Three Days and Three Nights—Contradiction or Revelation?

Most Christians believe that Jesus Christ died on what people in the West would call a Friday afternoon and was buried a short time later before sunset. I, too, was taught this and felt this was the best explanation of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, for years, my mind was not totally satisfied with this explanation. Along with the references to the time Jesus spent in the tomb, such as "after three days", "in three days" and "on the third day", there is also the reference to the sign of Jonah, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the huge fish, so the Son of Man [Jesus Christ] will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:40)*

The question here is not whether Jesus was alive or dead in the tomb. The scriptures are very clear that he was physically dead. Also, the comparison with Jonah and the probability that Jonah was alive in the fish, yet Jesus was dead in the tomb, has no significance because it is clear from the passage that the only similarity mentioned here is the time frame which he spent in the tomb—three days and three nights.

A valid question to ask is, "Why would the scriptures specifically say that Jesus was in the tomb for three days and three nights if in fact he was only in the tomb for parts of three days and all of only two nights?" At one point I came across information that presented the scenario that Jesus was buried on Thursday. Even though that scenario agrees with the Biblical text, I did not have sufficient evidence to refute the assertion from church tradition that Jesus was buried on Friday.

The explanation of Jesus being buried on Friday shortly before sunset does not present any difficulty in regard to the reference "after three days" (Matthew 27:63; Mark 8:31; 9:3) he would rise from the dead. Neither does it present a problem in regard to the reference that he would rise "in three days" (John 2:19; Matthew 26:61; 27:40; Mark 14:58; 15:29), "three days later" (Mark 9:31{NASB}), or even in regard to the reference that "on the third day" (Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7; Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:18; ) he would rise from the dead, because in Jewish society, as in most societies, a part of a day can sometimes be considered as a whole day. Yet the reference to the fact that Jesus would be in the tomb "for three days and three nights" needs to be taken seriously. At the very beginning of the Holy Bible in Genesis 1:5 it is recorded that "there was evening and there was morning—the first day." So we know that from the beginning of time God divided a day into two parts—evening and morning. Yet if the explanation about the reference to the three days and three nights applies to a Friday crucifixion and burial and actually refers to the fact that a part of a day could be counted as a whole day and that the short amount of time (probably less than an hour) that Jesus was in the tomb before sunset on Friday evening, would actually count as a whole day which would have started at sunset the previous evening is true, then why isn’t it expressed as "three nights and three days", or even "three nights and days". Or perhaps it should be described as "three days and nights", meaning "parts of three days and the nights it included". Yet that is not what the text says. It clearly says "three days and three nights"!

Without a doubt it is a well established fact that Jesus died exactly as recorded in the Bible and that all evidence points to the fact that he rose again from the dead three days later. Yet it is also important to satisfy our minds in regard to the three days and three nights. It wasn’t until February 2000 that I seriously began my study. I went to the Web and discovered three sites that discussed this issue. One proposed a Wednesday burial which after looking at the evidence presented, I quickly dismissed because it clearly contradicted scripture. Another site proposed a Thursday burial which seemed to be in line with scripture. The largest Web site ( which contained a lot of good research, actually proposed a Friday burial. However, as I looked down through it I noticed a few discrepancies. One reference referred to the Jewish Talmud, yet I noticed that it never gave the Talmudic reference and it simply referred to the Talmud as a secondary source and not a primary source. This raised questions in my mind because the best research always cites the primary source. This aroused my curiously to the point that, following the lead of the secondary source, I managed to find the exact reference in the Talmud they were referring to.(1) I found that the Talmud, written between A.D. 300 and 600, states that the Jewish scheme of counting days divides a day into two parts—each part being referred to in the Hebrew language as an "onah". This "onah" is also referred to in English as a "span" of time. Each "span" or "onah" consists of 12 hours. The first "span" begins at six o’clock in the evening and ends at six o’clock in the morning. The second "span" begins at six o’clock in the morning and ends at 6 o’clock in the evening. The Talmud goes on to say that "a part of an ‘onah’ can be considered as a whole of it."

