Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Jesus' "Three Days and Three Nights" in the Tomb: a Biblical Contradiction?

By Dave Armstrong (10-31-06)

Many people think that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Wednesday (or sometimes Thursday), in accord with the "three days and nights" of Jonah's stay in the fish's belly, or that it was not possible for Jesus to be crucified on a Friday. Orthodox Christianity has always held that Jesus was crucified and died on a Friday afternoon (hence, Good Friday), and rose from the dead in the very early morning on the following Sunday (hence the Christian day of worship and Easter Sunday). The reason for this is as follows:

"Three days and three nights" is simply Hebrew idiom. The phrase "one day and one night" meant a day, even when only a part of a day was indicated. We see this, e.g., in 1 Sam 30:12-13 (cf. Gen 42:17-18).

We know that Jesus was crucified on a Friday because Scripture tells us that the Sabbath (Saturday) as approaching (e.g., Mt 27:62, Mk 15:42, Lk 23:54, Jn 19:31 - the "day of preparation" is Friday, the day before the Sabbath: Saturday, and the Sabbath was considered to begin on sundown on Friday, as with Jews to this day).

We also know from the biblical data that the discovery of His Resurrection was on a Sunday (e.g., Mk 16:1-2-,9, Mt 28:1, Lk 24:1, Jn 20:1). And we know that "three days and three nights" (Mt 12:40) is synonymous in the Hebrew mind and the Bible with "after three days" ((Mk 8:31) and "on the third day" (Mt 16:21, 1 Cor 15:4). Most references to the Resurrection say that it happened on the third day. In John 2:19-22, Jesus said that He would be raised up in three days (not on the fourth day).

It would be like saying, "This is the third day I've been working on painting this room." I could have started painting late Friday and made this remark on early Sunday. If I complete the task on Sunday, then the chronology would be just as Jesus' Resurrection was. The only difference is the Hebrew idiom "three days and three nights" which was not intended in the hyper-literal sense as we might mistakenly interpret it today.


In fact, to say that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon (apart from the biblical difficulties of this assertion) will not solve this problem for those who wish to interpret hyper-literally without taking into account idiomatic and non-literal, non-"scientific" expression. The only way to get three literal 24-hour days would be for Jesus to rise at the same time He was crucified, and then (technically) He would be rising at the beginning of a fourth 24-hour day, whereas the Bible says this happened on the "third" day.

But He died at about 3 PM (Mt 27:46, Lk 23:44-46: "the ninth hour" is 3 PM, because it was figured by the Jews from 6 AM). So a literal "three 24-hour day" interpretation of a Wednesday crucifixion would have Jesus rising at Saturday at 3 PM, and a Thursday crucifixion would have a Sunday, 3 PM Resurrection (or the discovery of same, at any rate). The Bible, however, has the disciples discovering that the Lord had risen early on Sunday morning (Lk 23:56: they rested on the Sabbath; Lk 24:1: at "early dawn, they went to the tomb"); so early, in Mary Magdalene's case, that it was still dark (Jn 20:1).

The understanding of idiom explains all this. For both the ancient Jews (6 PM to 6 PM days) and Romans (who reckoned days from midnight to midnight), the way to refer to three separate 24-hour days (in whole or in part) was to say "days and nights." We speak similarly in English idiom - just without adding the "nights" part. For example, we will say that we are off for a long weekend vacation, of "three days of fun" (Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday). But it is understood that this is not three full 24-hour days. Chances are we will depart part way through the first day and return before the third day ends. So for a Saturday through Monday vacation, if we leave at 8 AM on Saturday and return at 10 PM on Monday night, literally that is less than three full days (it would be two 24-hour days and 14 more hours: ten short of three full days).

Yet we speak of a "three-day vacation" and that we returned "after three days" or "on the third day." A literal "three 24-hour day trip" would end at 8 AM on Tuesday. Such descriptions are understood, then, as non-literal. The ancient Jews and Romans simply added the clause "and nights" to such utterances, but understood them in the same way, as referring to any part of a whole 24-hour day.

Thus the "problem" or so-called "biblical contradiction" vanishes.


Barbie said...

Yep. Seems so obvious, but just an example how with a little help from a roaring lion, people can make mountains out of molehills and shipwreck themselves completely. Thank you very much for this simple and straightforward explanation, it came in handy several times today!

Dave Armstrong said...

You're very welcome, Barbie. A blessed Easter to you and yours . . .

duxrow said...

Passover is followed by 7 days of Unleavened Bread (includes two high sabbaths), and seems to me they would interfer with the Friday to Sunday solution.

Sándor Balog said...

Most probably, the ultimate solution to the issue of the 3 days and 3 nights is contained in my essay available at http://articles.faithwriters.com/reprint-article-details.php?article=16869 and www.magyarbattila.hu Essay. Please read (7836 words) and consider. Thanks.

Waleed Alenezi said...

A very weak argument based on self-interpretations. The three days and three nights means 3 days example is not solid. The three-day vacation example is not even relevant.

I agree that we would consider part of a night as a night, and part of a day as a day. But no one on earth would consider part of a day or part of a night as a full day.

As for the vacation part, Jesus didn't say I will be in the heart of the earth from Friday to Sunday, as your vacation example stated. If he said that, maybe we can accept it a fulfillment to his prophecy. Rather he said three days and three nights. Which means at least he has to be in earth for part of three days and three nights. When we analyse it, he was in the tomb Satuday NIGHT, Saturday DAY, and Sunday NIGHT, is that three and three?

Another thing Jesus said as Jonah was, so shall the son of man be. (Matthew 12:38-40) How was Jonah? Dead? Does dead people pray?

When Jesus came to the disciples in the upper room, and he told him that he is not a spirit, and that the spirit has not flesh and bones as he does, and asked them for food, and ate in front of them. (Luke 24:36-43) I'm asking what was he trying to emphasize? That he is resurrected? Does resurrected bodies need food?

Why did he pray for God to save him from being crucified. (Matthew 26:38-39)
Why did he cry on the cross Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani? Which is my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)

Why did he say the following?
“I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” (John 14:31)
“My father is greater than I” (John 14:28)

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:21-23)

#‎JesusChrist‬: "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me." (John 11:41-42)
He was crying to God (Loudly) because of the people beside him. Because if he didn't pray loudly, then they would think that he did it himself.

#Peter: "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:" (Acts 2:22-23)

"...All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." (Matthew 28:18)

"I can of mine own self do nothing" (John 5:30)