Pop quiz: How many days was Jesus in the tomb?

a) One and a half

b) Two

c) Three or

d) This is a trick question so I will first read the article and then decide.

Your average “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” contestant would pick “three days final answer” without blinking. Everyone knows Jesus rose on the third day. But that’s not the question. How many days was he actually in the grave? The answer is one and a half days. Or three, depending on if you are a modern Swiss watchmaker or a 1st century Jewish gospel writer.

Put on your Swiss horologist cap for a moment: Jesus died on Good Friday at about 3pm (see Luke 23:44, which calls the time of death at the ninth hour after sunrise). Joseph of Arimathea lays him in the tomb before sundown, and the women interrupt their plans to embalm the body because the Sabbath begins at dusk on Friday. These ladies arrive at the empty tomb at the crack of dawn on Easter Sunday. So that makes for about thirty-six hours or so that Jesus was in the tomb.

An echt Swiss engineer would balk at guesstimating, but if you and I were to round “thirty-six or so hours” off to how many days, we’d probably settle for “a day and a half” or at most “two days.” Right?

Now, let’s say our watchmaker has his quiet time in Matthew 12 before bedtime. He wouldn’t have a good night’s rest after reading Jesus predict, “For just 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”(Matt 12:40).

Let’s just fess up: Jesus was not in the tomb three days and three nights. So what gives?

Now take off your engineer’s cap and put on your yarmulke. If you were a 1st century Jew and heard someone utter the phrase “three days and three nights” you would never expect precisely seventy-two hours. Remember that you would have no convenient, wrist-mounted method of measuring hours after sunset anyway.

The correct way to interpret Scripture is to employ the historical-grammatical hermeneutic. That just means we interpret the Bible by understanding the language the Bible writers used in their own historical context.

Two thousand years from now sociologists will examine flat screen relics from the 21st century and will ponder why people all over the Western world referred to Saturday and Sunday collectively as “the weekend.” Sunday is not at the end of the week, but the beginning. Odd. Those scrutineers will be similarly perplexed by our celebration of a “birthday.” It’s not the day of your birth you celebrate, but the date, irrespective of the day. And yet, to us users of our daily patois, these idioms are so natural that we don’t even register them as linguistically inept.

My wife and I still stumble over the phrase “next Wednesday.” To a South African next Wednesday means, not this coming Wednesday (or I would have said this Wednesday, honey), but the following one. To my American wife, next means next, and two days from now is the next Wednesday.

My point is that we ought not hold Jesus and his contemporaries to a 21st century vernacular standard.

In those days, in that culture, it was common practice to use “three days and three nights” as argot referring to any period longer than two days and shorter than four. Let me prove it to you…

In Esther 4:16 the erstwhile debutant tells Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do.” But then in 5:1 we are told On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, … And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king.” [She ate the feast with them (vs 6)]. Esther’s timetable was not a contradiction of her commitment to fast for three days and three nights because Jews consider any part of the day to count as a duration known as a “day and night.”

I hope this was helpful; I spent a day and a night working on it.

#### Clint Archer

Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
• Dave

Thanks Clint. I appreciate your reference to Esther as a means of showing similar language usage within the Bible.

• Junebug

Thank you for posting and for your desire to teach and edify. One question, please: Would this not have great implications for the Genesis account of creation?

• I don’t think so. In that account the language is much more specific: “it was morning, and it was evening, the first day.” That is never used in Hebrew as idiomatic for anything other than what it says. And on the 7th day God rested, which became a model for the sabbath rest on the 7th day, which was observed literally, not figuratively. A better parallel idiom is “forty days and forty nights” referring to any period longer than a month.

• Dan Freeman

And even (for the sake of argument) if it did have this idiomatic usage in Genesis, we are still left with a time period between 6 days and 8 days, so the result is the same with respect to theistic evolution, progressive creationism, etc.