Yet the Web site quotes the Talmud as saying that a part of a day could be counted as a whole day. However, after examining the Talmud, it was clear that it states that "part of a span is equivalent to the whole of it."(p. 311) It is obvious that the word "it" refers to "onah" and not "day". Reading further in the Talmud, I discovered that even though the Rabbis disagreed somewhat, the consensus was that three days consisted of no less than 4 "onah"s and no more than 6 "onah"s. I also learned that a part of an "onah" at the beginning of an event could be added with the part of an "onah" at the end of the event to make a whole "onah" as long as together they didn’t equal more than 12 hours.

What becomes clear is that there was no absolute rule for counting days. The rabbis recorded in the Talmud differed slightly on what would constitute a day. This depended partly not only on why the days were being counted but also on when the event, whose days were being counted, began. This is clear because in the case of purification rites some Rabbis thought that 4 spans could equal three days and some thought that 6 spans were required to equal three days. The fact that this was not an exact science is important to remember when considering the time frame around Jesus’ death.

If we become skeptical at this point and ask, "If this was not an exact science then can we trust it?", let me remind you that God was communicating to humans in their language. We must also think about how we count days in our society. If on Monday someone is expelled from school for three days, when does he return to school? It would depend on the time he was expelled. If the principal calls him in first thing Monday morning and talks to him and tells him he is expelled for three days, usually he would be send home immediately so as not to let the wrong attitude or behavior affect other students. In that case he would be allowed to return on Thursday. If the student was called into the principals office in the afternoon on Monday and was sent home an hour before school ended, he would probably not be allowed to return until Friday. In both of these situations statements like, "You are suspended for three days." or "You can’t come to school for three days." or "You can come back after three days." would be made. It would most certainly be understood that the small amount of time that was left on Monday afternoon would not count toward those three days. Yet if you were taking your car to the mechanic on a Monday afternoon and he said he’d start working on it right away and he says it will take three days for him to fix it, you could call him first thing Thursday morning and be technically correct, but it probably would not be done till late Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.

What we glean from the Talmud is that the phrase "on the third day" can be used when parts of days are counted as whole days. It can also be used when there are parts of four days but the parts don’t add up to more than three whole days. In reference 9.3 [I.A] of the Sabbat Tract of the Palestinian Talmud it is actually mentioned that three days would not be complete until the beginning of the fourth day. It actually equates the phrase "on the third day" with the beginning of the fourth day where the event considered took place at the end of the first day. Two full days passed after that and not until the first part of the fourth day arrived was it considered as "on the third day". Interestingly enough this is exactly the amount of time Jesus’ body was in the tomb. He was buried shortly before sunset on one day. He was in the tomb for two full days and before the middle of the fourth day he had already risen from the dead. According to the Talmud that is accurately expressed as "on the third day". Yet it also states that if three full days have passed from the beginning of the event to the end, it can also be described as "on the third day".

The Talmud was written around 300 to 600 years after Jesus Christ lived. It is a collection of comments by Jewish Rabbis on the Jewish Scriptures and laws. These Rabbis were not friendly toward the beliefs of Christians regarding the death of Jesus Christ. Yet their explanation of counting days in Jewish culture, of which Jesus was a part, is an explanation that reconciles all of the references of time in the Bible regarding Jesus’ death. For scholars this type of paradoxical tension holds significant weight for the veracity of any set of facts. Simply put, in the process of explaining their own scriptures, the Jewish Rabbis, who were against Jesus Christ, actually validated the words of Jesus by their explanations. They did this well after Jesus Christ rose from the dead and well after many Jews had believed on Jesus. Having had the opportunity to understand and read the Christian Scriptures and to anticipate the effect their explanations would have in confirming the Christians scriptures, they didn’t draw back from stating customs regarding the counting of time. This is tremendous evidence to the accuracy of the Christians Scriptures and to the absolute veracity of the Biblical account of the death of Jesus Christ.

The Web site ( that proposes a Friday crucifixion and burial claims that a number of other accounts in the Bible containing specific references to days, agree with their explanation of counting days and therefore prove that Jesus was buried on Friday. The principle they rely heavily on is that "part of a day can be counted as a whole day." So, I evaluated the rules from the Jewish Talmud for counting days and applied it to those same Biblical accounts. In every account the rules set out in the Talmud proposed no contradictions with the Biblical accounts. In addition, as has already been discussed in this article, by applying the rules set out in the Jewish Talmud, the problem of counting the time of "three days and three nights" was resolved with integrity, something that the above mentioned Web site does not do, in my opinion.

