Day of Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord

Proved to be Friday and Sunday (the Lord's Day)

From a FidoNet discussion (Aug 1998) with a seventh-day Sabbath-keeper (Tony Lee, non-SdA) who disputed the Friday Crucifixion and Sunday Resurrection of our Lord --



TL> From the Apostolic Letter -DIES DOMINI- dated (in the html heading) 05071998, obtained from "". >>

JPII> .... In fact, in the weekly reckoning of time Sunday recalls the day of Christ's Resurrection.

"Where is this definitively proven in the Bible? No 'Ancestors' please....Your task, should you decide to accept it, is to prove from Biblical sources the accuracy of the statement - 'Sunday' as 'The Lord's Day' and the statement - 'Sunday' recalls '...the day of Christ's Resurrection'...No tradition, no early Fathers, just the Bible....Because I maintain all the facts, taken in context and with full detailed explanation, prove otherwise." (Tony Lee to P, Fido RCatholic 7/15/98)


(A) The Day of Christ's Crucifixion and Burial (proved to be Friday)

(B) The Day of Christ's Resurrection (proved to be Sunday)

(C) The Meaning of "the Lord's Day" (cf. Revelation 1:10)

(D) The Meaning of "Three Days and Three Nights" in Jewish Reckoning



Below is my examination of the biblical data that answers these questions.

The primary purpose of this series of posts is to demonstrate the Friday-to-Sunday chronology in the events of the Crucifixion, Burial, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ as the one that is the most obvious and makes the most clear sense of the plain biblical data. After that chronology is proven, I will argue that Sunday is indeed the "Lord's Day" from both biblical and patristic sources. I will also explain using the Jewish reckoning of time why the "three days and three nights" (Matthew 12:40; cf. Jonah 1:17f) should not be taken literally as meaning a full 72 hours.

(A) The Day of Christ's Crucifixion and Burial

"And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, THE DAY BEFORE THE SABBATH...." (Mark 15:42 RSV)

I cover the day of Christ's death and burial first, since once this is established, it is easy to demonstrate that Sunday is the day of Christ's Resurrection, called "the third day" in the New Testament.

The above text (Mk 15:42) is the key text as I read the accounts of the crucifixion and subsequent burial of Jesus (Mt 27:57-64; Mk 15:42-47; Lk 23:50-56; Jn 19:31-42), since the phrase "day of Preparation" is clearly DEFINED by the Gospel of Mark as "the day BEFORE the Sabbath." It is agreed by every commentator and scholar I have checked on the subject that the Jewish Sabbath mentioned here is the Seventh-day or SATURDAY Sabbath, and therefore the "day before the Sabbath" can only mean FRIDAY. Further, St. Matthew calls the very next day (SATURDAY) the day AFTER the Preparation (Mt 27:62).

The technical term "Preparation" (Greek Paraskeue / Latin Parasceve) is used for FRIDAY as well in the deuterocanonical books of Judith (8:6) and Second Maccabees (8:26), in the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 16:163), and in the early non-canonical Christian documents, Didache (8:1) and the Martyrdom of Polycarp (7:1).

"The day on which Christ died is called 'the Preparation' in Mark 15:42 and John 19:31...The same day is in view in Matt 27:62 where the events recorded took place on 'the day after the Preparation' (RV). The reference would be to the 6th day of the week [or FRIDAY]. The title arose from the need of preparing food etc. for the Sabbath." (Vine, page 483)

No other day has ever been suggested by the term "Preparation" or "the day BEFORE the Sabbath" (Mark 15:42) other than FRIDAY. Conclusion: Jesus was crucified and buried on a FRIDAY.

The New Living Translation, the most recent in scholarly Evangelical Bible versions, even translates the key text as follows:

"THIS ALL HAPPENED ON FRIDAY, the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath..." (Mark 15:42 NLT)

Now Tony Lee, who believes Jesus was crucified on Wednesday (to allow for "three days and three nights" which he insists means 72 hours) and arose on Saturday, appeals to what I call the "two-Sabbath theory" -- there were actually TWO Sabbaths talked about during the events.

From a previous post of Tony Lee (7/21/98) --

TL> But it is sufficient to say THIS explains the two Sabbaths required by the "spices" of Mark 16:1 and Luke 23:56. There were TWO Sabbaths within the week we are covering in the New Testament. >>

No, two Sabbaths are not required -- they are not even hinted at in the text. But with this theory in mind, I am assuming Tony would probably argue the "day before the Sabbath" means the day before the FIRST Sabbath (Thursday), but not the day before the SECOND Sabbath, which we agree is Saturday. However, again I submit there is not one shred of evidence for this two-Sabbath theory (the meaning of "high day" Sabbath will be explained below cf. John 19:31) in the Gospel accounts of the burial of Jesus, and no commentary I have checked has ever mentioned anything but ONE Sabbath in the parallel accounts.

