Palestine Calling
W. M. Christie

Chapter XXII

Was the Crucifixion on Friday?

Here we have a question that claims the attention of every serious Bible student. Books and articles have been written with the express purpose of showing that the Crucifixion must have taken place on Wednesday or Thursday. During the ten years that I lectured in Glasgow every class of students brought up the problem, and every year in Jerusalem, at the Passover Season, the question is raised by earnest Christians, who would fain tread the footsteps of Christ on the very day and the hour of the march to Calvary.

Now throughout the centuries the practically universal ecclesiastical teaching has been that Christ was crucified on the Friday at the Passover Season, and in virtue of its acceptance that day has received a special designation in every church calendar--Good Friday, Charfreitag, Vendredi saint, the Great Preparation (Friday), etc. That does not, however, afford a ground for simple acquiescence. The Christian is in every case entitled to ask: What saith the Scripture? and even to go further and inquire what extraneous light can be found to illuminate or illustrate the Scriptures.

Now in every case with which we have had to deal we have invariably discovered that the assigning of the Crucifixion to a day other than Friday had as its primary basis the statement in Matthew 12:40: "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." This very definite statement received some support from several less definite texts in the Gospels, and thereafter further evidence was sought in connection with (1) Passover procedure, (2) The meaning of the word "preparation," and (3) the Quartodeciman disputes. These we shall consider in this logical sequence.

Now we must confess that had our Lord's declaration regarding the "three days and three nights" been set down in sober western speech, or had it stood alone even in an oriental tongue, we should have expected a literal fulfilment, extending to something like seventy-two hours. We have further to admit that support is given to that interpretation by three further statements also made by the Lord Himself, and set down in Mark's Gospel (8:31; 9:31; 10:34): "And after three days will rise again;" as also by the statement made by the High Priests and Pharisees (Matt. 27:64), when they sought for a guard for the sepulchre, and asserted that Christ Himself had declared: "After three days I will rise again." It is to be noted that the verses quoted from Mark have the various reading, "on the third day," but the reading, "After three days" is evidently genuine, and is accepted by both Tischendorf and Nestle. Thus we have four occasions on which these words were undoubtedly used.

The three passages in Mark are, however, considerably discounted by the parallels in the other two Synoptics (Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22; Matt. 17:23; Luke omits; Matt. 20:19; Luke 18:33), all of which read without variation, "on the third day." The statement by the High Priests and the Pharisees also loses some of its weight in virtue of the request, "that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day" (Matt. 27:63-64).

Four more passages in Luke, one in John, and two in the Apostolic history claim consideration. In Luke 13:32, Christ mentions "to-day" and "to-morrow," and then adds, "the third day I shall be perfected," while Luke 24:7 tells of the angels announcing the Resurrection in terms of what Christ had said while yet in Galilee, "and the third day rise again." Then we have the same expression twice used in the record of the Emmaus journey. In Luke 24:21, the friends states, "To-day is the third day since these things happened," while (verse 46) the Lord Himself says, "As it is written . . . on the third day," thus associating His Resurrection with O.T. Scriptures, and equating "the third day" with the "three days and three nights" of Jonah 1:17. In John's Gospel (2:19) in a conversation of Christ with the Jews in the Temple He intimates that "in three days" He would "raise up" "the temple of His body." Peter also (Acts 10:40) in the house of Cornelius stated to the assembled company, "Him hath God raised on the third day": while Paul (1 Cor. 15:4) makes a like statement, "He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures," another undoubted reference to Jonah.

Let us now analyse these evidences. We have the statement of "three days and three nights" in Matthew 12:40, and this receives support from the best reading in three distinct passages in Mark, as also from the statement to Pilate in Matthew's Gospel. In all of these places we must read, "After three days." On John 2:19 one might reason for either side. Let us consider it neutral.

On the other hand the Synoptic parallels (five passages) to the quotations from Mark invariably give, "On the third day," and there are no various readings, while the same phrase is used as parallel to "After three days" in Matthew. To these we have to add the six special passages in Luke, Acts, and 1 Corinthians, allowing John again to remain neutral. Accordingly we have five passages that seem to favour "three days and three nights," while twelve are distinctly in favour of "the third day."

No question can be raised as to the authority of the records, nor can we set writers or speakers against one another, for the statements on both sides are carried back to the Lord Himself. Are the narratives then contradictory? Have the writers made mistakes? Or did Christ contradict Himself? That is the easy solution of the matter, too often resorted to in modern times. A mistake! Isaak Troki (1593) in his book, "Chizzuk Emunah," against the N.T., asserts there is a mistake, and modern agnostics dig in his volume for arguments against our Faith.