Following are a number of time scenarios of different events described in the Holy Bible. They demonstrate how the information in the Talmud about counting days, agrees with the information contained in these accounts.

Understanding the Jewish system of counting time by two 12 hour spans that make up 1day, if the above scenario is true, then Jesus couldn’t have been ‘three days and three nights in the tomb. It could be counted as "three days in the tomb", and rising "on the third day" but not rising "after three days". Also, while Jesus was walking on the road to Emmaus it couldn’t have been three days since Jesus’ burial.

Understanding the Jewish system of counting time by two 12 hour spans that make up 1day, in this scenario Jesus would have been 3 days and 3 nights in the tomb. Since three days could be parts of three days or three full 24 hour days, it could, also, be counted as 3 days in the tomb, and rising "on the third day" as well as rising "after three days". Also, while Jesus was walking on the road to Emmaus it would have been "three days since [Jesus’ crucifixion] had taken place" (Note that the time he mentions refers back to the crucifixion.) meaning that three days had passed so it would have already been the fourth day. (Luke 24:21)

The time of Cornelius’ recounting of the vision back to the actual vision was four days counting that day as the first. Also, since time is often rounded to the nearest hour, the ninth hour could be a general accounting of time. If Peter saw the vision at the beginning of the ninth hour and was recounting it at the end of the ninth hour that would put it over into the seventh span, making it more than the six full spans allowed by the rules of the Talmud for it to be considered three days. Therefore, seven spans could make the vision four days before the recounting of that vision.

We have no idea what time of day these events took place—neither the pronouncement nor the arrival. Yet again it is within the four to six spans. There are at least parts of five spans and it is possible that there are actually four full spans.

First we must recognize that there is much information about the event that was never recorded. Usually an army moves out shortly after dawn. This may be when they abandoned him but not necessarily the last chance he had to drink water or eat. He could have gotten sick in the evening and not felt like eating or drinking. If he got sick in the evening, he wouldn't be abandoned till morning when they wanted to move out. If by morning the servant was not better and it was time to move out, at that time he was abandoned. But they wouldn't waste food or water on an ill man they were abandoning. The key here is that the time of being abandoned may be different from the time when he ate or drank his last. From what we learn from the Talmud, "three days ago" or "on the third day" could be as short as four spans of 12 hours each or as long as six spans of 12 hours each. But "three days and three nights" is all or at least part of six consecutive spans of time. If he was found on the third day, then wouldn't it be reasonable for him to say that "My master abandoned me when I became ill three days ago" (1 Samuel 30:13) and also say I have "not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights"? (1Samual 30:14)

If the expression "this is the third day" always counts the day on which it happened as the first day and the day on which it is said, is counted as the last day, the scenario that I have presented here would be consistent with that. It is hard to be dogmatic on this either way because we don't know what time of the day the servant got sick, what time of the day he was abandoned, nor what time of the day he was found and he gave this information. What we must remember is that we cannot prove that the amount of time he didn’t eat food was the same amount of time that passed from when he was abandoned.

This scenario is not inspired but I believe it is reasonable and it is consistent with all the information that we have from the Bible. When I apply the rules of the Talmud to the passages that mention time in either the New Testament or Old Testament, I find that the formula that the Talmud sets down is consistent in every instance.