Tony also tries to assert a contradiction in the Gospels on the spices, and that will be answered below. If the Sabbath mentioned in Luke 23:56 and Mark 16:1 (cf. Mt 28:1; Jn 19:31,42; 20:1) is the one and only SAME Sabbath -- the Seventh-day or SATURDAY Sabbath -- there is no evidence of this "two-Sabbath theory" and the FRIDAY crucifixion and burial of Jesus must be accepted as it has been for nearly 2,000 years.

"...all four Gospels are unanimous, as is the entire tradition of the Church, that Christ died on a Friday." (Warren Carroll, The Founding of Christendom [1985], p 366)

"The latter word 'preparation', can mean 'day of preparation' (Mk 15:42; Mt 27:62; Jn 19:14,31,42). It refers to the day of the Jewish week immediately preceding the Sabbath (i.e. Thursday evening to Friday evening)....Here Friday must be meant, as the next clause makes clear [Lk 23:54]." (I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke [1978], p 881)

"The fact must be faced that no example of the use of [Preparation Day in Greek] is cited for any day other than Friday. The use for Friday is cited, both by linking the term with the Sabbath (Josephus, Ant 16.163), and, from the second century, absolutely (Didache 8.1; Martyrdom of Polycarp 7.1). The evidence that the term was used for Friday must be accepted." (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [1995], p 687)

"Almost all scholars agree -- and the Gospels are quite clear -- that the Crucifixion took place on a Friday; Jesus lay in the tomb on Saturday (the Sabbath); and he rose from the dead on the third day, Sunday." (William Proctor, The Resurrection Report [1998], p 163)

(B) The Day of Christ's Resurrection

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was RAISED ON THE THIRD DAY in accordance with the Scriptures..." (1 Corinthians 15:3f RSV)

Now that we have established Friday as the day of the Crucifixion and Burial of Jesus, "the day BEFORE the Sabbath" (Mk 15:42), it is simply a matter of counting TO the third day for his Resurrection, since Jesus predicted and is said to have risen "ON the third day" (which is the primary phrase in the NT for the DAY of Christ's Resurrection cf. Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Lk 9:22; 18:33; 24:7,46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor 15:4).

I want Tony to note here that in these texts above Jesus is not said to have risen in EXACTLY 72 HOURS (although the misunderstood phrase "three days and three nights" does appear once in Matthew 12:40 -- see below). The texts above say Jesus arose *ON* the third day.

The equivalent phrase "AFTER three days" (Mt 27:63; Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:34) will be covered in my answers to Tony Lee's objections below. Clearly, if Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday, and even Tony admits that Jesus was risen BY the events of Easter morning --

TL> Sure, He was risen by then. >>

TL> So it was Sunday. But did the Resurrection take place then? >>

Then Sunday *IS* "the THIRD day" if we count the days "inclusively" -- for Jesus rose "*ON* the third day" (Mt 16:21; and the texts above). Counting the days "inclusively" as the Jews did in reckoning time : (this inclusive reckoning of days will be explained in detail below)

FRIDAY (afternoon/evening before the Sabbath, the FIRST day)

SATURDAY (Sabbath, the SECOND day)

SUNDAY (morning after the Sabbath, the THIRD day)

Another point to note is that the Sabbath actually began at sunset on Friday, and continued to sunset on Saturday, and was not midnight to midnight as we reckon time today. Therefore, it is only required for a "Sunday Resurrection" that Christ arose after sunset on Saturday and before the women discover the empty tomb early Sunday morning.

TL> But NONE of these specify WHEN He arose. Not a ONE. >>

Now I grant that in the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, the text does not explicitly say (aside from Mark 16:9 below)

"Jesus rose ON the first day of the week [or Sunday]...."

But that is not necessary since "the first day of the week" (Mt 28:1; Mk 16:2; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1) is clearly "the third day" after his Crucifixion on Friday, again taken inclusively. So the only possible conclusion: Jesus rose *ON* SUNDAY.

In addition, we do have a text (Mk 16:9 NLT) that explicitly says:


I'll cover the Greek of this text later since it is disputed, but even this text is only further confirmation that Jesus rose *ON* SUNDAY.

"...there is the clear emphasis in all the Gospels (Mt 28:1; Mk 16:2; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1,19) on the fact that the Resurrection of Christ took place on the first day of the week." (New Catholic Encyclopedia [1967], "Lord's Day" vol 8, p 991)

"The most common theological motivations presented in recent studies to explain the origin of Sunday-keeping are the resurrection and/or the appearances of Jesus WHICH TOOK PLACE ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK." (Sam Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday [1977], p 74)

Note: Even this SdA scholar does not deny Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Sunday. See also his web site for his book on the timing of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

(C) The Meaning of "the Lord's Day"

"I was in the Spirit ON THE LORD'S DAY...." (Revelation 1:10 RSV)

Now that I have proven the Crucifixion and Burial took place on Friday, the Resurrection took place on Sunday, I now need to demonstrate that Sunday is indeed "the Lord's Day." Unfortunately, the above text is the only time the phrase "the Lord's Day" appears in the New Testament so it is difficult proving from the Bible alone that the phrase means necessarily "the first day of the week" or Sunday, the Day of the Lord's glorious Resurrection.

