Friday, November 9, 2007


Often around Easter questions will arise in the minds of those celebrating the anniversary of Christ's death and resurrection. Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead "on the third day" or "after three days" according to the New Testament? Did He eat the Passover meal or was the Last Supper held before Passover? On what day of the week was the Crucifixion of Jesus? All of these questions, and others as well, are related to the issue at hand.

Statements of the Time Factor
Twenty-one passages in the New Testament deal with the amount of time between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel writers employed four different phrases to express this interval of time:

1) “on the third day” as in Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, and 27:64; Luke 9:22, 18:33, 24:7, 24:21, and 24:46; Acts 10:40; and 1 Corinthians 15:4.

2) “in three days” (with en or diá) as in Mt. 26:61 and 27: 40; Mk. 14:58 and 15:29; and Jn. 2:19-20.

3) “after three days” (with metá) as in Mt. 27:63; and Mk. 8:31, 9:31, and 10:34.

4) “three days and three nights” as in Mt 12:40.

The formula occurring in the New Testament most frequently indicates clearly that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day ("on the third day" or "in three days" as in numbers 1-2 above). Sixteen of the twenty-one passages contain this formula pointing to the traditional understanding of Jesus' crucifixion occurring on Friday of Passion week. However, due to the phrases "after three days" and "three days and three nights" (listed above, numbers 3-4), some have argued that the crucifixion should be placed earlier in the week.

Matthew, Mark and Meta
Of the twenty-one passages in the New Testament that deal with the time factor between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, four of them use the Greek preposition metá with the accusative which is normally translated "after three days" (see above: 3 under "Statements of the Time Factor"). In Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, there is an interesting entry under metá with the accusative:

metá (with the accusative) . . . Mt 27:63; Mk 8:31; 10:34; Lk 2:46; cf. Mt 26:2; Mk 14:1 (cf. Caesar, Bell. Gall. 4,9,1 post tertiam diem=on the third day).[1]
The equivalent in Latin of the Greek phrase normally translated "after three days" (metá with the accusative) was post tertiam diem. While Mark uses metá with the accusative in 8:31; 9:31; and 10: 34 in reference to the time factor between the crucifixion and the resurrection, the only other place that it is so used is in Matthew 27:63. Since the traditional audience of Mark's Gospel was Roman and the audience in Matthew 27:63 was Pilate, the above reference to the Latin phrase from a time very near that of the New Testament should be seriously considered.

In D'ooge and Eastman's treatment of the Gallic Wars they gave both a note and a grammatical explanation for understanding this prepositional phrase. In the note to the passage, they wrote:
"108 6 [line] Chap. 9. post diem tertium: i.e. the next day but one. The first and last days are usually included in the Roman reckoning (227.g)."
In their note they referred to 227.g in their grammatical section that treated this phenomenon with Latin dates:
227.g The dates intervening between any two points were counted as so many days before the second point. The Romans, however, in reckoning a series, counted both extremes; for example, the eleventh day of April was
counted as the third day before the Ides (that is, the thirteenth), the tenth of April as the fourth day before the Ides.

The example of the eleventh day of April being counted as the third day before the thirteenth harmonizes beautifully with the traditional day of the crucifixion (crucifixion on Friday). The above was not always considered when translating Latin, much less when considering Greek equivalents of Latin thought concerning time.

Though he does not allow that this was the usage in New Testament times, according to A. T. Robertson, the use of metá with the accusative should yield "into the midst" or "among."[2] However, this classic, root idea behind metá helps to make sense out of Matthew 27:62-64. Had the rulers of the Jews understood Jesus to mean “after three days,” then they would have asked for a guard until the fourth day. But the text clearly indicates their request was limited “until the third day.”

Instead of the later Greek idea of metá meaning “after,” the context clearly calls for understanding the earlier idea of “within” behind the use of the proposition. Since the traditional audience of Mark's Gospel was Roman and the audience in Matthew 27:63 was Pilate (a Roman), it seems that the Gospel writers were using metá for a Roman audience whose first language was Latin knowing that they would equate the usage to Latin "post diem tertium."

