- A. μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας, "after three days."
On the theory of the priority of Mark (Stein, 45-88; Carson, Matthew, 11-17) Matthew and Luke each "cleaned up" Mark's rather erratic Greek, and this would account for the misleading "after three days" to be altered to "on the third day." On the theory of Matthean priority, Mark altered Matthew's expression while Luke chose to retain it. In any case, the evangelists themselves evidently saw "after three days" and "on the third day" as equivalent expressions. Since Jewish reckoning was inclusive, something happening "on the third day" after something else (the day after the day after the original event) would have been counted as three days later, or "after three days" (Foster, 599; Carson, Matthew, 296).
- B. Ambiguous or oblique references
- 1. Jesus' prediction to raise the temple "in three days"
One particular case of such "hostile repetition" merits additional note: in Matthew 27:62-64, the chief priests and Pharisees ask for "the tomb to be made secure until the third day," because they remember his claim that "after three days I will rise again." Although we have here a fourth example, and in a different Gospel, of the formulation "after three days," it occurs immediately in context with the formulation "until the third day"; i.e., we seem to have here an explicit equating of the two expressions, "after three days" and "until the third day," which would reconfirm the idea that according to Jewish inclusive reckoning, "after three days" would mean "until the third day," and not "until the fourth day," as it would naturally mean in modern English.
- 2. The guarding of the tomb
It is possible to argue that "until the third day" would mean the third day from the time they were speaking--i.e., the day "after Preparation," or after the crucifixion. Granted a Wednesday crucifixion and Jewish inclusive reckoning, they would only be asking for a guard until Saturday; one would further have to postulate that by "until the third day," they meant for the guard to remain at the tomb throughout Saturday night (technically, the beginning of Sunday). It would be much more natural to suppose that "after three days" and "until the third day" are intended to be synonymous expressions (as the Matthew-Mark parallels make clear that they are), so that "until the third day" contextually refers to the third day from the crucifixion, not the third day from their conversation. Again, it would be unwise to base a teaching on an ambiguous reference, and especially one that comes from the mouths of Jesus' enemies.
The ambiguity of the final reference is largely due to the fact that the passage itself is a veiled reference to Christ's passion, and some could argue that it is not a reference at all. In Luke 13:32, included in a response to a threat from Herod, Jesus refers to "today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal." Although there is no explicit mention of the passion, Jesus refers to his death in the following verse, after mentioning again "today and tomorrow and the next day." If anything, this passage would tend to support a Friday crucifixion, but again, no dogmatic conclusions should be drawn.
- 3. Jesus' response to Herod's threats
- C. τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ, "on the third day."
Five of the ten--parallels with Mark's passion predictions--have already been discussed. Their value lies in calling into question the implication that could be drawn from Mark that Jesus lay entombed for three full days. Two other references--Acts 10:40 and 1 Corinthians 15:4--also clearly state that Jesus rose on the third day. It is important to note that in every one of these predictions and recollections (except, arguably, 1 Corinthians 15:4), Jesus is represented as rising on the third day after his crucifixion and death, not after his burial. The Thursday-to-Saturday scheme mentioned in section II, even if plausible on its face, would only account for Jesus rising on the third day from his burial, not from his crucifixion and death. Moreover, the three remaining references, all from Luke's post-resurrection account, make it clearly impossible that the Crucifixion occurred on Wednesday.
Luke 24:6-7 and 24:46 assert (from the mouths of an angel and from the resurrected Christ, respectively), that Jesus would rise on the third day. In itself, this is no greater proof than the pre-resurrection predictions. But Luke 24:21 records the disciples on the road to Emmaus telling Jesus (whom they do not yet recognize), "This is the third day [τρίτην ταύτην ἡμέραν] since all this took place." This conversation is clearly located after the morning visits to the empty tomb (vv. 22-24), which undisputedly took place "on the first day of the week" (v. 1). Since "all this" cannot refer to Jesus' entombment, but rather refers to his sentencing to death and crucifixion (v. 20), it is impossible to suppose, on the theory of a Wednesday crucifixion, that Sunday is the "third day since all this took place"; by Jewish reckoning, it would in fact be the fifth. It is simply impossible to construe events clearly taking place on Sunday--the conversation of the disciples with Jesus on the road to Emmaus--as being on "the third day" from events--Jesus being sentenced to death and being crucified--supposed to have occurred on a Wednesday.
- D. "Three days and three nights"
In fact, the context of Matthew 12:40 rather clearly indicates the possibility that the time period is not to be taken strictly literally. Jesus is responding to the religious leaders' unbelieving demand for a "sign" by referring to Jonah as a type of his own passion. Quoting Jonah 1:17, Jesus draws the analogy by applying the "three days and three nights" terminology to his own passion, knowing that "in rabbinical thought a day and a night make an õnâh, and a part of an õnâh is as the whole" (Carson, Matthew, 296); i.e., his audience (the Jews) would not have been confused; and we may suppose that Matthew's audience was more familiar with this time reckoning than was Luke's, which may be why Luke chooses another rendering in the parallel passage of Luke 11:29-32. The Old Testament records examples of such reckoning, notably in 2 Chronicles 10:5, 12:
And he said to them, "Return to me again in three days." So the people departed. . . . So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day as the king had directed, saying, "Return to me on the third day." (NASB; similarly RSV KJV NKJV)
Here, not only do Jeroboam and all the people understand Rehoboam to intend for them to return on the third day, when he had said, "in three days," but they even repeat his words back to him, paraphrased as "on the third day." Other similar examples include 1 Sam. 30:12-13 and Esther 4:16, 5:1.
In light of the precedent of such language, it is reasonable to suppose that Jesus' resurrection "on the third day" was close enough for those familiar with Jewish time reckoning to be regarded as a fulfillment of the Jonah typology.
The final installment of this series will deal with a few ancillary issues and wrap it up with a final conclusion.
The Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984. (All scripture references unless otherwise noted.)
------. New American Standard Bible. La Habra, CA: Collins-World, 1973.
Carson, D.A. "Matthew." The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 8. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Regency-Zondervan, 1984. 1-599.
------. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.
Foster, Lewis A. "The Chronology of the New Testament." The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 1. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Regency-Zondervan, 1984. 593-607.
Stein, Robert H. The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987.
Technorati Tags: Easter, Good Friday, Wednesday Crucifixion, Friday, Wednesday, Crucifixion, Crucified, Jesus, Jesus Christ