However, there are a number of Biblical commentaries I have checked that are quite sure (with the exception of Sam Bacchiocchi and a few others) that this may indeed be the very first reference to Sunday as the "Lord's Day" -- which became early on the Christian day of worship.

There are several reasons for this. First, let's summarize the three major interpretations of Revelation 1:10 that have been presented by prominent Biblical scholars. They are the following:

(1) "Lord's Day" = Sunday (the vast majority of commentaries and the entire patristic witness supports this)

(2) "Lord's Day" = Easter-Sunday (a few scholars defend this)

(3) "Lord's Day" = the "Day of the Lord" in judgment (e.g. 1 Thess 5:2; Sam Bacchiocchi argues this along with a few others)

A fourth interpretation might be mentioned that "Lord's Day" = the Jewish or Seventh-day Sabbath which is the standard Seventh-day Adventist interpretation -- but it is not even considered an option by the SdA scholar Bacchiocchi himself, and one of the leading scholars on the history of Sunday observance writes:

"We need not consider any adventist interpretation which would seek to understand the -kuriake hemera- of Rev 1:10 as a reference to the Sabbath, as there is no basis whatsoever for this in the text." (Willy Rordorf, Sunday [1968], p 207)

For a refutation of the SdA misunderstanding of the text, see the appendix "The Puzzle of Seventh-day Adventism" in Walter Martin's classic book Kingdom of the Cults (Bethany House, 1985), page 459 ff which deals with the attempt to connect Mark 2:28 (that Jesus is "Lord even of the Sabbath") with Rev 1:10 to support the unique SdA view.

If Tony Lee wants to push this interpretation, I would ask him to produce a single non-SdA commentary that supports it. To my knowledge, there are none since there is no basis for Lord's Day = Sabbath.

I will not defend (2) or (3) above -- the main arguments in their favor and rebuttals to these arguments are found in two of the major studies on the history of Sunday, that of Willy Rordorf Sunday and SdA scholar Sam Bacchiocchi From Sabbath to Sunday which is largely a reply to Rordorf's work. Other good sources to check are the study by Reformed author Paul Jewett Lord's Day and the work edited by D.A. Carson From Sabbath to Lord's Day (which answers Bacchiocchi's thesis).

A typical good argument in favor of the primary interpretation (1) above is found in Homer Hailey's commentary published by Baker Books:

"'On the Lord's day,' occurring only here in the New Testament, clearly refers to the first day of the week. The Lord had been raised on that day (cf. Luke 24:1,13,21,46), the Holy Spirit came on the first day (Acts 2:1), the Jewish festival Shavuot (Pentecost) always came on the first day of the week (Lev 23:15,16). Since the church began on Pentecost, the first day was the birthday of the church. The early church met on that day to eat the Lord's supper (Acts 20:7), and believers were taught to lay by of their means on that day for the support of others (1 Cor 16:1-2).

"'The Lord's day' is not to be confused with 'the day of the Lord,' used often in both testaments. This latter expression always refers to a day of judgment and retribution; 'the Lord's day,' indicates the first day of the week. The following use of -Kuriakos- may help to explain John's point: Kuriakos, 'belonging to the Lord, the Lord's' (A & G), is used only here, Kuriake hemera, 'Lord's day,' and in 1 Corinthians 11:20, Kuriakon deipnon, 'Lord's supper.'

"The day was the Lord's day, the supper was the Lord's supper. The Lord's supper was observed on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Surely the Lord's supper was observed on the Lord's day, and if so, it must follow that the Lord's day was the first day of the week. The Lord provided this new name for a new day on which new religious service was observed." (Homer Hailey, Revelation [1979], p 106f)

In a footnote (see Homer Hailey, page 107, footnote 1) are listed a number of the patristic witnesses to this interpretation in the early Church. While Tony Lee does not like it, many Evangelical commentaries recognize the value of appealing to the Fathers to find out what they understood by the term "Lord's day." Some of these early Christians (like St. Ignatius of Antioch) were taught by the Apostle John himself who penned the book of Revelation.

"The ante-Nicene writers who wrote after John followed a consistent pattern in considering 'the first day,' 'the Lord's day,' the 'resurrection day,' and the day of meeting, Sunday, as identical."

Ignatius (30-107 AD) writes,

"Let every friend of Christ keep the Lord's day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all the days (of the week)" [ANF:1:63].

Justin [Martyr] (110-165 AD), writing of the day on which the saints met for worship identified it as

"Sunday...the first day...and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead" [ANF:1:168].

The Teaching of the Twelve [or Didache c. 70-140 AD]:

"But every Lord's day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread" [ANF:7:381].

