On What Day of the Week Did Christ Die? How Does This Relate to Good Friday?

Paul Tambrino, EdD, PhD
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Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.

Question #24 – On What Day of the Week Did Christ Die? How Does This Relate to Good Friday?

 

Until 1881 most theologians believed that Christ was crucified on a Friday, but in that year Brooke Foss Westcott was the first to propose an alternate day.

He believe that Thursday would better explain Christ’s comment in Matthew 12:40 where Jesus sates that as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Since then others taking the most literally view of holding to an exact 72 hour period have proposed that Christ was crucified on a Wednesday.“Jesus said He would be raised up in three days. Thus, Jesus must have been in the grave for a period of time only extending to the third day.”

Examining the Wednesday view first, if the text in Matthew refers to a literal 72 hour period then Christ could have risen no later than 6 PM Saturday, otherwise He would have risen on the fourth day; yet we know from Scripture that He arose on the first day of the week or Sunday.

If Jesus was actually in the tomb for a literal period of three days and three nights, logically He would have risen on the fourth day.

However, Jesus said He would be raised up in three days. (Matt. 16:21, Mk. 8:31; Lk. 9:22, Jn. 2:19-22, Acts 10:40, 1 Cor. 15:4) Thus, Jesus must have been in the grave for a period of time only extending to the third day.

While Matthew 12:40 seems to indicate that Christ must have been in the tomb for three days and three nights, there is evidence that this phrase is an idiomatic expression and should not be taken to mean a literal period of three days and nights.

For example in Esther 4:16, Esther asks the Jews not to eat or drink for three days, night or day. Later we find out that she saw the king on the third day. (Esth. 5:1)

In 1 Samuel 30:12 an abandoned Egyptian servant had not eaten bread or water for three days and three nights, yet in verse 13 we read that his master left him behind three days ago.“While the arguments for the Thursday view are very compelling it precludes Christ from eating the Passover meal, which many texts seem to indicate that He did.”

Also, according to the Wednesday view, Christ would have entered Jerusalem on the Sabbath, the preceding Saturday. If so, He would have been accused of breaking the Sabbath.

Those who hold to the Thursday view also insist on a literal interpretation of Matthew 12:40 but not so literal as to render it a 72 hour period. This view removes the restriction of Christ’s resurrection having to occur no later than 6 PM Saturday and allows for the Sunday resurrection.

Adherents to this view rely on the concept of successive Sabbaths to explain why Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matt. 28:11) waited two days to attend to the Lord’s body and to go to the tomb after the Sabbath had ended. (Jn .20:1)

While the arguments for the Thursday view are very compelling it precludes Christ from eating the Passover meal, which many texts (Matt. 26:2, Matt. 26:17-19, Mk. 14:1, Mk. 14:12-16, Lk. 22) seem to indicate that He did.

Moreover, we know from Matthew 26:17 and Luke 23:54 that the last supper was a Passover meal so Christ could not have been crucified on the day of its preparation.“The Friday view holds to Jesus’ prediction that He would be raised on the third day.”

The argument of two successive Sabbaths is very weak. In Matthew 28:1, where the plural form of Sabbath is employed, it is not referring to more than one Sabbath.

Often the name of festivals were written in the plural form yet the plural form was never used to speak of more than one festival.

Also, John 19:31 presents a problem for both the Wednesday and Thursday views. If bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, “for that Sabbath was a high day,” there would have been no immediate need to take down the bodies unless Christ was crucified on Friday.

The Friday view holds to Jesus’ prediction that He would be raised on the third day. (Matt. 16:21, Mk. 8:31, Lk. 9:22) According to Jewish literature, a day and a night make an “onah,” and part of an “onah” is a whole.

In other words any part of a day and night counted as a whole day. Proponents of the Friday view insist that this view best fits with the majority of biblical passages.“Luke 24:21, which ends with these words “today is the third day since these things happened,” provides the most compelling support for the Friday view.”

Jesus was placed in the tomb on the evening of the day of Preparation (Friday), the day before the Sabbath (Matt, 27:62, Matt. 28:1, Mark 15:42, Lk. 23:54, Lk. 23:56, Jn. 19:31, Jn. 19:42); the women returned from the tomb and rested at home during the Sabbath or Saturday (Lk. 23:56); on the first day of the week, early Sunday morning they returned to the empty tomb (Matt. 28:1, Mk. 16:1-2, Lk. 24:1, Jn. 20:1); on the same day Jesus walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13) and they told Jesus that their master had been crucified (Lk. 24:21).

This verse from Luke 24:21, which ends with these words “today is the third day since these things happened,” provides the most compelling support for the Friday view.

There are four passages (Matt. 27:63, Mk. 8:31, Mk. 9:31 and Mk. 10:34) that say Christ will be raised after three days.

The three passages from Mark are paralleled respectively by passages that use the phrase “on the third day.” (Matt. 20:19 and Lk. 9:22; Matt. 17:23, Matt. 20:19 and Lk. 18:33)

In Matthew 27:63 the Pharisees informed Pilate that Jesus predicted that He would rise again after three days and then in the next verse they ask for the tomb to be guarded until the third day.

These and other arguments from Old Testament typology, prophecy and history point to the validity of the Friday view.

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