• Jane McCrory Hildebrand

Can anyone explain what was meant by Hosea 6:2 which says, “After two days he will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live in his presence?”

• Jason

According to the Asbury Bible Commentary “two days… third day’ is a Semitic idiom for the future”

• Right. The near future, as opposed to the distant future.

• Pass.

• rhutchin

Perhaps, it is a trick question. Jesus said that He would be in the “heart of the earth” for three days and three nights. As Jesus was prone to speak in parables, we might wonder if he used “heart of the earth” to mean something much broader than the tomb. He did say that He would rise the third day which does not require full days so Fri, Sat, Sun works.

As to Esther. Mordecai put on sackcloth and presumably sat at the palace gate during daylight hours. Esther commands a fast for three days – night and day – a day beginning at evening or night. The third day, Esther prepares for the meal which could then be eaten in the evening, the beginning of the fourth day. Haman does report to his family, “And [Queen Esther] has invited me along with the king tomorrow.” So, perhaps even later depending on what “tomorrow” meant.

• Remember that they considered the next day beginning at sundown, not sunrise. I.e. Friday evening, for example, is the Sabbath (see Luke 23).

• Clyde Herrin

You compared how a modern Swiss watchmaker or a 1st century Jew measures time. What about how God himself measures time?

The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.
(Exodus 12:40-41 ESV)

We would consider them time spent in Egypt to be 430 years if the exodus had taken place any day during the 430th year but it was 430 years to the very day. Isn’t it reasonable to suppose that when Jesus spoke of 3 days and 3 nights he meant exactly that? The real answer to the problem is that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, not on Friday. The Sabbath the day after the crucifixion wasn’t the weekly Sabbath on Saturday but the first day of Unleavened Bread.

• I am aware of that theory, but in my opinion it doesn’t do justice to the phrase “will rise on the third day.” If Jesus died on a Wednesday, then the third day would be Friday, not Sunday. But Jesus rose on the “first day of the week” which was the third day. So He must have died on Friday.

• Beth H

In Matthew 12, Christ’s own words clearly state ” For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
This article is not an issue of interpretation, but rather a contrivance in order to make the Word of God line up with human thinking. Christ was crucified on Wednesday and was resurrected precisely at the end of three full days and three full nights, just as had been prophesied.

• James Coates

Hi Beth – if that were true, wouldn’t that mean that Christ was raised on the 4th day?

• Beth H

No, he would have actually risen from the grave on Saturday evening, the beginning of Sabbath, making 3 full days and 3 full nights. He was discovered as risen more toward early morning hours.

• James Coates

Hi Beth – I’m not sure I’m quite tracking with you and want to make sure I understand what you’re saying. I may be having a complete brain cramp here. Two questions: 1) Wouldn’t the Sabbath have begun on Friday evening (and included Saturday during the day)? 2) Wouldn’t Saturday evening be the beginning of the 4th day (i.e. Wednesday evening, Thursday evening, Friday evening, Saturday evening)? Thank you for bearing with me.

• John K

Doesn’t the fact that “on that very day” is said imply that other times when time periods are mentioned, they are not that exact in writings from that timeframe? Not to mention the fact that 430 years is not a precise numerical match to what God told Abraham in Genesis 15. God said that the period of slavery would be “four hundred years.” 430

• JohnBrian

“To a South African next Wednesday means, not this coming Wednesday (or I would have said this Wednesday, honey), but the following one. To my American wife, next means next, and two days from now is the next Wednesday.”

I have the same problem as you, as I grew up in an English country!

• Blooming Daniel Webster!

• Ben

See, I’m an American and next Wednesday means 9 days from now. Wednesday means two days from now. So….

• Ben

Sorry, can’t edit. After consulting with my also American wife we’ve concluded that as long as it’s this week it can’t be next Wednesday. On Monday next Saturday must be 12ish days away. But on Saturday, next Monday can be 2 days away. Sorry, we’re linguists and this was fun.

