Saturday, September 22, 2007

Three Days and Three Nights

As my Jewish neighbours are breaking their fast as Yom Kippur ends I am thinking about another Jewish High Holy Day - Passover. Someone asked me a question about the High (or special) Sabbath mentioned in John 19:31. The subtext is a question about the resurrection of Jesus and the apparent inconsistencies of only two nights in the grave (if there was a Friday crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection) if Jesus said he would be in the earth for three days and three nights. I thought the answer was worthy of a post.

The question: "During the week of Christ's crucifixion there was a 'High Sabbath' mentioned in John. That basically this high Sabbath occurred earlier in the week. (A Wednesday?) And that is when Christ was actually crucified. That Jesus actually was in the tomb for a 'full' three days and rose on the Saturday Sabbath.
Could you explain the 'High Sabbath' and if it is possible to find out if the Jewish community would have 'two Sabbaths' in one week or simply would celebrate 'both' Sabbaths on Saturday?"

The answer:

As for the High Sabbath, John 19:31 says

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.

It also says in Mark 15 that Jesus died on the Preparation Day.

42It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. 44Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead.

and in 16:1

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.

and Matthew 28:1

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

So the information that we have is that Jesus died on the Preparation day and rose again after the Sabbath on the first day of the week (Sunday). It also talks about being raised on the third day like in Luke 24

6He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' "

This is not really a problem because Sunday is the third day after Friday (including Friday and Sunday). However the problem comes with passages like Matthew 12:40

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

This is where this concept of the double Sabbath comes in. Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples on the night before Passover. However it is more likely that he ate it with them two nights before Passover because the trial never would have happened on a Sabbath and it says he died on the "Preparation Day." Not every Sabbath has a preparation day - only the feast Sabbath days. So Jesus had supper with his disciples on the eve (which was Wednesday evening - keep reading) of the Preparation Day before Passover. That evening he was arrested, tried and the next morning brought before Pilate, beaten, crucified. He was placed in the tomb on that evening before Passover (before Thursday sundown - the start of the special Sabbath) and then was in the the tomb Passover (a High Sabbath - Friday) then also on the Saturday Sabbath and then on the third day (Sunday) he rose from the dead. That gives you three days and three nights. Although Scripture does not specifically mention two Sabbaths in that week, I know of no Scriptures that specifically would eliminate that possibility.

The Jewish community would never move the celebration of Passover to the Saturday so as to only have one Sabbath. Also the women would not have come with the spices on a Sabbath (ie they would not have been allowed to do the work of carrying them and preparing the body - also touching a body and defiling themselves on a Sabbath). So Jesus must have risen on the Sunday - and the Scriptures also say it was the first day of the week (the Sabbath is the seventh - the day God rested) that he rose.


Keith Schooley said...

Hi, Michael. I wrote a series on this issue beginning with this post; most of the relevant arguments are in this post. My series was actually dealing with the Wednesday crucifixion theory, whereas yours actually views Jesus as being crucified on Thursday, but the arguments still apply. The real issue is reconciling "three days and three nights" with the many more scriptures that say that Jesus rose "on the third day."

Donald Carson argues that "Passover" tended to be used inclusively to refer to the whole Feast of Unleavened Bread; that "Preparation Day" had become a technical term for Friday; and that therefore "Preparation Day" in these passages refers to Friday within the Feast of Unleavened Bread, not the day before the actual Passover feast.

hillschurch said...

Thanks Keith for the excellent summary of the topic including all the Scripture referring to it. I'm not sure if there is any theological significance to the difference and I don't think that I have any personal preference. (Are you aware of there being significant theological significance to this difference - aside from those sabbatarians who claim a Saturday resurrection.)

At any rate, I have been intrigued by observances in my Jewish community during years where High Holy Days fall on Friday creating a double Sabbath.

There were also a couple of issues you didn't address. One is the "special" Sabbath that John 19:31 mentions. (Granted that may be the Passover which could have occurred on the regular Sabbath but not necessarily).

The second is that a Thursday crucifixion also meets all the criteria of the various Scripture passages you mentioned - especially if you consider a burial at or very close to sundown. And if the burial was at or shortly after sundown Friday (ie if the Romans completed the burial), we actually can no longer legitimately call the Sunday "the third day." It is only the second day.

Thanks again.

Keith Schooley said...

Hi, Michael.

Oh, I quite agree, no special theological significance. Just an interesting historical puzzle.

I would take John 19:31's "special Sabbath" to refer to the ordinary Saturday Sabbath, but special because it occurred during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

For me, the crucial passage is Luke 24:31, which records the disciples on the road to Emmaus, some time during the day on Sunday, saying "This is the third day since all this took place." "All this" refers not to Jesus' burial, but to his sentencing to death and crucifixion (v. 20).

Anyway, it's an interesting discussion. Thursday certainly makes more sense of the data than Wednesday (the dominant "alternative" theory).

hillschurch said...

I actually had the Emmaus passage in the back of my mind as a third day reference as well.

Thanks for the comments and for the occasional visit!

Paul Walker said...

Hi everyone,
I would like to address the issue about the "three days, and three nights Jesus was to be in the grave.

The three days and three nights was a sign to the Jews that Jesus was the true Messiah, Matthew 12:38-40. Therefore, the lenght of time was critical to the sign. If he was in the tomb less than 72 hours, the Jews could say he was a liar, and the same if he was longer than 72 hours. And then we have Jesus himself saying that he would raise "in" three days, John 2:19-21, which tells us that within those three days he would rise. We also have Mark telling us that Jesus taught that he would be killed, and "after" three days rise again, Mark 8:31. We have a before and after of the three days, therefore, we must assume a precise 72 hour period. If Jesus arose precisely at the end of the weekly sabbath, he would have had to be laid in the tomb precisely at the end of the day Wednesday, which would be at sundown.

Thanks, Paul

hillschurch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hillschurch said...

Thanks for your comment Paul. There certainly is an integrity issue at stake here that Jesus' detractors could have challenged. Did Jesus really say ...

However as Keith Schooley mentioned in his comments and on his blog post(s) there are slightly different wordings which either all mean the same thing (which I think is true) or they all mean different things. If they each mean different things that would also make both Jesus and the Gospel writers liars.

Just to summarize, we have at least five readings:
- in three days (6)
(Mt 26:61 ;27:40; Mk 14:58; 15:29; Jn 2:19,20)
- after three days (4)
(Mt:27:63; Mk 8:31; 9:31; Lk 2:46;)
- three days later (1)
(Mk 10:34)
- three days and three nights (1)
(Mt 12:40)
- on the third day (9)
(Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Lk 9:22; 18:33;
24:7, 46; Ac 10:40; 1Cor 15:4)

And possibly a sixth from the road to Emmaus
- this is the third day since all this took place
(Lk 24:21)

Another interesting passage is the one where the chief priests command that the tomb be guarded "until" the third day in Matthew 27:64
"So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first."

I don't think the context, the culture of the time nor the text "requires" or specifies an exact 72-hour period. Neither does it absolutely rule it out. However, the phrase "on the third day" would seem to indicate that it was somewhat less than 72 hours.

Because the text(s) doesn't make it absolutely clear the reasons to affirm one position or another rely mostly on theological rather than historical grounds.