Many years ago, an atheist challenged me on two “clear contradictions” in the Scripture, or so he asserted.
Jesus said clearly, he would personally be in the earth three days and three nights, just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, and this would be the only “sign” offered to the people asking (Matt 12:38-41).
We don’t get a full three days and nights out of a Friday Crucifixion. So, said the atheist, the Bible can’t be trusted. Hold that thought.
Another set of verses, in different books, offers up another contradiction.
After they women saw him laid in the tomb, they waited until after the Sabbath was over, to purchase spices to anoint the body (Mark 16:1).
The Bible says the women prepared the spices and rested the Sabbath Day according to the commandment (Luke 23:56)
Did you catch those? The women waited for the Sabbath to be over to purchase the spices. And then it says they prepared the spices and rested on the Sabbath.
It cannot logically follow that the women could purchase the spices after the Sabbath, but prepare them before the Sabbath. The atheist said – the Bible can’t get these details right so we can’t trust anything else.
I’ve watched (and read) some of our most prolific apologists wrap themselves around the axle on this, in a noble attempt to squeeze three days and three nights into a Friday Crucifixion. It always seemed so “shoe-horned.” But one thing they never got past, was the simple clue about purchasing and preparing spices.
As we resolve these conflicts, we’ll see we don’t have to shoe-horn or do violence to the Scripture. Just read it in plain text.
Some background first.
The regular Sabbath day begins at sundown on Friday, and ends at sundown on Saturday. This is to honor God’s original definition of a day (Genesis 1:5) “the evening and morning were the first day”. A “day” in God’s eyes goes from sundown-to-sundown. Orthodox Jews today honor the Sabbath on this time line.
Every passage we’re about to examine is in context of a sundown-to-sundown day, as this was the practice in the first century.
The Crucifixion has a deep context in the Passover. This celebration lasted over several days in fact ( Lev 23:4-12), all in the first month of the year.
Day 14 – Passover
Day 15 – Feast of Unleavened Bread – Holy Convocation
This is an important sequence, because the Feast of Unleavened Bread, like the other feast days, was a “Holy Convocation” – also called a “High Sabbath”. In fact (John 19:31) points out that they needed to get Christ off the Cross because the next day was a “high day”. Jesus was killed on the day of Passover, and the following day was a high day, the Feast of Unleavened bread.
But – and this is important – the Feast of Unleavened Bread is honored as a Sabbath no matter what day it falls. Today the some Jews may combine (for convenience) the Feast day Sabbaths with regular Sabbath, but Orthodox Jews do not, and the Jews of Christ’s time did not. They honored these Sabbaths on the day they fell.
So it was not uncommon for the Jews to honor two Sabbath days in the same week. If we have two Sabbath days in play for the week of Christ’s Passover, doesn’t this affect our understanding of when Christ was Crucified? Sure, it was the day of Passover, but if the following Sabbath (the high Sabbath day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread) can be any day of the week, we’re now free to unhook ourselves from a traditionalist “Friday” model (a “one-Sabbath” model) and seek a deeper truth.
What if the Feast of Unleavened Bread fell on Friday? A well-meaning pastor friend defends and speaks on this model – essentially two Sabbaths, back-to-back, add more hours so it doesn’t feel like the “three days and three nights” are shoe-horned.
The problem: he’s looking at this time period from an American perspective, not a Jewish perspective (sundown-to-sundown day).
Thur – Fri – Sat – Sun
See how the “dashes” above represent a “night”. And wouldn’t you know it, between Thursday and Sunday morning, we have three nights. Bingo, we recovered our missing night.
But in Jesus’s context, a sundown-to-sundown day, three days and three nights clearly connotes seventy-two hours, does it not? I mean, why say it that way if it means something else? Plenty of passages in Scripture say “after three days” or “after “x” number of days” etc. To depict a general passing of time. But if we hear “three days and three nights”, it’s pretty clear the speaker intends three full Jewish days of the evening/morning combination. That’s seventy-two hours with specific start and end points.
In the above model, if Jesus is laid in the tomb on Thursday evening, we get one full day/night from Thur-Fri, and another full day/night Fri-Sat, but the next full day/night has to go Sat/Sun, ending at sundown on Sunday, and this didn’t happen. We don’t get three full sundown-to-sundown days. Maybe we found the missing night, but we’re short a day.