Clement [of Alexandria] (153-217 AD), writing against the Gnostics, identifies the Lord's day with the resurrection, saying,

"He, in fulfillment of the precept, according to the Gospel, keeps the Lord's day...glorifying the Lord's resurrection" [ANF:2:545].

Tertullian (145-220 AD) identifies "the Lord's day" as "every eighth day" [ANF:3:70].

Constitution of the Holy Apostles (250-325 AD):

"And on the day of our Lord's resurrection, which is the Lord's day, meet more diligently" [ANF:7:423]; and

"on the day of the resurrection of the Lord, that is, the Lord's day, assemble yourselves together, without fail" [ibid, 471].

Even the old Fundamentalist preacher, H. A. Ironside reminds us:

"He [John] tells us he was 'in the Spirit on the Lord's Day.' The Lord's Day is a divinely given designation for the first day of the week....The first day of the week is preeminently the day for Christians. Whenever the earliest Christian writers refer to the term 'Lord's Day,' they speak of it as the first day of the week....I venture to say that people who lived from fifty to two hundred years after the apostle John were far more likely to know what was meant by the term 'Lord's Day' than people who live 1800 years after." (Lectures on Revelation [1932], p 20f)

Oscar Cullmann in his important study Early Christian Worship comments

" is not without significance that the Seer [John] mentions that he saw his visions on a 'Lord's Day' (1.10), at a time, therefore, when the Christian community was gathered together...

"...we affirm...that already in earliest times the primitive Christian (Church) service created for itself a specifically Christian setting in which ONE day was specially marked out as the day for the (Church) services -- the Lord's Day."

[Footnote refers to: 1 Cor 16:2; Acts 20:7; Rev 1:10; Didache 14:1; Ignatius Magn 9:1; Barnabas 15:9; Justin Apol I 67:3; Pliny X 96:7]

"That is not the Jewish Sabbath, but in deliberate distinction from Judaism, the first Christians selected the first day of the week, since on this day Christ had risen from the dead, and on this day he had appeared to the disciples gathered together for a meal. The Lord's Day of the first Christians was therefore a celebration of Christ's resurrection. EACH Lord's Day was an Easter Festival, since this was not yet confined to one single Sunday in the year...In fact, in his [John's] time, the day of Christ's resurrection, called in Rev 1:10 -kuriake hemera-, was already universally celebrated in Christian Churches." (Oscar Cullmann, page 7, 10-11, 91)

Hutton Webster, in his anthropological and historical study of the Christian Sunday and the Jewish Sabbath, titled REST DAYS, writes:

"...Sunday, which by Jewish custom was called 'the first day' after the Sabbath, eventually received the designation -kuriake hemera- [and in Latin] (dies dominica), the Lord's Day."

[A footnote on Rev 1:10 notes that some critics hold that the author of the Apocalypse was possibly referring not to Sunday but to the day of Judgment, called elsewhere "the great day" cf. Rev 16:14]

"The New Testament contains unambiguous evidence that from a very early period 'the first day of the week' was observed by Christians as a day of assembly for the 'breaking of bread' and perhaps for the collection of free-will offerings [Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2]."

Webster goes on to cite a number of the early patristic witnesses for the equation Lord's Day = Sunday: Barnabas, the Didache, Eusebius (letter of Dionysius to Soter), Melito of Sardis, Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, and Tertullian (Hutton Webster, page 267 ff).

The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) is quite fair in stating:

"The only explicit mention of the Lord's Day in the NT occurs in Apoc 1.10...From this single reference alone, it would be impossible to conclude that the early Christians celebrated the first day of the week, Sunday, as their special day of devotion and rest. However, there are several indications in the NT, which, taken in conjunction with other early Christian writings, provide strong cumulative evidence to that effect." ("Lord's Day", vol 8, p 990f)

The NCE then cites the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, the texts Acts 20:7 (2:42,46; 1 Cor 10:16); 1 Cor 16:2; as well as early Christian writings the Didache, Barnabas, Ignatius, and Justin as evidence.

Another Evangelical commentary on Revelation, by Robert H. Mounce says:

"The vision takes place 'on the Lord's day.' Some have interpreted this as a reference to 'the day of Yahweh.' That is, John is carried forward by the Spirit to the day of consummation when Christ is un- veiled and the judgment of God falls on mankind. It is more probable that this is the first mention in Christian literature of the Lord's day as a technical term for the first day of the week."