But earlier generations of Jews found no difficulty here, and neither do modern Jews "who know their own things." Justin Martyr (100-167 A.D.) in his "Dialogue with Trypho the Jew" (Sec. 107), takes up the story of Jonah, and in the space of a few lines he twice states that it was meant to indicate that "on the third day after the Crucifixion He should rise again," while in the following sentence he mentions that Jonah "had been cast up on the third day from the belly of the great fish." Justin accordingly equates "three days and three nights" with "on the third day," and neither in the "Dialogue" nor in any of the older Jewish writings is any objection raised to this equation.

Objection indeed was impossible from any intelligent Jew, for his own literature recognised the two phrases as idiomatic and equivalent, and so they are treated in his own writings. There are several sayings and examples that will enable us to understand the whole case. In B. Pesachim 4 a, we read, "The portion of a day is as the whole of it." Then we have the word ‘Onah, in Hebrew, which, with some subordinate senses, is used for a portion of time. The earliest occasion we have discovered of the use of this word as meaning a period of time takes us back to Apostolic days. In J. Shabbath, ix. 3, we read, "We have a teaching, R. Elazar ben Azaryah (fl., 80-100 A.D., and was the tenth in descent from Ezra), says, 'A day and a night are an ‘Onah, and the portion of an ‘Onah is as the whole of it." The ‘Onah is thus equivalent to what the Greeks called a Nuchthemeron (night-day), each of them being considered a unity of twenty-four hours.

Accordingly the Jew would reckon that Jonah was three ‘Onoth in the belly of the fish, and Christ three ‘Onoth in the tomb, the central ‘Onah being complete, but the first and the third only a small portion of the ‘Onoth and yet reckoned as a whole. Otherwise "Three ‘Onoth" might be otherwise expressed as "three days and three nights," or as "on the third day."

The Russian Language has a word of the same meaning as these Hebrew and Greek expressions. Twenty-four hours are designated a Sutkee, and railway tickets are available for a definite number of Sutkee. But the Sutkee begins at midnight, and ends at the same hour. Now any portion of time, even a few minutes before midnight is reckoned as a complete Sutkee, and likewise any period after midnight as a complete Sutkee.

Illustrating Jewish usage, we select examples from Hebrew writings. In the Midrash Rabba on Genesis, Sect. 91, we read: "The Holy One, Blessed be He, never leaves the righteous in affliction three days, and so they have taught through Joseph, Jonah, Mordechai and David." Jonah's case had already been taken up in the same Midrash (Sect. 56), which reads: "In the third day of Jonah, for it is written (Jonah 1:17), 'And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.'" (This passage on Jonah is treated in the same manner in "Yalkut Shimoni on Joshua," Sect. 12).

In the same section of the "Midrash" (56), we have also, "In the third day of the spies, for it is said (Joshua 2:16), 'And ye shall hide yourselves three days.'" The "three days of the spies" should be compared with the three days of preparation for crossing the Jordan (Josh. 1:11; 2:16, 22). The former were evidently included in and embraced a shorter period than the latter (cf. also Esther 4:16; 5:1; 2 Chron 10:5, 12).

A peculiar sanctity seems to have been attached to the third day, and this the rabbis explain (Mid. Rab., 56) as associated with the giving of the Law "on the third day" (Exod. 19:16), while R. Levi attributes it to Abraham's having seen Moriah (Gen. 22:4) "on the third day."

Further evidence may be produced from a like method of reckoning that meets us in connection with the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah. In "B. Rosh Hasshanah," 2 a and b, we read, "Our rabbis have taught that if a king begins his reign on the 29th of Adar (March), as soon as the 1st of Nisan (April) is reached, a year is reckoned to him . . . and one day in a year is counted as a year." In this connection we were wont to give our students the following exercise. In the year 933 B.C., Jeroboam and Rehoboam became kings over Israel and Judah respectively. In 842 B.C. a fresh start was made in both kingdoms under Jehu and Athaliah. All the synchronisms in the narratives concerning the two kingdoms were to be set down against one another and their correctness proved for the intervening 91 years. It was soon discovered that, in virtue of the above rule, a year had to be dropped from the reigns of a number of kings on both sides, but when that was understood, the chronology was perfect. This exercise proved most convincing, and generally settled the case for the ‘Onah of Jonah and of Christ.

We may venture now to note that the case is no longer one of balancing the evidences, in which, taken even literally, the majority of testimonies would favour the shorter period, but rather an understanding and acceptance of the Hebrew idiom and the undisputed use and wont of the language, never questioned by those who used it as their vernacular. When this is fully appreciated we shall have no difficulty in agreeing that New Testament Scripture is satisfied by the generally accepted period of Christ's rest in the sepulchre--from Friday afternoon till the early dawn of the Christian Sabbath (Sunday) morning.