More importantly, where in that model do the women have time to purchase spices and prepare them? They don’t. They can’t do any “servile work” on a Sabbath day, so no opportunity arises to “work and rest” with back-to-back Sabbaths.
Some who advocate the Friday death would claim Mary had to prepare spices sometime on Friday, because it says she rested afterward on the Sabbath. I agree she prepared the spices on Friday, but I can’t see Mary doing this instead of being with her son.
Many verses (listed at the end of this essay) claim she was present at the Cross and followed them to the tomb. Christ’s arrest and death took her by surprise, with no time to purchase or prepare spices. Keep in mind we’re not talking about a five-minute spice prep. To prepare burial spices for a whole body required many hours of work.
So now we need an extra day in between the High Sabbath and the Sabbath Day to account for this purchasing and preparing of spices, which Scripture says was book-ended by the two Sabbath days:
They waited for the Sabbath to complete before purchasing, prepared the spices, and rested the Sabbath.
Wed – Thu – Fri – Sat – Sun
In the above notation, the “dashes” represent the nights. If Jesus is Crucified on a Wednesday, they have him entombed by sundown Wednesday, and this starts our three-day-three-night clock-of-Jonah.
From sundown Wed to sundown Thu
From sundown Thu to sundown Fri
From sundown Fri to sundown Sat
So now we have our three Jewish days, evening and morning, and the whole clock terminates at sundown on Saturday. Notice we don’t need the extra “night” Saturday-to-Sunday.
And we have Friday as a free day for the women to purchase and prepare spices. Mary would have witnessed Christ’s death and burial on Wednesday, not Friday.
What if the Crucifixion was on a Tuesday? This would open both Thursday and Friday for purchase and preparation of spices. But it also opens up Friday to visit the tomb. Purchase and prep on Thursday, visit the tomb on Friday. Since this didn’t happen, we have assurance no extra days existed. An extra day on Friday alone is the only model fitting the whole time frame and the actions of those involved.
Another point here. Folks who advocate a Friday death also sustain damage with other verses.
Mat 26:61 – I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.
Mat 27:63 – Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
Mar 14:58 – We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.
These advocates use “in three days”, “after three days”, “within three days” to claim the Crucifixion “technically” falls within these boundaries if Jesus died on Friday. These boundaries are “less specific” than “three days and three nights”.
In fact, throughout Scripture, if a more specific definition is given, it’s accepted as the standard while the less-specific definitions ride in its wake.
This is clearly not the case for explaining a Friday death. Why would we use the “less specific” boundaries as the standard, and ignore the “more specific” boundary?
The answer is simple: Tradition. The tradition of the Friday Crucifixion has to be explained. But that’s the problem – the Friday death is the fallacy.
Two important verses for us to apply when addressing a fallacy.
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.
In the above, the don’t answer / answer model is simple: Don’t answer the question according to the folly (fallacy) of the fool. In this case, don’t answer according to the fallacy of the Friday Crucifixion. Rather answer the fallacy itself, by challenging the fallacy with a better answer.
For example, if someone says you must prove God is real. A fool places this fallacy at our feet, and we immediately begin to answer it. No, the fallacy is obvious. We don’t have to prove God is real. Nobody has to prove this. The fool rather has to prove God isn’t real, because the consequences of his fallacy are greater than our silence on the matter.
In this case, the fallacy is the Friday Crucifixion We don’t answer in these terms, attempting to show why the Friday Crucifixion makes sense (because it doesn’t). Rather we go to Scripture to determine what day makes sense.
The latest day to make sense is not Friday, so which day makes more sense? Clearly the Scriptures noted above give us important context.
If Jesus is killed on Wednesday, they rush him into the tomb by the start of the High Sabbath Wednesday at sundown. At this point, no shops will be open after sundown (it’s the Sabbath) and no shops open the next day for purchase of spices. The women have to wait until Friday, and have all day Friday to both purchase and prepare the spices before the start of the regular Sabbath at sundown Friday.
Are you with me? It gets better.