• Truth Unites… and Divides

“The correct way to interpret Scripture is to employ the historical-grammatical hermeneutic. That just means we interpret the Bible by understanding the language the Bible writers used in their own historical context.”

Hi Clint, since this is the point of the post can you list the competing hermeneutics to the historical-grammatical hermeneutic which you say is the correct way?
For example, I’ve heard of historical criticism, but are there any other types of hermeneutics that compete with historical-grammatical?

• There are lots of wrong ways to interpret Scripture that are mystical, allegorical, Postmodern, out-of-context, like Liberation theology (see Malcolm X study Bible!), Barthian liberalism (it means what it means to you), reader-response, deconstructionism, structuralism, Feminism etc. The list is endless and easily refuted by asking the Professor who teaches the class which method he/she uses to grade the exam essays!

• Clint,

• My pleasure, brother.

• tovlogos

Nice, Clint.

There is a Rabbi, (can’t remember his name) currently on many U-tube channels challenging every theologian he can find on little details, he sees as discrepancies, such as genealogical differences in the gospels, for example. For him, what it comes down to is throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water — when you compare little ostensible misunderstandings with the heavily layered, infinite Scriptures. Yet I never hear any Rabbi comment on the mistranslation (not that they didn’t understand the passage) in Genesis 4:1, and 4:2, which is actually a Messianic forecast. Thanks.

PS, “Yarmulke,” I believe is Yiddish, with a different root; and “Kippah” is Hebrew.

• I take my hat off to you for knowing that!

• tovlogos

HaHa – thanks, Clint.

• downwitk

This manuscript is from a sermon preached on 5/29/1994 by Stephen Davey.

Good Thursday?!

Now, notice that John has made specific mention of the days in this chapter. Chapter 12, verse 1, begins with,

Jesus, therefore, six days before the

Passover, came to Bethany . . .

And, verse 12, of chapter 12, says,

On the next day the great multitude who had

come to the feast, when they heard that

Jesus was coming to Jerusalem

Now, just when did this happen? When did Jesus

arrive in Jerusalem and when did the crucifixion to

come take place?

For reasons I will show in a moment, I want to

deal with the problem of chronology today. I am sure

you are excited!

I, myself, have to admit to you that chronology

has never been an interest of mine. Yet, as I studied

for this sermon, I was already troubled with a very

simple question. It was a question raised from

Matthew’s account of this passion week, as it related

to Jesus’ death and entombment. Look at Matthew,

chapter 12, verse 40.

for just as Jonah was three days and three

nights in the belly of the sea monster, so

shall the Son of Man be three days and three

nights in the heart of the earth.

The question is this, “How could Jesus have been

crucified on Friday and then, rise again just before

dawn on Sunday?”

Now, I know that Jews would claim that a portion

of a day or night would, in their writings, be

considered a whole day and a whole night. I have no

problem with that.

The problem lies in Matthew’s declaration that

Jesus would be in the tomb not only three days, but

three nights! If Christ were crucified on Friday

afternoon, then that leaves us with Friday night and

Saturday night, and not even the slightest sliver of a

third night anywhere, no matter how you slice it!

What I uncovered, in my study, is a series of

debates and arguments. There are good scholarly men

arguing with one another. I found, at least, four

different chronologies listed.

One scholar I respect, by the name of Frederick

Godet, actually moved the resurrection ahead one day

to Monday, in order for there to be at least three days

and three nights.

Another popular answer, by men I respect, is that

we must not take Jesus literally. Many times, days

and nights are merely portions of one or the other.3

I do agree that this issue is of relatively small

importance. What is important is the fact that Jesus

died on the cross and He rose again.

So, what is the answer? I am going to provide a

chronology that, I believe, is correct for one primary

reason. It has to do with one advantage that, I believe,

is beautiful enough to spend time explaining

chronology to an audience filled with people who may

be a lot like me – somewhat uninterested. Stay with

me, because I think you will be fascinated by the

conclusion I will draw later.

