Saturday, April 20, 2019

“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”
(Matt. 12:38-40)

Skeptics claim to have discovered an error in the New Testament —claiming Jesus was not in the tomb for three full 24-hour periods like he prophesied.

He was buried Friday afternoon and rose early Sunday morning.That seems to be only one full day and two nights.

Has the skeptic found an error in the Bible? How does one respond?

“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”
(Matt. 12:38?40)

***************************************

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

It is clear that Jesus rejects the call to perform various signs before the Jewish leaders in order to justify his claims and actions. Jesus would not give them signs, however, for he did not come primarily to be a wonder-worker but a Savior. His miracles were performed to display his power and identity and out of mercy to help the poor and sick.

Jesus performed many miracles in private and with a warning not to tell others about them. Yet, one great miracle would be given as a definitive sign. This would be the “sign of Jonah,” his resurrection from the “heart of the earth.”

The main problem encountered in Matthew 12:38-40 involves the temporal designation “three days and three nights.” Interpreting this designation literally, some try to solve the “problem” by arguing that Jesus was really crucified on Thursday rather than Friday. A Friday crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection do not provide sufficient time for three days and three nights.

Authentic Ancient Tomb in Israel

There are numerous ways of figuring out the day-night scheme for this period of time, but it is clear that three separate days and nights cannot be obtained by a Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection scheme. Yet, it is clear from the Gospels that Jesus was crucified on Friday, the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath” (Mark 15:42) and raised on Sunday, the “first day of the week” (Mark 16:2). If the temporal designation of Matthew 12:40 is taken literally, a conflict does exist between the time indicated in this verse and the time indicated in the accounts of the passion story.

But should the expression “three days and three nights” be interpreted literally? Three arguments indicate that it should not.

First, it appears that this expression is another way of stating “on the third day” or “in three days.” This can be illustrated from 1 Samuel 30:12-13. The same Greek expression is found in 1 Samuel 30:12 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) as in Matthew 12:40.

Verse 13 refers to this three-day and three-night period as “three days ago” or, as the LXX literally states, “the third day today.” If “three days and three nights” can mean “on the third day,” there is no major problem in our passage.

By Jewish reckoning Jesus could have been crucified on Friday and raised on Sunday, the third day. Friday afternoon = day one; Friday 6 PM to Saturday 6 PM = day two; Saturday 6 PM to Sunday 6 PM = day three.’

A second argument against a literal temporal interpretation is the fact that Matthew did not see any conflict between this expression and either a third-day resurrection (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19) or a Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection scheme (Matt. 27:62; 28:1). For him, as well as for the other Evangelists, expressions such as “three days and three nights,” “after three days,” and “on the third day” could be used interchangeably.

Holy Sepulchre, actual location of crucifixion and burial of Jesus

Finally, it should be pointed out that the main point of Jesus’ analogy in Matthew 12:40 does not involve the temporal designation but the sign of the resurrection. Only one miracle or sign will be given to this evil and adulterous generation. That sign will be Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The temporal designation is much less significant. Perhaps Jesus refers to three days and three nights because this expression is found in the Old Testament passage which he wants to quote (Jonah 1:17).

Understood in the context of biblical Judaism—and knowing the idioms and figures of speech in the designation “three days and three nights”—there is no problem with the Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection scheme described in the passion narratives. Any Jew or Roman would have immediately understood; only those divorced from the historical context fail to understand.

It is only if a twentieth-century reckoning of time is imposed or if the idiomatic nature of this temporal designation is not understood in its context that a problem appears.

See also Dave Armstrong’s article “3 Days & Nights” in the Tomb: Contradiction?

{ 3 comments }

Originally published a few months ago, but very current and good news!

10281068-3x2-700x467Some amazing news came out of Australia today with a famous atheist politician receiving baptism. Bill Hayden had been the leader of a major Australian political party, then was the Governor General of Australia for 7 years. (The Governor General is the one who signs bills into law in the Queen’s name in 15 Commonwealth countries.) Recently, at 85, he renounced his atheism and joined the Catholic Church.

Getting Close to Death

The Australian reports his motivation to take this step.

Bill Hayden, at age 85, has ­renounced his atheism and been baptised into the Catholic Church.

The former Labor leader and governor-general said it was witnessing so many selfless acts of compassion by Christians over his lifetime, and deep contemplation while recovering from a stroke, that prompted his decision.

Toying with Catholicism for Years

The Australian article continues with a bit of background from Bill Hayden.

“I always regarded myself as a fellow traveller with Catholicism and declared I was a Catholic on official forms, but it wasn’t official,” Mr Hayden said. [His family had been Catholic.] “I would go to mass every Sunday and then go to benediction when I was a teenager. I didn’t know that I wasn’t officially a Catholic, and found that out only later when my sister did the family history.

“When you grow up with it, I don’t think it ever really leaves you. The Catholics have ceremony very much in place. But it was more than that. I could just feel in my heart that I didn’t feel fulfilled.

“There is more to life than just me. I had to make a dedication of myself for the good of others, ­before God. I felt that strongly.”

Sincere Motivations to Convert

It is also worth noting the reasons Bill Hayden wrote to friends about his conversion.

In a letter to family and friends, he explained that the Christian principles of “humanity, social commitment and service to ­others” aligned with his personal and political values, and guided his return to the Catholic faith.

“Christianity represents for me the qualities I have attempted to apply in my life but from now on will strive to uphold, with faith,” he wrote.

So often we can write people off and think there is no hope. However, stories like this of conversion late in life should teach us not to lose hope on anyone.

{ 5 comments }