[A footnote says if the reference were to the eschatological day of the Lord, we would expect the more usual [Greek] of 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10 rather than [the Greek] which appears only in Rev 1:10 and 1 Cor 11:20; and in the Didache 14:1; Ignatius Magn 9:1; the Gospel of Peter; Melito of Sardis (Eusebius Hist Eccl 4:26) ]

"It is the Lord's day because on the first day of the week Christ rose victorious from the grave. As paganism had set aside a day on which to honor their emperor, so also Christians chose the first day of each week to honor Christ. The Lord's day should be understood over against the emperor's day." (Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation [1977], p 76)

For more on the origin of "Lord's Day" in contrast with the "emperor's" or "king's day", I'll quote the New Bible Commentary edited by top Evangelical scholars, D.A. Carson, R.T. France, et al :

"John was 'in the Spirit on the Lord's Day' [Rev 1:10], i.e. in a condition of ecstasy, not by being transported to view events of 'the day of the Lord', but to receive the vision on 'the day that belongs to the Lord' (as in the phrase 'the Lord's Supper'; 1 Cor 11:20). The expression 'the Lord's Day' was probably modelled on the comparable -Sabaste-, i.e. 'Caesar's Day', which in turn imitated the action of the Egyptian Ptolomy Euergetes, who named the 25th day of each month 'the king's day' in honour of his coronation on the 25th day of Dios. It is thought that Caesar's day was observed weekly in certain areas. Evidently an unknown Christian claimed the title 'the Lord's Day' to celebrate the day when Jesus, God's own appointed Lord of this world, rose from death to share the throne of God." (p 1426)

Summarizing all the above, and considering all three possible views (Lord's Day = Sunday / Easter-Sunday / the "Day of the Lord"), and carefully analyzing all the relevant patristic evidence, one of the leading experts on the history of Sunday worship concludes:

"If we consider together the [earliest] passages discussed here (Rev 1:10; Did 14.1; Ign Magn 9.1; Gospel of Peter 35; 50)... It is unnecessary to consider all the other passages which provide evidence for the use of -kuriake hemera- [Greek for Lord's Day]. Apart from those instances which do not admit of a decision in one sense or the other [i.e. weekly Sunday vs. annual Easter-Sunday], the reference in EVERY CASE is to the weekly Sunday....and it is impossible to interpret -Dominicus Dies- [Latin for Lord's Day used from Tertullian c. 200 AD forward] as meaning any day other than the weekly Sunday."

"There remains room for hardly any doubt that -kuriake hemera- was ALWAYS AND FROM THE VERY BEGINNING...a new Christian designation for the weekly Sunday."

"To sum up, we can say: from the oldest (New Testament) texts concerning the Christian observance of Sunday we may conclude that Sunday clearly played an important role even in the Pauline churches. On Sunday money was put aside for the saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:2), and Christians assembled for the breaking of bread on Sunday (Acts 20:7a). Also, in Syria a new Greek name came to be used for the day of the week which was made distinctive by Christians in this way: it was -he kuriake hemera- or simply -he kuriake- (Rev 1:10)." (Willy Rordorf, Sunday, p 212ff)

Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Lord's Day :

2174. Jesus rose from the dead "on the first day of the week" [Cf. Mt 28:1; Mk 16:2; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1]. Because it is the "first day," the day of Christ's Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the "eighth day" following the sabbath [Cf. Mk 16:1; Mt 28:1], it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ's Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord's Day (he kuriake hemera, dies dominica) -- Sunday:

"We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day [after the Jewish sabbath, but also the first day] when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead." [St. Justin Martyr, I Apol 67; MPG 6:429,432]

If Tony Lee can make a better case for "the Lord's Day" of Rev 1:10 meaning anything OTHER THAN the weekly Sunday, I would like to see it. As far as SdA scholar Sam Bacchiocchi (who admits the above view "represents indeed the prevailing interpretation") and his position that the Lord's Day is a "variation on" the "Day of the Lord" in end-time judgment (cf. 1 Thess 5:2; Rev 16:14) I hope to deal with some of his arguments in an appendix on the Jewish Sabbath.

(D) The Meaning of "Three Days and Three Nights" in Jewish Reckoning

"For as Jonah was THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:40; cf. Jonah 1:17 RSV)

Now we come to one of Tony Lee's main objections to the Friday-Sunday chronology in the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. How could Christ's own prediction concerning the "Sign of Jonah" that he would be buried "three days and three nights" be true if he was crucified on Friday and rose from the dead on Sunday (the Lord's Day) ?

Surely -- says Tony Lee -- that is only "two days and two nights" at the most, or PARTS of three days and nights at best? Surely, Jesus would not be lying to us that he must be in the tomb EXACTLY 72 HOURS!

TL> The only time that meets both criteria is a Resurrection after 72 hours following entombment. Nothing more, nothing less. >>

The problem is that is NOT what is meant by the phrase "three days and three nights" (in the Gospels only Matthew 12:38ff cf. Luke 11:29ff). If Tony would do a bit of study, he would find his objection carries no weight whatsoever. A number of points can be made in response.

First, if we are to take the words of Christ in a wooden-literal sense that "three days/nights" = 72 hours then there is definitely a conflict since Jesus also predicted he would be raised "ON the third day" cf. Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Lk 9:22; 18:33; 24:7,46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor 15:4).

Tony's thesis representing Wednesday-Saturday would be graphically:





24 hours
1 day/night


24 hours
1 day/night


24 hours
1 day/night













How could exactly 72 hours elapse if he were raised BEFORE the third day was completed, that is, ON the third day? Surely, Jesus would have to be raised on the FOURTH day, or right at the beginning of the FOURTH day for 72 hours to completely elapse.