We shall now examine the remaining evidences that are supposed to cast a doubt on the conclusion we have reached. We have dealt with the whole sequence of (1) the Passover procedure elsewhere, and shown that Christ really ate the Passover with His disciples according to the Pharisaic reckoning, while the Sadducees, in virtue of an interpretation of their own, kept the Passover on the following night (J. Rosh. ii. 1; 10b). Still a lingering doubt remains in the mind of some as to whether Christ's Supper was really a Passover, in virtue both of Judas going out, and of Christ and the eleven passing out and going to Gethsemane, this being out of harmony with Exodus 12:22, "and none of you shall go out of the doors of his house until the morning." The reply to this doubt is that we have a clear distinction drawn in Jewish literature between "the Egyptian Passover and the Passover of the Generations." The whole matter is most fully explained in Tosephta, Pesachim viii. Various points of difference are indicated, and at the close we read: "In the Passover of Egypt the place of eating was the place of lodging, in the Passover of the Generations they were eating in one place and lodging in another place. The Passover of Egypt was one thing, and the Passover of the Generations one thing."

The word "preparation" (in Greek "paraskeue") (2) naturally enters into all discussion of this question, and it must be carefully considered. This term was used every week for the "Preparation of the Sabbath," on Friday, but also for the day of preparation before any of the special feasts which were also reckoned and named Sabbaths. The word occurs three times in the Synoptics, and three times in John's Gospel. It is stated (Matt. 27:62) that "on the morrow, which is after the preparation," the Chief Priests and Pharisees visited Pilate, and begged a guard to be set. (It was then on a Sabbath--weekly or festal--that the visit was made.) In Mark 15:42 we read, "And when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath," Joseph of Arimathea came to Pilate to beg the body. Luke 23:54 is a parallel to Mark, and it closes with the words, "And the day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew on." In John 19:14, we have, "It was the Preparation of the Passover"; in verse 31, "The Jews therefore, because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath day (for that Sabbath was an high day) besought Pilate . . . ;" and in verse 42, "There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation."

We observe that only John names it "The Preparation of the Passover," and this is in harmony with the reckoning that he adopts. The Synoptic writers, to whom it would not be the preparation for the Feast, do not say "of the Passover," though they might even have done so in virtue of the majority practice. Then we think that the natural sense in John 19:31 is "that (weekly) Sabbath was an high day," because the first day of the Passover (Sadducean reckoning) or Festal Sabbath, also fell upon it.

In addition, it has to be noted that the word "paraskeue" has been taken up from the New Testament and used for the name of the sixth day of the week, or Friday, throughout the whole Christian Era. This practice began in Apostolic times, for we already find it in the "Didache" (70-100 A.D.), where viii. 1, reads, "Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites (Pharisees), for they fast on the second and fifth of the week; but ye shall fast on the fourth (Wednesday), and on the Preparation (Friday). "The Apostolic Constitutions" (vii. 23), quoting this passage, gives a reason for fasting on these days: "Because on the fourth day the condemnation went out against the Lord, Judas then promising to betray Him for money; and you must fast on the day of Preparation, because on that day the Lord suffered the death of the cross under Pontius Pilate." In the same document a few lines lower down we read: "But there is only one Sabbath to be observed by you in the whole year, which is that of our Lord's burial, on which men ought to keep a fast, but not a festival."

The Quarto-Quinto-Deciman Disputes (3), so far as evidences are available, did not deal with the length of time that Christ was in the tomb, but whether He was crucified on the 14th or 15th of Nisan, consequently, whether the Lord's Supper was based on a real Passover, or on a Passover meal, and on the dates of the Jewish month on which fasting and festal celebrations were to be held. In connection with the fasting an important passage occurs in Eusebius of Casesarea, Hist. Eccles, v. 24 (ob. 340). Quoting Irenaeus (185-253), who had had a share in the discussions, he tells that "some thought fit to fast one day, others two days, and others forty hours, keeping their fast day and night." Some have felt there was a difficulty in the "two days," but they were probably the usual Friday fast mentioned in "The Didache" (viii. 1) followed by the Sabbath fast of the Passover week mentioned in the "Apost. Constit." vii. 23. It is understood that the forty hours were meant to cover the period of Christ's rest within the tomb, but fixed at an exact forty to agree with His forty days' fast in the wilderness. Still the forty hours constitute an evidence that those keeping them recognised "the third day" rather than the longer period (cf. also Kurtz, Kirchengeschichte, i. 38).

We conclude that when Hebrew idiom and usage are clearly understood, no contradictions are to be found in the Gospels regarding the days of Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection; that no Jew, who was familiar with "things Jewish" ever found fault with the phraseology; that parallel passages are found in Jewish literature concerning the ‘Onah, and the reckoning of the reigns of Hebrew kings that illustrate and confirm the Hebrew idiom; that the Gospel narratives are in full harmony with the Passover usages of the period; that the persistent use of the word "paraskeue" from Apostolic times for the weekly sixth day, and the forty hours' fast, going back to sub-apostolic (Polycarp's) times at least, confirm us in the belief that the practically universal Christian acceptance was correct, that Christ died on the Cross at the ninth hour of Friday, the 7th April, was buried that day before sunset, and rose again at the first dawn of the first Christian Sabbath (Sunday), the 9th April, 30 A.D.

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