There are three key passages to deal with.

• The first passage, Mark, chapter 15, verses

42 and 43, is the passage upon which the

traditional church view takes its stand.

because it was the preparation day, that is,

the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of

Arimathea came, a prominent member of the

Council, . . . and asked for the body of Jesus.

The traditional view rests firmly upon the biblical

statement that Jesus was crucified on the day before

the Sabbath. And, what day is the Sabbath?

Saturday.

Now, here is a point that is often overlooked – it

is the simple fact that, during the Passover

celebration, there were two Sabbaths.

According to Leviticus, chapter 23, there was to

be a “high Sabbath” observed during the week of the

Passover celebration. The Jews were to rest on that

day, just as they would rest on a normal Saturday

Sabbath. Is it possible that this particular year, the

Passover Sabbath was on Friday? This would make it

possible that Mark was referring to the high Passover

Sabbath, not the normal Saturday Sabbath.

The answer is, “Yes,” and two scripture verses

prove this point.

• The first scripture is Matthew, chapter 28,

verses 1 and 2.

Now after the Sabbath[s], as it began to

dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary

Magdalene and the other Mary came to look

at the grave. And behold, a severe

earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the

Lord descended from heaven and came and

rolled away the stone and sat upon it.

The plural “sabbaths,” or “Sabbata” in the Greek,

has been a puzzle to many commentators and

translators who usually change it to the singular,

“sabbath,” or “Sabbaton”. However, there is no

problem if the high Passover Sabbath and the normal

Sabbath, on this particular year, were Friday and

Saturday. Therefore, these women were not allowed

to anoint the body of Jesus until after the Sabbath

period, which was two days in a row.

• The next clue is even more conclusive. Look

at John’s gospel, chapter 19, verses 30

through 33.

wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He

bowed His head, and gave up His spirit. The

Jews therefore, because it was the day of

preparation, so that the bodies should not

remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that

Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that

their legs might be broken, and that they

might be taken away. The soldiers therefore

came, and broke the legs of the first man,

and of the other man who was crucified with

Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw

His legs.

Did you catch that? The leaders wanted Jesus and

the others buried because that evening, they were

going to prepare for the Sabbath. And bless John’s

heart, he is the only gospel writer who lets us in on an

incredible fact – the next day was not the normal

Saturday Sabbath – it was the high Sabbath.

So, this is the chronology that, I believe, actually

took place. By the way, this is not unique with me.

There are several careful exegetes who have been

instrumental in convincing me.

Now the question you are all asking is, “What

difference does it make?”

So we are celebrating on Friday what we should

celebrate on Thursday. Do I want to change good

Friday to good Thursday?

No – no more than I want to change the twenty

fifth of December. The important point is that we

celebrate His crucifixion and resurrection.

I have spent this time so that I can give you the

correct context for what happened in John, chapter 12,

verses 12 and 13. And what an incredibly beautiful

context it is!

First, however, let us look at one more passage –

a passage that spelled out the instruction for the

original Passover. Perhaps you remember the story 4

surrounding the very first Passover, in the book of

Exodus, chapter 12. The death angel was coming.

Everyone who wanted to have their firstborn son live

had to select a lamb, kill it, and put blood on their

doorpost. Wherever there was blood, the death angel

would pass over that home – thus the word

“Passover”.

Moses told them to choose their Passover lamb on

the tenth day of Nisan. They were to keep it until the

fourteenth day and then kill it in the evening.

Let me show you. Look at Exodus, chapter 12,

verses 3 and 5 through 6.

Speak to all the congregation of Israel,

saying, “On the tenth day of this month they

are to each one take a lamb for themselves,

according to their father’s households, a

lamb for each household. . . . Your lamb

shall be an unblemished male a year old; . . .

And you shall keep it until the fourteenth

day of the same month, then the whole

assembly of the congregation of Israel is to

kill it at twilight.”