  Queen Esther states in 4:16, "Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day." Then the Bible records in 5:1, "On the third day" Esther approached the king. Sometimes this is equated with the reference to Jonah being in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights or the reference to Jesus being in the tomb for three days and three nights. The reason for this is that some people want to propose that "three days and three nights" means the same as "three days, night and day" which simply refers to "parts of three days and the nights it includes", therefore allowing us to equate it with "on the third day". Actually we can equate both of these with "on the third day" but as we saw in the earlier discussion of the Talmud, that does not mean that "three days and three nights" is automatically referring to the same time period as "three days, night and day". They express different periods of time. Esther began her fast on the first day, possibly eating before sunrise but not necessarily and abstaining from food for the whole day and the whole next night and the whole next day and the whole next night and on the third day she presented herself to the king. I have charted this scenario above. Obviously she ate sometime after presenting herself to the king, although we don’t know when exactly that was. She could have presented herself to the king at any time during that day. If she presented herself to the king in late afternoon, it is reasonable to suggest that she didn’t eat until after sunset, so she would have fasted for three full days and the nights that included. It is common in that part of the world to eat later in the evening after sunset. Still, this scenario does not equal "three days and three nights". However, in either case, the four to six spans allowed in the Talmud to call it three days, fits. In the second scenario there would not be "three days and three nights" while in the first scenario that would be possible.

The conclusion is that the guidelines for counting days from the Talmud reconciles all accounts of timing in the Holy Bible where full enough information is given to reasonably evaluate the scenario.

However, we must consider some other important factors in this discussion. If Jesus was really crucified on a Thursday instead of a Friday, how will that change of time fit with all the other events described in the Bible?

First we must recognize that all Biblical scholars recognise that there are many unanswered questions if Christ actually died on a Friday. Just because there are unanswered questions doesn't mean that the Biblical text contradicts itself or that that view is wrong. It is simply a common factor when historical events are recorded that for the sake of brevity not all the events can be recorded. Also, not all of the customs that would explain the reason behind the events are explained. Whether Jesus was crucified on a Thursday or a Friday in many respects makes little difference because of the overwhelming evidence that he was crucified, was dead and was resurrected. It is the resurrection that proved that everything he said and did was absolutely true. If he had falsely predicted his death and resurrection, he would have been a false prophet and would never had risen from the dead. Also, after his death a law was put into affect making it punishable by death to attempt to move the stone for three days, so that there could be no deception in this matter. In addition the soldiers, who would face certain death if any human being removed the stone from the entrance, were sent to guard the tomb. What occurred at Jesus' resurrection happened despite the efforts of his enemies, who had all the available political and military power at that time to humanly prevent it. The resurrection also occurred despite his disciples lapse into unbelief that caused them to give up hope and believe that because of his death their hope in a new kingdom was all over. They believed they had been mistaken and they accepted defeat. However, if there is evidence that Jesus was three literal days and three literal nights or parts thereof in the grave, then it is important that we set forth the truth.

We must understand that the Bible never says Jesus was crucified on Friday. There are other important facts to consider, also. David Hunt states in his book, "In Defense of the Faith", page 100-101:

. . . it is quite clear from the Gospels that Christ was crucified on Thursday and died several hours before sundown (when Friday began). Thus He spent part of Thursday and all of Friday, and Saturday (three days) in the grave. He also spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights (three nights) in the grave and rose first thing Sunday morning. The confusion arises because His crucifixion was "the day before the Sabbath"(Mark 15:42). Luke and John agree: "And the Sabbath drew on " (Luke 23:54); "that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day" (John 19:31).

It is a mistake, however, to conclude that because the day after His crucifixion was a Sabbath, he must have been crucified on Friday. Saturday was not the only Sabbath. There were other special Sabbaths which could fall on any day of the week, depending upon the calendar. In fact, John tells us that the day after the crucifixion was not the ordinary Saturday Sabbath but a special one: "That Sabbath day was an high [special] day" (John 19:31). Nor are we left in doubt what that special Sabbath was: It was the Passover.

When the rabbis brought Jesus before Pilate the morning of His crucifixion, "they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover," (John 18:28). This was the morning after the Last Supper, but the rabbis hadn't yet eaten the Passover -- so neither had Jesus and His disciples. The Last Supper was not the Passover, as is commonly taught. That was to be celebrated the next night. . . .(2)

Let's look further into the points that Dave Hunt has raised.

The Meaning of "Preparation"

First, the Bible never states that Jesus was crucified and buried on a Friday. The first and perhaps the most substantial record of that is from church history,

The idea of a crucifixion on Friday is clearly implicit in the Fathers but there at least three sources that explicitly make this point. They are the following,

1) The Didache AD 90 states that the fast days for Christians ought to be different than those of the Jews (Tuesdays and Thursdays). The Christians are told to observe their fasts on Wednesdays and FRIDAYS. What can be ascertained from this at least is that Fridays came to be have significance for Christians and I think the next two quotes particularly the last one will show why. It was also believed that Wednesday was the day Judas Iscariot had resolved to betray Jesus.

