Sunday, 23 March 2008

How many days in the tomb?

The traditional understanding is that Jesus was crucified on the Friday and rose on the Sunday. Based on Jesus statement of 3 days and 3 nights some have argued that Jesus was dead for 72 hours, dying Wednesday at sundown and rising Saturday at sundown (which would be at the end of the Sabbath).

Clarity is needed on how days are recorded. Jews at the time of Jesus counted days from sundown to sundown, so at dusk on a Friday the next day would begin, being their Sabbath. The West follows a midnight to midnight reckoning of days with midnight being the mid point between 2 noons and noon being when the sun is at its zenith (though there are some modifications to this).

The points to resolve are:
  • Day of crucifixion
  • Sabbath day and any intervening days
  • Day of resurrection
  • Number of days in the tomb
I would like to tackle the days in reverse order. In general I will not be quoting Scriptures already mentioned in the previous few posts.

Day of resurrection

There is little room for movement here. Several passages clearly state the Jesus rose on the 1st day of the week. This occurred before dawn as the women arrived at the tomb before dawn and Jesus had already risen. Jesus could have risen any time from the end of the Sabbath at dusk the previous evening till near dawn. We are not told exactly when (I favour early in the morning) but there is no disagreement between the schools of thought on the specific day here.


The day before the 1st day of the week must be the 7th. This is the Sabbath day. At least some of the verses discussing the Sabbath are referring to the normal weekly Sabbath as they specify that it came prior to the 1st day.
  • Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the 1st day of the week,... (Mat 28:1)
  • When the Sabbath was past,... very early on the 1st day of the week,... (Mar 16:1-2)
  • On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the 1st day of the week, at early dawn,... (Luk 23:56-24:1)
The only way further days can be included is if there are more "Sabbaths" prior to the 7th day. Chuck Missler argues for this in an article titled, The Day of Debt. He claims that the Jews had other "Sabbaths" including the 1st day of Unleavened Bread which was to start on Nisan 15. The references he gives for this argument are Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:5-7 and Numbers 28:17. These verses are discussing regulations for the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread but none of them actually say that the 1st day of Unleavened Bread is a "Sabbath." Further, the feast was to last 7 days so any "Sabbath" would likely be at the end of the 7 days not the beginning.

What further complicates matters is that there is disagreement over whether the last supper occurred on the Passover or the day before the Passover. The synoptic gospels state that the day of the last supper was the 1st day of Unleavened Bread. I am uncertain what exactly this implies but it suggests that the crucifixion was on the 2nd day of Unleavened Bread, and further that the customs of the Jews in the 1st century may have not occurred exactly as prescribed in the Law of Moses. Whatever the solution to this is, it means that even one argues that the 1st day of Unleavened Bread was a "Sabbath," this "Sabbath" was over before the crucifixion.

The other argument put forward for 2 "Sabbaths" that week is that Matthew 28:1 (see above) should be translated:
Now after the Sabbaths,...
That is, in the plural. I cannot adequately comment on this not being conversant in Greek. None of the English translations do this (though this does not disprove the argument). The word "Sabbath" in Matthew 28 is σαββατων and it appears in this form for both the word "Sabbath" and the word "week" later in the verse, to wit, "the 1st day of the week." The parallel passages in Mark and Luke use the forms σαββατου and σαββατον. Those versed in Greek can enlighten me but I suspect there is nothing in this.

John mentions that this Sabbath was a high day. By this I think it is likely that he means it occurs during a festival.

Day of crucifixion

All 4 gospels confirm that Jesus was crucified on the day of Preparation; mentioned once in each of the Synoptics and 3 times in John. They all state that the day of Preparation was immediately prior to the Sabbath; Luke informing us that Sabbath was in fact beginning near the time Jesus was laid in the tomb. John adds that the request for breaking the legs was to ensure the death of the men so their bodies could be got down before the Sabbath commenced.

Thus the day of Preparation, if we are correct about there being only 1 Sabbath, must be the 6th day of the week—Friday.

What are we to make of John's comment?
Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. (Joh 19:14)
John mentions the day of Preparation 3 times and connects this with the Passover specifically in this verse. This had led to disagreement over the date Jesus was crucified, some claiming this day was lead up to the Passover and others the day previous with the Passover corresponding to the Last Supper (John 18:28 is also relevant here). Without resolving this issue, I will put forward my provisional thoughts.

Does the day of Preparation mean the 6th day every week? Is it when they prepared for the Sabbath? as they were not allowed to work on the Sabbath.

While there could be be preparation for the Passover, the words do not necessarily imply this. If "day of Preparation" was the name of the day, albeit a very descriptive one, then genitive case could just mean the day that occurred during that festival. Consider if we translated it:
Now it was the Passover's Day-of-Preparation
In English we say Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The adjectives describing the days refer to the holiday. Friday and Sunday are not days that happen at Easter, they happen every week; the same may be true of the day of Preparation.

Number of days in the tomb

There are multiple mentions of the number 3 and the adjective 3rd as documented in previous posts. This could mean that there were 3 days from the crucifixion then on that 3rd day, or after the end of that 3rd day Jesus would rise. One cannot say which is intended for several of the passages and if we had them alone we would be less certain.

The additional information as detailed above would suggest that an inclusive rendering is what is meant.

But several of the passages specifying 3 days show that these were to be counted inclusively.

Several times Jesus says that he will rise on the 3rd day. After the resurrection Jesus reminds people that he was to rise on the 3rd day, the angel says the same to the women at the tomb. And Peter and Paul both say Jesus rose on the 3rd day. On the road to Emmaus the 2 disciples tell Jesus that this is the 3rd day since this happened. Jesus had already risen but they were still within the 3rd day.

Further evidence that "after 3 days" can be equated with on the "3rd day" in the minds of 1st century Judaism is seen in the Pharisees' request to Pilate:
"Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After 3 days I will rise.' Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the 3rd day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first." (Mat 27:63-64)
Though they mention after 3 days, in their minds they only needed to place the guard until the 3rd day, not thru that day until the 4th day.

Thus the information we have considered so far consistently points to a Friday crucifixion and a pre-dawn Sunday resurrection; and that the 3 days were to be counted inclusively. Now onto the Jonah analogy.

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