Second, there would be a conflict with the prediction that Jesus would be raised "AFTER three days" (cf. Mt 27:63; Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:34) since surely that must mean AFTER 72 hours, if "three days and three nights" means EXACTLY 72 hours. So we have three "contradictions" here:

EXACTLY 72 hours / BEFORE 72 hours / AFTER 72 hours

This gets really confusing when we find Jesus says he will be raised "IN three days" (John 2:19f) and that the tomb was secured "UNTIL the third day" (Matt 27:64) as well. What could all this mean?

The solution is to see that these are all equivalent phrases:

ON the third day = AFTER three days = "THREE days and THREE nights"

And we know this since two of the phrases are used together in Matthew:

"Next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, 'Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, "AFTER three days I will rise again." Therefore order the sepulchre to be made secure UNTIL the THIRD day, lest his disciples go and steal him away, and tell the people, "He has risen from the dead"'... (27:62 ff RSV)

If Tony's thesis were correct, you would think the tomb would have to be secured until the FOURTH day, since they supposedly understood Jesus to mean he would be in the tomb exactly 72 hours. But such is not the case.

A similar contradiction would exist from the conversation in Luke's Gospel which took place shortly AFTER the Resurrection of Jesus:

"Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him [Jesus],

'Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?

"And he [Jesus] said to them, 'What things?'

"And they said to him,

'Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified is NOW THE THIRD DAY SINCE THIS HAPPENED....'" (Luke 24:18-21 RSV)

We see that in the conversation with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, on the SAME DAY of His Resurrection ("that very day" which is the "first day of the week" Lk 24:1,13), it is said to be "NOW THE THIRD DAY since this happened" -- i.e. since he was delivered up to be condemned to death and was crucified. It is NOT the fourth or FIFTH day since those events (which would be the case if a complete 72 hours have elapsed between Jesus' death, burial and resurrection) but "the THIRD day" since he was delivered up to death and crucified (Lk 24:21).

This passage alone (Lk 24:1,13-27) proves the Friday-Sunday chronology.

Further, we see the phrases in Matthew "AFTER three days" and "UNTIL the third day" are equated (Mt 27:62f). We also noticed the phrase "ON the third day" (Greek -te trite hemera-) and "AFTER three days" (Greek -meta treis hemeras-) are equated when all the texts listed above are compared (e.g. Mt 16:21 with Mk 8:31; the KJV has a slightly different reading in some of these cf. RSV, NIV, and other modern Bible translations).

"In Mark 9:31 and 10:34 the best texts have -meta tresi hemeras-, 'after three days,' which idiomatically expresses the same thing as -te trite hemera- 'on the third day,' which some texts have here as, e.g. the phrase 'the third day' in Matt 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22; 18:33, where the repetition of the article lends stress to the number, lit. 'the day the third'; 24:7,46; Acts 10:40." (Vine, p 631)

THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS : What Does This Really Mean?

Now the Jewish reckoning of time must be considered. Before I appeal to scholarly sources which are overwhelming in support of my position, let's see what can be established simply from statements we find in the Bible. First, there is the similar reference to days/nights in the account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus is said in Matthew's Gospel to have fasted "forty days and forty nights" (Mt 4:2) while the parallel account in Luke's Gospel Jesus fasted simply "forty DAYS" (Lk 4:2). Here we definitely see that "forty DAYS and forty NIGHTS" is equivalent to "forty DAYS" -- just as "three days and three nights" (Mt 12:40) would be equivalent to "ON the third day" and "AFTER three days."

Second, the phrase "EIGHT days later" (John 20:26 RSV, the Greek reads literally "AFTER eight days") is definitely equated with "a week later" (compare the KJV, RSV, NIV, NASB, etc). The NASB has both readings: in the text "AFTER eight days" and in the margin "or a week later."

This one is very helpful in understanding the phrase "AFTER three days" (cf. Mk 8:31 and texts above). Jesus appears to his disciples in the Upper Room on the first day of the week, Sunday (Jn 20:19), and appears to them again on the following Sunday -- which is referred to as "eight days later" or literally in the Greek: "AFTER eight days" (Jn 20:26).

Why? Because of the Jewish "inclusive reckoning" of time that PART of a day is considered a WHOLE day (see also documentation below).

To see this Jewish reckoning "after eight days" = "a week later" :

SUN     MON     TUE     WED     THU     FRI     SAT     SUN

day 1      day 2     day 3     day 4     day 5   day 6   day 7    day 8

part        whole     whole     whole    whole   whole  whole     part

Since the days are counted "inclusively" -- a part of both Sundays are included as WHOLE days -- then Sunday to Sunday is called "AFTER eight days" = one week later (Jn 20:19,26; cf. Lk 9:28; Mt 17:1; Mk 9:2).