2) Justin Martyr AD 150--"For they crucified him on THE DAY [Friday] before Saturn's day [Saturday] and on the day after (which is the day of the Sun [Sunday]) he appeared to his apostles . . ." (Apology 1, 67:1-3, 7; Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.1, p.186)

3) Victorinius AD 300--"The sixth day [Friday] is called parasceve, [please note the Gospels use this word for the day before the Sabbath] that is to say, the preparation for the kingdom...On THIS DAY also, on account of the PASSION OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, we make either a station to God or a FAST [please recall the 'Didache' above]...On the seventh day [Saturday] he rested from all his works...On the former day [Friday] we are accustomed to FAST RIGOROUSLY...And let the parasceve [Friday] become a rigorous FAST." (Victorinius in 'The Creation of the World')(3)

However, we see clearly that the notion of a Friday (day before Saturn's day) crucifixion is not expressed in writing until AD 150. The next reference is recorded by Victorinius in AD 300. Yet even then it is based on the notion that the word "parasceve" could only refer to the day of preparation before the normal Sabbath which is the seventh day of the week. Yet, Charles C. Torrey points out that, "The phrase is most commonly interpreted to mean the day of preparation for the sacrificial meal held on the evening of the 14th. . . ."(4) He states,

In the Semitic Greek of our Palestinian documents the word [paraskeuή or "parasceve"] is the standing equivalent of Aramaic אתבורע [arūbtā]. . . . . Originally employed to designate the day before the sabbath, it [arūbtā] eventually was applied also to the most important festivals of the calendar. The Greek-speaking Jews regularly employed paraskeuή ["parasceve"] in this sense.(5)

He goes on to say that the Aramaic word [arūbtā] later was also used as a regular name of the week, meaning the day of preparation of the regular Sabbath. He also states that,

It's Greek equivalent, paraskeuή = Friday, was likewise adopted from the first, by the Greek Church; attested all the way from the church fathers Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen down to Georgius Codinus (15th century), who in his De Officiis, 13, 1, gives the official term for "Good Friday" as ‛h megάlh paraskeuή.(6)

However, we must realise that the English word "Friday" was not used back then. Today people assume that the two are always equated but that is not necessarily true, especially in light on Torrey's further comments,

It is true that all the early examples of this technical word, "eve,-abend, Preparation," are in connection with the sabbath only; but the possibility may be admitted that it was given an equally early application to the principal festal days. It is thus used frequently in the later rabbinical Aramaic. . . . There is in the Midrash Ruth (one of the latest of the midrashim), near the end of the section "qatōn wĕ-gadōl," an example of אחס׳פ תבורע meaning "the day before the paschal feast". . . .(7)

He concludes by stating,

There are at all events three undoubted facts to be borne in mind: (1) The paraskeuή in John 19:14 is not the colorless Greek word, "preparation," but the Jewish technical term. This is shown conclusively by vv. 31 and 41. (2) The Greek can give no testimony as to the exact form of the Aramaic which lies behind it (i.e., whether or not the construct state was employed, or in mind), for the proper noun "Friday," or "Preparation," would ordinarily appear in Greek without the definite article (like sabbaton) ; cf. also Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54. (3) If "John " had wished merely to adopt in his own gospel what his predecessors had established, and to give in a single phrase their date of the crucifixion, he would most naturally have done so in precisely the phrase employed in 19:14. This is true in either language.(8)

He goes on to support a Friday cucifixion because he refuses to allow a feast day to be referred to as a "high sabbath" and therefore he refuses to allow the word for "prepartion" to refer to a feast day. As a result he fails to take seriously the evidence given by John that Jesus ate the meal with his disciples one day before the regular Paschal meal and was crucified on the day that the lambs were to be killed. In other words he fails to seriously grapple with the "apparent" discrepancy between the Synoptic writers and the Gospel of John. Others have grappled with that apparent discrepancy and have supplied reasonable suggestions on how exactly to reconcile the gospel accounts. This aspect of events of the week before Jesus' crucifixion is seen by scholars as perhaps one of the most difficult to reconcile. I believe that some of them fail to even try because to do so in their thinking would only cause them to have to explain the extra day Jesus spent in the tomb. Without the explanation presented in the first of the paper, there is no reasonable explanation. But with the explanation of the "three days and three nights" given above, the day of preparation referring to the day before the Passover feast, not the weekly sabbath, and the feast days being referred to as sabbaths, everything fits into place.

