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2006·04·13 · 9 Comments
What Day Was the Crucifixion?

On which day was Jesus crucified? It seems like an odd question, doesn’t it? The gospels give a clear record of a Friday crucifixion, so why even ask? Well, that is what I said too, but there are some who claim that Jesus must have been crucified on Wednesday or Thursday, and they are not entirely without justification. A Friday night burial and Sunday morning resurrection allows only one full day and two nights in the tomb, when Jesus clearly said that he would be in the grave for “three days and three nights”. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, under divine inspiration, clearly chronicled a Friday evening burial and Sunday morning resurrection. So, who is wrong? Consider the Gospel accounts:

Day 1, Friday: Death and burial

Mark 15:37,42-46 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. . . . And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.

Luke 23:46,50,52-56 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. . . . And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: . . . This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.

John 19:30-31,33,38,41-42 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away . . . But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: … And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. . . . Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

Day 2, Saturday: Guards posted

Matthew 27:62-66 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

Day 3, Sunday: Resurrection

Matthew 28:1-2,5-6 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. . . . And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

Mark 16:1,5-6 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. . . . And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.

Luk 24:1-3 Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

John 20:1,13-14 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. . . . they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

These are obviously three consecutive days. Jesus was crucified and buried on the first day (the day of preparation for the Sabbath), guards were placed at the tomb on the second (the Sabbath), and Jesus rose from the tomb on the third (the day following the Sabbath, the first day of the week). Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

If it is so obvious, why even bring it up? Because eventually, you may be faced with this question, and it is good to be able to answer with more than, “I don’t know, I never thought of that, that’s a good question,” like I did when I was first asked. This is not just a crackpot theory that you will hear from the eccentric oddball who talks too much in your adult Sunday school class. I heard it first from Charles Swindoll. It is also a choice argument for those who like to point out that “the Bible is full of contradictions.”

Those who question the Gospel accounts will do so based on Matthew 12:40, which refers to Jonah 1:17.

“For as Jonah 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.” (Matthew 12:40)

“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.” (Jonah 1:17)

The gospels all agree that Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday, and rose early Sunday morning. It is easily understood that “three days in the belly of the fish/heart of the earth” does not have to mean a full seventy-two hours. He was buried on Friday, and rose on Sunday; three days. But it is only two nights. What about that third night?

According to C.F. Keil,

The three days and three nights are not to be regarded as fully three times twenty hours, but are to be interpreted according to Hebrew usage, as signifying that Jonah was vomited up again on the third day after he had been swallowed. [C. F. Keil. Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, volume 10 Minor Prophets (Hendrickson, 1996), 269.]

John MacArthur writes,

The matter of three days and three nights is often used either to prove Jesus was mistaken about the time he would actually spend in the tomb or that he could not have been crucified on Friday afternoon and raised early on Sunday, the first day of the week. But as in modern usage, the phrase “day and night” can mean not only a full 24-hour day but any representative part of a day. . . . the Jewish Talmud held that “any part of a day is as the whole.” Jesus was simply using a common, well-understood generalization. [MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 8-15 (Moody, 1987), 329.]

Those who insist on interpreting Matthew 12:40 according to modern idiom must explain away the details contained in the gospel accounts. They also create for themselves a no-win situation. Jesus was buried in the evening, and rose in the morning. Therefore, if he was in the grave for three nights, then he was in the grave for only two days, if you only count full days, and he was in the grave for five days if you count partial days. It cannot be exactly three full days and three full nights. No matter how you figure it, it does not add up.

This is a good example of why correct biblical interpretation requires that we understand what the text meant to it's original audience. Whatever it meant to them is what it means to us.

Related: Dr. Walter Kaiser agrees, as does Pastor Phillip Way.


1. 06·04·13··12:59
Ken Fields

Great post! It is clear that you put a great amount of time and effort into dealing with the issue. It is timely...I've had three different people in our church ask me this question in the last two weeks. How did I respond? Stuttering all over myself, I said, "Hmmm...I'll have to think about that."

What will I say now? "Go read The Thirsty Theologian!"

2. 06·04·13··13:15

Thanks, Ken. I was stumped at first, too, but when you read the Gospels and pay attention to the chronology, it really has to be this way.

3. 06·04·13··16:05

I tend to believe the two Sabbath theory. It makes much more sense to me. I don't know about the dates here but the theory seems sound to me.

Tuesday the 13th, was the day the Disciples asked Jesus where to prepare the passover meal.
Wednesday the 14th,Jesus and his Disciples ate the Passover meal in that night. Jesus was crucified in the morning at the third hour, and gave up the Ghost at the ninth hour.

Thursday the 15th, the first Day of Unleavened bread, was a "High Sabbath",no work was to be done.

Friday the 16th, the Women bought and prepared spices to anoint the Lords body.

Saturday the 17th, the regular seventh Day Sabbath, no work was to be done.

Sunday the 18th, the first Day of the week. The day the women came to anoint the body and found the tomb empty.

Jesus gave up the Ghost at the ninth hour on wednesday the 14th.

From the ninth hour the 14th to the ninth hour the 15th is one night and one day.

From the ninth hour the 15th to the ninth hour the 16th is the second night and day.

From the ninth hour the 16th to the ninth hour the 17th is the third day and night. Three days and three nights!

The Lord arose sometime between the ninth hour on the 17th and sunrise on the 18th,satisfying the three days and three nights.

4. 06·04·13··19:55

I haven't considered that theory, Michael, but honestly, it sounds like it was created out of necessity by someone who wanted a novel teaching to present.

I'm sceptical of any theory that requires very much extra-Biblical explanation, regardless of how much sense it seems to make.

A Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection are the plainest reading of the Gospel accounts, and they do not contradict the "three days and three nights" statement. I see no need to look for a more elaborate explanation.

5. 06·04·15··12:40
Steve Weaver

Excellent and Timely (no pun intended) Post!

6. 06·04·18··12:39
St. Lee

This subject is an important one, and one that did give me some trouble in time past. The point of inclusive reckoning is a key, but also consider this. Would Jesus have eaten the passover meal on the wrong day? Jesus Christ the lamb of God IS the passover lamb. Would he have been sacrificed on the wrong day? The explaination that I have come to regard as correct is that Jesus and the disciples observed the passover meal on Thursday evening (Friday in Jewish reckoning)and was crucified on Friday afternoon. The Jews had (as it was explained to me) by this time made a custom of "moving" the passover to Saturday if it fell on a Friday so that they would not have to take two consecutive days off from work. Hence Jesus had the passover meal on the "real" passover, and was sacrificed on the "real" passover, while the Jews kept the passover on Saturday that year. Jewish reckoning said that any part of a day counted as a whole day, so by that reckoning, Jesus was in the tomb for 3 days and 3 nights.

7. 07·04·08··21:26

Thank you all for the insightful information. I have heard different iterations of this message and I decided to research this for my own understanding. The Jewish Talmud, references to part of a day being considered as a whole day--I'm okay with that.
Question: In Genisis 1:5, it states that: And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. Why is there a deviation from what God is stating?

8. 07·09·08··19:43
Jonathan R. Blatto

When Jesus said, "I and my Father are one" how can their be a trinity?

9. 07·09·08··20:03

When you stop taking single verses out of context and consider the whole counsel of God, how can there not be a trinity?

Jesus' statement "I and the Father are one" does not contradict the Trinity, it declares his own deity.

I've written more on this:
Theology 101: The Trinity
I Get Emails (sigh)

Those would be the places to discuss the Trinity; but, as you'll see, I've said about all I've got to say about that.

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