Over the course of generations, the Jewish leaders

instructed the people to carefully follow Moses’

guidelines during that very first Passover. So, up to

Jesus’ day, on the tenth of Nisan, which, this year, fell

their Passover lambs with them.

Josephus informs us that a census was taken of

the lambs slain at a first century Passover Feast. The

number of lambs was 256,000. If one lamb served a

family of no more than ten, then there were nearly

three million people who had flocked into Jerusalem

for this Passover celebration.

According to this chronology of events, in Nisan,

or April:

• Sunday the tenth – Passover lambs are

brought to Jerusalem – Jesus arrives;

• Thursday the fourteenth – the lambs are killed

– Jesus is crucified;

• Friday the fifteenth – the nation rests in its

redemption – the penalty for sin is paid.

What is happening on Thursday, the day before

the high Sabbath? Jesus Christ is hanging on a cross!

The Lamb of God is paying the penalty for the sin of

the whole world. At the same time, the Jews are

killing their lambs in memory of their redemption in

Egypt. Jesus is the final Passover Lamb – they just

did not see the connection.

On Friday the fifteenth, the nation rested on its

high Sabbath. It was a rest that commemorated its

redemption. And Christ in the tomb, signaled the

payment for sin was paid – mankind could forever rest

in their Redeemer!

Notice now, however, the Sunday prior to all of

this, the Jews are herding thousands of lambs into the

city. And who is in the middle of it all? Jesus is! And

He is surrounded by Passover lambs that would die in

memory of Israel’s past redemption.

“The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the

world” is riding into Jerusalem. Can you imagine the

picture? He, the ultimate sacrifice, the heavenly

Lamb, surrounded by thousands of sacrificial lambs.

What a picture. Down to the last detail, God’s

plan of redemption is a beautiful story.

Now remember, we have the whole story, but this

was not so with the somewhat confused disciples. It

would not be until later that they would put the

prophetic and symbolic picture together. Notice John,

chapter 12, verses 16 through 18.

These things His disciples did not

understand at the first; but when Jesus was

glorified, then they remembered that these

things were written of Him, and that they

had done these things to Him. And so the

multitude who were with Him when He

called Lazarus out of the tomb, and raised

him from the dead, were bearing Him

witness. For this cause also the multitude

went and met Him, because they heard that

In other words, the news is out – Lazarus

remains, as we have previously studied the chief

miracle that undeniably reveals Christ’s authentic

claim to be God….

• Grace

I have always understood it that it is 3 days in the Hebrew sense. The Jewish day began at sundown, unlike ours. The Sabbath began the evening before and went to the next sundown. Jesus dying on the Cross on Friday afternoon would make day one. Day two is the Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown. Day three is Saturday night until the next sundown. Sunday morning is the third day. The Genesis wording, there was evening, there was morning, reveals this thinking. If you have been to Israel you still see this practiced. The Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and then by evening on Saturday everyone is out and about again.

• Joel

Good article and we’ll done for the defence of the gospel accounts, but I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on this conclusion. I had thought the same for years, that Friday, Saturday, Sunday counts as three days even if it only a few minutes of each day, but it always niggled at me about the credibility of that claim, especially when everyone fights over Genesis having 6 literal days. However, there were actually two Sabbaths in the Crucifixion week, because the pesach is classed as a high sabbath. So the timeline can be illustrated like this: http://www.ucg.org/files/booklets/chronology-jesus-christ-death-burial-resurrection.jpg and thus you don’t need to stretch Jesus’ words to make the Bible true. Hope this helps.

• Ben Thorp

I was about to reply with something similar – I read an article about it earlier in the year (probably around Easter 😉 ) although I couldn’t find the URL

• BB

I’m not clear on this myself, but it does look to me like the extra Passover sabbath throws a monkey wrench into the Good Friday tradition. We can’t have Jews doing anything like arresting Jesus or any other “work” on either sabbath. And shouldn’t we also consider the timing of other aspects of the Passover feast, which Christ was fulfilling? His examination by Pilot the same time the lambs were being examined, for example. And because of the large number of people, didn’t they make an accommodation for some of them to eat the meal at different times (thus the timing of the Last Supper)?