Feast Days Called "Sabbaths"

As we see, Mark 15:42 and Luke 23:54 refer to the day of Jesus' crucifixion as the "preparation of the sabbath." In agreement with the above information set out by Torrey, some scholars assume that the Passover fell on the regular Sabbath and thus the day of Jesus' crucifixion was referred to as both the "preparation of the sabbath" as well as the "preparation of the passover." They give this as the reason why the sabbath was referred to as a "high day". However, this must not be assumed, for the term "sabbath" was also used of the first and last days of the Jewish feasts. Leviticus 23:7-8 states that on the first and seventh days they were to hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. Leviticus 16:27 states the same thing in reference to the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 16:32 specifically states that, that day of sacred assembly and no work, was a sabbath which began in the evening and continued to the following evening. These were distinguished from the Lord's Sabbath in verses 37-38 but are no less sabbaths in their own right. In Numbers 29:7 we see that the Day of Atonement is not referred to as a sabbath, so we see that just because a day on which there is a sacred assembly is not always specifically called a sabbath doesn't mean that it is not a sabbath.

Edersheim, purposes a Friday crucifixion and thus would hold that the Sabbath fell on the same day as the day after the Passover meal when the Wavesheaf was offered to the Lord. Nevertheless he states that, "The Sabbath about to open was a 'high-day', it was both a Sabbath and the second Paschal Day, which was regarded as in every respect equally sacred with the first , nay, more so, since the so-called Wavesheaf was then offered to the Lord."(9)(Bold emphasis mine.) In another place while speaking of the feast of Tabernacles he states,

Only during the first two, and on the last festive day (as also on the Octave of the Feast), was strict Sabbatic rest enjoined. On the intervening half-holidays (CholhaMoed), although no new labour was to be undertaken, unless in the public service, the ordinary and necessary avocations of the home and of life were carried on, and especially all done that was required for the festive season. But 'the last, the Great Day of the Feast,' was marked by special observances.

In the case of the Passover feast the second day, or day after the Paschal meal, was a special day of the Wavesheaf offering. This "high" day is referred to in John 19:31in the Greek using the word, megάlh. This is also the word used in John 7:37 referred to in the quote above. This would suggest that this second Paschal Day could be called a "high" day without falling on the regular Sabbath. In support of this, the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, translates the word "great day" as ‛hmeran megάlhn in Isaiah 1:13-14, "Though ye bring fine flour, it is vain; incense is an abomination to me; I cannot bear your new moons, and your sabbaths, and the great day; your fasting, and the rest from work, your new moons also, and your feasts my soul hates: ye have become loathsome to me; I will no more pardon your sins." Although "the great day" is referred to separately from "sabbaths", that does not mean that the term "sabbaths" could not be inclusive of the "the great day." In fact the first three occassions seem to be repeated and expanded, and if that is truly the case then "the rest from work" and "feasts" would both refer to what we know of the "great day" from Leviticus, Numbers Deuteronomy and the Gospel of John.

The Extra Day

In addition, all scholars recognise that in the event of a Friday crucifixion, the account of one day's activities are not recounted in either of the four gospels. That day does not have to be accounted for; it is perfectly fine for it to be left unaccounted for, but the fact that there is an extra day unaccounted for allows for a Thursday crucifixion without presenting any chronological difficulties in the events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. If anything it helps to present a chronology without gaps.