Recall ( Lev 23:4-12) says in the first month of the year:
Day 14 – Passover
Day 15 – Feast of Unleavened Bread – Holy Convocation
On the morrow after the regular Sabbath – Day of First Fruits
It also says the first day after the regular Sabbath after the Passover will have a special connotation: The day of firstfruits. The high priest will wave a sheaf of wheat on this day, blessing the spring harvest. The sheaf represents the firstfruits of the harvest.
This is prophetic, in that Christ is called the first fruits (I Cor 15:20-23) of the dead. His Resurrection, on the Jewish day of first fruits, is a promise of the harvest (of souls) to come in the Resurrection of the church (Rev 20:5-6).
Jesus is called the Lamb of God (John 1:36), which takes away the sins of the world. He is called the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).
The Passover was established by God in provision of the Children of Israel leaving Egypt, and s a prophetic herald of the Lord’s Passover, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The references to Christ as Lamb, and that his blood covers sin, and that Jesus is the first fruits of the Resurrection, all point skyward, to a God who lives outside of time and can share such cosmic-level truths with mankind in a deep and powerful way – over millennia of time to fulfill.
Who else but a God who lives outside of time could knit together a story so wonderful, and put it in the Scripture in a way that feeds our souls as we hunt for his truths?
But if we knee-jerk agree with tradition, the Crucifixion happened on a Friday, we get superficial understanding, and will never get to the meat of the deeper, more powerful message. We must peel back the layers and find God’s treasures.
Here is the Scriptural time line:
- Tue (Day 13) – Christ in the upper room with disciples (evening)
- Tuesday evening – Christ arrested and tried by Sanhedrin
- Wed Morning – brought before Roman leaders, beaten and sentenced
- Wed(Day 14) – Passover – Christ is killed and laid in a tomb before high Sabbath begins (sundown)
- Thur(Day 15) – Feast of Unleavened Bread- high Sabbath day (closes at sundown)
- Fri((Day 16) – Day the women purchase spices and prepare them (regular Sabbath begins at sundown)
- Sat((Day 17) – Regular Sabbath – women rest after their preparing (closes at sundown)
- At Saturday sundown, the day of firstfruits commences, and Jesus rises from the grave sometime afterward.
- Sun(Day18) – (beginning at sundown prior day) Christ is resurrected – day of firstfruits
As a note – since Jesus said he would be in the belly of the earth three days and three nights (the clock of Jonah), and this was a precise time frame, we can be sure he rose from the dead in the moments after the closure of Sabbath on Saturday after sundown. This was after all, the first moments of the day of firstfruits, and Jesus didn’t have another minute to wait to leave the grave, since the clock of Jonah had expired.
Some have said that if he rose on Saturday, he rose on the Sabbath. No, the Sabbath closed at sundown, and that’s the point. The Day of First Fruits commenced at sundown – the Sabbath was over.
Is there any doubt that God is using clocks and timing, across many centuries, to pull this off – and show he lives outside of time?
And none of this is difficult to achieve for him?
Frankly, God doesn’t need his apologists apologizing for missing days and nights in the Greatest Story Ever Told. What he needs is faithful apologists who will defend the Scripture as written, even if it flies in the face of tradition.
The Friday Crucifixion is a convenient myth. We have the opportunity to share the true story of the Passion, in all it prophetic glory, if we stick to the Scripture and render it just as God did, with regard to time.
And in doing so, the glory of God’s provision, across time, and of Christ’s sacrifice, in time, are all the more intriguing and wonderful.
Gen 1:5 “…And the evening and the morning were the first day.”
Mat 27:61 And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
Matt 27:61 – And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.
And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.
And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.
These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons.
In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S passover.
And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread.
In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest:
And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.
And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf an he lamb without blemish of the first year for a burnt offering unto the LORD.
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome,
had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just:
(The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God.
This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.
And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.
And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.
And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.
Luke 24:1 (KJV)
Now upon the first [day] of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain [others] with them.
The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the
sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken,
and that they might be taken away.
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day,
(for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.
For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.
And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.
And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate
that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes,
about an hundred pound weight.
Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man
There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.
But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall
no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
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.
The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented
at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
I Cor 15:20-23
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
…Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.