"'A week later' (26) represents the Greek for eight days which brings the chronology to the Sunday after Easter." (New Bible Commentary, edited by D.A. Carson, R.T. France, et al [1994], p 1064)

"The expression used in this passage, 'after eight days,' need not mean Monday, since it was customary to count the days inclusively, as we shall note conjunction with the designation eighth day..." (Sam Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday [1977], p 87)

We can see now that since Sunday to Sunday = "after EIGHT days" then similarly, Friday to Sunday = "after THREE days" (e.g. Mk 8:31 et al).


day 1            day 2           day 3

part              whole            part

See how simple this is -- the Jews in reckoning time counted inclusively and a PART of a day is considered a WHOLE day, hence "AFTER three days" or "three days and three nights" need not mean three COMPLETE days or EXACTLY 72 hours, but could mean a period slightly over 24 hours.

Now for some Biblical commentaries and sources that back this up, and further OT examples of the phrase "three days and three nights" :

"'Three days and nights' (Jonah 2:1 [1:17]) need NOT imply complete days; PARTS of a twenty-four-hour day counted as representing the WHOLE day. In early Jewish law, only after three days was the witness to a person's death accepted." (Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary [Intervarsity Press, 1993], p 81)

"'Three days and three nights' is a special phrase used in the ancient world with the meaning 'long enough to be definitely dead.' It derives originally from the ancient pagan notion that the soul's trip to the after-world took three days and three nights. Jesus' use of the same phrase for the duration of his death before his resurrection (Mt 12:40) carries a similar force: it is a way of saying that he would really die, NOT that he would be literally dead for exactly seventy-two hours. 'Three days and three nights' was a Jewish idiom for a period covering PARTS of three 24-hour 'days-and-nights' (cf. 1 Sam 30:12-13; Est 4:16-5:1)." (New Bible Commentary, p 819,920 under Jonah 1:17/Matt 12:40)

"In ancient literature [three days and three nights] indicated a period so long that if someone appeared to be in the realm of death for that length of time, only divine intervention could bring him back to life. ...Three days may also simply mean a fairly long time (cf. 1 Sam 30: 12; Esther 4:16). In Jonah it heightens the picture of the great power of God who can save his disobedient messenger even after 'three days and three nights.' Much later Jesus' disciples on the way to Emmaus had given up hope because 'this is THE THIRD DAY since it happened' (Luke 24:21)." (The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah commentary by John D.W. Watts [Cambridge Univ Press, 1975], p 82f)

"Jesus stayed in the realm of the dead PARTS of three twenty-four-hour periods, not three whole days and nights. But the reference to three days and three nights comes out of Jonah 2:1 [1:17] rather than from the story of Jesus and causes no problem in view of the Jewish method of reckoning PART of a twenty-four-hour day for the WHOLE (see Gen 42:17-18; 1 Sam 30:1,12-13; 2 Chron 10:5,12; Esth 4:16-5:1; and rabbinic references in TDNT 2:949-950). Here is the only reference to his death and resurrection that Jesus made in the hearing of Jewish leaders. The chief priests and Pharisees will allude to it in recalling that he said he would rise 'AFTER three days' (27:63)....The reason is that Matthew's Jesus spoke to the Jewish leaders about staying in the realm of the dead three days and three nights. But Jesus rose ON the third day. Though the peculiarity of the Jews' method of reckoning time eliminates a necessary contradiction, Matthew suits the two different ways of phrasing the matter to the audience of Pharisees on the one hand (27:63 with 12:40) and to the historical event on the other hand (16:21; 17:23; 20:19) [which read 'ON the third day']." (Robert H. Gundry, MATTHEW: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution [Eerdmans, 1994], p 244-245)

Now for the scholarly Theological Dictionary of the New Testament referred to above as TDNT, edited by Gerhard Kittel, under "DAY" :

"The difficulty has often been advanced that there is a discrepancy between the ['on the third day'] of Matthew, Luke, and Paul and the usual ['after three days'] of Mark. But in this connection it has to be remembered that difficulties always arise in the reckoning of days according to Jewish usage. Thus

'in Halachic statements PART of a day is reckoned as a WHOLE day'

[Footnote has rabbinic source Str-B I,649 and the original Hebrew 'part of a day counts as a whole day' e.g. bNazir 5b; Pes 4,2]

"and already in the first century A.D. we read: 'A day and a night constitute a -onah- ([Hebrew for] a full day), and part of a -onah- counts as a whole -onah-' (jShab 12a,15,17)

"IT IS IN THIS LIGHT THAT WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND MATTHEW 12:40...Thus the Marcan narrative ['after three days'] means that Friday and the night up to the resurrection are each counted as a day, while Matthew, Luke and Paul...use a mode of expression ['on the third day'] which would be regarded as more correct by Greeks. Both forms are found in close proximity in Matthew 27:63f..." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [TDNT], vol 2, p 949f)

[Footnote 30 also refers to Josephus "inclusive" reckoning of days and references are given: Antiquities 7:280f; 8:214/218; 5:17]

The exact same point is made by Evangelical Protestants Kenneth Barker (Hebrew scholar and general editor of the NIV), and John Kohlenberger in the NIV Bible Commentary (Volume II: NT, Zondervan, 1994) that Jewish tradition says that an -onah- is a day and a night and that PART of an -onah- is considered as the WHOLE. They also state the "Wednesday crucifixion" idea is incompatible with "ON the third day" as I pointed out above (see Barker commentary on Mt 12:40, page 63).

