Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How can they say it was three days?

Q: In Matthew 12, Jesus references the story of Jonah and his 3-day stay inside the fish, and then says that like Jonah, "the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The idea that Jesus rose "three days later" is pervasive in Christian lore. But in all the stories of the crucifixion and resurrection, it appears Jesus died on a Friday afternoon, and rose on a Sunday morning -- which is two nights. What am I missing?

A: This is a good question and the answer has to do with the method used for keeping track of time that was in use in Israel at the time of Christ. If any part of the day was experienced then it counted. Was Jesus in the grave for a full 72 hours? No. They counted days from sunset to sunset So Jesus was dead part of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday… but it is referred to as three days because parts of three different days were involved. Similarly, you could accurately say that you have lived in two different centuries and yet still be too young to have a driver’s license! Hope that helps!


Anonymous said...

But that's still not three nights, as Matthew says -- is it?

Pastor Greg said...

The short answer to this observation is that this is a common figure of speech (merism) – to describe the day as “day and night” and cannot be taken literally. It was how they would refer to three separate days or parts of them. There are other examples of this, for instance where “the whole earth” is used or “the sands of the sea” which are normal descriptives for their day.
We do this today. For us, this figure of speech might include something like “everybody was there” which obviously cannot mean that everybody, literally, was there!


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