of Atonement is a Sabbath), which is corroborated by John’s Gospel (John 19:31). In fact, it is stated that the crucifixion occurred on “preparation day” (Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:31, John 19:42), “the day of the Preparation for the Passover” (John 19:14), and that the next day was “the day after the preparation day” (Matt. 27:62). This also fits with the fact that the priests had not yet eaten the Passover at the time of the crucifixion (John 18:28).
If the crucifixion occurred on Thursday, the idiom works much better: daylight Thursday is one day; Friday dark and then daylight (following the Hebrew reckoning for a day being evening and morning) is one night and another day, totaling two days; followed by Saturday dark and then daylight for yet another night and day, totaling two nights and three days; and finally Sunday dark, totaling three nights, while still being also technically on the third day, in the 24 hour sense of time.
Passover is observed on the fourteenth day of the first month, at twilight (Exod. 12:6, 18; Lev. 23:5; Num. 9:3), which is followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the fifteenth day of the month (Exod. 12:17; Lev. 23:6; Num. 28:7; 33:3). Most scholars agree that Christ was sacrificed on the day of the Passover, at the same time that the lambs were being slaughtered, which would therefore be the fourteenth. Similarly, most scholars believe that the day of the triumphal entry was the first day of the week, and that it fell on the tenth of the month, the same day that the Passover lambs were selected (Exod. 12:3). If indeed, this is accurate, then the fourteenth would certainly fall on Thursday, rather than Friday; and the resurrection would have taken place on Sunday the seventeenth. In addition, that the Greek word for Sabbath in Matthew 28:1 is actually the plural, sabbatōn; literally stating that the resurrection occurred “after the Sabbaths.”
It is significant that the seventeenth day of the first month is that it is the exact same day that Ark rested on Mount Ararat (Gen. 8:4; note that the seventh month was later changed to the first month in Exod. 12:2), and the Ark is said to be a type of Christ.
One additional bit of evidence comes from the four gospels. Each writer devoted most of their time detailing the events of the Passion Week. But if the crucifixion did occur on Friday, a day is missing.
Christian, thank you for a wonderfully comprehensive reply. You have pulled together a number of different areas of knowledge which are all valid in trying to pinpoint the historical details of Jesus’ crucifixion. Some of this and related matter I have consciously avoided in my blog so far (for example, discussion of the year of Jesus’ death) because I haven’t assimilated all the arguments.
This post is the first of probably three – I have a bigger picture in mind regarding this specific prophecy, and I hope you’ll comment further as I write the next posts.
Hello, Mr. Helweg. I actually did some pretty extensive research on the day and the year just last semester for a paper I wrote. I condensed it down just to answer your question. The whole reason I responded is because I saw someone link your article on a skeptics/atheist website. I look forward to your other posts.
IMO, the gist of the story is, ultimately and actually, what matters. Most of the details are most likely literary devices.
“Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day?”
– John 11:9