One reason for Christ being crucified on the day of preparation is to fulfill the prophecy of being the passover lamb. The fact that his legs were not broken, while the legs of the other two crucified with him were, and the reference to him as our passover lamb in 1 Corinthians 5:7, testify to this fact. For this to be true, he would have had to eat the Passover meal one day earlier than the Jewish leaders. He also points out that, though their justification for this peculiarity may differ from his, this has been the accepted opinion of many of the early church fathers such as,

Tertullian, Clement, Origin, Chrysostom, Apollinarius, Euthymius, and the others of various members also of the church of Rome, as Lamy, Clamet; and of the Protestant theologians Cappellus, Lampe, Dyling, Gude, and indeed of almost all theologians until the last [18th] century.(10)

He justifies his position by citing evidence regarding the different methods of calculating the new moon. In short Jesus would have eaten the passover meal on the first day of unleavened bread, the 15th, according to one timing but would have been reckonised by the people as being the passover lamb by being crucified on the day of preparation, the 14th, according to another timing. He quotes Townsend who quotes Cudwoth who cites Ephiphanius who states that there was a controversy that very year among the Jews regarding the Passover.(11) This is confirmed in John 13:1 where it states that the meal Jesus was eating with his disciples was just before the Passover Feast.

The Use of the Word "Sabbaths"(12)

Finally, the use of the Greek word sabbatwn, meaning "sabbaths", used in Matthew 28:1 needs to be considered. A literal translation would read, "At the end of the sabbaths, well into the morning watch on the day after the sabbaths, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to view the grave." Some scholars state that the plural word sabbatwn means week. Since the second occurrence of sabbatwn is used in an expression that can be loosely translated into the English with a phrase using the word week, some scholars choose to translate the first sabbatwn also as "week". Therefore, Matthew 28:1 would translate, "At the end of one week and in the early hours of the next week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to view the grave." There are five phrases that use the plural for sabbath that books cite as showing that the plural for sabbath actually means "week". However, it is clear that sabbatwn, alone, is never used for "week" although at times, in some cases it can be translated that way. However, even then, the full, intended meaning of the phrase is not brought across. These five phrases are the following:

Greek Phrase Common English Translation Scripture Reference

eiV mia sabbάtvn

on the first day of the week

Matthew 28:1

prwΐ uia twn sabbάtvn

early on Sunday morning

Mark 16:2

th de uia twn sabbάtvn

now on the first day of the week

Luke 24:1

th de uia twn sabbάtvn

now on the first day of the week

John 20:1

th uia sabbάtvn

on the first day of the week

John 20:19

We also find three other phrases in the New Testament where the singular for "sabbath" is commonly translated "week".

Greek Phrase Common English Translation Scripture Reference

dìs tou sαbbάtou

two days (in) a week

Luke 18:12

prώth sabbάtou

on the first day of the week

Mark 16:9

kata miάv sabbάtou

Every Sunday

1 Corinthians 16:2

As a result, the phrase oy e de sabbάtvn in Matthew 28:1 is commonly translated "sabbath" when actually in the Greek, the plural for "sabbath", sabbάtvn, is used. The justification for this is that if the plural for "sabbath" can be translated "week" (singular), then the plural for "sabbath", sabbάtvn, can also be used to refer to "sabbath", sαbbάtou, in the singular, even though it is in the plural. However, when we examine these closely we see two things. 1)All the references above of "sabbath" in the plural are used in reference to the day that Jesus rose from the dead. 2)In every case where "sabbath" is commonly translated "week", whether the Greek word is singular or plural, the word is in a genitive/ablative form but in one instance the only way to translate it "week" and have it make sense is to translate it in the dative case. All other instances are translated in the genitive case while the ablative case grammatically would be just as valid. In Greek the ablative form refers to separation, while genitive form refers to description and the dative form refers to location. Some scholars cite the fact that in other places in scripture the plural for "sabbath" in the Greek is used to refer to a single day. This is not accurate. There are other places such as Luke 4:16; Acts 13:14; and Acts 16:13 where "sabbath" is found in the plural in the Greek and the genitive case of description is used. In these verses it is translated as "sabbath" but in every case it is not referring to a single day but to sabbaths in general, not one particular sabbath day. However, when translating it into English the singular word "sabbath" expresses this. That does not give us licence, though, to suggest that when the plural for "sabbath" is used in the Greek it actually has a singular meaning or can always be translated using a singular word.