As for the way they counted days back then, what would they have called it if He had died on 3pm Thursday and rose during the night before Sunday morning?

• Joel

The article that the picture came from is here: http://www.ucg.org/doctrinal-beliefs/jesus-wasnt-crucified-friday-or-resurrected-sunday/ and it explains that Jesus ate the passover feast on the anniversary of the passover, ie before the feast of unleavened bread, which is how He fulfilled it, whereas Jewish tradition had the people eating the meal when the feast began, so Jesus therefore was prepared as the sacrifice at the same time as everyone else’s lambs were prepared. It also explains that He rose towards sundown on the Saturday, so when He would likely have risen was still the weekly Sabbath, which is why we can call Him “Lord of the Sabbath”. The Church abandoned the Jewish sabbath feasts in the early centuries in Rome’s desire to distance itself from the Jewish faith, so the idea that there was an extra sabbath during that week was forgotten, thus our Christian tradition is factually wrong just like many of the Christmas traditions; that doesn’t necessarily mean we should change because conceptually we are still celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection.

• Joel

Just to quickly note, I’m not with ucg, I’m just linking to their article because it explains it well

• TestifyTruth

No need for this disclaimer, I have read many a UCG article, and I value them for how they emphasis critically searching the scriptures, which is sadly lacking with a lot of believers who may lazily prefer to believe all that is told to them. Even if I don’t always arrive at the same conclusions as they, yet as only the Lord provides victory even after the horses are prepped for battle, likewise wisdom and truth comes only from the Lord. God bless!

• Dave B

The United Church of God is a cult

• TestifyTruth

God can use a cult to draw a person to know Him more.

• BB

eh… looks like they’re interpreting scripture to make it conform to their Saturday sabbath tradition. And as Archer does well to point out here, it didn’t have to be 72 hours.

I believe that where the Bible is less clear, the subject is less important (less than, say, Christ’s divinity or justification by faith alone). So, there’s a limit to how much energy I’m willing to put into figuring this out. I like how you say, “conceptually we are still celebrating” the point of it all.

• Howard

When I was growing up in the church, there were a few Biblical things I was taught that bothered me as not right or certainly not quite right but since these things were glaringly obvious and nobody else seemed to be upset about them, I guessed they were just things we lived with. One of these was that Jesus was buried for 3 days. With a little understanding you can get why so many say He died on a Friday: the Bible says that they were in a hurry to bury Him before the Sabbath began, and Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday. He rose on the first day of the week, which is Sunday. Now, if you can count, afternoon Friday until Sunday morning is not 3 days; it’s 1 whole day and parts of two others that may not even add up to a whole day.

With help from a friendly Rabbi (and actually reading the OT), the reality becomes clear:

Lev 23:4 “‘These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times: 5 The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. 6 On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. 7 On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. 8 For seven days present a food offering to the Lord. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.’”

The Last Supper was a celebration of Passover. He was arrested, tried, and crucified all during Passover. The next day is the 1st day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and according to Lev 23:7, it is a sacred day of no regular work, a Sabbath. That is the Sabbath that hastened their work, not the regular weekly Sabbath. Now we aren’t tied to Friday. And best of all, in 31 AD, Passover would have started at twilight on Tuesday, Jesus would have been in the grave from late Wednesday afternoon until sundown Saturday, 3 whole days and nights. And no rationalizations.

• TestifyTruth

Great contribution, thanks for this.

• John

Three Nights…regardless of cultural, idiomatic nuances…you cannot get three nights between Friday and Sunday no matter how you count. I’ll stick with the Bible…understood in its cultural context (yes!) and also an accurate account that matches what the Bible says.

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