The Sign of Jonah
The “three days and three nights” statement by Jesus in Matthew twelve is a quotation from the book of Jonah. Some interpret this to mean that Jesus was in the tomb a full seventy-two hours. Not only is this untenable due to the many references that emphasize the truth that Jesus rose on the third day, it is also impossible considering the simple understanding of the prophecy of the preservation of Jesus’ body from decay (cf. Acts 2:27 and John 11:39).

The Jewish Talmud held that “any part of a day is as the whole.”[3] The Old Testament, in parallel or similar Hebrew usage, clearly presents the teaching that "part of a day" is to be looked upon as comprising the whole of that day [cf.. Gen. 40:13, 20; I Sam. 30:12, 13; II Chron. 10:5, 12; Esther 4:16 and 5:1]. Hence the Friday of Passion week began, according to Jewish reckoning, on Thursday at sunset (see Gen. 1:5, the first day began in the evening). So, day one consisted of Thursday night and Friday during the daylight hours. Day two was Friday from sunset until and Saturday at sunset. Day three began as the sun set on the Sabbath.

In Matthew 12, Jesus said “as Jonah was… so will I be….” In Greek the use of the verb “to be” was not required; but in this passage Jesus’ emphasis is clear by its presence in both places. Jesus said, "as Jonah was" using the imperfect form of the verb "to be." For those considering the chronology of Passion week, the focus is generally upon the statement of time. Yet, since the phrase relating the amount of time here differs from the other six mentions of it in Matthew, the actual emphasis here appears to be upon the state of Jonah in the great fish and the state of Jesus in the tomb.

Most Christians learn from an early age that Jonah was preserved in the great fish by a miracle of God; and they understand the language of Jonah’s second chapter as figurative with regard to death. Rare, “urban legend,” type examples of men swallowed by sharks or other large fish are drawn upon from far and wide to prove the possibility of such. While nothing is impossible for God, was Jesus alive in the tomb?

The followers of Islam are quick to pick up on this widespread, Christian approach to the book of Jonah (stressing Jonah's preservation) to argue for the “Swoon Theory.”[4] In a debate between Ahmed Deedat and Josh McDowell in South Africa, Mr. Deedat called out to his followers in the crowd about Jonah's state in the whale and they answered, "Alive!" Then he asked about Jesus' state in the tomb, and they again responded, "Alive!"[5]

Jonah 2 indicates that Jonah cried out the name of the Lord as he lost consciousness in the fish (Jonah 2:7). A greater miracle than preservation is taught by way of the “sign of Jonah.” Resurrection was the debate of Jesus’ time. Even the language of resurrection is used by God in Jonah 3:1-2 (compare the Hebrew command “Cum…”--“Arise” with Jesus’ words when he raised the little girl in Mark 5:41). Ultimately only two people knew the state of Jonah in the belly of the great fish: Jonah and God. Jesus, who is God incarnate, knew the state of Jonah during his ordeal in the fish.

While some might balk at the possibility of Jonah actually having been raised from the dead by God on the shore, his would not have been the first resurrection in the Old Testament. The miracles of resurrection that God wrought in the days of Elijah and Elisha would predate the resurrection of Jonah. While some prefer to consider the text of Jonah presenting a miracle of preservation and merely figurative language referring to a death-like state, the mystery of the state of Jonah in the great fish is merely hinted at in the poetry of Jonah's second chapter. The "sign of Jonah" alluded to in Matthew 12 pointed literally to Jesus' death and resurrection.