In extra-Biblical such as Didache 8:1 where it states that the Jews fast deutera sabbatwn kai pempth, it is commonly translated "on the second and fifth days of the week". If, however, it was translated "as the second and fifth [days] from the sabbath", the same sense is expressed without needlessly forcing the meaning of "week" onto sabbatwn.

When we take the above observations into account that 1)plural words need to be translated as plural; and 2)the proper cases need to be reflected in the translation, it is easy to see that in every case a better translation is obvious. They are as follows:

Greek Phrase Accurate Translation Scripture Reference

eiV mian sabbάtvn

Moving onto [the day] following the sabbaths

Matthew 28:1

prwΐ uia twn sabbάtvn

Early on [the day] after the sabbaths

Mark 16:2

th de uia twn sabbάtvn

Now on the [the day] after the sabbaths

Luke 24:1

th de uia twn sabbάtvn

Now on the [the day] after the sabbaths

John 20:1

th uia sabbάtvn

On the [the day] after the sabbaths

John 20:19

"After" reflects the ablative case in that it expresses separation. Another way to translate these phrases would be "on the next day from the sabbaths" or "on the next day following the sabbaths". Either way expresses the separation of "the day" referred to in the Greek by uia and the sabbaths that had just passed. In which ever way it is translated, all scholars agree that "the day" which is in [ ] above is a proper translation for the Greek word uia .

In like manner when translating the following three phrases reflecting the points mentioned above, there is no need to translate "sabbath" as "week":

Greek Phrase Common English Translation Scripture Reference

dìs tou sαbbάtou

twice besides a sabbath

Luke 18:12

prώth sabbάtou

on the first [day] following the sabbath

Mark 16:9

kata miάv sabbάtou

on the day after the sabbath

1 Corinthians 16:2

In the first reference, "besides" reflects the ablative case of separation. In the second reference, "following" reflects the ablative case of separation. In the third reference, "after" reflects the ablative case of separation.

This brings us to the phrase oy e de sabbάtvn in Matthew 28:1. An accurate translation of this phrase is "after the close of the sabbaths". Again, "after" would reflect the ablative case and "sabbaths" reflects the plural form in the Greek.


In conclusion we see that when we take a close look. The evidence for a Thursday crucifixion is very strong. It is fair to say that just as many or more "unknowns" are needed to support a Friday crucifixion than a Thursday crucifixion. Furthermore a Thursday crucifixion solves some of the long standing problems such as 1)a reasonable and historically based interpretation of the three days and three nights, 2)the explanation of the extra day previously unaccounted for and 3)the reason for the plural of "sabbath" used in Matthew 28:1 and which respects reasonable grammatical usage.


(1) Palestinian (Jerusalem) Talmud, Tract Sabbat, 9:3, [I. A-T], vol. 11 Ó 1991, The University of Chicago Press, p. 310-312.

(2) Hunt, Dave, In Defense of the Faith, pp. 100-101

(3) Correspondence from Tony Costa. Used with Permission.

(4) Torrey, Charles C., "The Date of the Crucifixion According to the Fourth Gospel." Journal of Biblical Literature, December, 1931, p. 233.

(5) Ibid, p. 233-234.

(6) Ibid, p. 234.

(7) Ibid, p. 236-237

(8) Ibid, p. 237

(9) Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, MacDonald Publishing Company, McLean, Virginia.

(10) Aldrich, J.K. Rev, The Crucifixion on Thursday-- Not Friday, The Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. XXVII. No. 107 -- July 1870, p. 418.

(11) Ibid, p. 419-420.

(12) The following books were used for the study of the Greek words and principles of translation: Marshall, Alfred. The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan, ©1958.

Summers, Ray. Essentials of New Testament Greek. Broadman Press: Nashville, Tennessee, ©1950.

Dana, H. E. Th.D. and Julius R. Mantey, Th.D., D.D. A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The Macmillan Company: Toronto, ©1955.

Moulton, Harold K. The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan, ©1977.

Thayer, Joseph H. Thayer's Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament. Baker Book House Company: USA, ©1977.

Wigram, George V. The Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan, ©1970.

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