This pretty well seals the case that "three days and three nights" (Matthew 12:40) should be understood "inclusively" as PARTS of three days as the Jews reckoned time, and we should not force the text into meaning "exactly 72 hours" or anything else that is unsupportable by any evidence. For more OT examples of "inclusive reckoning" :

Genesis 42:17-18 -- Joseph puts his brothers in prison "FOR THREE DAYS" and speaks to them that they might be released "ON the third day" -- an equivalent phrase (as above) meaning the days are counted inclusively and this is a period of time less than 72 hours.

1 Samuel 30:12-13 -- an Egyptian who is brought to David is said to have not eaten "for three days and three nights" (vs. 12). Does this mean he stopped eating exactly 72 hours ago? No, since the man replies his master abandoned him, he became ill, and presumably had no food at that point, which he says happened "THREE DAYS AGO." Again, counting the days inclusively we have a period of time less than 72 hours.

2 Chronicles 10:5,12 -- King Rehoboam tells the Israelites: "Come back to me IN THREE DAYS" (vs. 5). An equivalent phrase according to verse 12 meaning "THREE DAYS LATER" -- taking the three days inclusively.

Esther 4:16-5:1 -- Esther tells the Jews in Susa to fast: "Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king..." (NIV) Did she mean they must fast for exactly 72 hours? Definitely not, since Esther puts on her royal robes and goes to the king's palace to enjoy the feast set for them "ON the third day" (5:1ff). And so on....

In summary, there is absolutely no reason to take the same phrase found in Matthew 12:40 in any literal sense of "exactly 72 hours" or three complete days -- and the crucial point in the predictions of the Resurrection is the glorious event itself, that Jesus was "raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" and not the precise timing or hour of the event.

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith...if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins...." (St. Paul the Apostle, 1 Corinthians 15:3f,14,17 NIV)


Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) edited by Gerhard Kittel (Eerdmans, 1964) article "DAY" (vol 2, pg 943 ff)

Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words edited by W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr. (Thomas Nelson Publ, 1985)

New Bible Commentary (21st Century Edition) edited by D.A. Carson, R.T. France, J.A. Motyer, G.J. Wenham (Intervarsity Press, 1994)

The Gospel According to John: A Theological Commentary by Herman N. Ridderbos, trans by John Vriend (Eerdmans, 1997)

The Gospel According to John (Revised Edition) by Leon Morris (Eerdmans, 1995)

The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text by I. Howard Marshall (Eerdmans, 1978)

MATTHEW: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution by Robert H. Gundry (Eerdmans, 1994)

The Revelation of John: A Continental Commentary by Jurgen Roloff trans by John E. Alsup (Fortress Press, 1993)

REVELATION: An Introduction and Commentary by Homer Hailey (Baker Book House, 1979)

The Book of Revelation by Robert H. Mounce (Eerdmans, 1977)

The Resurrection Report by William Proctor (Broadman/Holman, 1998) a New York Daily News reporter covers the details of the Gospel accounts like a seasoned journalist


The Faith of the Early Fathers by William Jurgens (1970, 1979)

The Founding of Christendom (volume 1 of A History of Christendom) by Warren H. Carroll (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1985)

REST DAYS: The Christian Sunday, the Jewish Sabbath, and their Historical and Anthropological Prototypes by Hutton Webster (Macmillan, 1916, 1968)

Early Christian Worship by Oscar Cullmann (London, 1953)

The History of the Sabbath by Peter Heylyn (1969, orig London 1636)

THE SABBATH: A Guide to Its Understanding and Observance by Dayan Dr. Isidor Grunfeld (Jerusalem, NY, 1972)

HOLY TIME: Moderate Puritanism and the Sabbath by John H. Primus (Mercer Univ Press, 1989)

SABBATH AND SYNAGOGUE: The Question of Sabbath Worship in Ancient Judaism by Heather McKay (Leiden, NY, 1994)

THE SEVENTH-DAY MEN: Sabbatarians and Sabbatarianism in England and Wales, 1600-1800 by Bryan W. Ball (Oxford Univ Press, 1994)

SUNDAY: The History of the Day of Rest and Worship in the Earliest Centuries of the Christian Church by Willy Rordorf (London, 1968)

FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity by Samuele Bacchiocchi (Rome, 1977)

New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) and the articles under "Sabbath" "Sabbatarianism" "Sunday" "Preparation Day" "Lord's Day"

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