According to this reckoning, Jesus arrived at Bethany on Friday before sunset, six days before the Passover (John 12:1), which was Nisan 8, in keeping with the Jewish custom of arriving in the vicinity of Jerusalem six days before the feast.[6] He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Nisan 10 (cf. Exodus 12:3) as many lambs were being set apart for inspection at Jerusalem. The disciples came to Jesus and inquired where they should prepare to celebrate the Passover together on Thursday, Nisan 14, the day when the feast lambs must be slain (see Mt. 26:17; Mk. 14:12; and Lk. 22:7-8). Jesus was crucified on Friday, Nisan 15, the anniversary of their freedom from Egypt, at the time the Law of Moses called for sacrifice and solemn assembly (See Exo. 23:14-15; Lev. 23:5-8; Num. 28:16-25; and Deut. 16:1-8).

Jesus arose on Sunday, Nisan 17, the anniversary of the ark of Noah coming to rest (cf. Gen. 8:4 and Exo. 12:1-2). Peter used the Ark of Noah as a type of Christ (1 Peter 3:20). The Ark kept those eight passengers safe "through" the waters of death. The Ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat many centuries before Jesus' resurrection. However, Genesis 8:4 says that it came to rest in the seventh month, the seventeenth day of the month. The seventh month of Genesis is the first month of Exodus 12.

The Synoptics and John’s Gospel
Jesus ate the Passover not at an earlier time than the Law stipulated, but at the only time the Law allowed. Matthew and Mark recorded the initiative of the disciples to come to Jesus. Their initiative demonstrated that Jesus did not eat the Passover early. Luke's version does not explicitly replace the disciples' initiative with Jesus' initiative; instead, he recorded the names of the two that Jesus sent to make preparations. The Greek construction with "must" that Luke added is noteworthy. This was the day when the feast lambs "must" be slain. Since the Exodus, this day had been the close of Nisan 14. The lambs for the memorial supper were slain just before evening when the fifteenth of Nisan began.

Jesus was crucified, therefore, on Friday morning, Nisan 15. Though the Synoptics give clear testimony to this, John's Gospel has been interpreted by some to indicate that the crucifixion occurred on Nisan 14. John used the term “Passover” several ways to indicate either: 1) the Passover meal, 2) the feast lamb itself, or 3) the “Feast of Unleavened Bread.” This varied usage is the source of the confusion (See John 13:1; 18:28; and 19:14).[7]

Sixteen of the twenty-one statements that mention the time factor between the death and resurrection of Jesus pointed to His resurrection on "the third day" (see above: 1-2 under "Statements of the Time Factor"). Three of the statements (normally translated as "after three days") should be understood in light of the traditional, Roman audience of Mark's Gospel with one like this kind occuring in Matthew's Gospel when a Roman audience is obvious in the context of the passage (see above: 3 under "Statements of the Time Factor"). An accurate translation for these phrases would be "within three days." All four of these passages (listed under 3 above) indicated the same interval of time expressed through the other phrases, namely, on the third day or within three days. The fourth phrase used to express the time factor between the death and resurrection of Jesus (see above: 4 under "Statements of the Time Factor") was cited as a quotation from the book of Jonah and was an idiom understood by the ancient audience in line with the other phrases. Thus, the New Testament is consistent when it comes to the expression of the amount of time that elapsed between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.


[1]William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A Translation and Adaptation of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer's "Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neun Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur," 2d ed. revised by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), s.v."meta" [p. 510 B. II].
[2]A[rchibald] T[homas] Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed. (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), 609-12."With the Accusative. At first it seems to present more difficulty. But the accusative-idea added to the root-idea ("midst") with verbs of motion would mean "into the midst" or "among." But this idiom does not appear in the N.T." p. 612.
[3] Nazir 5b.
[4] The “Swoon Theory,” which is popular among modern Muslim apologists, is the theory that Jesus did not actually die on the cross, but swooned and awakened in the tomb.
[5] Josh McDowell and John Gilchrist, The Islam Debate (San Bernadino, CA: Here’s Life, 1983), p. 153.
[6] J. B. Segal, The Hebrew Passover: From the Earliest Times to A.D. 70 (London: Oxford, 1963), 256.
[7] A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christ (Chicago: W. P. Blessing, 1922), 283.