Three days and three nights

posted: 4374 days ago, on Tuesday, 2005 Dec 20 at 08:44
tags: atheism, Bible study.

In the Matthew Henry Commentary, the author comments that Jesus "lay so long, to show that he was really and truly dead; and no longer, that he might not see corruption." I find this a truly odd comment. After all, at Jesus' death, graves opened and "many bodies of the saints which slept arose … and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many" [Mat 27:52-53]. It seems hard to imagine that the saints appeared as rotting corpses or noisy skeletons. I'd suppose they appeared looking as they did in life – so if they were well-preserved, why would Henry think that a few hours-worth of death would "corrupt" Jesus?

I've often heard it said that Jesus was dead for three days, and was then resurrected.

The fundamental creed used by the Reformed Churches is the Apostles' Creed, which dates back to the early days of the Church, composed about 50 years after the last writings of the New Testament. It starts out with "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ…" who on the third day arose again from the dead.

The Nicene Creed, the most widespread Christian statement of faith, dates from the 4th century CE, and says: "[Jesus] suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the scriptures".

Both creeds stipulate only that Jesus rose on the third day, not that he was dead for three days.

Consulting the Bible (using three versions: the King James version, the American Standard Version, and the New Living Translation), I looked at the gospel of Matthew, from chapter 27 vs 45 to chapter 28 vs 6.

This allowed me to draw up a time-line of events surrounding the crucifixion, burial and death of Jesus, as follows:

  1. day 1: darkness over the whole land (12:00-15:00); just after 15:00 Jesus died. [mat 27:45-46]. Joseph of Arimathea claims Jesus' body and places it in a tomb (evening; before sunset) [mat 27:57-60]
  2. night 1: Jesus dead and in tomb.
  3. day 2: Jesus dead and in tomb; priests and pharisees ask Pilate for men to guard the tomb. [mat 27:62-66]
  4. night 2: Jesus dead and in tomb. Guards presumably on duty.
  5. day 3: Jesus alive and not in tomb. Two Marys arrive at empty tomb at daybreak. [mat 28:1-6]

By my reckoning, the Bible suggests Jesus was dead for about 39 hours:

  1. on Friday, he was dead for 9 hours (15:00 until midnight)
  2. on Saturday, he was dead the whole time (24 hours)
  3. on Sunday, he was already alive at daybreak, so let's say he was dead for 6 hours.

Another Bible resource: Blue Letter Bible

The authoritative Matthew Henry Commentaries, in discussing these passages, reaches a similar conclusion: "He was buried in the evening of the sixth day of the week, and arose in the morning of the first day of the following week, so that he lay in the grave about thirty-six or thirty-eight hours."

This is quite a bit shorter than three days. Thus, my friends who insisted that the Bible teaches that Jesus was dead for three days and three nights, must be wrong.

However, earlier in Matthew's gospel, the apostle states quite distinctly:

"For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." [Mat 12:40]

Matthew is referring to a passage from the Old Testament:

"Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." [Jon 1:17]

So we now have a puzzle. Matthew quite clearly states three days and three nights in one place, but in another implies a more-or-less 39 hour period, thus contradicting himself.

Can any of you gentle readers shed light on this?

nothing more to see. please move along.